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Mohan Matthen
Philosophy professor
Interests: Philosophy of perception, philosophy of biology
Recent Activity
Byron's reminiscence made me smile. I was very careful not to imply that my perception of Wilson's challenges were shared by anybody else. For all I knew, most people thought he was very gentle in his questioning, and my perception was shaped by my own defensiveness against somebody who seemed to think that my work was offensively incompetent. Apparently not! But I do think that Byron is right: that's just the way philosophy was done in those days. And Wilson was good at it.
I didn't know Fred Wilson personally; he had retired several years before I arrived in Toronto. But I saw him frequently at CPA meetings and occasionally at talks in the Department. He was certainly an impressive presence. His questions were always clear and very forceful; they were usually (as I recall) stringent objections to the talk that preceded (though this impression might have been created by how he reacted to me). He was in the audience twice or thrice when I gave talks at the CPA. In the middle eighties, I was trying to work out my views on teleology and teleosemantics, which went very much against Wilson's empiricist predilections. His questions were, consequently, quite challenging and delivered in quite a severe manner. Of course, I responded as best as I could--and he didn't convince me to give up my positions. But I always felt he had scored a few points against me, and friends in the audience would usually confirm that feeling. He seemed definitely to belong to an earlier generation, but he still came across as one of the best, most learned, most honest, most probing members of that generation.
Sad to hear this. Kahn was a giant. I hope it doesn't in anyway diminish the worth of his other work to say that his book on "The Verb 'Be' in Ancient Greek" is both unique and canonical. It was something that others in the field just didn't have the interest or the expertise to write, and yet it was incredibly influential, without necessarily being foregrounded in the scholarship.
Only just came across this interesting post, six years after it was written. Sorry for being so late. It's hard to think of an essay more completely idiotic than "Of National Characters," at least among the writings of someone known for the brilliance of other contributions. Just scandalous. And the explanation of stereotypes is (to my mind, at least) just as foolish as the rest of it, incorporating a generalization that is a priori and completely untested. By the way, in response to Francis Roberts, isn't it true that while household slaves may have been "reasonably well" treated in Greece--not sure how well "reasonably well" is--there were also slaves who worked in silver mines, and in ships, and so on who were treated unreasonably badly?
I think Tom Ginsburg is clearly correct. But just to say: I have never found the service on Qantas or Air New Zealand to be superior in any way. And the same, regrettably, goes for Air India, Jet, IndiGo, etc. (So much for Indian civilization, I guess.)
A wonderful proposal. You should be congratulated. If I was on the Curriculum Committee, I would have been enthusiastically in favour, though I would have pressed for some small changes. Speaking as somebody native to in India, and born and raised there, I prefer terms that don't (in the context they are used) assimilate me to others, where relevant differences are lost. I never like to be called Eastern or Oriental, and only in very specific contexts am I okay with "Asian." But your title and description need only tiny changes to satisfy me. As suggested by others, why not amend the title to Ancient Wisdom period? And change the first sentence of the title to: "An introductory exploration of ancient philosophical classics from different cultures/countries." As well, you might want to amend the last sentence of the description to permit future instructors to include classics from Ghana, the Bantu peoples, Egypt, Japan, Rome, etc. I think this could be done by changing 'will be drawn from' to 'may, for example, be drawn from' and at the end of the sentence, add something like "or other ancient sources from . . . "
@Anonymous!, comment 7. It's a little hard to respond to comments that are so compressed that they might have a lot more standing behind them than meets the eye. I mean maybe your name is really Sergei Lavrov, and you know a lot more than I do. (Actually, that's not hard; you don't have to be Lavrov.) But on the face of it, the following is absurd as a justification for Russia's invasion: "Russia does not bear “sole responsibility” for the conflict. NATO expansion to include Ukraine brought it into conflict with the sacrosanct principle (for Russia) of Ukrainian neutrality." For one thing "NATO expansion to include Ukraine" never happened and wasn't on the table in February 2022. True, people talked about it back in 2008, but as I recall, the suggestion was deprecated even way back then by no less than Angela Merkel. It's possible that a lot of people were talking about it in the months leading up to the invasion--how do I know?--though I don't remember Ukraine's admission being officially imminent. It never went as far as an actual application by Ukraine. And when Ukraine did make an application, a couple of months after Russia's invasion, it went nowhere. As for the Azov Brigade, I truly don't know what to make of it. I agree that it looks and smells pretty sinister. And your analogy of a hypothetical Klan chapter may, for all I know, be apt. Imagine a unit like what you're claiming the Azov to be in France or Turkey or Japan. People would be outraged, you're certainly right about that. But it would be a leap to say that this would justify all-out war.
