Erich Hatala Matthes
B.A., Yale University; Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Researches and teaches moral and political philosophy, environmental ethics, heritage ethics, and philosophy of art.
My primary research interests concern the nature of value: What things are valuable, in what ways, and how should we respond to their value? What are the moral and political consequences of our evaluative commitments? I explore these general kinds of questions in diverse and interdisciplinary contexts. For instance, my dissertation considered how we value the past. It is common for people to believe that objects of historical value are irreplaceable, that they demand preservation, and that sharing in their history justifies a special (perhaps exclusive) claim to value them. In a series of essays, I investigated and challenged these assumptions, and explored some of the moral and political consequences of rethinking how we value the past.
Another important domain of evaluative inquiry is the natural environment. At Berkeley, I co-organized a research seminar on "Specieism and the Future of Humanity" funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This interdisciplinary series brought together researchers from the natural and social sciences, as well as the humanities, to discuss pressing issues in environmental ethics. Here at Wellesley, I am a member of the Advisory Faculty for Environmental Studies.
These two topics converge in the burgeoning field of "heritage ethics," which deals with moral and political questions about the natural and cultural heritage of groups and individuals. Though this field has received relatively little attention from philosophers, it concerns the same kinds of evaluative questions and moral challenges with which philosophy has long been concerned. I recently gave a talk on "Avoiding Noxious Markets in Cultural Heritage" at a conference hosted by the Center for Heritage and Society at UMass Amherst, and my paper "Impersonal Value, Universal Value, and the Scope of Cultural Heritage" can be found here.
Finally, I have a growing interest in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. In the final chapter of my dissertation, I argued for a novel way in which historical features might be the direct objects of aesthetic experience. I am also a collobarating member of Wellesley's Book Studies Initiative, and am interested in how philosophical teaching can be enhanced through the use of material objects.
I teach in all of my research areas, and my teaching has an important impact on the shape of my research. I teach Introduction to Moral Philosophy, Ethical Theories, Environmental Ethics, and Philosophy of Art. In the Spring of 2015, I will offer a seminar on moral questions about history and heritage.
I am the husband of Jaclyn Hatala Matthes, a scientist whose research focuses on global environmental change, specifically with respect to the carbon cycle and ecosystem ecology. She is an Assistant Professor of Geography (and Adjunct in Biology) at Dartmouth.
Outside of philosophy, I enjoy playing games, going to the movies, hiking, trying new restaurants, exploring my neighborhood, and spending time with friends and family.