We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Ethics of Autism

Among Them, but Not of Them

Deborah R. Barnbaum

Publication Year: 2008

Autism is one of the most compelling, controversial, and heartbreaking cognitive disorders. It presents unique philosophical challenges as well, raising intriguing questions in philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and philosophy of language that need to be explored if the autistic population is to be responsibly served. Starting from the "theory of mind" thesis that a fundamental deficit in autism is the inability to recognize that other persons have minds, Deborah R. Barnbaum considers its implications for the nature of consciousness, our understanding of the consciousness of others, meaning theories in philosophy of language, and the modality of mind. This discussion lays the groundwork for consideration of the value of an autistic life, as well as the moral theories available to persons with autism. The book also explores questions about genetic decision making, research into the nature of autism, and the controversial quest for a cure. This is a timely and wide-ranging book on a disorder that commends itself to serious ethical examination.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Bioethics and the Humanities


pdf iconDownload PDF (37.3 KB)
pp. ix

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (268.6 KB)
pp. xi-xii

My interest in philosophy and autism is long-standing. For that reason I have many people to thank for the transformation of that interest into this book. The editorial board and staff at Indiana University Press were enormously helpful. I owe thanks to Anne Clemmer for being available to answer every question. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (209.1 KB)
pp. 1-12

Imagine if your understanding of other people was radically different from the way it is today. Picture a life where your understanding of the physical presence of other people is intact, but your sense of qualities such as beliefs, intentions, hopes, and speculations came fitfully, or perhaps only with great effort after a great deal of practice, or perhaps not at all. ...

read more

Voices of Autism: Jim Sinclair

pdf iconDownload PDF (241.1 KB)
pp. 14-15

Jim Sinclair wrote an autobiographical essay, “Bridging the Gaps: An Inside-Out View of Autism (Or, Do You Know What I Don’t Know?),” at the age of twenty-seven. Sinclair did not use speech to communicate until he was twelve years old, and did not have a vocabulary to articulate his own feelings until he was twenty-five. ...

read more

1 A Philosophical Introduction to Autism

pdf iconDownload PDF (788.4 KB)
pp. 17-66

This chapter lays the groundwork for a subsequent discussion of ethics and autism. In order to understand the ethical implications of this complex disorder, an understanding of autism is essential. Three predominant theories of autism are considered: the theory of mind thesis, the weak central coherence thesis, and the weak executive function thesis. ...

read more

Voices of Autism: Wendy Lawson

pdf iconDownload PDF (364.4 KB)
pp. 68-69

Wendy Lawson recounts her first forty-two years in her autobiography, Life Behind Glass. During most of her life Lawson was wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia. She endured the death of her infant brother, the near-amputation of one of her legs along with attendant operations and physical therapy, difficulties in school, her parents’ divorce...

read more

2 The Value of an Autistic Life

pdf iconDownload PDF (540.0 KB)
pp. 71-104

Much philosophical energy has been expended on questions such as: What makes an individual a “person”? What makes a human life a “good human life,” a life that has gone well? What makes an individual a “member of the moral community”? The differences between each of these distinctions help to map out moral obligations. “ ...

read more

Voices of Autism: Gunilla Gerland

pdf iconDownload PDF (313.0 KB)
pp. 106-107

Gunilla Gerland’s autobiography, A Real Person, focuses primarily on her childhood and early adulthood in Sweden. Only as an adult was she finally diagnosed with autism. Her failure to  t in as a child was chalked up to “defiance,” rather than the profound difficulties she faced. ...

read more

3 Autism and Moral Theories

pdf iconDownload PDF (524.1 KB)
pp. 109-140

The previous chapter considered the moral status of the person with autism. What role does the person with autism have in the moral community, given that he is cut off from other persons in a fundamental way, and what do theories about well-lived human lives tell us about the lives of persons with autism? ...

read more

Voices of Autism: Donna Williams

pdf iconDownload PDF (332.1 KB)
pp. 142-143

Donna Williams’s autobiographical writings include many of the same themes as those addressed by Wendy Lawson and Gunilla Gerland. Williams’s first book, Nobody Nowhere, begins with her childhood and school years during which time she experienced sensory difficulties and alienation from other children. ...

read more

4 Autism and Genetic Technologies

pdf iconDownload PDF (488.0 KB)
pp. 145-175

Current estimates are that between 30 and 50 percent of cases of autism are inherited genetically, although few cases overall are directly inherited because people with autism rarely have children (Siegel 1996; Frith 2003). Evidence also exists for a genetic basis for some cases of Asperger’s syndrome (Ghaziuddin 2005). ...

read more

Voices of Autism: Temple Grandin

pdf iconDownload PDF (333.1 KB)
pp. 176-177

Temple Grandin is a full professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. She established a national reputation designing cattle chutes and slaughterhouses, designs that both reduce animal stress and promote the humane slaughter of animals. In addition to her work in animal sciences, Dr. Grandin is known for her publications and lectures on her experiences...

read more

5 Research on Persons with Autism

pdf iconDownload PDF (472.0 KB)
pp. 179-207

Human subjects research raises significant questions. Is it ever permissible to use human beings as research subjects? If it is permissible, is it ever permissible to use human beings who are not competent decision makers as research subjects? The particulars of the answer to both questions—what makes human subjects research permissible at all...


pdf iconDownload PDF (196.5 KB)
pp. 209-216


pdf iconDownload PDF (245.4 KB)
pp. 217-227


pdf iconDownload PDF (143.3 KB)
pp. 229-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000682
E-ISBN-10: 0253000688
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253352132

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Bioethics and the Humanities