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Title: Autism, neurodiversity, and the good life : on the very possibility of autistic thriving
Author: Chapman, Robert
Awarding Body: University of Essex
Current Institution: University of Essex
Date of Award: 2018
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Autism is typically framed as stemming from empathy deficits as well as more general cognitive and sensory issues. In turn it is further associated with other purported harms: ranging from psychological suffering to diminished moral agency. Given such associations, in the philosophical literature, autism is widely taken to hinder the possibility of both thriving and attaining personhood. Indeed, this purported stifling of thriving personhood can be taken as the core harm associated with autism as such. In direct contrast to this dominant view, the key aim of this thesis is to raise reasonable doubt as to the validity of this exclusion, by establishing that there is no decisive reason to accept the notion that autism is inherently harmful. This builds on arguments made by autistic self-advocates who argue in favour of de-medicalising and instead politicising autistic disablement and distress. However, the originality of this thesis lies in three key factors. First: it focuses more specifically on the purported impossibility of thriving autistic personhood, since I take this more fundamental matter to underlie all the other issues relating to these wider debates. Second: I use a negativist methodology. That is, instead of, say, arguing that autistic individuals can be useful to society or have positive attributes, my aim is to raise reasonable doubt regarding the core assumption underlying the dominant framing of autism as a pathology: namely, that autism and thriving personhood are inherently at odds. Third, I draw on methodologies developed by feminist philosophers and critical theorists in order to further our understanding of autism and the ethical issues surrounding it with more nuance than I have found in the existing literature. In sum: after a critical analysis of the concept of autism, and then further analysis of the relationship between autism and the harms it is associated with, I conclude that we have no decisive reason to think that being autistic, in and of itself, is at odds with either thriving or personhood. This chimes with the notion that autism is best framed as a difference, disabled by society rather than medical pathology, raises important problems for both ethical and psychiatric theory, and has significant implications for autism policy and practice.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Shirley Foundation ; University of Essex
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: B Philosophy (General)