Disability, Well-Being, and Intuition

By Daniel Tippens

In 2014, Elizabeth Barnes published a paper in Ethics with the title “Valuing Disability, Causing Disability.” Barnes is disabled herself and observes that there seems to be a striking difference between philosophers and disabled individuals, when it comes to their intuitions about the well-being of disabled people. Philosophers tend to hold what she calls the “bad-difference” view: that being disabled is bad for you per se; that being disabled automatically makes you worse off or more likely to be worse off.

Conversely, according to Barnes, disabled people (as well as disability-advocates and academics in other fields in the humanities) tend towards the “mere-difference” view: that to be disabled is merely to be different rather than worse off. On this view, disability is similar to homosexuality — it is a difference that doesn’t intrinsically make you worse off, but diminishes your well-being contingently, given the way our society is set up and treats the disabled population.

Barnes wants to show that two popular arguments against the mere difference view fail to provide good reasons for believing that being disabled, in itself, makes one’s life worse. The arguments involve two ideas: (1) if disability is a mere difference, then causing disability is morally permissible, and (2) if disability is a mere difference, then causing a non-disabled person to exist instead of a disabled person is morally impermissible. Barnes argues that the mere difference view is either compatible with these arguments or bad difference defenders end up begging the question (in a sense, as we will see later); relying on the intuition that being disabled, in itself, makes one’s life worse.

Barnes’ paper is thorough and well-argued. She does a great job at mapping the conceptual space of disability ethics and well-being discussions, and I came away feeling well-equipped to read further papers on these matters. I also found many of her points to be thoughtful and compelling. While most of the paper was devoted to addressing the aforementioned arguments, what interested me most about Barnes’ paper, and what I’d like to discuss, was a point she made about non-disabled people’s intuitions. To me, it was a case of metaphilosophy meeting politics (and I say that with intrigue, not derision). Let me return to this point after showing how she arrives at it.

The bad difference defenders cite that if something is a mere difference, then it entails a particular kind of symmetry in the moral permissibility of certain actions. Take having blonde hair vs. having black hair. Most would agree that your hair color being blonde and not black doesn’t make you intrinsically worse off. In a society accepting of all hair colors, then, it seems that if it is permissible to use gene editing to bring a blonde haired child into existence instead of a black haired child, then it is also permissible to select against a blonde haired child and for a black haired child.

However, the opponent of mere difference says, while it is intuitively true that a parent, Cara, has done something wrong if she intentionally takes a drug that causes her child, who would have been born non-disabled, to come out of the womb disabled, it also seems that it is at least permissible, if not obligatory, for Cara to intentionally take a drug to bring a non-disabled child into existence when it would have been disabled — to “cure” the child (Barnes would use scare quotes around this term, since it is quite value-laden).

Given that there is this asymmetry in moral permissibility, it would seem that disability cannot be a mere difference. However, Barnes points out that the mere difference defender could argue that this asymmetry can be explained by the fact that unlike having blonde or black hair, being disabled as opposed to non-disabled risks greater harm to the child, given the way that society is set up. So the mere difference view could also give a plausible explanation for this asymmetry, without conceding that disability per se makes one worse off.

However, Barnes thinks the better strategy is simply to deny the intuition that there is any relevant difference here. In other words, if society were fully accommodating of disabled individuals, then if it is permissible for Cara to cause a disabled person to be non-disabled, it is equally permissible to cause a non-disabled person to be disabled (like how in a fully accepting society, if it is permissible to bring into existence a heterosexual instead of a homosexual, it is permissible to do the converse as well).

Here is where things start to get really interesting. For Barnes, the mere difference defender seems to be in a position to reasonably hold the intuition that it is equally permissible to select for a non-disabled or a disabled person, because he thinks that being disabled, by itself, doesn’t make one worse off. The bad difference defender thinks that these two things are not equally permissible, because he has the intuition that being disabled, by itself, makes one worse off. In other words, the conclusion about whether or not there is symmetry in Cara’s actions seems to be determined by which starting intuition one holds. It would appear that the bad difference defender is begging the question.

But not quite. Barnes goes further and maintains that there are special epistemic reasons to be suspicious of the intuitions of abled (she at times uses the word “privileged”) people in these matters, and I take it that she thinks this implies some sort of epistemic privileging of disabled’ people’s intuitions about the moral permissibility of certain actions, when those intuitions hinge upon questions of the relative well-being of the disabled.

Her argument is based on induction, and this is where metaphilosophy meets politics. Consider that for millennia, most heterosexuals have believed that homosexuality is intrinsically wrong; men believed that women are less intelligent; and whites believed that black people are less than entirely human.  For Barnes, given that our society has deep-seated ableist prejudices against the disabled (things like feeling of disgust or discomfort around disabled people and the (by now largely abandoned) idea that disability indicates some kind of wrong-doing), we should be concerned about the privileged majority’s intuitions about disabled people’s well-being and should epistemically downgrade them, to the point that they cannot override the views of the disabled, on the subject of disability. The upshot of her discussion is that employing arguments that depend on intuitions about disability and well-being will not provide any independent traction on this debate.

First, I agree that when we have good reason to believe an individual or group has relevant biases, we should be suspicious of their intuitions. When a known racist tells me that he thinks black people are less intelligent, I have good grounds to be suspicious. I am troubled, however, by Barnes’ conclusion that we should not rely on arguments that depend on intuitions regarding well-being in this debate (if indeed I am reading her correctly), because I’m not sure how else a debate about the mere difference vs. bad difference view could proceed. It’s a conceptual matter, not an empirical one, and as such, arguments will ultimately bottom out in intuitions about whether being disabled makes one worse off.  Beyond this, I wonder about her suggestion that we should epistemically downgrade non-disabled people’s intuitions on the subject of disability. Do we trust disabled people’s intuitions on this matter, then, by default? There are strong reasons for caution on this front.

Barnes claims that we should be suspicious about abled people’s intuitions, regarding disability, but a similar point can be made about the disabled. Human beings are remarkably adaptable. Under the most unfavorable conditions, people are capable of finding happiness. In a 2011 study, researchers found that locked-in syndrome patients — people who have full sensory and cognitive functioning, but cannot move a muscle — reported high levels of happiness and contentment (I realize these might not be equivalent with well-being). This is surprising and a testament to the remarkable ability of humans to adapt to difficult circumstances. Frequently, this is the result of subtle psychological mechanisms, and it wouldn’t be surprising to me if these, like implicit biases, were capable of influencing a disabled person’s intuitions about well-being. This argument, then, could be made in a similar inductive form to Barnes’: presently and historically, people’s intuitions about well-being have been influenced by coping mechanisms, and it is plausible that they are at work here, too.

Second, one can imagine cases where we would not accept a person’s intuitions, simply by virtue of their belonging to a relevant minority group. Consider the case of slavery.  It is well-documented that a number of former slaves, after transitioning to a free life, reported that they preferred being a slave or at least thought that being a slave was just as good as being free. One said, “For myself and them, I will say again, slavery was a mighty good thing.” [1]

Barnes notes that while disabled people may automatically lose some intrinsic goods (like hearing in the case of deafness), they also may acquire unique goods that aren’t available to abled people (such as feeling music through tactile vibrations — something becoming increasingly popular with the deaf community). In a similar fashion, some slaves noted the unique advantages that came from being a slave, “Things sure better long time ago then they be now. I know it. Colored people never had no debt to pay in slavery time. Never hear tell about no colored people been put in jail before freedom.”  [1]

Imagine, now, that we are in pre-Civil War times, and slavery is common in the South. You are a time traveler who has just read Barnes’ arguments, and you are trying to decide whether it is permissible to make someone a slave or to free someone from slavery. Slaves tell you that being a slave is a “mere difference,” pointing out the unique benefits of being a slave, how their society (plantation owners) treats them well, and they maintain that they are no worse off than a free person. Should you, as someone who lives in freedom (and lives in a society that contains racial prejudices), allow their intuitions to match or override yours? (Note that this isn’t to say you don’t consider their views seriously and with respect.) The answer to me is certainly not clear.

