Dialogues on Disability: Shelley Tremain Interviews Mich Ciurria

Hello, I’m Shelley Tremain and I’d like to welcome you to the eighty-third installment of Dialogues on Disability, the series of interviews that I am conducting with disabled philosophers and post to BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY on the third Wednesday of each month. The series is designed to provide a public venue for discussion with disabled philosophers about a range of topics, including their philosophical work on disability; the place of philosophy of disability vis-à-vis the discipline and profession; their experiences of institutional discrimination and exclusion, as well as personal and structural gaslighting in philosophy in particular and in academia more generally; resistance to ableism, racism, sexism, and other apparatuses of power; accessibility; and anti-oppressive pedagogy.

The land on which I sit to conduct these interviews is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabeg, covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and directly adjacent to Haldimand Treaty territory. As a settler, I offer these interviews with respect and in solidarity with Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and other colonized settler states.

My guest today is Mich Ciurria. Mich is a queer, gender-variant, disabled philosopher who is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She completed her Ph.D. at York University in Toronto in 2014 and subsequently held postdoctoral fellowships at Washington University-St. Louis and the University of New South Wales, Sydney. Her research interests include moral responsibility, moral psychology, Marxist feminism, critical race theory, and critical disability theory. She is the author of An Intersectional Feminist Theory of Moral Responsibility (Routledge, 2019).

Welcome back to Dialogues on Disability, Mich! I interviewed you for the series in September 2020. In the interim, you have been tremendously active in the profession. Please tell the readers and listeners of this interview about some of the projects on which you have been working.

My latest publications include “A new ameliorative approach to moral responsibility” in a special issue of Verifiche on feminist metaphilosophy; an encyclopedia entry on feminist theories of moral responsibility in the International Encyclopedia of Ethics; and a paper that has received a final revise and resubmit notice on responsibility’s connection to double-binds in conditions of oppression. I will also be editing a special issue of Feminist Philosophy Quarterly on feminist approaches to moral responsibility, for which there is an open call for papers until October 30, 2022. My chapter on ableism, capitalism, and chronic fatigue, which I wrote about here, will be published in the Spring of 2023 in The Bloomsbury Guide to Philosophy of Disability that you are editing. I’m also contributing to a special issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice on Shyam Ranganathan’s work on classic yoga ethics and its erasure from the philosophical canon.

On top of this, I am lucky enough to be a relatively new contributor to BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, where I have published on such topics as exclusionary academic gatekeeping, the neoliberal co-optation of resilience, the evils of accepting dirty money from billionaire donors, and the unacceptable costs of flying to academic conferences.

As a queer disabled philosopher who works on moral responsibility, I try to use my background to hold people and institutions responsible for their connections to social injustice, as opposed to thinking about responsibility in abstract, theoretical terms. Thus, my work is deeply political. I would like to use this interview to interrogate the oppressive practices of my own subdiscipline, to some of which I myself contributed early in my career. Focusing the interview like this is my way of taking responsibility for my actions and holding philosophy accountable for its oppressive traditions.

[Description of image below: A headshot of Mich who is looking directly at the camera lens and is smiling widely. Mich’s dark hair and dark v-neck top blend into the background of the shot. ]

That seems like an excellent way to proceed with this interview, Mich. As an entry point to our discussion of your insights on moral responsibility, let me start with a general question by asking you why you wanted to write about the literature on responsibility.

In the literature on moral responsibility, few philosophers comment on how the most cited papers in the field perpetuate harmful stereotypes, structural exclusions, and false historical narratives. The main reasons that they do so involve the strategic exclusion of marginalized perspectives from the literature and the adoption of a disembodied “view from nowhere” (as Haraway puts it) when analyzing responsibility. These strategies (mis)represent responsibility as an apolitical practice in which relationships of reciprocity and respect are the norm, which is a far cry from the experiences of oppressed people.