I'm not sure what the premise of the question is. The US and its allies could hasten an end to the war by refusing to help Ukraine, or for that matter, by forcing a settlement that favours Russia's demands. Would that be acceptable because it would "'help' end the conflict?" I for one don't think so. It's a pity that Ukraine's main supporter has such dirty hands itself. But this doesn't change the facts. Russia's government is solely responsible for a brutal military engagement. Brian, I know that a couple of times in the past, you've recommended John Mearsheimer's views on the subject. But though he did predict some of this, I don't understand how his reasoning is in any way ameliorative. He thought it inevitable that if Russia was provoked by an expansion of NATO, it would react aggressively, and that this is a reason not to expand NATO. (I don't think NATO should be expanded, but I'm surprised a "realist" believes this.) But, first, his premise is that Russia is a great power and entitled to such a response. I find that difficult to accept: Russia's GDP is smaller than Italy's, and its geopolitical influence is smaller than Turkey, and nobody would think it's okay to be dictated to by Italy or Turkey. And second, predicting intentions shouldn't mean bowing to them. (It's telling that he immediately jumped into bed with Viktor Orban.) Anyway, thanks for raising the question. I'm sure the responses will be very instructive.
@Thomas Presskorn-Thygesen: That's fair. The most we can conclude about Wittgenstein is that he hadn't ventured very deeply into Darwin's theory or the New Synthesis (though much of the latter was taking place within a hundred metres of where he lived and taught). I take your point that one can't use the remark as an interpretive fulcrum. (And I didn't--I have tried to steer clear of any but exegetical comments on this thread.) But I wonder whether you'd agree that there are a lot of people who make casually uninformed remarks about Darwin. People who wouldn't be so casual when talking about the Big Bang, for example. Or even about Godel's incompleteness theorems.
Responding to Thomas, comment 14: There are two comments by Wittgenstein under discussion. Gary Kemp and you adequately explain the Tractatus remark, though I think one can legitimately complain that it is unduly restrictive to identify philosophy with logic. The other remark, taken from Rush Rhees's recollections is: "“I have always thought that Darwin was wrong: his theory doesn’t account for all this variety of species. It hasn’t the necessary multiplicity." I think it's perfectly reasonable to characterize this as amateurish. (I offered my take on this remark in comment 8 above.)
In response to Tom Hurka, comment 12: I agree that having a natural disposition to care for one's children does not directly imply that one ought to do so. But this does not mean that explaining the natural disposition (or showing that it is natural) has, in Wittgenstein's words, "no more to do with philosophy than any other hypothesis in natural science." It seems plausible that Darwin's theory can tell us something about human nature, and philosophers have always thought that propositions about human nature are relevant to ethics and political philosophy.
@Thomas Osborne, #10. The "amazing discovery" (and I put that in scare quotes in order to avoid debating the factive) is that there is evolution is a chance-driven natural process. It is meaningless in the sense that its end-product cannot be normatively predicted: it isn't always what was antecedently "better" or "more desirable," and even when it is, this isn't why it came about. This contradicts most creationist theories, whether they posit a fast process or not. I don't believe that (1) Darwin was committed to evolution being (identical with) natural selection. He did (2) assert a gradualist viewpoint, but most evolutionists today believe that sometimes it is fast and at other times slow. (Extinction is (part of) evolution, and it's fast.) (3) Whether slow or fast, it is incompatible with creation inasmuch as the latter is mind-driven (and in that sense, meaningful). (4–6) Before and after Darwinian evolution was discovered, there were some who believed in creation, fast or slow.
