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Mohan Matthen
Philosophy professor
Interests: Philosophy of perception, philosophy of biology
Recent Activity
Some confirmation checking Cambridge. Of the first dozen, eight are from away.
An observation: a lot of US, Canadian, and Australian PhDs seem to get hired in Britain--of the first ten people listed on Oxford's list of faculty, seven have non-British PhDs--so the familiarity issue must be asymmetrical if it's the one that's operating--i.e., familiarity isn't the same as proximity. Some questions: "students at [my current UK program] seem to be relatively uninterested in applying for US PhDs" This is really interesting. I don't think it would have been true a while ago--say ten years ago. Am I wrong? Is this a Trump phenomenon? Are US PhDs losing their lustre? (If so, does this extend to hiring?) Or does this extend to other countries? Are Brits "relatively uninterested" in applying to PhD programs in Canada or Australia or France etc?
Judging from relatively long excerpts that are publicly available (on the Amazon website), Slater argues against uncritical Zionism, against the classic Israeli narrative that it has been an unfailingly reasonable negotiator that has been, since the very beginning, ready to make reasonable territorial compromises, and against the idea that the US attitude of unquestioning support is to be explained by the strength of the Israeli lobby (this because the US attitude has not actually been one of unquestioning support). Probably this line of argument is called for, but it is not terribly original in either content or evidence.
Thanks Michael for the unpaywalled Montefiore. It met my expectations.
Hi Samir, Glad you agree about Montefiore. I heard him on the Empire podcast (which I generally like) and formed that impression of him, both the snot and the Oxbridge. But you have convinced me that my identification of British accents needs some work.
Sorry if I got you wrong, Phil. I was reacting to a phrase you used: "the hopes and aspirations that went into the Balfour Declaration . . . " (The rest of the clause was unremakable.) Often people characterize the Balfour Declaration as an exercise of colonial presumption, and so "hopes and aspirations" sounded as if the book was somewhat one-sided.
I second John Collins's recommendation of Rashid Khalidi's The Hundred Years War on Palestine. It's very much from the opposite point of view as that of Regina Sharif, judging from Phil's short blurb (comment 6). I am not in a position to judge the quality of the scholarship, but the writing is journalistically plain and easy to read, and the viewpoint humane, though with some lapses. Here's an example of a kind of cold-bloodedness that might put some off: "The people killed in the US Embassy bombing, the Marines who died in their barracks, and the many other Americans kidnapped or assassinated in Beirut--among them Malcolm Kerr and several of my colleagues and friends at the AUB--largely victims of attacks by the groups that became Hizballah, paid the price for the perceived collusion between their country and the Israeli occupier." I couldn't/wouldn't get past the Atlantic paywall to read Simon Sebag Montefiore's piece on decolonization, but the first few paragraphs were quite irritating to a reader like me. Oxbridge snot. But perhaps it got better.
@BY Here's something I think you overlook. Arendt made a specific accusation against a specific individual, Elizabeth Eckford's father. (She also implicated various agents of the NAACP, but this was less specific.) She said that Eckford Senior was using his daughter as a weapon in the war against segregation--that he was putting her into danger and hiding from it himself. (To my mind, this was an even more shameful and disgraceful accusation than Hume's snigger against Francis Williams, again without using his name, that he was "little more than a parrot.") Ellison called her out: her accusations of black parents showed no awareness of the social violence that Southern blacks faced everyday. In her response to him, Arendt says she didn't understand "the ideal of sacrifice" ("among Southern negroes," as Ellison had specified). But she doesn't alter her tone of self-satisfied superiority: she's still very de haut en bas. She does not acknowledge the wrong that she did to an individual. Did she change her mind about integration? It doesn't seem so, because she goes out of her way to reject the criticisms of her "liberal non-friends." (By the way, she was explicit in the original article about segregation not being a violation of civil rights--so I don't understand at all your implication that Arendt was not a segregationist.) I would say that she was motivated by racism when she wrote the original article. That's revealed by the viciousness of the accusation. And she basically did not repent--though she recognized an intellectual error, she did not try to make amends for, or even recognize, the harm that she did. It was all in the course of intellectual discourse, she seems to say. Of course, you might want to argue, as dec insightfully remarks, a "hair-splitting definition of racism." Or you might want to accuse me of "inquisitorial sanctimoniousness." But I don't see how her letter to Ellison is in any way exculpatory.