Responsibility theory is not unique in this regard, so I hope that my remarks will be of use to specialists in other areas of the field. In general, popular subjects like responsibility largely ignore oppressed people’s experiences and insights. This epistemic failure is well-documented in anti-oppressive literatures, which have yet to receive proper uptake in mainstream philosophy. I will elaborate on this problem, and then I will highlight some of the ways that it manifests in my area of specialization.

The marginalization of oppressed voices in philosophy is an ongoing, but widely neglected, issue. In 1996, Charlotte Witt testified that “feminist philosophers are faced with a tradition that believes that there are no women philosophers and, if there are any, they are unimportant.” In 1995, Elizabeth Lloyd wrote that “the overwhelming majority of philosophers … manifest no awareness of the availability and applicability of feminist thought.” In 1981, Audre Lorde pointed out that white feminists, who claim to embrace diversity, nonetheless exclude Black women.

These exclusions are not a relic of the past. A few months ago, Amanda Hruby wrote, “[philosophers] are in no way interested in considering [feminism] as a pedagogical approach and understanding and unpacking what it means to not just teach the content, but also to implement it.” Ann Garry, Serene Khader, and Alison Stone observe that “the voices of white, Western feminists, often those working in ‘analytic’ or Anglo-American philosophy, have prevailed within [feminist] debates.” Robin Dembroff indicts “philosophy’s cisgenderness and its intellectual laziness and hubris.” And you, Shelley, said in 2017 that, “even now, critical philosophical approaches to disability remain marginalized in most subfields of philosophy and completely ignored in the other subfields of the discipline.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that the literature on moral responsibility is beset with abstractions and idealizations that erase the existence of marginalized people, along with disrespectful stereotypes that stigmatize us. While the norm is to exclude marginalized groups, disabled people have the distinction of being represented as morally impaired “others.”

Are responsibility theorists going to take responsibility for these injustices? Or are they going to claim that they aren’t responsible for their field’s traditions, didn’t know better, or couldn’t have done otherwise? These excuses are widely accepted, and one reason may be that they protect philosophers from uncomfortable questions about their connections to social injustice.

Mich, your last remarks embody strong claims. Please explain your views on why responsibility theory is a formulation of ideal theory that traffics in abstraction and does not hold oppressors responsible.

Until quite recently, responsibility was divorced from politics. In the 1980s, most philosophers focused on whether responsibility is compatible with causal determinism. Incompatibilists argued that if determinism is true, we are not responsible for our actions (e.g., van Inwagen 1983, Kane 1989). Missing from these debates was any reference to the politics of oppression. If we are causally determined, then Nazis, fascists, and other oppressors have nothing to answer for. Their actions were caused by the laws of nature and events in the remote past rather than their own choices. These debates leave no room for questions about social injustice.  

Compatibilists, on the other hand, have tried to disprove incompatibilism by showing that we are responsible for our actions regardless of metaphysics, but they continued to ignore the reality of oppression. The most prominent examples are Harry Frankfurt and P. F. Strawson.

Frankfurt (1969) tried to debunk incompatibilism with a (now famous) thought experiment in which someone awkwardly named “Black” plans to manipulate someone named “Jones” into taking some action only if Jones doesn’t decide to take the action on his own. This scenario is supposed to show that if Jones does the thing on his own, he is responsible for the consequences, even though he couldn’t have done otherwise (since Black would have forced his hand). This example has spawned a multitude of “Frankfurt cases,” many of which involve Black secretly implanting a “counterfactual device” in Jones’s brain, which will force him to kill someone if he doesn’t murder the person of his own accord (e.g., Wideker 1996, Fischer 2010). This is, to be sure, a very disturbing and gruesome scenario, but it is striking that there is no reference to the background political context that would allow Black to do something so appalling to another human being. How is Black in a position to perform nonconsensual brain surgery on someone without his knowledge? What social privileges made Black feel entitled to do something like this?   