The point is that I suspect we will have to engage in arguments that deploy intuitions about the well-being of disabled individuals, in order to advance the debate. If this is the case, then while Barnes might think that we should epistemically downgrade privileged people’s intuitions, because they are likely influenced by ableism and other biases, the same argument might be applicable to the disabled. Additionally, it is at best unclear that a majority – even if considered privileged and subject to majority-based biases — should have their views epistemically downgraded, to the point that the minority’s position should simply be accepted by default.

Endnotes

  1. George P. Rawick, ed.,The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography; Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972-79.

 

82 Comments »

  1. You’re a better man than I am. I find this “view” of Barnes so ridiculous — so absurd on its face — that I would be hard pressed to treat it in as fair-minded a way as you have done.

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  2. I agree with DK but would go further. The tendencies of thought which lie behind the paper you discuss and similar tendencies are bringing academic philosophy (and other areas of the humanities) into disrepute. Frankly, I despair about the situation.

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  3. To join in a chorus with Mark, arguments and positions like these are the reason why such a good portion of the US holds academia — and especially the humanities and liberal arts — in such utter contempt. And people like Barnes, who operate almost entirely in an echo chamber, have no idea of just how preposterous she sounds to the rest of the population.

    Indeed, when I read the article, I thought that only one of two things could be true: (1) The author is incredibly, profoundly stupid; (2) The author is incredibly, profoundly cynical. I haven’t decided yet, which it is.

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  4. I wouldn’t go as far as Dan and call Barnes’ argument ridiculous, but it does strike me as not only specious but disingenuous. Although she pulls her punches in attempting to sound like she’s finding a middle way, it seems clear that she wants to argue that disabilities are so good, we ought to envy the disabled – perhaps find some way to join their ranks? The principle problem is when she tries blending here assessment of philosophical and social positions on disabilities (which are really not what those positions are, either in the literature dating to Aristotle or in political advocacy, BTW) with arguments concerning justifications of behavior. Attempting to confuse disability with gender or sexuality issues does no justice to anyone. (At which point she completely lost me.)

    Finally: “Almost no one – however committed to a bad-difference view of disability – thinks that being disabled always makes your life go worse for you.” I don’t know what world she’s living in.

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  5. This paper addresses one particular line of argument that is relevant to practical policy (allocation of scarce resources) eg prenatal screening for genetic disease. It is in some ways orthogonal to the “disability as social oppression” way of thinking. I’m not particularly impressed by it myself, but it is implicitly held by a lot of people. If one opposes abortion of say Down’s syndrome fetuses on religious grounds, it is an argument that you might use with a secular audience.

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  6. Crap, ridiculous, preposterous, stupid, disrepute, despair, specious, disingenuous” etc…
    For a moment I thought I was back on Coyne or Myers’ web site.

    Should we not be listening to the words of a disabled person with compassion and attentiveness? Are we deaf to the meta-narrative that informs us how they make sense of their circumstances?

    This is part of a larger narrative that we all will face in one way or another. How do we deal with pain, loss, injustice and terrifyingly awful grief?

    One creates new narratives that console, explain, sustain and give meaning. And if we have any compassion in us we respect those narratives for the important role they play. We are entitled to disagree in thoughtful ways, but are we entitled to go further and set about destroying a sustaining narrative by using such abusive terms?

    Religion can be seen as such a narrative, one that sustains us through evil and misfortune. This can be seen most clearly in the Psalms where laments are balanced with praise and thanksgiving, giving us some of our most beautiful literature. Some, of course, wish to destroy this narrative in equally abusive ways.

    You might reply that we should take her claim of mere-difference at face value and that if the mere-difference thesis holds she should be judged rigorously by professional standards. But we don’t believe in mere-difference.

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  7. There is an even larger issue here. Let’s call it the ‘air-gap‘, a term taken from computer security. If you wish a secure system you create an unbridgeable ‘air-gap‘ between the computer and the network.

    When I communicate with you my words effectively convey meaning, that you likely will understand. But I cannot directly convey my experiences of the world to you in the same way. There is an ‘air-gap‘ between my experiences and yours. We convey experiences indirectly because we agree that certain labels apply to certain kinds of experiences. So when I say I am thirsty that term invokes your memories of the experience of thirst. We communicate about experiences by triggering memories of that experience. The words cross the air-gap which experiences cannot cross. This is a fraught and inexact process because my memories and yours are likely very different.

    But what if you have not had that experience? My words will convey nothing useful to you. We able-bodied people are situated on the other side of an air-gap that cannot be bridged by mere words. Their words may then sound preposterous to us.

    Over at Pigliucci’s blog there was an interesting example of this. He discusses the fear of death and advances the Stoic belief that we need not fear death. He fails to understand that fear of death is one of the most primitive and powerful experiences of all. That is because he has not experienced it. He is situated on the other side of the air-gap and thus waves words that convey no meaning.

    You must have confronted imminent and seemingly inevitable death to experience that most powerful and primitive fear of all. Then perhaps you will know the acrid, acid taste of fear, the dry tightness of the throat, the convulsive grip that contorts the stomach, the cold, clammy paralysis that envelops the body and the mind numbing impact. You will discover how frantically we fight for survival. There is nothing that prepares you for that and there is no description that can even come close to doing it justice. There is an air-gap between my experience and yours. If you have not had that experience my words cannot convey that shocking reality.

    So how then can he advocate that death need not be feared? He did later concede the difference between instinctive and reflective fear of death but even then his arguments seemed weak. He would have had a better case if he had argued that Stoic discipline and training can prepare us to meet the challenge.

    In the same way, when talking to the disabled, we must acknowledge the distorting effect on communication of the air-gap between our experiences and theirs.

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  8. Labnut: What offends about the article is its Orwellian use of language and its identity-politics-style effort to discredit the arguments of others on the basis of accusations of “privilege.” Equally offensive is the bald-faced effort to overwhelm common sense, by way of the repeated, blanket denial of universally understood goods and bads. “There are four lights!” repeated over and over again, with great authority, when there are only three.

    In short, the article is essentially propaganda, which has no place in a professional philosophical context. That it was written by a disabled person doesn’t change that fact, and it would be disrespectful and condescending to give it a pass on those grounds.

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  9. Labnut: One more thing. It is one thing to react to a personal conversation and another to react to a professional, refereed article. If someone said to me, “Hey, it’s tough being deaf, but one of the ways I cope is that I try to count my blessings; to appreciate the ways in which my other senses have become heightened and thus, opened me to new experiences,” I would find it compelling and moving.

    But when someone tells me that one is not, in fact, *any* worse off, for never being able to hear a single note of music, and then attempts to cordon off any possibility of rebuttal from anyone who is not deaf, by appeal to “privilege theory,” my reactions will be — are — very different, and I think appropriately so.

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  10. I am not as near well versed in the ammunition of literature you folks have to substantiate your personal views; however, not being disabled, I could imagine that BECOMING disabled is simply and initially physically inconvenient. Of course this becoming disabled could be a product by choice of carelessness as easily as it could by way of some physical ailment. As someone ADAPTS, the disabled persons mindset perhaps changes accordingly. What about being born disabled. The adaptation is pre-adolescent. Perhaps, in this case, a disabled individual grasp their circumstance as merely different, yet not the same challenge and perspective of those who become disabled. In life, not analyzation, such as the Barnes premise, people not only adapt, they help one another. Case in point, a person who has become disabled helping another who is born disabled. In this case, neither, in attitude, are truly disabled. In conclusion, in layman’s perspective, Barnes writing seems irrelevant to life itself. This reminds me of the movie, Run Boy Run, about Yoram Fridman.

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  11. Hi Labnut, I liked your replies though I think part of the problem people are having is that the author confused a comforting narrative with a cogent argument for an objective position.

