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Beyond Cognition: Philosophical Issues in Autism Open Access


Other title
philosophy of autism
other minds
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Chien, Peng
Supervisor and department
Wilson, Robert A. (Philosophy)
Examining committee member and department
Schmitter, Amy (Philosophy)
Andrews, Kristin (Philosophy, York University)
Welchman, Jennifer (Philosophy)
Brigandt, Ingo (Philosophy)
Department of Philosophy

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-06:Spring 2017
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation explores philosophical issues in autism and defends a new version of the enactive approach to autism and social cognition. The discussion in this dissertation centres around the question “why do autistics encounter social interaction problems?”, addressing this question in ways that raise broader philosophical issues. Within the philosophy of mind, these include the problem of other minds, the nature of emotions, and narratives and their role in understanding the self. Beyond cognition, such issues are intertwined with questions in metaphysics, philosophy of science, sociopolitical and moral philosophy, and disability studies. In responding to the question “why do autistics encounter social interaction problems?”, I argue that autistic social interaction problems result from the sensorimotor differences between autistics and non-autistics. This contrasts with the response to this question given by widely-endorsed views that emphasize instead the cognitive deficits that autistic people have. Such cognitivist views, such as the theory theory and simulation theory, are the focus of my first two critical chapters. I go on to offer a critique of two approaches that go beyond the focus on mindreading in appealing to sensorimotor problems as lying at the heart of the problem. These views, interaction theory and the original enactive approach, are the focus of the next two chapters. I then turn to defend a novel form of the enactive approach in the last part of the dissertation by emphasizing the role of emotions as the capacity for us to make sense of the world and to construct the sense of self from narratives. My new approach shifts the explanatory focus from perception and motion to emotion. This maintains the advantage of the original enactive approach, while avoiding its behaviouristically limited descriptions. My account thus expands the theory’s capacity to describe and explain internal states important to self-understanding and self-expression. This allows one to approach autistic social difficulties by attending to the first-person perspective, cohering with my reliance on first-person autistic narratives as a major source of evidence that supplements traditional scientific research on autism.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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