@Kimbda, #6. I will assume that you really didn't follow the thought. So here's a "translation into English." Some think we should take care of our children because that's what God commands. Darwin suggests that we have a propensity (and perhaps also a desire) to take care of our children because in earlier generations, those who didn't care for their children had fewer descendants. This a profoundly different explanation than the one about God's command.
I take it that Wittgenstein must have interpreted adaptation in perfectionist terms and reasoned that if there can only be a few kinds of perfection at best, there wouldn't be enough "multiplicity" to account for the variety of species. To continue with this speculative train of thought, maybe he thought that speciation is just a continuation of natural selection. Perhaps he didn't think of each species as occupying an adaptive equilibrium; he could have thought of cockroaches evolving toward humanity. All very speculative, as I said, but the remark about multiplicity does suggest this line of thought. Such a "perfectionist" way of thinking about evolution is completely misaligned with Darwin's thinking about "the origin of species." But perhaps one wouldn't learn this by chatting with philosophers at the Moral Sciences Club. Especially not during the nineteen thirties.
Zenon was a prime architect of the neo-Fregean style of thinking about the mind. His clarity and honesty about basic ideas--images as representations, the non-descriptive identification of individuals, the grammar of thought, the perception-cognition divide--was both arresting and compelling. Ironically, though, these very qualities contributed to the weakening of the positions he held dear--a weakening at least as measured by numbers of adherents. Very few ultimately wanted to be saddled the conclusions he drew from his own basic tenets. (I am thinking in particular of his scepticism about mental images and his opposition to connectionism--though his work on "FINST"s was widely admired and accepted.) Everybody read Zenon's work and everybody sought him out. His company and conversation were always both warming and bracing. We will all miss him.
BN is not mistaken. The plaintiffs were a group of post-secondary educators; the respondents were the SOS BOG. The order included regulation 10.005, which consisted essentially of a verbatim application of the WOKE Act, including the "concept" that it seeks to prohibit (except in negative discussion).
John, I have no reason to contest what you say. And in fact the technology got a start by asking locked-in patients to imagine playing tennis if the answer to a question was 'yes' but imagine doing math (if I remember correctly) if the answer was 'no.' (So, pre-motor cortex activation means 'yes' and pre-frontal means 'no.') This task mixes imagined and affirmed content--the patient can't imagine doing math without actually doing it, but clearly they can't play tennis. Still, I'd be surprised if the technology has gotten so fine-grained as to figure out the meaning (within certain parameters) of your thought but not whether you were affirming it.
We can find out a lot about people and their thoughts by observing the outside signs. But this technology (supposedly) goes directly to the brain. You can dissimulate by "acting;" perhaps this is possible for the brain as well. With regard to your question, I read attentively to find out if the claim is individual-dependent. I think it isn't, or isn't wholly. Finally, it is scary even if scanners weigh tons: an interrogator can pop you into one and ask you questions.
Ned, I would certainly stop short of saying that you can read mental content off an MRI scan. But what the New Yorker article reports is that there is a space of meanings such that (many?) thoughts map onto points in the space, and that you can read the meaning-coordinates of thoughts off an MRI scan. I don't know whether claim is correct, or correctly reported, but it would contradict philosophical orthodoxy if true. And it's quite scary. For example, if I (occurently) have the thought, "The Government is committing war-crimes," the scan will reveal at least that I am NOT thinking "The Government is fighting a just war." And maybe it would reveal something more positively descriptive of my thought, like "A powerful organization is being unjustly violent." (I am trying to stay close to the parameters of meaning-space here.) Am I wrong?
abx has it right, I think. Where there is Murdoch, there is a shift to the right. And that includes the UK. (A lot more people read newspapers in the UK, by the way, judging just from how it looks on public transport.) I don't think you have to puzzle over why Australia has state-sponsored medicine and other social welfare institutions: like the UK, it had them before the Murdochs became as dominant as they now are. The same goes for the UK. But as in the UK, Australian politics have shifted to the right and have become a lot more confrontational and less institution-compliant than they were. Am I wrong? Anyway, my thought is that a shift to the right in the US is a shift to the extreme nearly-fascist right.