    When the author treats disabilities as more or less social products rather than straightforward physical impairments, that is being less than honest with oneself. I think she also does a disservice by treating “disability” as if it were some monolithic thing. There are different types and degrees of disability which make some of her claims (if that were to include all impairments) ridiculous. And finally, by trying to use prejudice against behaviors as some equivalence to what the disabled face, that is pretty strained.

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  12. Hi Dan T, well I didn’t see that argument coming. I guess I am not as upset with the source material as some have been, but I did find it a pretty weak position.

    On your counter arguments, I am wondering if the slave analogy holds. If slaves began telling me they were better off as slaves than being free, I’m not sure I’d immediately doubt them, but look into what actually constitutes being “free” in their current position. It is possible to be plunged into worse conditions under the title “free”. That wouldn’t make slavery something worth promoting, but let one know “freedom” alone is not sufficient for a happy life.

    Perhaps this is something that is true for the author’s account. For some people who are disabled, under the right conditions that does not mean an intrinsically less happy life, even if they don’t share the same potential range of activities as non-disabled persons. And if a person became disabled and said their life actually improved to some degree, I’d have to at least consider their view point as valid for themselves and not right it off based on the fact that in my position I would never want to lose that capacity (for whatever they gained).

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  13. My previous comment should have read “… not write it off…” instead of “… not right it off…”

    Wishing for an editing option right about now.

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  14. Hi all,

    Please remember that my essay barely goes through a fraction of all the things Barnes has to say in the original paper. The reason for this is that I wanted to discuss one *very* specific issue — the metaphilosophical question of weighting the intuitions of minorities vs. privileged people. Also it seems worth noting that in her paper, Barnes is *not* concerned with offering positive arguments for the mere difference view. *all* she is trying to do is show that the mere difference view cannot be so easily dismissed with causal arguments of the kind I gave an example of.

    That said,

    One person,

    “I could imagine that BECOMING disabled is simply and initially physically inconvenient. ”

    Yes, Barnes discusses this at length in her paper.

    “In conclusion, in layman’s perspective, Barnes writing seems irrelevant to life itself. This reminds me of the movie, Run Boy Run, about Yoram Fridman.”

    Considering Barnes is herself disabled, I find it the a more charitable and plausible reading of her to see her writing as most certainly not irrelevant to life itself.

    Hi Db,

    Thanks a lot for your comments, especially for addressing the small arguments I made in the OP. As for your comments about the slavery analogy — What I think I was trying to do there was suggest that, in some cases, paternalism about well-being is justified. I happen to hold that view, though that obviously isn’t to say I think paternalism is the default epistemic ground to hold. If you agree that there are some cases of justified paternalism, then you will probably have the intuition, like I do, that in some cases a privileged groups’ intuitions aren’t automatically overruled by a minority group’s intuitions (the reciprocal would be true too, sometimes; that minorities could have justified cases of paternalism as well).

    ” For some people who are disabled, under the right conditions that does not mean an intrinsically less happy life, even if they don’t share the same potential range of activities as non-disabled persons. ”

    Yes, Barnes herself says something like this in her paper.

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  15. DanT,

    I sense some frustration, in that most of us have not responded to your post so much as we have to Barnes’ essay. But I think that a number of us have recognized that Barnes is at least slightly out of the norm of what we expect from a philosophic consideration of the topic – largely because she seems to be pursuing an ideological agenda rather than a philosophic one. Her essay shows considerable confusion between political and philosophic approaches to the issue – eg, she seems to be intentionally conflating ‘bad-difference’ as a consideration of what does not increase the possibility for human happiness, with ‘bad difference’ as public-prejudicial sense.

    One of the problems I had replying to your post directly – and, in a different way, with being able to read Barnes at all – is that I honestly don’t think of the disabled as a minority. As a population with needs that can be provided for and rights that must be advocated for, certainly – but these alone do not make them a “minority” in the common political understanding of the term, which, originated in consideration of ethnicities and has been extended to include gender and sexual identities. For me (and I think for most if they would stop to think on it) “minority” means sharing a sense of identity with others to the point that a community is formed and a culture (or sub-culture) created. I don’t see the disabled as having accomplished this – or needing to.

    Essential to this viewpoint is to disentangle Barnes’ conflation of philosophic ‘bad difference” (‘preferably not’) and political ‘bad difference’ (a prejudice against), and to recognize that her ‘mere difference’ position is really a ‘good difference’ position that advocates disability as a positive good. I would argue to the contrary that the philosophic ‘bad difference’ as ‘preferably not’ has long grounded a political ‘mere difference’ attitude that has fueled the advocacy of rights and privileges for the disabled. This attitude holds that the disabled are every bit as human as their peers in their communities, and that efforts should be made to accommodate their disabilities and provide them with the means to live satisfying lives, however they choose to live them – including access to prostheses and treatments to reduce the burden of their disabilities. Finally, it necessarily includes the advocacy for communities to accept and respect the disabled as participant members of their communities.

    When Aristotle says that in desiring the most complete happiness a human can enjoy, it would seem reasonable that we should desire a whole body and a healthy body, he doesn’t mean that, say, blindness makes anyone less than human, only that the blind can only attain a maximal happiness within that limitation. This is what Barnes labels ‘bad difference.’ Which makes hers a bad argument.

    As for your post – it is well argued, and I concur that it should be clear that the intuitions members of minorities have no greater reliability than the intuitions of members of any supposed ‘majority’ (and within 50 years at the latest we will all identify as members of one minority or other).But if I’m right that the disabled are members of various communities and do not form a separate community in the ‘minority’-political sense, then Barnes’ argument is wrong at the get-go.

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  16. EJ: I know that there is a segment of the deaf population that considers itself a community in the way you describe. I find the idea perverse, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are a good number of such people.

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  17. Hi EJ,

    Thanks for your comments.

    “But I think that a number of us have recognized that Barnes is at least slightly out of the norm of what we expect from a philosophic consideration of the topic – largely because she seems to be pursuing an ideological agenda rather than a philosophic one. Her essay shows considerable confusion between political and philosophic approaches to the issue – eg, she seems to be intentionally conflating ‘bad-difference’ as a consideration of what does not increase the possibility for human happiness, with ‘bad difference’ as public-prejudicial sense.”

    I find no problem in principle with arguing to an ideological position on philosophical grounds. This is what many fields of applied philosophy aim to do. I also don’t think she makes the conflation you suggest. Indeed, throughout her entire paper she is careful to outline exactly what she means by bad-difference, and also tends not to use social justice buzzwords except when she finds them relevant for her arguments.

    “One of the problems I had replying to your post directly – and, in a different way, with being able to read Barnes at all – is that I honestly don’t think of the disabled as a minority.”

    I’m happy to not consider them a “minority,” as long as you can consider them, in some weak sense, a group (to the extent that we can recognize “disabled people” through family resemblance, for example). As long as you can do that, Barnes’ paper can be read and considered perfectly fine. I don’t see how her arguments rest upon a strong ontological or political assumption about disabled people constituting a group. But even so, I think Barnes would find you incorrect on this matter. In the papers and videos I’ve seen of her speaking, it really does seem that “the disabled” form a kind of political group right now. Less well-known, sure, but in existence nonetheless.

    “to recognize that her ‘mere difference’ position is really a ‘good difference’ position that advocates disability as a positive good”

    She explicitly denies this in her paper, so I’m afraid I can’t make that recognition 😦

    ” I would argue to the contrary that the philosophic ‘bad difference’ as ‘preferably not’ has long grounded a political ‘mere difference’ attitude that has fueled the advocacy of rights and privileges for the disabled. This attitude holds that the disabled are every bit as human as their peers in their communities, and that efforts should be made to accommodate their disabilities and provide them with the means to live satisfying lives, however they choose to live them – including access to prostheses and treatments to reduce the burden of their disabilities. Finally, it necessarily includes the advocacy for communities to accept and respect the disabled as participant members of their communities.”

