Dylan Matthews '12

Dylan Matthews profile photoSenior Correspondent at Vox

Thesis Title: Get Happy: A Defense of Act Utilitarianism

The highlight of Social Studies, for me, was that it introduced me to moral and political philosophy, which would become the focus of my concentration and my thesis. Partly that introduction came through Social Studies 10 lectures. I particularly remember the week covering "On Liberty," where Richard Tuck launched into a long explanation of why he thought Millian liberalism implied a commitment to Paul Feyerabend-style epistemological anarchism. The more empirically-oriented half of the auditorium seemed vaguely annoyed but my friend Ben Hand and I just sat there utterly enraptured. But my introduction to normative theory mostly came through small seminars, like my Social Studies 10 section with Nick O'Donovan and my 98 seminar with Katie Gallagher, through one-on-one chats with my adviser Tim Scanlon, and through my semester at The University of Cambridge, arranged through Social Studies.

I work as a political opinion journalist now, which requires both a reasonable degree of analytic care, which philosophy of all kinds can help cultivate, and a facility with normative argumentation, which moral and political philosophy in particular help one develop. The basic questions that dominate debates I cover — is social stigmatization of offensive speech problematic, or itself an exercise of speech rights? what kinds of civil disobedience are justified to resist unjust governments? what kind of limits on international migration are morally acceptable, if any? — are ones whose substance permeates the Social Studies curriculum, particularly for theory students, and I doubt if I had concentrated elsewhere that I'd be as prepared to tackle them now.