There is really no need to come up with fictional examples of “manipulation cases” – we can easily find similar examples in the historical record, such as when Dr. J. Marion Simms would force enslaved Black women to restrain a selected victim if she didn’t consent to experimental, unanesthetized gynecological surgery; or, to take another example, when Belgium-appointed overseers would cut the hands and feet off of colonized people’s children if they didn’t fulfill King Leopold’s rubber quotas; or, when Walter Freeman would lobotomize neurodivergent and gender-variant people if they didn’t voluntarily conform to dominant social norms.

In other words, there are countless real-life examples of people being mutilated and manipulated if they don’t do what an oppressor wants them to do. These examples invariably take place in oppressive conditions in which the victim is politically disenfranchised. How did Jones end up on Black’s operating table? Why is he being programmed to kill an unsuspecting victim? These theoretical cases, which are not presented very sympathetically, trivialize real-life atrocities by ignoring the standpoint of the victim and refuse to assess an oppressor’s responsibility for exploiting a disempowered person.

Strawson (1964) is another case in point. People laud Strawson for “socializing” responsibility by situating it in interpersonal relationships. But where are the unequal force relations in his analysis? Strawson, if you don’t know him, defined moral responsibility as an interpersonal practice involving the “reactive attitudes” of “gratitude, resentment, forgiveness, love, and hurt feelings.” The basic idea is that when someone shows us ill will, we resent the person; when someone shows us good will, we express gratitude. But we suspend these reactions when certain excuses apply, such as “He wasn’t himself,” “He has been under very great strain recently,” “He was acting under post-hypnotic suggestion,” “He’s a hopeless schizophrenic,” “He is warped or deranged, neurotic or just a child,” “[He is] excluded from ordinary adult human relationships by deep-rooted psychological abnormality.” Aside from these stipulations, Strawson’s most concrete (yet still very under-described) example of how responsibility works is about someone stepping on someone else’s hand:

If someone treads on my hand accidentally, while trying to help me, the pain may be no less acute than if he treads on it in contemptuous disregard of my existence or with a malevolent wish to injure me. But I shall generally feel in the second case a kind and degree of resentment that I shall not feel in the first.

Unlike the Frankfurt cases, this is a non-fiction example, but it is still completely removed from real-world conditions of power and domination. Why would someone malevolently crush someone’s hand? Is it a sexist husband punishing a non-deferential wife? Is it a colonizer disrespecting an enslaved person? Who would feel entitled to treat another person like this?

Strawson is typical insofar as he ignores asymmetries of power in his treatment of responsibility. His approach is an example of what Charles Mills calls “ideal theory,” which involves “a problematic mode of idealizing abstraction that abstracts away from social oppression, and in that way both conceals its extent and inhibits the development of the conceptual tools necessary for understanding and dealing with its workings.” How can we hold oppressors responsible if our main focus is random, socially unembedded people treading on other random people’s hands? Mills’ central focus is “the hegemonic varieties of liberalism,” which involve an “erasure, the whiting-out, of the past [and present] of racial subordination.” “Liberal Enlightenment,” he explains, “presumes an objective perception of things as they are and as they should be, factually and morally, for political communities characterized by reciprocally respecting relations among equally recognized persons in agreement on the fair terms for the appropriation of the world.” By fixating on theoretical ideals of justice, respect, and responsibility, hegemonic liberalism erases the reality of injustice and disrespect.

Was Strawson not a proponent of Liberal Enlightenment so described? He analyzed interpersonal relationships in complete abstraction from conditions of oppression. He saw society as “characterized by reciprocally respecting relations among equally recognized persons.” Where are the racist slights, the patriarchal marriages, the homophobic resentments, the fatphobic disdain, the ableist contempt, and the other reactive hostilities that are foremost in oppressed people’s experiences? Where is the bourgeois entitlement to weaponize responsibility against the oppressed? Where is the neoliberal disdain for poor and working-class people? Where is the scapegoating and victim-blaming of queer, trans, disabled, and other stigmatized groups?