    I would agree that this “mere difference” attitude you speak of has probably had a role in fueling the activism for the disabled, but I just don’t see how it makes any contact with Barnes’ paper or my short piece. :/ Could you elaborate?

    “When Aristotle says that in desiring the most complete happiness a human can enjoy, it would seem reasonable that we should desire a whole body and a healthy body, he doesn’t mean that, say, blindness makes anyone less than human, only that the blind can only attain a maximal happiness within that limitation. This is what Barnes labels ‘bad difference.’ Which makes hers a bad argument.”

    Barnes actually discusses competing views of wellbeing in the beginning of her essay (aristotelian, desire-satisfaction, hedonism, subjectivism, etc). She tries to show what bad difference would amount to on each one. I don’t think Barnes labels “bad difference” in the way that you seem to think (in some sense associated with aristotelian well-being and a conceptual point about what it means to be human). Rather, the idea is simply that, all things being equal, being disabled either automatically makes your life go worse for you, or makes your life more likely to be worse off.

    Would love to hear further thoughts from you on this! 🙂

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  18. Dan Tip,

    I didn’t read her whole paper [1] but from what I did it also seemed to me Barnes is being fairly thorough considering the complexities and arguing well.

    “The upshot of her discussion is that employing arguments that depend on intuitions about disability and well-being will not provide any independent traction on this debate”

    I get the impression she assumes that basing an argument solely on intuition is a non starter and from there she tries to argue that though “causation-based arguments are intended to strengthen the case against the mere-difference view and to provide evidence in favor of the bad-difference view. They cannot do this.”

    “I am troubled, however, by Barnes’ conclusion that we should not rely on arguments that depend on intuitions regarding well-being in this debate (if indeed I am reading her correctly), because I’m not sure how else a debate about the mere difference vs. bad difference view could proceed.”

    I think she is pointing out that the arguments for the bad-difference view, that are claimed to be ways to argue against the mere-difference view while avoiding intuitions, are in fact based on intuitions.

    “Second, one can imagine cases where we would not accept a person’s intuitions, simply by virtue of their belonging to a relevant minority group. Consider the case of slavery. It is well-documented that a number of former slaves, after transitioning to a free life, reported that they preferred being a slave or at least thought that being a slave was just as good as being free.”

    In a lot of cases slaves found themselves more oppressed and unable to provide for themselves and their families once freed than they were as slaves. But I’m not disagreeing that “coping mechanisms” should be considered when looking at –anyones– position.

    “If this is the case, then while Barnes might think that we should epistemically downgrade privileged people’s intuitions, because they are likely influenced by ableism and other biases,”

    I’m not sure she’s doing that here, it certainly has been brought up by mere-difference advocates, and I think it’s obviously a valid consideration, but I think it can’t be used as a trump card when arguing for the mere-difference side just like it can’t for the bad-difference side.

    Overall I enjoyed your essay, it got me thinking, and I agree that to advance we can’t automatically set intuitions aside.

    1. At most I read 10-12 pages and skimmed another 8-10, including of course the abstract and conclusion.

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  19. From a purely psychological viewpoint, to disciplined thinkers a disability requires exploration of alternative modalities of existence. A deaf or blind person’s cortex is organized differently. In the case of blindness, I have heard that the visual cortex, the dominant sensory process in those not blind, is repurposed for touch and sense. This heightens the experience of aspects of life that the sighted may not be able to appreciate. To illustrate, we have that line in “Ray” where he tells his wife-to-be “Your heart just skipped a beat.” Who then is enabled, and who disabled? Who is happier, the man that hears a woman reveal her inmost self, or one that does not?

    I see nothing wrong, in a society with “sufficient” wealth (see the final paragraph), with accommodating the exploration of modalities of experience.

    I also wonder whether the distinction between “mere difference” and “bad difference” isn’t worthy of elaboration. In certain respects, Ray Charles was “merely different” (being blind) and in others “badly different” (being a heroin addict). What generates the distinction, if not the cost to others of the difference?

    If the bearers of that cost are satisfied with their lot (as, apparently, were some slaves), who are we to judge, so long as we are not asked to enforce that relationship when the participants seek relief from it? Is the problem with slavery then not the relationship, but its institutionalization?

    Conversely, when considering physical disabilities, where do we draw the between “accommodation” as “tolerance” versus “adaptation” (the latter imposing cost upon society)?

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  20. The problem I have with this paper right away is the use of that of the very subjective term ‘well-being’. It is such an individual assessment that it is practically useless as a criterion. Take for example the depressed individual who shot himself in the head but who survived to discover that he had blinded himself. The odd thing is that his depression lifted and presumably his well-being was enhanced even though he now was disabled.

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  21. I find no problem in principle with arguing to an ideological position on philosophical grounds. This is what many fields of applied philosophy aim to do.

    ================================

    This is in direct violation of the aims of critical inquiry, which is what professional, academic work should consist of. It was precisely this kind of ideological orientation that pretty much led cultural anthropology and sociology to the abysmally low esteem with which they are held, not just by the public, but within the academy as well.

    The trouble is that when one does this, the ideological aims themselves are not subjected to critical scrutiny, but are taken as a given. Something we should always be wary of doing, when we are wearing our professional hats, whether in teaching or research.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. hey Dan,

    I consider much of applied philosophy to be arguing for ideological positions on philosophical grounds– e.g abortion, genetic engineering, political positions, etc.

    It’s only when done irresponsibly that one run into trouble, I think. Perhaps Barnes is a case of this, but I have a hard time buying into the idea that all ideological positions are barred from being philosophically argued for.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Hi Dan T.

    You seem to have invested quite a lot, if not in this particular woman’s point of view (you indicate that you have read her work extensively and looked at videos etc.), then at least in the style of philosophy/advocacy which she exemplifies. And you explicitly defend such an ideologically-oriented style of doing philosophy.

    Dan K. has already responded, and I agree with what he said. [I see now your response to him, but I will post this as it stands.]

    All I want to add really is that I personally am sorry that you seem to be taking this path. I think I see why. I think perhaps you want eventually to use your gifts in a professional context (i.e. get paid to use them) and at the same time use them in such a way as to advance ‘social justice’ in general or perhaps some particular causes that are close to your heart.

    Personally, I am strongly opposed to this sort of ‘activist’ philosophy. Activism is fine – including writing polemical and well-argued articles. But there must always be a clear distinction between such work and the core activities of a true academic discipline. To the extent that the distinction is blurred (as in the paper being discussed here) the very integrity of the discipline in brought into question.

    Like

  24. DanK,

    You raise an interesting point, actually, an interesting question. People of many interests and backgrounds clearly seek out those with like backgrounds and form smaller communities within the greater community. At what point do we consider them to form a “minority” in the political sense? Hillary Clinton is a Methodists; Methodists gather together forming smaller communities with larger communities; can it be said she is a member of the ‘Methodist minority’? Careful, here! Until JFK’s election in ’60, one could really speak about a ‘Catholic minority’ – and probably still can in parts of the Bible Belt; But the culture of the Bible Belt itself, does it form a ‘minority’ in conventional political terms? Some Evangelicals would indeed assert so; others would point out how integrated conservative Christianity has been in the history, culture and politics of the greater American society…. I think that, indeed, one of the problems here is that the whole notion of ‘minority’ status has to be clarified before making a philosophic argument presuming one definition over another.

    That’s true too of our understanding of ‘disability’ in conventional political terms. The deaf may indeed form a demographic group with claims to minority status. But do the deaf *and* the blind taken together also share that status with each other? Do the Deaf and the blind *and* the paraplegic taken together? Do the deaf, the blind, the paraplegic, the intellectually disabled (who were once refered to as mentally retarded) *and* those having cerebral Palsy. all taken together? Then why do I not see them hanging out together in ‘disabled bars’?

    A major problem here is that disability does not form a monolithic class the way Barnes seems to be arguing. We need clarifications, not further confusions.