Franz, I don't agree with one of your crucial assumptions. You seem to suggest that the Government of Canada determines SSHRC policy. As far as I know, this is inaccurate both de jure and de facto. De jure it is false because SSHRC is meant to be at arm's length from GOC. Its policy is meant to be determined by SSHRC Council acting independently, just as the Bank of Canada is supposed to act independently. Of course, this can be subjected to multitudes of abuses. Nevertheless, GOC is not "within its rights" to exert direct influence. Which brings me to my second point. De facto, I don't believe that Government of Canada does try to influence SSHRC policy. I could be wrong, of course, but I believe that policies such as the one we have been discussing are in fact put into effect by Council, which consists mostly of academics. So, if you don't like SSHRC's diversity direction, fine, and I agree with you. But don't blame it on the Government of Canada.
Like Andrew and OP, I think it would be unwise for an applicant just to say that diversity is irrelevant to their research. There might be an academic on the adjudication committee who would take offence; indeed, let's say there's bound to be at least one.(And even if the diversity thing is not supposed to be a part of the merit review, who needs a snarling opponent adjudicating your work?) That said, I am sticking to my position that you shouldn't be terrified to criticize SSHRC for this requirement. Maybe I'm being over-sanguine, but things don't seem to me to have gotten quite so bad that every chance remark puts you at risk of being "cancelled by a social media mob."
SSHRC is at arms-length from the Government of Canada, so one would assume that a requirement like this was internally generated and approved by Council. So, what one can reasonably surmise about the diversity "module" is that it was likely developed by a committee, presumably an academic committee, that reports to Council. One can easily imagine how this came to pass. (I think it is possible to find out by asking if somebody wants to do the work.) I'm a little puzzled by the claim that academics in Canada are "terrified" to criticize this. Are we supposed to be scared of SSHRC or of our own colleagues? I don't think we should be worried about SSHRC. It is a highly decentralized organization and its adjudication committees have autonomy of action. The academic members of these committees are not going to hold it against you that in some public forum you criticized SSHRC. (Why would they care?) And the secretariat is not supposed to voice any non-procedural opinion about adjudication. But I guess I see why people are worried about blow-back from their academic peers. Academic peers are a judgemental lot these days.
Not if there is always some light that reaches the eye from every direction in space. That's the thing about Vantablack: it's so non-reflective, it is said to look like a hole. (Put that way, I guess that deep, narrow holes would be Vantablack, except that they are so small that they are smaller than minimum visibilia.)
Responding to Curtis Franks: The so-called impossible colours are good candidates for novel shades. In the early 80s, Piantinida and Crane famously produced an experience of a reddish green by stabilizing a red-green boundary on the retina (using an eye-tracker)—reddish-green is supposed to be an impossible shade. It sounds as if the Hoffman shade is something of the same kind, where the brain is induced to produce a yellow that is darker than black (which should be impossible). However, YInMn blue is a different kind of case than either of these because it is a pigment . . . a substance with a stable colour. (Same for Vantablack.) No fooling with the brain needed. Responding to Stephen Rive: any colour can be produced by mixing lights of different wavelengths, or by mixing different pigments. And this can be done in different ways . . . different mixtures look colour-equivalent. Because of this, we moderns have seen just about every possible shade, because our colour monitors can mix up the RGB appropriately. (This was not always true: a couple of thousand years ago, I figure, nobody had seen a truly saturated red.) What is impossible is getting certain colours to exceed certain levels of brightness or darkness relative to other colours seen simultaneously. It sounds as if YInMn blue is perceptibly novel because it is "unnaturally" brilliant. I wish I could see it! (Photographic reproductions wouldn't do it justice. You can't take a photograph of Vantablack either, because the dyes on the photographic surface don't absorb enough light.)