Dr Matthew Wray Perry
The University of British Columbia
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ethics and Social & Political Philosophy at The University of British Colombia. While I have interest in all areas of contemporary moral and political philosophy, my work focuses on dignity, rights, moral status, animal ethics, and dignitarian social norms. I received my PhD from the Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT) in October 2023. My PhD research argued that dignity and human rights should apply to nonhuman animals. Read more about my research, publications, and teaching below.
Outside of academia, I am a nature photographer, ardent runner, vegan foodie and dog lover (my family once had 5 border collies). All photos on this site are mine.
Download my CV here.
Dignity, Moral Status and Rights
Do animals have rights? And if so, are those rights similar to or fundamentally different from our own? In order to answer these questions in my PhD research (supervised by Dr Liam Shields and Dr Richard Child), I started by investigating the notion that Human Rights are grounded in “Human Dignity”. I argued that if we understand Dignity to be a signifier for moral status, then there is no justification for a distinctly human dignity. From this, I argued that a recharacterization of Dignity as the grounds of basic rights is required and I offered that recharacterization, in terms of the capacity to value. Since this is possessed by humans and nonhumans alike, I argued that it constitutes a grounds for “human” rights that are possessed beyond the human. While I passed my PhD (with no corrections) in Oct 2023, I am continuing to extend and developing this work based on feedback from my examiners (Prof Alasdair Cochrane and Dr Christian Schemmel).
Social Dignity and Interspecies Relations
If "human dignity" (as a grounds of rights) can be extended to nonhuman animals, then can we meaningfully extend the social senses of dignity (e.g. norms of rank, shame, and social recognition) to nonhumans, as well? In my research at UBC (working with Prof Kimberley Brownlee), I aim to investigate what implications extending social dignity to nonhumans would have for interspecies social relations. Not only are there questions concerning how we should accommodate the varying social capacities of nonhumans, but there are also questions concerning the extent to which it is even possible to extend the social senses of dignity beyond the human. What value do social relationships have to, and with, nonhumans? How should we understand the intrinsically unequal relationship between humans and animals? And might improved interspecies relations positively affect our own (human) social needs?
(2023) "The Dignitarian Return", European Journal of Political Theory. https://doi.org/10.1177/14748851231216878
I review and outline the novel contributions of recent work on dignity (from Colin Bird, Pablo Gilabert, Suzy Killmister, Vincent Lloyd and Andrea Sangiovanni). I then argue that the two dominant approaches to dignity are still engaged in the same well-established disagreement. I suggest that to make further progress these two approaches should be synthesised into a single hybrid conception.
(2023)""Human" Dignity Beyond the Human", Critical Review of Social and Political Philosophy.
Open Access: https://doi.org/10.1080/13698230.2023.2232221
I argue that justifications for the Human Scope Thesis (HST), according to which almost all humans and almost only humans have dignity, are doomed to fail. My claim is that even as dignity retains relevance to all humans, it must move beyond the mere human, so as to include nonhuman animals.
(forthcoming) “Dignity and The Grounds of Basic Rights: From Concept to Conception”, in Pribytkova, E. (ed), In Search for a Social Minimum, Springer: London.
Author draft available here.
I argue that there is a grounding relationship between dignity and basic rights. The paper sets out some of the questions that must be answered to develop that relationship, and offers a conception of dignity that defends the "social minimum" of what we need to live a good life.
(2023) "Dignity Beyond the Human: A Deontic Account of the Moral Status of Animals", Student thesis: Phd, The University of Manchester. Open Access: https://research.manchester.ac.uk/en/studentTheses/dignity-beyond-the-human-a-deontic-account-of-the-moral-status-of
In my PhD research, I defended the claim that dignity should extend beyond the human, to include a range of nonhuman animals. Not only can we develop a widely inclusive account of dignity by pursuing this route, but we can still defend the three core principles that lie at the heart of contemporary thinking about dignity: that bearers of dignity possess dignity to an equal degree, in virtue of possessing the same intrinsic worth, and that this generates direct and claimable rights. I thus develop an account of dignity that includes nonhuman animals.
