Autism and Moral Responsibility: Executive Function and the Reactive Attitudes

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The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics are hosting a lecture on 'Autism and Moral Responsibility: Executive Function and the Reactive Attitudes' with speaker Professor Kenneth Richman. Although criteria for identifying autism have been established based on behavioral factors, researchers are still exploring and developing models to describe the cognitive and affective differences that lead to the known behaviors. Some of these models offer competing ways of understanding autism; some simply describe characteristics of autism. Significantly, these models tend to involve cognitive functions that are also cited in accounts of moral responsibility. This suggests that autism may be a reason not to blame an autistic person for some actions that transgress social, ethical, or legal expectations even when we would certainly blame a neurotypical person for the same action.

Whether to treat autism as exculpatory in any given circumstance appears to be influenced both by models of autism and by theories of moral responsibility. This talk will focus on a limited range of theories: autism as characterized in terms of executive function deficit, and moral responsibility based on access to appropriate reactive attitudes. In pursuing this particular combination of ideas, I do not intend to endorse them. The goal is, instead, to explore the implications of this combination of influential ideas about autism and about moral responsibility. These implications can be quite serious and practical for autists and those who interact directly with autists, as well as for broader communities as they attend to the fair, compassionate, and respectful treatment of increasing numbers of autistic adults.


About the speaker

Professor Kenneth Richman (Professor of Philosophy and Healthcare Ethics at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Boston); Visiting Researcher, Gothenburg Responsibility Project, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Ken Richman is Professor of Philosophy and Healthcare Ethics at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (officially known as MCPHS University) in Boston, where he serves as Chair of the Institutional Review Board for the protection of human subjects of research. He is spending the first half of 2017 as a Visiting Researcher at the Gothenburg Responsibility Project in Sweden, and was recently a Visiting Scholar at the Neuroethics Research Unit of the Institut de Recherche Clinique de Montréal. He has published on the philosophy of medicine and bioethics, as well as early modern philosophy, and the philosophy of education. His current project examines the ethical, legal, and social implications of theories of autism.



Please book your place online here.


Medical Humanities

Contact name: Rachel Gaminiratne
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Audience: Open to all