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Not for the philosophically light-hearted reader, Cognitive Disability and its Challenge to Moral Philosophy offers a wide birth of insight into a relatively new concentration of philosophical interest. Created as a collection of articles following a conference held at Stony Brook University in September 2008, the scope of this book covers the historical medical background and research in cognitive disabilities, the evaluation of the treatment of cognitive disorders on the basis of the concept of justice, as well as addressing issues with care, agency, and personhood. In addition, the collection offers experiential claims of those with cognitive disabilities and those who care for persons with cognitive disabilities in order to present first hand understandings of the lived experience of these individuals. The ultimate goal of this collection and field of research aims to eliminate general misconceptions and to support arguments towards further research, funding, and sociological involvement with those who are directly affected thereof.
It is most intriguing to first review cognitive disabilities through the eyes of a medical professional in order to provide a background towards the progression of legislation, medical care, and diagnoses through the last Century as offered by Jeffery P. Brosco in 'The Limits of the Medical Model: Historical Epidemiology of Intellectual Disability in the United States'. Following this medical overview, James C. Harris offers a philosophical interpretation on how individuals with cognitive disabilities are perceived from ideas of compassion, to ostracism and neglect throughout the ages, in his article 'Developmental Perspective on the Emergence of Moral Personhood'. His article addresses the treatment of these individuals through the World War II Nazi regime to present day procedures indicating how these individuals are treated by 'the system'.
In the evaluation of the application of the conception of justice to those with cognitive disabilities, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Berbe, Cynthia A. Stark and Sophia Isako Wong offer four articles in direct discussion with one another. These articles provide a debate on the applicability of Rawl's theory of justice, idealisms of moral personhood, political justification, social contract traditions and political liberalism with the resounding idealism that "[I]n short: people with cognitive disabilities are equal citizens, and law ought to show respect for them as full equals" (Nussbaum, Pg. 94).
Where traditionally, philosophical literature has often discussed cognitive disabilities solely by a review of those with dementia and autism the following articles on care, agency, speaking about cognitive disabilities and personhood, attempt to expand these conceptualisations to bring to light the full spectrum of these individuals. The authors contributing to this collection's chapter on Care offer reviews of the social contract of care, and the identities we provide to those with cognitive disabilities who experience care relative to the worthiness of the lives they then lead. This collection's chapter on Agency continues these arguments revealing concerns on the ethical nature of care, the defining responsibility of the moral community to provide care, how to define the identity of the carer and recipient, specifically reviewing the moral obligations of the carer's themselves.
Ultimately when reviewing the philosophical literature of those who individuals with cognitive disabilities and the lives that they lead, research such as that provided within this collection promotes 'the ongoing social and cultural evolution of the autistic [cognitively disabled] spectrum' (McGeer, Pg. 280: quoting Hacking 2009, Pg. 1467). Where Ian Hacking brings to light the recent exposure in the public domain to literature about, or concerning cognitive disabilities in his article, 'How We Have Been Learning to Talk about Autism', authors such as Victoria McGeer ('The Thought and Talk of Individuals with Autism: Reflections on Ian Hacking'), Anna Stubblefield ('The Entanglement of Race and Cognitive Dis/ability') offer discussions concerning the evolution of society in its progressive domain to consider all humans, including cognitively impaired individuals, with equal opportunities and rights in a social contract.
Conversely Peter Singer ('Speciesism and Moral Status) and Jeff McMahan ('Cognitive Disability and Cognitive Enhancement') offer counter arguments of exclusive inclusion of all humans into an equal social contract by outlining discussions of animals with higher IQ values than humans with severe cognitive impairment, and speculations about fetal cognition, rights and liberties to define inviolability within a society. Agnieszka Jaworska ('Caring and Full Moral Standing Redux') attempts to create a quantifying quality for which to define who is inviolable within society on the fundamental basis of one's capacity to care; an alternative thesis to Kant's quoted definition to distinguish what defines a person within society on the basis of autonomy, those capable of reason, as previously introduced by both Singer and McMahan.
Both editors of this collection offer articles in this discussion, Licia Carlson ('Philosophers of Intellectual Disability') and Eva Feder Kittay ('The Personal is Philosophical is Political: A Philosopher and Mother of A Cognitively Disabled Person Sends Notes from the Battlefield') for which both articles hold strong the beliefs that these academic works are works in progress, and that further research should continue by which we can expect (and possibly hope) for change to social norms in the treatment and consideration of those with cognitive disabilities. 'Finally, philosophy, when approached critically, may have something important to offer in the striving for the just and caring treatment of those who have been outside its scope' (Kittay, Pg. 397).
Hacking, U. 2009. Ausistic Autobiography. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Vol. 364, No. 1552: 1467-73
Kittay, E.F. 2010. The Personal is Philosophical is Political: A Philosopher and Mother of a Cognitively Disabled Person Sends Notes from the Battlefield. In: Cognitive Disability and its Challenge to Moral Philosophy. Ed: Kittay, E. F., & Carlson, L. Pp. 393-413
McGeer, V. 2010. The Thought and Talk of Individuals with Autism: Reflections on Ian Hacking. In: Cognitive Disability and its Challenge to Moral Philosophy. Ed: Kittay, E. F., & Carlson, L. Pp. 279-292
Nussbaum, M. 2010. The Capabilities of People with Cognitive Disabilities. In: Cognitive Disability and its Challenge to Moral Philosophy. Ed: Kittay, E. F., & Carlson, L. Pp. 75-95
© 2012 Cicely Alsbury
Cicely Alsbury has completed a B.Sc. Honours degree in Marine and Freshwater biology with a minor in nutrition, as well as a B.A.in philosophy from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She has recently completed an M.A. at the University of Hull, Yorkshire, U.K. Her philosophical interests concentrate on the evolution of computational thought processes, providing a link between studies in evolutionary biology with contemporary analytic theories of mind.