    Like

  25. DanT,

    Which leads into my response to yours:

    Reading the opening of your post, you seem to be aware that this is essentially a political text; but then you also want it to address it as a logical text; when in fact, I think it largely a rhetorical text. In order to consider the logical arguments, I would first have to accept its rhetorical strategies, beginning with the evident narrative Barnes is attempting to insuate into the discussion of such issues:

    ‘The Disabled are a class of humans with lacking certain abilities while enjoying balancing heightened abilities. They form a minority group having largely been oppressed by the dominant ideology of Ableism which at best treats them as objects of pity, at worst as objects of scorn. Western philosophers have traditionall ben complicit inthat ideology by providing arguments considering disability only as a lack, whereas we can should see it as a blessing. We can see this by comparing the Disabled with the experience of another minority group, homosexuals, who suffer for the same reasons, a dominant ideology of oppression -” At which point in her narrative I stopped reading.

    In a greater community that is accepting of LGBT sub-communities – and there are such, I happen to live in one – there should be little to inhibit members of those sub-communities participating completely in the greater community while enjoying their sub-culture, and what there is should be readily addressable through legal means. The struggle of the LGBT community to effect changes in larger communities has been a long and difficult one, challenging laws of separation and oppression, violence (some of it received from law enforcement offciers), social castigation and isolation. So their challenge has been entirely social and legal. In all other respects, they are completely capable of functioning as any other member of their community.

    However, the cerebral palsy afflicted adults, which I helped treat as a nurse for a year some time ago – while we did everything we could to normalize their existence – are still effectively bound to their wheel chairs, still needing sometimes to be fed through tubes, still have to have occasional enemas, still needing to be washed and fed and protected – not from outsiders making fun of them or pitying them (which I never saw), but protected from their own bodies – their occasional choking, occasional collapsed lung, their occasional heart-failures. And, of course, unlike the LGBT community members, most of them are physically incapable of sex. (Now let Professor Barnes tell us, ‘well, I wasn’t talking about those kinds of disabilities!’) The notion, that Barnes at one point suggests – in order to create a false dilemma – that if we can prevent cerebral palsy, perhap we should not, because it violates the right of the child somehow, or because cerebral palsy is such a beautiful thing in diversifying the human experience, strikes me as obscene as suggesting that “the Second Amendment people” will know how to deal with Clinton if Trum doesn’t get elected.

    I’m sorry, I reject this entire narrative; I reject the rhetorical insinuation of it into her (again fundamentally specious) argument.

    We begin wrongly by discussing the intuitions of “philosophers” opposing the intuitions of “the Disabled,” as if we are talking about block groups sharing homogenous attitudes. I am pretty sure that for every Barnes there are several people learning to live the best they can with one disability or other, who don’t share her sense of joy and celebration.

    Like

  26. “clear distinction between such work and the core activities of a true academic discipline” – ?! Have you ever dealt with a bioethics committee? Signed a consent form? Looked into public health policy (questions such as, what exactly is a disease)? Or tried to make sense of United Nations declarations that governments sign up to? Ethics is an applied as well as a theoretical activity. The point of view of disability theory has already greatly changed our society. Consider Nussbaum’s “activist” discussion of disability:

    https://ethicslab.georgetown.edu/phil553/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Nussbaum-Capabilities-of-People-with-Cog.-Disabilities.pdf

    “People with cognitive disabilities are equal citizens, and law ought to show respect for them as full equals…But law must also go further, providing people with disabilities truly equal access to education, even when that is costly and involves considerable change in current methods of instruction.”

    Like

  27. ejwinner,

    You quotes Barnes “The Disabled are a class …”, I tried searching but couldn’t find it.

    “Now let Professor Barnes tell us, ‘well, I wasn’t talking about those kinds of disabilities!’”

    Why do you say it like that, do you mean when she says: “I make no attempt, however, to define “disability.” For present purposes, I want to understand “disability” as a term introduced by ostension. Think of paradigm cases of disability—mobility impairments, blindness, deaf-ness, rheumatoid arthritis, achondroplasia, and so forth.” ?

    “We begin wrongly by discussing the intuitions of “philosophers” opposing the intuitions of “the Disabled,” as if we are talking about block groups sharing homogenous attitudes.”

    Rather she’s discussing the arguments (and thought experiments) used by philosophers who argue for the bad-difference view of disability and the arguments of advocates of a mere-difference view of disability.

    “I am pretty sure that for every Barnes there are several people learning to live the best they can with one disability or other, who don’t share *her sense of joy and celebration*”

    I can’t find where she says anything like that.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. David L. Duffy wrote:

    “People with cognitive disabilities are equal citizens, and law ought to show respect for them as full equals…But law must also go further, providing people with disabilities truly equal access to education, even when that is costly and involves considerable change in current methods of instruction.”

    ——————————————————————————

    This is fully compatible with thinking that the claim that someone who can never see a work of visual art or listen to a note of music is no worse off than a person who can is uncritical, ideological, ultimately political rhetoric, rather than a serious philosophical position. And with thinking that such stuff does not belong in what is, at heart, a critical discipline.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Dan-K,
    The trouble is that when one does this, the ideological aims themselves are not subjected to critical scrutiny, but are taken as a given. Something we should always be wary of doing, when we are wearing our professional hats, whether in teaching or research.

    Agreed, but the practice is widespread. Dawkins, Hawking, deGrasse Tyson, Krauss, Coyne, Myers, Carroll, to name just a few, push ideological agendas using their academic standing as a platform. Our very own Pigliucci also, quite stridently, pushed an ideological agenda on his old RationallySpeaking blog.

    OK, so you might reply that this was not done in their academic papers but in their popular writing. That is all the more reason why it should be condemned. First, because they are speaking to an audience who, in general, lack the training to critically test the ideological assumptions. Second, they are using their academic standing to further their ideology. After all, if Dawkins had been a plumber who would care a bean about what he wrote. If Pigliucci concealed his identity as a tenured philosopher at CUNY, who would bother to read him?

    When we agree with the agenda we keep mum but when we oppose the agenda we cry foul. Not good.

    Like

  30. Woah, this conversation has taken some weird turns.

    Mark,

    “You seem to have invested quite a lot, if not in this particular woman’s point of view (you indicate that you have read her work extensively and looked at videos etc.), then at least in the style of philosophy/advocacy which she exemplifies. And you explicitly defend such an ideologically-oriented style of doing philosophy.”

    All I said before was that I do not believe that, in principle, one should not argue for an ideological conclusion based on philosophical grounds. What I meant by this was that one can go for some conclusion that is highly politicized and controversial, about which activism is taking place, by using a rigorous philosophical methodology. I still don’t see any problem with this *in principle*. Consider Judith Jarvis Thompson’s famous essay on the ethics of abortion. Certainly it was an ideological issue and conclusion (pro-choice), but it was argued on philosophical grounds (indeed, published in academic philosophy). I defend the idea that its perfectly fine to do this kind of work.

    Now, I do see an issue with one’s ideological aims influencing their philosophical methodology such that they ultimately engage in, to use EJ’s word, rhetoric, and not philosophy. But this need not *always* happen to such a significant degree that it renders the text fruitless and worth of being thrown into the “activism bullshit” bin. In the case of Barnes, while I do think her activism and ideological commitments color *some* of her arguments, many other parts were intellectually interesting to me. But what concerns me is that, broadly speaking, the way many people are reacting to Barnes text is the way social justice warriors react to suspected “racists.”

    Consider banning speakers on campus. If somebody is a suspected “X-ist,” social justice warriors assume their work is overall not worth listening to or engaging with (in some sense or another), and ignore and even try to ban that work. What is going on here with Barnes essay? That she is a social justice activist has branded her, in many commentators minds, such that they don’t feel her work worth engaging with, and even that it should be, in a mild way, banned (it shouldn’t be in academic philosophy. It will damage its integrity. funny enough, that’s precisely what SJW’s say when trying to get speakers banned from campus — they don’t represent our values, the integrity of the university and student body will be compromised!). Indeed, I’m not sure how many people actually bothered to read, entirely / substantially, what she said in her essay before launching lofty attacks (it seems not many, because I saw some commentators make claims that she very explicitly addresses in her paper).