By the same token, Strawson didn’t notice that his “commonplace” excuses don’t work the same for everyone. Historically, the “excuse” that “he wasn’t himself” was used to absolve privileged men for “crimes of passion” like raping women, killing queer people, and other injustices. Excuses are part of an apparatus of power that protects and rewards the privileged. 

Mind you, Strawson didn’t just ignore oppressed people in his analysis—he was obsessed with the presumed non-responsibility of disabled folks. This, too, is typical in philosophy, as Licia Carlson observes: “When philosophers use hypotheticals, or invoke ‘the severely cognitively disabled’ as marginal cases in their theories without engaging directly with these persons’ lives, they risk constructing the ‘cognitively disabled subject’ in ways that perpetuate stereotypes, and that present inaccurate, attenuated, and harmful portraits of them.” Amongst those who should be excluded from “ordinary interpersonal relationships” are individuals described as “schizophrenic,” “neurotic,” “psychologically abnormal,” and “insane.”

These terms are meant to denote cognitively disabled (including neurodivergent) people. But why on Earth should cognitively disabled people be socially excluded and denied recognition as moral agents? The stereotype of the “morally impaired cripple” simply entrenches existing ableist exclusions. In this connection, Shelley, you have noted that “people who, for any number of reasons, do not conform to highly-regulated standards of (for instance) social behavior and interaction,” including cognitively disabled people, “are routinely discredited, ignored, vilified, and stigmatized.” Strawson participates in this exclusionary tradition by characterizing disabled people as “responsibility-impaired” outsiders to the moral community.

As someone with features of “OCD,” I don’t consider myself to be too morally “deranged” to navigate interpersonal relationships, even if some of these relationships are asymmetrical due to structural ableism. If I’m excluded, it’s not because I’m morally “impaired”—it’s because I’m queer and disabled, and social institutions aren’t designed to accommodate people like me. Strawson’s blanket claims about disabled people are cheap justifications for ableist exclusions!  

All of the theories that I have discussed involve abstractions and idealizations that prevent us from understanding, analyzing, and addressing oppression. And Strawson also stigmatizes disability. This still happens today. In fact, liberatory approaches to responsibility are rare (but see August Gorman’s work on neurodiversity and responsibility). In most contemporary treatments of responsibility, you will still find the imprint of hegemonic liberalism.     

Mich, you object to the ways in which philosophers describe “ignorance” as both a deficit, inability, or disability, on one side, and an excuse for oppressive wrongdoing, on the other side. You believe, by contrast, that oppressors actively ignore oppression, that is, they are not, in fact, ignorant or lacking in knowledge. Would you please explain this distinction, which may seem too subtle to many readers and listeners?

Responsibility theorists tend to see ignorance as an impairment that mitigates responsibility, particularly responsibility for oppressive wrongdoing. The most common form of this thesis states that people are not responsible for participating in an unjust practice if the practice is culturally accepted. Hence, Nazis aren’t responsible for murdering Jewish people, scientists aren’t responsible for sterilizing Black and disabled people, and so on. Michele Moody-Adams calls this “the inability thesis,” which she describes in the following terms: “One of the most influential philosophical views about cultural impediments to responsibility involves the claim that sometimes one’s upbringing in a culture simply renders one unable to know that certain actions are wrong” (1994: 292).

Some prominent examples are Michael Slote’s view that “ancient Greek slave owners were simply ‘unable to see what virtue required in regard to slavery,’” Alan Donagan’s view that “an officer bred up from childhood in the Hitler Jugend might not be [responsible for being a Nazi],” and Susan Wolf’s view that “slaveowners of the 1850’s, Nazis of the 1930’s, and many male chauvinists of our fathers’ generation” may not have been responsible for exploiting, murdering, and raping oppressed people (Moody-Adams: 293). Moody-Adams adds that proponents of the inability thesis often invoke the concepts of “social incapacitation” and “cultural insanity” to exonerate oppressors (292).

