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Living the Categorical Imperative: autistic perspectives on lying and truth telling-between Kant and care ethics
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Health and Society. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Health and Society. Linköping University, Faculty of Health Sciences. Östergötlands Läns Landsting, Local Health Care Services in the West of Östergötland, Department of Psychiatry and Habilitation. (Institute for Ethics, History and Philosophy of Medicine, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany)
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Health and Society. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2012 (English)In: Medicine, Health care and Philosophy, ISSN 1386-7423, E-ISSN 1572-8633, Vol. 15, no 3, 271-277 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Lying is a common phenomenon amongst human beings. It seems to play a role in making social interactions run more smoothly. Too much honesty can be regarded as impolite or downright rude. Remarkably, lying is not a common phenomenon amongst normally intelligent human beings who are on the autism spectrum. They appear to be 'attractively morally innocent' and seem to have an above average moral conscientious objection against deception. In this paper, the behavior of persons with autism with regard to deception and truthfulness will be discussed in the light of two different ethical theories, illustrated by fragments from autobiographies of persons with autism. A systemizing 'Kantian' and an empathizing 'ethics of care' perspective reveal insights on high-functioning autism, truthfulness and moral behavior. Both perspectives are problematic from the point of view of a moral agent with autism. High-functioning persons with autism are, generally speaking, strong systemizes and weak empathizers. Particularly, they lack 'cognitive empathy' which would allow them to understand the position of the other person. Instead, some tend to invent a set of rules that makes their behavior compatible with the expectations of others. From a Kantian point of view, the autistic tendency to always tell the truth appears praiseworthy and should not be changed, though it creates problems in the social life of persons with autism. From a care ethics perspective, on the other hand, a way should be found to allow the high-functioning persons with autism to respect the feelings and needs of other persons as sometimes overruling the duty of truthfulness. We suggest this may even entail 'morally educating' children and adolescents with autism to become socially skilled empathic 'liars'.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Dordrecht: Springer, 2012. Vol. 15, no 3, 271-277 p.
Keyword [en]
High-functioning autism, Autobiographies, Truthfulness, Moral responsibilities, Moral education, Kant, Ethics of care
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-72173DOI: 10.1007/s11019-011-9363-7OAI: diva2:457924
Available from: 2011-11-21 Created: 2011-11-21 Last updated: 2014-02-17Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Reflections on Autism: Ethical Perspectives on Autism Spectrum Disorder in Health Care and Education
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Reflections on Autism: Ethical Perspectives on Autism Spectrum Disorder in Health Care and Education
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Reflektioner om autism : Etiska perspektiv på autismspektrumstörning i hälsovård och utbildning
Abstract [en]

In the four papers presented in this dissertation I analyze and discuss various value statements and moral stances, which I regard as unjustifiably harmful for persons with Autism and obstacles for the creation of an Autism-friendly society. In the papers I try to show that the positions underpinning the Autism-phobic moral stances are not warranted and cannot be defended in a good way. In doing so, I hope to transform the harmful moral intuitions underlying these positions into autism-friendly ones. The first paper investigates the Neurodiversity claim that ‘Autism is a natural variation’. The claim is interpreted and investigated and an argument is given that, contrary to Low-Functioning Autism, High-Functioning Autism can indeed be seen as a natural variation, without necessarily being seen as a disability. The second paper focuses on the problem for persons with Autism to adapt to prosocial lying, which is saying something not true but socially acceptable in a situation. By comparing a Kantian approach and a care ethics approach, the paper ends up recommending teaching persons with Autism to lie in a rule based and empathic way. The third paper deals with the morality of embryo selection in IVF. Based on a widely shared intuition of natural capabilities, arguments are given that it is morally legitimate to choose an Autistic embryo instead of a ‘normal’ one, contrary to arguments given by proponents of ‘every child should have the best chance of the best life’. The fourth paper deals with moral education. An argument is given that due to problems with cognitive empathy children with Autism should be taught pro-social behavior in a rule based way.

Abstract [sv]

I de fyra artiklarna, som presenteras i denna avhandling, analyserar och diskuterar jag olika värdeuttalanden och moraliska ställningstaganden, vilka jag anser inte kan berättigas och är skadliga för personer med autism och utgör hinder för skapandet av ett autismvänligt samhälle. I artiklarna försöker jag visa att de ståndpunkter som ligger till grund för autism - fobiska moraliska ställningstaganden inte kan berättigas eller försvaras på ett rimligt sätt. På så sätt hoppas jag att omvandla de skadliga moraliska intuitioner som ligger bakom dessa positioner till autismvänliga sådana. Den första artikeln undersöker påståendet från förespråkare av neurodiversitet att ”autism är en naturlig variation”. Påståendet tolkas och utreds och ett argument ges att, i motsats till låg fungerande autism, kan högfungerande autism faktiskt ses som en naturlig variation, utan att nödvändigtvis ses som ett handikapp. Den andra artikeln fokuserar på problem för personer med autism för att anpassa sig till att ljuga prosocialt, nämligen att säga något som är osant men socialt lämpligt i en viss situation. Genom att jämföra en Kantiansk strategi med en omsorgsetisk strategi rekommenderar artikeln att undervisning i att ljuga på ett regelbaserat och empatiskt sätt bör ges till personer med autism. Den tredje artikeln behandlar moralen kring väljande av embryo i IVF. Baserat på en allmänt delad intuition om förekomsten och betydelsen av naturliga förmågor ges ett argument för att det är moraliskt legitimt att välja ett autistiskt embryo i stället för ett ”normalt”, i motsats till argument som ges av förespråkarna för ”varje barn ska få bästa chansen till det bästa livet”. Den fjärde artikeln handlar om hur barn ska bibringas moral genom utbildning. Ett argument ges att på grund av problem med kognitiv empati så bör barn med autism undervisas i pro - socialt beteende på ett regelbaserat sätt.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2014. 78 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 606Linköping Dissertations on Health and Society, ISSN 1651-1646 ; 24
Autism, applied ethics, health care, moral education, Neurodiversity, Autism, tillämpad etik, hälsovård, utbildning i moral, neurodiversitet
National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-104418 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-104418 (DOI)978-91-7519-402-8 (print) (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-04-10, Aulan, Hus 240 (ingång 15), Campus US, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (Swedish)

The series name Dissertations on Health and Society is incomplete. The correct and complete name is Linköping Dissertations on Health and Society.

Available from: 2014-02-17 Created: 2014-02-17 Last updated: 2014-04-11Bibliographically approved

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