    When you say I’ve invested a lot in this particular woman’s point of view, I suppose so — to the extent that I’ve read some of her work and wrote a short response piece. That doesn’t mean I agree with all of the things she says (or even most of them, since I don’t), nor do I agree with the way she does philosophy at certain points. But I find the discussion topic interesting and politically relevant (consider policy discussions right now about cochlear implants).

    “All I want to add really is that I personally am sorry that you seem to be taking this path. I think I see why. I think perhaps you want eventually to use your gifts in a professional context (i.e. get paid to use them) and at the same time use them in such a way as to advance ‘social justice’ in general or perhaps some particular causes that are close to your heart.”

    I’m still not really sure which “path” you think I’m taking (that I’ll soon start doing highly ideologically motivated, methodologically compromised philosophy?). But more importantly, uhm, I think we can drop the sorrow and psychologizing. It strikes me as quite patronizing and very uncharitable, especially since you are way off on my own views and sympathies (not only is it the case that I’ve been vocally critical of much of social justice activism, but my primary field of study right now is actually in Philosophy of perception — cross-modal perception — a field which has little to no bearing on social justice issues at all).

    Lastly, the way you have reacted strikes me as similar, again, to how social justice warriors react when you appear to flirt with a view they find problematic (that is, they emotively react in a way that undermines your credibility, and then they start talking *about* your motivations, instead of engaging *with* you). “I feel sorry for him, he’s so ignorant. He must be doing it to retain his privilege… etc.” The point is they are not obviously correct about their views, nor are they correct in their psychologizings. Unfortunately the same is true here.

    Hi Ej,

    I think Marc actually responded pretty well to your comment. Many of the things you accuse Barnes of doing simply aren’t supported by the text, or seem to be uncharitable caricatures of her views.

    But you also mention one part where it seems to come through that Barnes is ideologically motivated, and you then say that you stopped reading. The problem is, *most* of her article can be read on its own philosophical grounds. When I read essays such as hers, I simply ignore the stuff that does seem like unsupported activism assumptions, and pay attention to the more interesting philosophical claims.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Okay Dan. You’re obviously very angry and pissed off. Let me tell you why I felt I should post that second comment. It was out of courtesy to you, because I had ‘liked’ a comment that Dan Kaufman made which was critical of your position, and I felt I owed it to you to speak up on my own behalf.

    In the case of Barnes, while I do think her activism and ideological commitments color *some* of her arguments, many other parts were intellectually interesting to me. But what concerns me is that, broadly speaking, the way many people are reacting to Barnes text is the way social justice warriors react to suspected “racists.”

    Perhaps one difference is this: the SJWs compose a very powerful clique.

    Consider banning speakers on campus. If somebody is a suspected “X-ist,” social justice warriors assume their work is overall not worth listening to or engaging with (in some sense or another), and ignore and even try to ban that work. What is going on here with Barnes essay? That she is a social justice activist has branded her, in many commentators minds, such that they don’t feel her work worth engaging with, and even that it should be, in a mild way, banned (it shouldn’t be in academic philosophy. It will damage its integrity. funny enough, that’s precisely what SJW’s say when trying to get speakers banned from campus — they don’t represent our values, the integrity of the university and student body will be compromised!).

    This comparison is very forced.

    When you say I’ve invested a lot in this particular woman’s point of view…”

    I said “… if not in this particular woman’s point of view…”

    [Quoting me] “All I want to add really is that I personally am sorry that you seem to be taking this path. I think I see why. I think perhaps you want eventually to use your gifts in a professional context (i.e. get paid to use them) and at the same time use them in such a way as to advance ‘social justice’ in general or perhaps some particular causes that are close to your heart.”

    I’m still not really sure which “path” you think I’m taking (that I’ll soon start doing highly ideologically motivated, methodologically compromised philosophy?). But more importantly, uhm, I think we can drop the sorrow and psychologizing. It strikes me as quite patronizing and very uncharitable, especially since you are way off on my own views and sympathies (not only is it the case that I’ve been vocally critical of much of social justice activism, but my primary field of study right now is actually in Philosophy of perception — cross-modal perception — a field which has little to no bearing on social justice issues at all).

    Glad to hear it – honestly. I’m sorry you took my remarks as patronizing and “very uncharitable”. I was merely extrapolating on the thrust of this and a couple of earlier articles and trying to draw you out on your ambitions. I was curious.

    Lastly, the way you have reacted strikes me as similar, again, to how social justice warriors react when you appear to flirt with a view they find problematic (that is, they emotively react in a way that undermines your credibility, and then they start talking *about* your motivations, instead of engaging *with* you). “I feel sorry for him, he’s so ignorant. He must be doing it to retain his privilege… etc.” The point is they are not obviously correct about their views, nor are they correct in their psychologizings. Unfortunately the same is true here.

    I would say fortunately! 🙂

    Like

  32. marc levesque, DanT,

    I was not quoting Barnes; I wrote that this is the narrative that forms the subtext of her argument (without which her discussion makes little sense). That narrative is clearly marked off with paraphrasing single quotation marks. Your reading is not only uncharitable, it is careless.

    I am not trying to be charitable to Dr. Barnes, I am am being quite uncharitable. I have seen that rhetoric again and again in English studies and it shut down conversation on important and interesting lines of inquiry again and again, because it is meant to ‘subvert’ (as they said in the ’80’s) the reader rather than engage reasoned debate.

    I find it difficult how her loaded language, at every turn, can be so missed. (And yes, she does say that the view that disabilities should be celebrated is a reasonable response, in her first paragraph. As her address continues evidence piles up that this is how she thinks we should view disability)

    I deny her the attempt at mitigation of her otherwise evident intent by use of qualifications – that’s a ploy, a ‘I don’t know if he’s a Muslim’ dissimulation. So I deny her the right to talk about “paradigm” disabilities, which does injustice to those otherwise disabled,.

    Is it really the case that just because a writer has a philosophy degree and publishes in a philosophy journal, that the rhetoric of the essay cannot be recognized and criticized?

    Let me be clear:: I am refusing to play her games, and I am trying to persuade readers to look at the rhetoric being levied in place of solid argument. She is not engaging in value-free thought experiments, she is trying to turn screws on readers’ expectations.

    I really should have written a close-reading criticism of Barnes in order to drag this out properly. I just didn’t think the rhetoric – which is obvious to me – could be so easily missed.

    You both want this to be a text intended to ‘convince’, and given its pseudo-professional tonality and efforts to pass through assumptions as logical considerations in elevated language, that’s how she wants this read.

    But theory of rhetoric and critical thinking require that when I see terms slipped into various sentences and paragraphs, inadequately defined, inadequately defended; when I see false dilemmas and false equivalencies splayed about as presumed ‘thought experiments’ for the unwary; and when I ask, what is the reasoned reconsideration of the issues here, and only find ideological badgering – then I think it well to say our guards should be up.

    I reject the hidden agenda (the narrative supporting her claims), I reject her terminology (‘bad difference, mere difference’ – Lacanian crap, for those of you who’ve evidently not read Julia Kristeva). I reject her false dilemmas and false equivalencies,
    i reject her insinuations (which the OP notes but doesn’t know what to do with) – and once her rhetorical strategies are noted and rejected, what’s left of her argument – that the disabled as an oppressed minority are in a better epistemic position to determine the meaning of disability per se -, is simply unconvincing.

    “When I read essays such as hers, I simply ignore the stuff that does seem like unsupported activism assumptions” – Dan T, that’s what makes such rhetoric dangerous – you think you’ve ignored it, but it has been slipped into your conceptual toolbox nonetheless..

