Erich Matthes

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Researches and teaches the ethics, politics, and aesthetics of cultural heritage, art, and the environment.

My primary research interests concern the ethics, politics, and aesthetics of cultural heritage, art, and the environment. I'm especially interested in themes surrounding preservation of, access to, and control over objects, practices, and places. I have published papers on topics including repatriation, historic preservation, landscape art, cultural appropriation, irreplaceability, authenticity, place-loss due to climate change, and the value of history and heritage. For an overview of these topics, you can check out my entry on the Ethics of Cultural Heritage in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. My second book, What to Save and Why: Identity, Authenticity, and the Ethics of Conservation will be published by Oxford University Press in September 2024. It's about the ethics of conserving and preserving things, from heirlooms to artworks, traditions to landscapes.

I've also written about the problem of immoral artists: what should we do, think, and feel when artists whom we love do or say objectionable things? My first book, Drawing the Line: What to Do with the Work of Immoral Artists from Museums to the Movies, tackles these questions, and was published by Oxford University Press in 2022. It has been reviewed in The Sunday Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Hyperallergic, The Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere.

I enjoy writing and speaking for a general audience. I've given public talks at a range of venues, including the Getty Villa, the Aspen Art Museum, the MIT School of Architecture, and the Parr Center for Ethics at Chapel Hill. You can find a list of my public writing here. In 2018, I was awarded a Public Philosophy Op-Ed prize by the American Philosophical Association. I occasionally teach a Calderwood Seminar on writing publicly engaged philosophy.

I teach in all of my research areas, and my teaching has an important impact on the shape of my research. I regularly teach courses in environmental philosophy and philosophy of art, which you can learn more about here. I've recently taught new courses such as Terrible Beauties, about the relationship between aesthetics and immorality in the arts, and Environmental Aesthetics. I am also a member of the Advisory Faculty for Environmental Studies and recently finished a term serving as the first Faculty Director of the Frost Center for the Environment at Wellesley.

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 a Senior Scientist at Harvard Forest. We once collaborated on a book chapter about the ethics of food waste (you can check out a pre-print here). We're the proud parents of an amazing 8-year-old human, and we also share our home with a Korean Village Dog rescue.

Outside of philosophy, I enjoy playing games, watching movies/TV, reading, hiking, trying new restaurants, exploring my neighborhood, and spending time with friends and family.

Education

  • B.A., Yale University
  • Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)

Current and upcoming courses

This course concerns our commonplace but sometimes puzzling ability to alter our moral relationship with other people through our will, what some philosophers have called “moral powers.” For instance, we can make a promise and create a moral obligation, give our consent and create a moral permission, offer forgiveness and repair a moral rupture. How should we understand these powers? How do they work and how do they shape our moral lives? We will pay particular attention to the moral powers involved in promising, consent, trust, and forgiveness.