It’s hard to write an autistic history of philosophy. History is such a conventional concept. I don’t know whether I really get it. Maybe history is the product of philosophy instead of it being the other way around. If so, good riddance to the Kantian idea philosophy has to make progress just like science does. Science only makes progress in the room created by philosophy in the first place. There you have it: an autistic thought that makes a problem of its own starting point. Like a dog chasing its tail I have already condemned myself to a project that can have neither start nor end. A project that as well could have been called an autistic philosophy of history.
It’s hard to write an autistic philosophy of history. Philosophy, according to Descartes, is about clear and distinct ideas, but whether there can be such a thing is a matter of fierce debate. Maybe ideas are just a product of history instead of universal and timeless things to be discovered. I don’t know whether I really get that either. It would seem there are as many ideas as there are histories and that surely makes ideas too shady to be of any use at all. For instance, why not say that the tail is chasing the dog? Or indeed that the kidney of the dog likes to swirl. This project could then as well be relabeled as ‘history of autistic philosophy’ being apparently about brains, like mine, that are prone to swirl.
You might fear this may go on endlessly. This presumably is why some philosophers, like Hacking, deny any reality to autism. And one can also obviously deny that, if there’s such a thing, I am it; because whatever the status of the concept autism, it was not meant for a person attempting to articulate why he fails to be able to articulate his idea in a clear and distinct way. So at this point I can only ask for your trust in charitably trying to interpret, with a mind open to the possibility of fusing our horizons, what I’m trying to convey. This betrays Davidson and Gadamer, respectively, as my historical philosophical inspirations – and my conviction that any true philosophy should be a philosophy of trust.
The question for me then becomes why so much philosophy is preoccupied with fear. As an autistic I know a thing or two about fear. And so I have stumbled on my method after all: meticulously collect the dichotomies produced by philosophy and inspect how they’re the truly productive element of history. Making problems to enable new solutions, if you will. As an exercise I start with trust and fear (or certainty and uncertainty for those who prefer analytical parlance) as they are items of a specific phenomenological relevance in my lived experience as an – if you allow me – autistic person.
“In giving up the dualism of scheme and world, we don’t give up the world, but re-establish unmediated touch with the familiar objects whose antics make our sentences and opinions true or false.” Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth & Interpretation, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 198.
The word ‘real’ is a divider. Just like with God, when your real isn’t my real that’s enough to create the type of zeal to come to blows. We constantly show we don’t need the Gods to start a war. That is a fact. It might seem everyday and familiar to sophisticated modern people like us constantly figuring out what is real and what a mere figment of our fancy. Nevertheless it is a fact: whenever people think they’re right, ‘really’ right, death’s on our doorstep.
So let us examine this little word ‘real’ for what it does to our reality. Let’s see whether it belongs with the familiar family of other infamous four-letter words. To start the inquiry, try to remember the last time you heard somebody saying person X was not a ‘real’ Y. For instance X was in fact a muslim but she wasn’t a ‘real’ muslim in that she did not wear a hijab. Or, X was in fact liberal but he wasn’t a ‘real’ liberal in that he didn’t verbally come out in support of gay marriage. Or, X was in fact born here but he wasn’t a ‘real’ national because he failed to defend his identity. Or, X was indeed a refugee but she wasn’t a ‘real’ refugee in that she did adopt our identity. Or, like in my case, I am an atheist but I am not a ‘real’ atheist because I do not think religion is the worst thing that ever happened to the whole wide world. Like I’m not a ‘real’ autistic because, well, I don’t look like one.
It won’t be too hard to come up with your own examples where something like this was thrown at you or somebody you liked. So follow me in tracking how the word ‘real’ flies like a boomerang hitting the utterer of it smack in its own face. At least when we’re lucky enough it doesn’t hit a very real person in a very real way before it has fully bent back.
Cross-posted from: https://autismethics.com/
Recent phenomenological research (Hens & Langenberg, forthcoming) has found that receiving a diagnosis can be very helpful for autistic individuals. One of the significant elements is a coming to terms with the nature of autism as, at least in part, neurological diversity. As discussed in an Autism Ethics Network event in Utrecht, it makes a difference what type of neurological explanation is taken; as the explanation not only impacts the self-perception of autistic individuals but also the way in which autistic people are seen by society.
Sometimes it seems like there is a definitive consensus in cognitive science about autism. This is most definitely not the case. In a recent cognitive science paper (1) autism theories have been grouped as “social first and nonsocial” based on which facts are considered to be the primary cause of the behavior giving rise to an autism diagnosis. Recent cognitive research is taking the heterogeneity of symptoms and co-morbidities associated to autism as an occasion for developing novel theories. Below, that research is systemized somewhat inviting the reader to keep an open mind on autism research as well as on the very real ethical implications of going for one or another type of theory.
Our classification groups theories in the categories ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’. This can be taken literally: some theories start from facts at a higher social or cognitive level where others start from facts at a lower sensory, perception, motor or predictive coding level.
I write this inspired by the work of Ian Hacking on looping effects, human kinds and so on. My sympathies are with Hacking on this. Still, I believe there’s something that needs to be added: the social looping effect needs a binding effect in reality to remain stable. This has consequences: it is too easy to reduce a specific kind of humans out of the human kind just because they are confronted with a reality that happens to be out of the social norm.
Let me make up a story, a parable of sorts, about an imaginary civilization in which an evil both real and socially constructed exists. A parable has the virtue of edification because it illustrates a point without risking the muddle of prejudice which will inevitably surround any actual real and/or socially constructed concept or behavior.
Mountains, social exclusion and initiation rituals ahead:
“Your occupation is to keep your disguise intact and you succeed in it because your mask is the most puzzling of all; to wit you are nothing, you are constantly only in relation to others, and what you are you are only in virtue of that relation.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, own translation.
One word can make a world of difference. The word that makes the difference in the above quote is the word ‘only’. It is not a problem to be constantly in relation to others. Likewise it is not a problem to be yourself in virtue of that relation. The issue is when you are ‘only’ that. It is simply true that you are at least that and the sad truth is that in atomistic times that simple truth is swiftly swept under the rug. You can deny that what you are you are in virtue of your relation to others but the result of your denial is that you’re nothing because you add nothing; what remains of you is ‘only’ your mechanical relation to others.
It may be a stretch to go from Kierkegaard to mathematics. Still, there’s a sense in which it is improper to call the subset of all your relations a subset of all your relations. Somehow it is an impropriety shining through a most modern sense of self: by taking everything one is taking all that can be taken and this everything just ‘has to make do’. Well, it doesn’t and I will now rant a little on how this failure explains current political issues around identity as well as the intuition that personality-changing medication strikes us as ‘unreal’. It will be a rant that takes the Heisenberg principle as consequence – not cause! -of Kierkegaard’s above use of the word ‘only’. Call me crazy and just read on regardless. Crazy is fun.