    Really, after reading through several recent postings and threads here and at Massimo Pigliucci’s Plato’s Footnote web log, I am more convinced than ever that anyone truly interested in philosophy of language should first study rhetoric.

    “Ableism” – I mean, come on!

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Hi Mark,

    I would say more frustrated than angry, but its all good.

    Would you agree that its fine to argue for highly politicized and ideological views (such as abortion), as long as it is done through rigorous argumentation (such as Judith Jarvis Thompson’s abortion essay?).

    Like

  34. Hi EJ,

    “I was not quoting Barnes; I wrote that this is the narrative that forms the subtext of her argument (without which her discussion makes little sense). That narrative is clearly marked off with paraphrasing single quotation marks. Your reading is not only uncharitable, it is careless.”

    All I said was that your claims weren’t supported by the text or seemed to be uncharitable caricatures of her views, which is consistent with the idea that you weren’t quoting her. I still hold to both, since you did just say you were being uncharitable… 🙂

    ““When I read essays such as hers, I simply ignore the stuff that does seem like unsupported activism assumptions” – Dan T, that’s what makes such rhetoric dangerous – you think you’ve ignored it, but it has been slipped into your conceptual toolbox nonetheless..”

    My concern is it is exactly this kind of reasoning which fuels social justice warriors to try to ban speakers on campus because they are suspected X-ists. Broadly speaking, we are discussing what to do when there is a clash in intellectual values. On the one hand, its possible and even likely that some of the content of an essay, while ideological in some weak or strong sense, has interesting intellectual merits, and so I am driven to want to read it. On the other hand, it is possible it could compromise one’s truth-seeking ability, by slipping rhetoric into one’s conceptual toolbox unconsciously (like subliminal messaging I suppose?), and so we are driven to not want to read it.

    (two things are interesting to me about this, by the way. 1- that this latter value seems to be some kind of concern about intellectual character — some Aristotelian virtue concern- and 2- that we are starting to treat people reading Barnes’ text in a way that moves them out of, to employ David Ottlinger’s recent post, the space of reasons and more into the space of psychological laws)

    So what do we do? Do we take the strong approach and just dismiss it all outright? I don’t take that approach, I feel it too similar to what I find objectionable about some SJW’s behavior on campuses. Instead I prefer to simply do just what you said, have my intellectual guard up, read the paper, and do my best to filter through the good and the bad (we seem to differ on what it means to have one’s “intellectual guard up”). Perhaps this is *prudentially speaking* ill-advised, as my time will be less efficient. But I don’t see it as something other than that.

    “(And yes, she does say that the view that disabilities should be celebrated is a reasonable response, in her first paragraph. As her address continues evidence piles up that this is how she thinks we should view disability)”

    Yes, that is probably *her* view, but she separates that pretty clearly, for the entirety of the paper, from the “mere difference” view.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. DT (and I guess everybody),

    As the resident expert in political correctness, social justice warriors and the like I feel compelled to offer a few words. DT suggests we are behaving like the PC crowd in turning strongly against this piece without answering its arguments. Well, for comparison, let’s remember what the PC crowd does. The PC, if my writing on the subject has any validity, turn on people who make certain arguments based on what they infer to be their values. For an example, if a person argues against reparations for slavery, a PC observer may infer that this person must not have strong values regarding race equality. In effect the person making the argument is either racist or uncommitted to anti-racist values. (I won’t go into the reasons for making this inference here.)

    Is what we are doing similar? Not that I can see. For a start, I have not seen anyone question the author’s values. Indeed the author’s values (presumably the desire for a better and more equal life for the disabled) seem laudable to me. We have discounted the argument (I will continue to do so) but on quite different grounds. The problem with this argument is that it is in the service of a self-evident absurdity. No one believes that the difference between a blind person and a normally sighted person is value neutral in the way the difference between a brown eyed and a blue eyed person would be. And the only ones who would argue that it is being disingenuous. Now here we may comment on the motives of the person making the argument, but only having *already* rejected their argument on its merits and not as grounds for rejecting the argument, as would the PC. It is quite clear that the person’s values are overwhelming their philosophical acumen and there is no shame in saying so.

    In short we are rejecting the argument on its merits. It is not the motives or values which offend us, merely its extreme silliness.

    (And DT I have not bothered to read the full original paper but only because I relied on you as an exegete. If you are anything like charitable, and I trust you to be, I’ll save my time.)

    Mark,

    I think you are missing what DT is saying. He is not using the word “ideology” in any pejorative sense, but in a usual sense of a coherent political and moral system of beliefs. There is nothing wrong with philosophical arguments for, say, political liberalism or libertarianism. Or, as Dan noted, for smaller issues like abortion, gun-control etc. Indeed avoiding these issues as “ideological” would seem to be philosophical cowardice.

    lab,

    This can’t be Meyerz’s blog or the like. The comments are pretty vociferous but they are also *disagreeing* with the OP. Not the way those echo chambers usually work.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Hi david,

    Very good points, and well taken. I think the disanalogy you point out is quite good. What I was thinking, though, was the similarity is between SJW’s and some on here come in from the form of argument, “X is a X-ist, therefore X should be ignored.” That this is happening i thought was supported by the fact that most people seem to be spending much effort trying to show that Barnes fits a particular kind of activist, one that doesn’t merit attention.

    Note by the way Dan-K hasn’t done this. Rather, Dan K has made the exact argument you did (about the self-evident falsity of the claims to well-being). Also I tend toward this self evident view as well.

    Also note, by the way, that there are *other* philosophical points about well being and what it means for something to be a mere difference in her essay that I think are interesting on their own. But people seem to be ignoring all of that, for (I think) the reasons I mentioned.

    What do you think of this?

    Thanks for weighing in as the relevant expert 🙂

    Like

  37. In Lacanian feminism, a ‘bad difference’ view is a function of phallocentrist ideology that holds that women are inferior because they lack a penis – the missing penis is the ‘vanished signifier’ of their disability in the thinking of men complicit in this ideology. This can be detected by carefully suspicious interpretation of texts written by men. Being a man, you write “she separates that pretty clearly,” a slip that reveals your concern about her spreading her legs, which would reveal the ‘clear’ – that is, the absence of a penis – which thus supports the validity of her play of the signifiers under discussion. This absence thus becomes a presence, the positive assertion of her vagina as ‘other’ in opposition to your assertion of Self – which assertion itself reveals the your felt lack of a much needed Other, which Barnes provides. The feminine once again nurtures as she is expected to, but this time in the superior position of being what you lack,

    If that sounds like nonsense, it largely is; but that it is part of the rhetorical kitbag in the background of Barnes’ writing style. It is intended to close down discussion – your objections are already accounted for by your evident lack, and by the ‘dominant ideology’ from which you speak (or rather, implicitly, that speaks through you).

    Frankly if you accept that there is a ‘bad difference’/ ‘mere difference’ dialectic at work here, then she’s won half the battle – the wrong half

    I think there are stronger arguments for the rights of women, and I think there are more cogent means to advocate for persons with disabilities.

    Identity-driven dialectical politics is not good politics. It does make the rhetorician feel oh-so-superior. But politics intended to achieve practical good requires compromise, understanding, reasoning, compassion, and knowing where to draw lines and when this would be most successful. This can’t be achieved if one thinks there are essential differences that divide us, and that winning a dialectical argument is preferable to changing hearts and minds.

    And I caution against reading Mark’s response – or mine – as akin to SJW stonewalling. Such stonewalling is based on identity-driven dialectical politics, first developed in the ’60s, and which Barne’s article seems to embrace.

    My own comments are driven by theory of rhetoric – but also by pragmatic (even Pragmatic, in the Deweyan sense) political commitments. Arguments like Barnes – as political statements – actually do more harm than good in resolving differences between people.

    Like

  38. Dan T. asked:

    “Would you agree that its fine to argue for highly politicized and ideological views (such as abortion), as long as it is done through rigorous argumentation (such as Judith Jarvis Thompson’s abortion essay?).”

