The Singer/Lindauer Entry Won! But Why?

As per comments that I have made in the Teaching Practical and Applied Ethics Facebook group, let me say this: The winner of The Splintered Mind contest (go here) that solicited arguments designed to convince people to donate to charity, namely, the Singer/Lindauer entry about an effort to prevent “blindness,” reproduces ableism and ableist biases against disabled people, employs ableist language to represent disability as a poignantly tragic human property, and ignores the ways that the charity industry depoliticizes and naturalizes disability and other social and political phenomena.

These egregious aspects of the Singer/Lindauer argument are summed up in remarks included in their entry: “How much would you pay to prevent your own child becoming blind? Most of us would pay $25,000, $250,000, or even more, if we could afford it.”

Representations of disabled people as tragic and in need of repair almost always come out as the winners of any contest in which they have been entered as a contender. Just think of the Academy Awards. How many films that represent disability (especially blindness) as a disadvantageous natural characteristic that must be overcome have won the major prizes, including (repeatedly) Best Film of the Year? (If you aren’t sure, please do a google search.)

I hope that Eric Schwitzgebel, Fiery Cushman, Peter Singer, and Matthew Lindauer will reflect upon how this sort of discourse on disability—a discourse that now, that is, once again, has been put into wide circulation in philosophy—works to undermine attempts to improve the status and treatment of disabled philosophers in the profession and of disabled people in society in general.

That an oppressive representation of disabled people could garner the most votes from philosophers in this contest says a great deal about the extent to which it is acceptable and indeed rewarded in philosophy and academia more generally to demean disabled people and engineer ways to conceptually and materially eliminate us.

1 Response

  1. ajkreider

    I’m not sure who the target of your complaint is.

    According to the site, that entry won because it met the winning criteria – moving the needle most in getting people to donate to the requisite charity. The referees didn’t award it the win because they thought the argument good or well-formed, or convincing. It simply had the effect sought after. The comparison, then, to the Academy Awards is not apt – as it was not voted the winner by anybody.

    Perhaps it would have been better for the argument’s authors to argue that people should donate to a charity that would help restructure society in such a way that people without sight would not face the disabling effects that they do now. Though, they wouldn’t have been able to make the claim that $25 will do the trick.

    Further, the idea that a sighted child loses something of value by becoming un-sighted,even leaving aside social disabling conditions, seems compatible with much work in disability studies. One might also say that a person who is unable to hear loses something of value if a surgery permits them to hear. This view doesn’t take any stand on whether it’s better, full stop, to hear or see or not to have those abilities. It is to take a stand about the losing of something which has made life valuable.


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