Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin

Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin

Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin

(936) 294-3585

Department of Psychology & Philosophy, Sam Houston State University, Campus Box 2447, Huntsville, Texas 77341-2447

Department: Philosophy

Assistant Professor

I am Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Sam Houston State University. Before that, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. Before taking up my postdoc, I received my PhD (in Philosophy) from the University of California, Riverside, my MA (in Philosophy) from Boston College and my BA (in Creative Writing & Literature) from the University of Michigan.

My main areas of research are in ethics, the philosophy of action, racism, and death and dying.

Here are abstracts and copies of my published and forthcoming papers. Please cite the published versions where possible. I always appreciate comments or questions, which you can send by email.


A View of Racism: 2016 and America's Original Sin (Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy 13 (March 2018): 53-72)

The 2016 US Election and its aftermath have renewed anti-racist activism on the American left. This article takes a close look at familiar philosophical analyses of racism and argues that they have two shortcomings: (1) they do not offer proper guidance in combating racism, and (2) they do not adequately represent the historical relationship between race and racism. A different view of racism, one that adopts a genealogical, as opposed to analytical, approach is laid out. And it is argued that this view is better able to account for what racism is and to guide the anti-racist response called for by current events.

A View of Racism-accepted version.pdf

Unraveling the Knot: On Race, Racism, and Human History (Think 17 (Autumn 2018): 61-74)

This article argues for a shift in our thinking about racism. There are two main philosophical approaches at present: the moral view, which analyzes racism in terms of individuals' attitudes, and the political view, which analyzes it in terms of institutions. But neither is fully satisfactory. So I propose an alternative, genealogical account, which is better equipped to explain the phenomena associated with racism and is more in line with the historical record.

Unraveling the Knot-penultimate.pdf


In Defense of the Platonic Model: A Reply to Buss (Ethics 124 (Jan. 2014): 342-357)

Sarah Buss has recently argued that endorsement theories of autonomy face three problems: they conflate autonomous agency with agency simpliciter, they face a vicious regress, and they get the extension of autonomous actions wrong. I argue that one such theory, Gary Watson’s Platonic Model, is not subject to any of these problems. I conclude that Buss has not given us reason to reject the Platonic Model and that it may be compatible with her own theory of accountability.

Published Version.pdf

The Platonic Model: Statement, Clarification and Defense (Philosophical Explorations 18(3): 378-392)

I motivate a novel understanding of the debate about which theory of self-governance is best and show that it has special features that undermine the effectiveness of a common argument form. Though counterexamples are commonly offered to discredit rival theories, the most that can be established, in this debate, by appeal to cases are substantive points of disagreement between theories. These disagreements can be traced to distinct background commitments about what is fundamental to self-governing agency, and these commitments, I argue, are not fit to be impugned on the basis of cases.

How Not To Argue About Self-Governance Phil Exp Final.docx

Aligning with the Good (Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy (July 2015))

I argue that Michael Bratman's Frankfurtian challenge to Sharon Street's constructivism misses its target.


Moral Philosophy

Deep Reflection: In Defense of Korsgaard’s Orthodox Kantianism (Res Philosophica 93 (1): 1-25)

This paper defends the Kantian moral theory developed by Christine Korsgaard against the charge that it does not establish that immorality is always irrational because moral obligations are inescapable and overriding. I argue, first, that G. A. Cohen makes too much of the difference between Korsgaard and Kant on the source of moral norms and that we can appeal to what she says about practical reason in an early paper of hers in order to handle his Mafioso case. Next, I take up J. David Velleman’s recent treatment of Korsgaard’s view in response to Cohen’s Mafioso case. I show that Velleman’s argument that her view is concessive conflates his own view of human agency with Korsgaard’s practical identity theory. My hope is that this discussion shows how Korsgaard’s view can be made to work as an orthodox Kantianism.