    Short answer: yes.

    That said, I have problems with JJTs paper, but very different problems from those that I have with Barnes’s work. (I am not anti-abortion, by the way: I see the practice as sad rather than bad.)

    David Ottlinger wrote:

    “I think you are missing what DT is saying. He is not using the word “ideology” in any pejorative sense, but in a usual sense of a coherent political and moral system of beliefs. There is nothing wrong with philosophical arguments for, say, political liberalism or libertarianism. Or, as Dan noted, for smaller issues like abortion, gun-control etc. Indeed avoiding these issues as “ideological” would seem to be philosophical cowardice.”

    I don’t think I thought he was using ‘ideology’ in a pejorative sense, and nor do I normally see it that way myself. I assume you are referring to my disapproving reference to an “ideologically-oriented style of doing philosophy”. These are issues which are difficult to generalize about. But on your substantive point, I think I agree with you. (See also my reply to Dan.)

    Liked by 1 person

  39. davidlduffy

    I overlooked your earlier comment in which you quoted and criticized me. I think were conflating various senses of the term ‘ethics’ (e.g. ethics as a particular area of human concern and decision-making, ethics as academic discipline, etc.).

    To tell the truth, I’m not quite sure where I stand on the status of ethics as a discipline, but clearly philosophical thinking (often drawing on or arising out of work in various academic disciplines) can be useful in dealing with the sorts of issues you raise.

    You say that “the point of view of disability theory has greatly changed our society.” I agree this sort of discourse has had an effect but many of these approaches are open to criticism. You clearly have a more positive attitude to this sort of thing than I do.

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  40. Lots of interesting stuff going on about academic philosophy… but I’ll stay a neutral observer for now. 🙂

    Hi Dan, based on personal experience I tend to reject paternalism. Paternalism normally involves an assumed “privileged” (in the non-ideological sense) state of knowledge with regard to what is better for another.

    Obviously, in the case of actual parents (male or female) there is some reason to assume they will be in a privileged state of knowledge regarding the world compared to their child… having had to go through the experiences of childhood themselves and seeing other children growing up.

    But where others have not been through nearly the exact same situation, how are they able to make such claims?

    A “free” person can very well see what they would not want in the life of any particular slave. But not having been one, or experienced the variety of master-slave relationships that are possible, they cannot say that all slaves will be (or are) “better off” when “free”, or that there are no situations where being (nominally) “free” could be much worse than being a slave.

    Paternalism (or a paternalistic attitude), much like with actual parents, constitutes a block in flow of (sometimes valuable) information about a subject from the people that are most involved and which the paternalist actually might have no experience.

    A fight to free all slaves into a merciless dog-eat-dog economic system with no safety net, and just as cruel punishments for failure, with the idea that just being “free” will be good in itself is as blind (to information) as animal rights activists who “free” any and all captive animals back into the wild regardless what they would need to make it in the wild.

    So I prefer information to indicate appropriate, privileged knowledge (experience), related to goals and mechanisms rather than assumption of such due to being a certain class.

    This is one reason I think the author has a point how people without impairments cannot make blanket comments about what kind of life it is to have any and all impairments… which may be a different question than if it is an impairment versus variation (eye color).

    Where I think the author goes wrong is (as EJ has argued) lumping all people with impairments into one class of the “disabled”. There are types and degrees which make some of her arguments absurd on their face*. In a sense she is acting paternalistic in trying to “care for” the “well-being” of all “disabled”, without really accounting for the diverse experience of the group she is talking about. She does not in any sense know what it is like to be “disabled” in the abstract, because there is no abstract “disability”.

    This is in contrast with sexual minorities who have the exact same, uniform problem, even if the “problem” is experienced in varying degrees depending on the types of people around them. That is the “problem” lies solely with (because it is caused by) the people around them. The abstract problem, or experience (which many other minorities face) is prejudice and discrimination.

    That some disabled people face prejudice and discrimination is without question. But is that really what defines the experience of being disabled? Are these really the issues we are concerned with when talking about (which was the subject of the paper) “bad differences” and “mere differences”? I don’t think so.

    *Note: I read her whole piece which may be why I was not as upset as some. Like you I can set aside flubs and absurdities to track important elements of the argument. Still, I think points raised here by others have merit. Particularly (if we are talking about her argument) her attempted connection between the disabled (as a class) and sexual minorities (as a class) is bizarre.

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  41. Hi Dan K, you mentioned cultural anthropology and sociology being at a low point. I was curious about this. When I was in it decades ago the idea was to be ideologically neutral.

    From recent criticism I’ve read (by people like Harris) it sounds like it is still neutral… and critics consider that a problem!

    Has it changed to more ideologically driven arguments, and in what way? Is it the idea of research oriented ideological neutrality (scientific moral relativity) being used as a cover for arguing actual moral relativity, or in favor of multiculturalism?

    Frankly, I might prefer that mistake to the missionary work and cultural policing some critics argue anthropologists should be engaged in.

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  42. I have re-read Dan-T’s essay. I congratulate him on a sensitive and well constructed essay that deserves careful consideration.

    …there seems to be a striking difference between philosophers and disabled individuals, when it comes to their intuitions about the well-being of disabled people.

    The commentary below the essay has amply confirmed that observation and no-one senses the irony.

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  43. Labnut: No one senses the irony, because there is nothing ironic in it. Viewpoints are not correct or incorrect, based on who or what the speaker is, but on whether they conform with what is the case.

    And given that Barnes has not done any sort of empirical investigation, her claims as to the attitudes of the disabled towards disability, in contrast with the attitudes of the non-disabled, is entirely anecdotal and thus, worthless for any rigorous academic effort (which is what a peer-reviewed, published article is supposed to be).

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  44. dbholmes: Really? The overwhelming perception is that sociologists and cultural anthropologists are ideologically left wing to a fault and this very much has damaged their reputation as practitioners of science.

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  45. Hi Dan K, to be clear I was asking for more information, not trying to challenge your claim.

    Maybe I should have caveated I haven’t read a lot of recent criticism… but what I’ve read (which was more indirect than direct) seemed to be condemning its neutrality (which helps “bad” cultures persist) rather than patently endorsing any ideology (except perhaps moral relativism and multiculturalism?).

    I don’t think scientists should be endorsing any ideology in their research, left or right. Though I’d at least understand and be less upset with a social scientist expressing interest in maintaining cultural diversity, than judging other cultures in light of the superiority of their own.

    Are there any specific ideologies being promoted more than others? Does it tend to be this kind of “minority rights” angle on things?

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  46. lab,

    I agree with DK here. Do you find the “mere difference” view less than silly? If so why? And it should be said that the fact that we criticize some people from dismissing some views does not commit us to having to never dismiss views ourselves. Some views deserve to be dismissed. The ones the PC crowd dismiss often do not.

    DT

    Note there are some cases when “X is a X-ist, therefore X should be ignored.” is valid. For instance “D’nesh D’souza is a propagandist, therefore he should be ignored.” I don’t know that I would go that far for Barnes but I am certainly not interested in hearing arguments for the mere difference view. The idea that we wer wrong about sexism and wrong about racism so we may be wrong about disabilities is wildly un-compelling. It’s akin to Descartes’ mistake that if we can be wrong about whether the Earth goes around the Sun, we can be wrong about whether there is a hand in front of our face. Besides our attitude toward the disabled is markedly different from that of the sexist toward women or the racist toward, say, black people. We don’t revile the dis-abled or want to subjugate them, we merely recognize them as disadvantaged.

    I didn’t see alot about well-being or mere-difference that seemed very usable or interesting to me. What did you find?

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  47. As I said, the essay is essentially an exercise in propaganda, dressed up in philosophical drag. For that reason alone, it needn’t be considered seriously, from an intellectual perspective. Unfortunately, that something is refereed in a major journal is no longer protection against this sort of thing being published in professional, academic venues. I wonder if those doing it realize how much damage they are doing to the profession and to its credibility.

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