This discussion is probably courting its natural end-by date for blog comments, but I'd like to thank dec for the references in comment 44. Michael Burroughs' article (the third link in dec's comment 44) is particularly valuable--I am sure that many will want to take a different point of view than the author, but the references are very telling. (I find the comment by and Arendt's subsequent correspondence with Ralph Ellison particularly stunning.) What strikes me with particular force is that all you Arendt scholars ought to have reacted to the Jerusalem Post article with the apologetic fatigue of the sort we hear from devotees of Hume--"Our hero isn't perfect, but what else is new? S/he's a great thinker for all that"--rather than the vituperation directed against the JP revelations. (JP is a right wing paper . . . what else would you expect from them? Racism? There isn't any at all in the Little Rock piece. Etc.) After all, racism seems to have permeated even works such as the Origins of Totalitarianism.
@BY Perhaps--not that I have to agree with CRT on every single point. Still, one does have to acknowledge that the Brown decision had a number of unforeseen bad consequences, such as the large scale dis-employment of black teachers. Nevertheless, Arendt's main reason for thinking that education was not suitable arena for civil rights enforcement was orthogonal to this, and in my opinion, completely silly and trivial. She assimilated segregation in schools to freedom of association. So, it was for her an extension of her right to prefer to spend her summer vacation with other Jews. "To force parents to send their children to an integrated school against their will means to deprive them of . . . the private right over their children and the social right to free association." The result of desegregation would, she thought, be greater conflict between the races: "The achievement of social, economic, and educational equality for the Negro may sharpen the color problem in this country instead of assuaging it."
Brian is undoubtedly correct to say that people are disappointed that Arendt would be racist is such a "banal" way, to use her phrase. I don't think one needs to be "Manichean" about this. She was a great thinker in all sorts of ways. And i don't want to say that she was a bad person through and through. (Though I have no idea whether she was or not.) Look: there is a very simple fact here. She was an unthinking, unreflective, unphilosophical boor about race. That's what led to her mistakes about Little Rock and South Africa, a lazy acceptance of stereotypes that some bandied about in her time. (After all, if her "opinion" about Swahili sounds extreme, think of Evelyn Waugh.) It's important for us today to realize that such negative stereotypes were by no means so common in the mid-twentieth century that she should be excused on the grounds that she merely reflected the spirit of her times. It's a joke to say that she was led to these views by "intellectual independence and courage."
The overwhelming impression conveyed by the quotations in the Jerusalem Post article is that even if Arendt attached a lot of qualifiers and sophistry to her remarks, her underlying beliefs are unequivocally racist and non-white inferioracist. Commenters above remark on the context of these quotes, but if somebody says, e.g., "South Asians are crude and stupic, but this does not mean that we should ban them from public accommodations," I am going to say that this person has racist beliefs, regardless of her ameliorative opinions about how to apply said racist beliefs. This is what I'd like to say about Arendt. Untenured political theorist quotes her remarks about Swahili. Did s/he take these remarks out of context? Were they merely reports of somebody else's opinions? If not, then they are racist and Euro- (i.e., white) supremacist. Why is anybody dancing around this? (Similarly, the remarks quoted in the Jerusalem Post about South Africa.) So, when (for example) Juan Pineros Glasscock writes: "I am saddened to learn about her support for segregation. AT THE SAME TIME . . . " I wonder why the ameliorative comment is needed or relevant in the context of the JP article.
I am so sad to hear this. Paul was a wonderfully humane scholar, valued companion, and good friend. I haven't seen him for a long time, but when I knew him, I treasured him as one of the most acute and interesting scholars of Socrates around, and a person with the conversational skills to make you interested too. He had the unusual gift of combining refined philological scholarship with deep philosophical insight and sensitivity. It was always rewarding to talk with him, and fun as well. My memory (possibly inaccurate) is that the U of Texas was slow to value him--I remember plotting with others to lure him away--but when they did, they really did. (Dhananjay attests to that.) That was the Paul I remember--the kind of person you didn't necessarily appreciate fully at first meeting, but when you came to understand his virtues, you really felt what a great person and scholar he really was.
My experiences with peer review have sometimes been irritating, but I am currently having a round of R&Rs where one reviewer has really improved my paper and made me understand my own topic better. I won't say anything substantive that would reveal my identity to that reviewer now, because s/he might be reading this. But let me say that on first submission, Ref provided a beautifully economical dissection of really important and central points, all the while maintaining a courteous "Here's something I don't quite follow in this otherwise nice paper." That resulted in major improvements, but when I resubmitted, Ref came back with "Oh that was good, but there are still two points I am a little puzzled about." The first of those two "small" points was a revelation! I am just so grateful. I am a senior person past the end of his career (which, it seems, was not distinguished enough to have his retirement conference noted by Brian--there I managed to get that in!) So, I didn't expect to have a wonderfully constructive grad student/supervisor experience again. Thanks Referee 1! You've taught me a lot.