Online First Version

Death and Immortality

Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife (w/ John Martin Fischer), Oxford University Press (June 2016)

Near-death experiences offer a glimpse not only into the nature of death but also into the meaning of life. They are not only useful tools to aid in the human quest to understand death but are also deeply meaningful, transformative experiences for the people who have them.

In a unique contribution to the growing and popular literature on the subject, philosophers John Martin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin examine prominent near-death experiences, such as those of Pam Reynolds, Eben Alexander and Colton Burpo. They combine their investigations with critiques of the narratives' analysis by those who take them to show that our minds are immaterial and heaven is for real. In contrast, the authors provide a blueprint for a science-based explanation. Focusing on the question of whether near-death experiences provide evidence that consciousness is separable from our brains and bodies, Fischer and Mitchell-Yellin give a naturalistic account of the profound meaning and transformative effects that these experiences engender in many. This book takes the reality of near-death experiences seriously. But it also shows that understanding them through the tools of science is completely compatible with acknowledging their profound meaning.

Reviewed at The Philosophical Quarterly

Reviewed at the Los Angeles Review of Books

The Near-Death Experience Argument Against Physicalism: A Critique (w/ John Martin Fischer) (Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 21, No. 7-8 (July/Aug. 2014): 158-183)

Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, including the mind. Some have argued that Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), conscious experiences during episodes, such as cardiac arrest, when one’s normal brain functions are severely impaired, tell against physicalism and in favor of an alternative conception of the mind as non-localized and immaterial. In this paper, we consider in detail Pim van Lommel’s recent attempt to do so. Our main contentions are, first, that it is not clear that physicalism cannot accommodate the phenomena of NDEs and, second, that it is not clear how the conception of the mind as non-localized and immaterial is supposed to help.

Published Version.pdf

Immortality and Boredom (w/ John Martin Fischer) (The Journal of Ethics 18 (Dec. 2014): 353-372)

In this paper, we aim to clarify and evaluate the contention that immortality would be necessarily boring (the Necessary Boredom Thesis). It will emerge that, just as there are various importantly different kinds of immortality, there are various distinct kinds of boredom. To evaluate the Necessary Boredom Thesis, we need to specify the kind of immortality and the kind of boredom. We argue against the thesis, on various specifications of ‘immortality’ and ‘boredom.’

Online First Version.pdf

(Not) Riding Into the Sunset: The Significance of Endings (w/ John Martin Fischer) (Reflections on Responsibility: Essays in Honor of Peter French (Zachary J. Goldberg, ed., Springer, 2017)

Peter French contrasts the world view of the westerners, which is committed to the claim that death is necessary for a certain sort of meaningfulness in our lives, with the world view of the easterners, with its Christian commitment to an afterlife. We argue that it is worth taking seriously a “third world view,” which posits the potential desirability of secular immortality. We consider a dilemma offered by Bernard Williams against this third world view. The first horn has it that if an individual’s character remains the same in a radically extended (or immortal) life, she would necessarily become bored. The second horn claims that if one’s character changes significantly, then one will either not be the same person any more or, even if one is the same person, it will not be rational for the antecedent individual to care about the resultant individual. We reply to the first horn by pointing out that there is no reason to individuate the relevant character traits (and events) as narrowly as Williams seems to, and once a more appropriate and relatively broad individuation of such traits (and events) is employed, his claim becomes implausible. Our reply to the second horn defends the symmetry of our situations in our limited, finite lives and the envisaged situation of individuals in an extended (or immortal) life. In both contexts, we may have good reason to care about future selves.


The Significance of an Afterlife (Ethics at the End of Life: New Issues and Arguments (John Davis, ed., Routledge, 2017)

What role does belief in the afterlife play in our thinking about death? This chapter argues that insights from traditional philosophical discussions of the badness of death and the desirability of immortality, which operate on the assumption that there is no afterlife, remain relevant even if we assume that there is an afterlife. It turns out that believers and non-believers have more common ground on these issues than one might have thought.

