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Ability, Disability, and the Question of Philosophy

1 January 2008


This essay treats the field of philosophy and the study of disability such that each may be conceived of in terms of the other, perhaps to the extent that they may be thought of as one. First, it examines the bases and methods of various documents in the study of disability, finding that such study may be conceived of as essentially philosophical, even as the philosophical nature of disability studies threatens such studies’ practice. Then philosophy is depicted as that discourse which necessarily interrogates its bases and methods -that is, as discourse that engages its own ability. The two fields are presented as exemplary of the interrogation of ability, particularly of discursive ability. The essay’s primary influence is Emmanuel Levinas, mainly for the emphasis he places on the nature of language in his approach to philosophical critique. Developing the notion of im/possibility -the simultaneous emergence of a discourse’s conditions of possibility with those of its impossibility -the essay focuses on “dis/ability” as the central notion in the convergence of philosophy and disability studies.


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