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The Faces of Intellectual Disability

Philosophical Reflections

Licia Carlson

Publication Year: 2010

In a challenge to current thinking about cognitive impairment, this book explores what it means to treat people with intellectual disabilities in an ethical manner. Reassessing philosophical views of intellectual disability, Licia Carlson shows how we can affirm the dignity and worth of intellectually disabled people first by ending comparisons to nonhuman animals and then by confronting our fears and discomforts. Carlson presents the complex history of ideas about cognitive disability, the treatment of intellectually disabled people, and social and cultural reactions to them. Sensitive and clearly argued, this book offers new insights on recent trends in disability studies and philosophy.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book has gone through many incarnations, and I am deeply grateful to so many who have generously shared their insights, questions, and voices along the way. This book would not exist were it not for the amazing individuals I met at the Rehabilitation School in Poughkeepsie, New York, ...

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A Note on Terminology

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pp. xv

In this volume I have chosen to use the term “intellectual disability” to refer to the general conditions traditionally associated with mental retardation. I prefer this more general term, in part because it reflects the recent shift (both professional and political) away from “mental retardation.” ...

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Introduction: The Philosopher’s Nightmare

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pp. 1-18

This book is born of the kind of curiosity that Foucault imagined. It traces a philosophical journey of sorts that began with Plato—hardly an original starting point. I was an undergraduate in a seminar on the Platonic dialogues. This three-hour class happened to be held immediately after a weekly volunteer job I had working with children ...

Part One The Institutional World of Intellectual Disability

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pp. 19

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1 Twin Brothers: The “Idiot” and the Institution

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pp. 21-52

In this chapter, I explore the world of institutions for the “feebleminded” that emerged in mid-nineteenth-century America. There is a vast and rapidly growing body of literature on the history of intellectual disability, much of which focuses on the fascinating story of these institutions and examines the complex evolution of the concept of intellectual disability.1 ...

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2 Gendered Objects, Gendered Subjects

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pp. 53-84

In critically revisiting his work on madness in The History of Madness, Foucault saw a need to dislodge the asylum from its central place in the history of madness: “We should show, rather, that what is essential is not the institution with its regularity, with its rules, but precisely the imbalances of power that I have tried to show ...

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3 Analytic Interlude

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pp. 85-102

The foregoing window into the history of intellectual disability is by no means exhaustive but reveals certain tensions and dynamics that are important to consider when turning our attention to contemporary questions regarding intellectual disability. Though the emerging discourse of social construction in the past few decades ...

Part Two The Philosophical World of Intellectual Disability

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pp. 103

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4 The Face of Authority

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pp. 105-130

Institutions for the feebleminded and the rise of mental testing demarcated two fields in which knowledge claims about intellectual disability could be made. Physicians, psychologists, and legislators had a profound impact on how intellectual disability was defined and managed, and both the external and internal heterogeneity of this category ...

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5 The Face of the Beast

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pp. 131-162

In 1951 Willowbrook State School was opened in central Staten Island, New York, as an institution for the retarded. By 1963 Willowbrook had six thousand residents living in a space intended for four thousand. Two years later, Senator Robert Kennedy visited Willowbrook and told the press ...

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6 The Face of Suffering

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pp. 163-188

Given some of the arguments in the preceding chapter, one might wonder to what extent the question of the suffering of persons with intellectual disabilities has been given philosophical attention, as many of these concerns seem to be overshadowed by or subordinated to the suffering of non-human animals. ...

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Conclusion: The Face of the Mirror

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pp. 189-208

In unmasking certain philosophical faces of intellectual disability, I have explored multiple ways in which the “intellectually disabled,” the “severely cognitively disabled,” the “mentally retarded” have been portrayed as profoundly other. Yet there is another face that is worthy of consideration, one that takes us back to the questions ...


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pp. 209-244

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780253003942
E-ISBN-10: 0253003946
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253354211

Page Count: 286
Publication Year: 2010