The Significance of an Afterlife-penultimate draft.pdf

Understanding Near-Death Experiences: A Response to Mays and Mays's Review (Journal of Near-Death Studies 36 (Winter 2017): 100-109)

I respond to a critique of my book, with John Martin Fischer, on near-death experiences. The critique claims (a) that our suggestions for physical explanations of NDEs were ad hoc, (b) that we labeled NDEs "hallucinations," thus pathologizing them and potentially harming NDErs, (c) that we illicitly appealed to the progress of science in order to refute supernaturalism, and (d) that we fell prey to the same pitfalls of confirmation bias we claimed others should avoid. I show that none of these charges stick and try to clear up the attendant misreadings, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings of what we said.

IANDS reply published.pdf

Modal Logic

S5 for Aristotelian Actualists (w/ Michael Nelson) (Philosophical Studies 173 (6): 1537-1569)

Aristotelian Actualism is, first, the thesis of Actualism, that absolutely everything that exists actually exists or is composed or constituted by actually existing objects and, second, Aristotelianism, the thesis that individuals, the bearers of properties, are basic or fundamental, not just sets or collections of properties. Two prominent Aristotelian Actualists, R. M. Adams and G. W. Fitch, argue that the thesis entails that the correct modal logic for contingent existents is weaker than S4 and S5. We argue that both Adams’ and Fitch's cases against S4 and S5 turn on a similar mistake, that of evaluating the truth or falsity of certain propositions with respect to a nonactual world in terms of what would have been true were that world actual. This is at odds with the Actualist's metaphysical picture. How matters would have been had a nonactual world been actual, we suggest, should not be modeled on a par with how an ordinary individual or group of individuals would have been had matters been such and so. We also argue that a more consistent, universal application of the notion of truth at as the basis of all necessity and possibility undercuts Adams and Fitch's counterexamples to S4 and S5. The result is a view consistent with the metaphysical commitments of Aristotelian Actualism that is also consistent with S5 as the correct modal logic of contingent beings.

published version.pdf

I am currently teaching:

  • HONR 3342: Frankenstein (co-taught, interdisciplinary honors seminar)
  • PHIL 1301: Introduction to Philosophy
  • PHIL 4380/CRIJ 4377: Philosophy of Crime and Justice

My past courses at SHSU have been:

Summer 2018

  • PHIL 1301: Introduction to Philosophy
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying (online)

Spring 2018

  • PHIL 2306: Contemporary Moral Issues (x2)
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying

Fall 2017

  • PHIL 1301: Introduction to Philosophy
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying
  • PHIL 4380/CRIJ 4377: Philosophy of Crime and Justice

Summer 2017

  • PHIL 1301: Introduction to Philosophy
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying (online)

Spring 2017

  • PHIL 2306: Contemporary Moral Issues (x2)
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying

Fall 2016

  • PHIL 1301: Introduction to Philosophy (x2)
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying

Summer 2016

  • PHIL 2306: Contemporary Moral Issues
  • PHIL 2361: Introduction to Philosophy
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying (online)

Spring 2016

  • PHIL 2306: Contemporary Moral Issues (x2)
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying

Fall 2015

  • PHIL 2361: Introduction to Philosophy (x2)
  • PHIL 4371: Death and Dying

Summer 2015

  • PHIL 2306: Contemporary Moral Issues

I blog regularly at Psychology Today about issues at the intersection of philosophy and psychology. You can check it out here.

I talk to the media about issues related to my work on immortality and near-death experiences. Here is an interview with my Houston NPR station. And here is one in which I discuss near-death experiences and acid trips.


Curriculum Vitae is available in PDF format.


PhD: UC Riverside (2012)

MA: Boston College (2007)

BA (w/Honors): Residential College, UM Ann Arbor (2002) – (Major: Creative Writing and Literature)


PhD in Philosophy from University of California, Riverside

Benjamin Mitchell Yellin from Sam Houston State University on Vimeo.