The Ethics of Autism

The Ethics of Autism

Among Them, but Not of Them
Deborah R. Barnbaum
Distribution: World
Publication date: 09/17/2008
ISBN: 978-0-253-00068-2
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Bronze medal winner in the Health/Medicine/Nutrtion category, Independent Book Publishers Awards

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.

Author Bio

Deborah R. Barnbaum is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Kent State University and editor (with Michael Byron) of Research Ethics: Text and Readings. She lives in Kent, Ohio.


“How many of us, when first thinking about the problems raised by autism, would have imagined that one of the most cogent ethical problems is whether one ought to cure the disorder if a cure were to become available? Why this is a true ethical problem is only one of many insights to be gained from Deborah R. Barnbaum's meticulous analysis. Along the way, we confront perhaps the greatest challenge—what would it actually be like for us to get inside the heads of persons with autism, and experience life as they do?”
 — Howard Brody, MD, PhD, Director, Institute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch, and author of Th

“I know of no other work that tries to draw on the extensive and emerging psychological literature on autism to examine this disorder for its philosophical and ethical implications. . . . Its conclusions challenge many leading theories of ethics' claims regarding necessary and sufficient cognitive capabilities for moral reasoning. In practical terms, it challenges assumptions about the appropriateness of some parental decision making and research in relation to autism.”
 — Ronald M. Green, author of Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice

“This book will be of great interest to philosophers and students of philosophy on the issues of autism and what it means to be a person.”
 — Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures

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Table of Contents

1. A Philosophical Introduction to Autism
Voices of Autism: Jim Sinclair
2. The Value of an Autistic Life
Voices of Autism: Wendy Lawson
3. Autism and Moral Theories
Voices of Autism: Gunilla Gerland
4. Autism and Genetic Technologies
Voices of Autism: Donna Williams
5. Research on Persons with Autism
Voices of Autism: Temple Grandin