(2023) Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves: Why Animals Matter for Pandemics, Climate Change, and other Catastrophes, written by Jeff Sebo. In: Journal of Moral Philosophy,20(3-4), 350-353. https://doi.org/10.1163/17455243-20030005
(2023) "Human dignity doesn’t make sense – but animal dignity might", Justice Everywhere. Accessible here: https://justice-everywhere.org/general/human-dignity-doesnt-make-sense-but-animal-dignity-might/
(2022) Widening Participating Blog Post "Research the Researcher: Matt Perry". Accessible here: https://www.access.manchester.ac.uk/research-the-researcher-matt/
Undergraduate Journal Articles
(2018) “Can Individuals have Moral Rights in the Absence of Legal Rights?”, Juncture: The University of Manchester Undergraduate Politics Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.53-59. Published version available here.
(2018) “Closed Borders, Open Immigration: Can Nationalism Ground the Right to Exclude?”, Juncture: The University of Manchester Undergraduate Politics Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.86-107. Published version available here.
I have been awarded a Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy in recognition of my teaching. For 4 years now, I have conducted seminars and completed marking and assessment for a range of courses in normative theorising, including:
(2023-24) 2nd year course: Ethics and Public Policy (UCL)
At UCL, I am a current senior postgraduate teaching assistant for a course analysing the normative side of public policy practices and proposals. In particular, each week we look at a normative issue, situate it in its ethical tradition(s), and connect it to a contempory policy issue. During the course, I will be using the argument mapping technology "kialo" as a way to support teaching and learning. The convenor for this course is Fergus Green.
(2023-24) 2nd year course: Injustice and Resistance (Manchester)
I am currently leading seminars for this module, which focuses on the practical ways in which injustice manifests itself in contemporary society. Topics include health inequality, corruption, the right to sex, and migration. I also taught on this course in 2021 when it was formerly named "Challenges to Democratic Politics". The current convenor is Vittorio Gerosa (previously Clara Sandelind). Feedback on 2021 teaching: "Matthew Perry's seminars were great. He worked really hard to make his seminars interactive and engaging. I really appreciated his emails which sent us the seminar powerpoints and some additional comments from him in advance. He was also great support and replied to emails quickly and was helpful during his office hours. He's also clearly very passionate about pol theory. Matt's seminars were easily the best seminars which I attended this semester. Overall an asset to the team."
(2023-24) 1st year course: Issues in PPE (Manchester)
I am leading two seminars (in politics and philosophy) and supervising students' group work for this introduction module, which is mandatory for all PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) students. This year's theme is Education. The convenor is Stephen Ingram.
(2021-22) 2nd year course: Ideals of Social Justice (Manchester)
This course takes a theory of social justice – ‘liberal egalitarianism’ – that is dominant in the contemporary literature in political theory, and analyses it from a wide range of angles. I taught this course in 2020-2021, during the height of the pandemic. Seminars were given online, over zoom. The convenor was Richard Child. Feedback from student: "Matthew Perry's constant availability for support and his encouragement of discussion in his tutorials - especially by separating us into groups for mini-discussion before presenting to the group... Also the feedback from my exam was thorough and explained exactly how to improve, leaving me with no doubt as to how to move forward.”"
(2020-21 & 2022-23) 1st year course: Introduction to Political Theory
This is an introductory course to normative political theory: a course about what values and principles should guide political action and decision-making. I have taught on this course twice now, once during 2020 (where I swapped to online teaching when the pandemic began) and once during 2023. During 2021, I acted as a Research Assistant to support the diversification of the required and recommended readings included on the course guide. The convenors were Miriam Ronzoni and Juri Viehoff. Student feedback: Matthew was an amazing seminar leader who always knew how to make the discussion going, did not make us feel bad if we were not sure about our answers or for some reason did not manage to prepare for the seminar well enough. He was always happy to explain and answer any question we had. What I appreciated a lot was the regular emails with seminar content, slides and a reminder for the necessary reading for the week. In some of my modules, it was hard to keep up with the preparation, but Matthew always provided an overview of what needed to be done. Big thumbs up.
Widening Participating Work
As well as teaching undergraduate courses, I was also a Widening Participation Fellow for two years during my PhD. I supported the university in both increasing access to HE for pre-university students from under-represented socio-economic backgrounds and helping current Widening Participation students in facing the challenges posed by progressing through university. During that time, I produced three pre-recorded sessions for the pre-university side of my role, which schools are able to use, subsequently booking me for Q&A follow up sessions if they wish (one on “Why Study Politics” at University and two are a guided Philosophy Subject Taster Workshop, with activities, on “Should animals have human rights?” and "Corruption - Bad People or Bad Institutions?"). For current university students, I organised and ran (alongside the WP Lead for Politics) a series of workshops to support current students through their undergraduate journeys and beyond.