It seems that this decision is not as extreme as some are reporting, and as some feared it would be. It prohibits Universities from giving preference to all people of a disadvantaged race simply because they are members of that race. But it permits giving preference to an individual of a disadvantaged race if s/he can show that she has, as an individual, been harmed by discrimination but has overcome the obstacles places in her/his way. That seems fair enough; it doesn't imply an injunction to be race-blind; it just draws a line around how you can use race, and the line is not demonstrably unfair. The only problem is that the decision doesn't oblige schools to take individual-harm-from-discrimination into account. David Wallace in comment 25 writes that the decision will have "non-trivial implications in how Pitt does graduate admissions." This might mean that Pitt will now move to purely grade- and writing sample based criteria. Or that it will become more contextual and individual-regarding in its use of race. As far as I can see, there is no onus against the former. Or am I wrong?
It's reasonable to take it that way, I agree, but then it would be futile to submit it to a lab to test between "information integration" and "global workspace." Both theories have been elaborated in ways that putatively offer NCC's, but neither is an answer to the hard problem. You're right to say that the hard problem is unanswerable in any year n, and (I would add) that's because the answer is a priori. Anyway, I know you were jesting, and I really shouldn't have been literal-minded in my response. So, my apologies.
Except that it said that philosophers "since Plato" had been worrying about consciousness. Is there anything in Plato (or Aristotle) about consciousness?
The bet in question wasn't about the hard problem, was it?
Jenny was an erudite, astute, and important philosopher of art. To me, though nearly fifteen years her senior both in age and in the profession, she was a teacher and mentor. She decided at some point (around ten years ago, I think) to co-opt me into aesthetics--she thought my work in perception would be useful there. So, she invited me to comment on her book at the ASA, introduced me to people in the field, and made me into a co-investigator in her important grant from the Australian Research Council. I participated eagerly, and she made it into a joyous experience. Five years ago, her cancer from the early 00s (I think--I'm not sure of the dates) reappeared. She endured the various therapies with hope and stoicism, never inviting anything like concern, or even sympathy, but accepting it with grace and good-fellowship when it was offered by a friend (like me, I hope). The last time I heard from her, in November '22, she told me her health was "holding up." Evidently, that state of affairs didn't last. I'll miss her . . . a lot.
There's one thing I find puzzling about Ryan's scenario. If Putin is really ready to use nuclear weapons, why wouldn't he say so? Why stop at all the implied and veiled threats about asymmetric options? Why not issue an explicit ultimatum: Hey Ukraine: Either stop your counter-offensive by midnight June 16th, or face a nuclear weapon used at some place of my choosing. Wouldn't this be the logical escalation of the veiled threats he's used so far? Or has he stopped thinking of his nuclear capability as a diplomatic weapon (as well as a military one)?
Toronto says candidates are expected to show evidence of a commitment to EDI. In the Daily Mail (!) article you link to, Michael Biggs is quoted as saying: "The only requirement for recruiting academics should be the quality of their research and teaching." Whatever you may think of more elaborate EDI statements, that's absurd at face value. It's like saying that the only requirement for Harvey Weinstein's job should be the quality of his studio management. BL COMMENT: Not breaking the law tends to be a "requirement" for all jobs!
I haven't read Alex's book ms., but I did read his paper for the Journal of Controversial Ideas quite carefully before and then more cursorily after it was published. (In fact, Alex acknowledges my assistance with that paper--not that it was very significant.) I don't agree with every aspect of its methodology--there are places where it relies more heavily on ordinary language than I would like. But it is extremely well-informed, meticulously documented, and (of course) philosophically insightful (aside from all that ordinary language stuff). I'd like to say, "Of course, it is . . . this is Alex Byrne we are talking about," but I guess that would be begging the question. Anyway, it is startling to me that OUP rejected the book without serious comment (aside from the silly back-hander that it was disrespectful and insufficiently serious.) Contrary to Brandon Warmke's comment (#19) above, I hope they are NOT willing to share how these decisions are made. It would be far too depressing to learn the truth.
I don't think I ever met him, but I used his Rationality of Science several times while teaching Philosophy of Science to undergraduates. Teaching-texts are books you read again and again, and in the mid- to late-eighties, I came to imagine Newton-Smith's "voice" inside my head. I feel as if a valued professional colleague has passed away.
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.