Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quick Note on Autism and the First-Person

I recently read Eros Corazza's excellent book Reflecting the Mind which, despite the title, was basically a phil language book. I was struck, however, with one particular passage where he spoke of autistic people (I'm pretty sure he was talking about only some autistic people as I personally know at least one who doesn't have this problem) as having a hard time with personal pronouns like 'I' and 'you'. Corazza seemed to suggest that because they were not fully competent with these words that they had no first-person thoughts or concepts, etc. But that seems to me to tie the first-person too closely to language. Without first-person thoughts of any sort, there would be no genuine action at all - but autistic people can perfectly well perform actions (even if not always in the same ways or with the same skill as others). Their bodies don't just happen to move the way they do.

My counter-diagnosis would be that those who have a hard time with first-person or similar linguistic terms have such a hard time not because they lack no first-person representation (after all, some may still be able to use their own names in the way a non-sufferer would use 'I'), but rather because becoming competent with such terms requires knowing and applying a context-sensitive linguistic rule which requires a good grasp of understanding other perspectives and how the references of these terms change accordingly from one to another. It's a difficulty with "linguistic empathy", not thinking in the first-person.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In this moment, I am working to my thsesi about the use of "I" and autism.
I know the book of Corazza, but I don't remember that he said that autistic persons don't have at all firt person thoughts because they can't use "I".May be you are right. But I know that this point of view is the point of view realated to the Kaplan's theory of "I".
And I agree with you: to fail saying "I" don't imply that you don't think in first person thought..this can mean that you don't have the same cognition which can make possible the correct use of "I", and this is the case of autistic persons.
To use "I", you must be able to master the context of use, the change speech roles, briefly this mean to have a special cognition-the standard cognition.
But empirically, we see the case of another humain cognitin -the case of autistic persons, who have on other type of cognition.
This explain why they can't use "I" correctly, but we can't say that they not have firt person thoughts .