Even prominent feminists defend this thesis. To give a notable example, Cheshire Calhoun claimed that scientists were not responsible for the “routine involuntary sterilization of the mentally retarded” (sic), because the requisite knowledge was “transparent only to the knowledge-acquiring subgroup” – presumably, cognitively disabled people (1989: 396). She also excused oppressors for things like “discriminatory hiring, sexual harassment, and marital rape” in contexts where the wrongness of those injustices was not recognized by the “general public” (viz., the straight, white, nondisabled majority) (396). Today, the inability thesis is still held by many feminists.  

However, marginalized philosophers do not readily accept it. This group includes Moody-Adams (1994), a Black feminist working in a predominantly white and male profession, who argued that “the link between culture and agency does not undermine the standard attributions of responsibility for action and hence cannot exempt human beings from responsibility” (292). She suggests that oppressors are not “unable” to understand oppression; rather, they are “uncritically committed to the internal perspective on the way of life they hope to preserve” (296). Dominant groups aren’t “ignorant”; they strategically ignore oppression to protect their own power and privilege. 

Shelley, you have also disputed the standard approach to ignorance, arguing that “for more than two decades, a variety of philosophers have used the term epistemology of ignorance to refer to a form of active refusal to attend to certain understandings of and knowledge about social relations of power and oppression” (2017: 42). You point out the comparison between “ignorance” and disability/inability/impairment is ableist and elitist:

philosophical discussions of epistemologies of ignorance are peppered with ableist metaphors and other references to cognitive impairment and disability, metaphors and references that, in some respects, serve to paradoxically depoliticize and naturalize the states of affairs to which they are intended to refer: “obliviousness,” “delusion,” “collective amnesia,” “blindness,” “moral blindness,” and “cognitive dysfunction,” to name only a few (43).

I would add to this critique that social epistemologists tend to espouse a revisionary, white-washed version of the historical record, which adopts the perspective of the oppressor – a perspective that seeks to excuse injustice. As Moody-Adams points out, “though Slote insists that the Greeks mounted no real moral criticism of slavery, even in The Politics Aristotle takes on some unnamed opponents of slavery who denied that slavery is natural” (296). While it is true that history is written by the victors, we still have evidence of resistance movements, slave revolts, and liberatory struggles in every historical era. This evidence is deliberately ignored and denied by dominant groups.

Most philosophers still subscribe to some version of the inability thesis. Yet we can see the consensus unraveling in recent debates about epistemic injustice, which tend to revolve around Miranda Fricker’s influential book (2007). Fricker argues that people are usually responsible for epistemic injustices (which typically involve silencing or excluding a speaker), except in cases of “epistemic bad luck,” in which one lacks access to the interpretive resources needed to make sense of a certain kind of injustice. Epistemic bad luck includes “mitigating circumstances such as when the subject’s patterns of judgement are influenced by the prejudices of his day in a context where it would take a very exceptional epistemic character to overcome those prejudices” (33). This is a recent iteration of the inability thesis.

Marginalized philosophers have objected to Fricker’s analysis. A recent example is Nora Berenstain’s criticism that “Fricker’s work produces structural gaslighting through several methods,” including “the outright denial of the role that structural oppression plays in producing interpretive harm” (N.d.: 1). Berenstain objects to Fricker’s use of “epistemic bad luck” as an excuse for oppressive wrongdoing: “Fricker casts as ‘epistemic bad luck’ cases that she inaccurately construes as one-off instances of hermeneutical marginalization, but which actually have structural causes rooted in systems of domination” (6). Hermeneutical marginalizations are, in fact, structural injustices produced and defended by oppressors. “White supremacy,” for instance,

brings with it a set of standards of cognition that encompass an agreement by dominant agents to misinterpret the world. Systemic misunderstanding about the intertwined structures of white supremacy and settler colonialism takes a great deal of work to uphold and maintain. This is the work of structural gaslighting” (Berenstain: 4).

Hermeneutical marginalization, then, isn’t an innocent mistake, a result of inability or impairment; it is an active commitment to epistemic domination, denial, and gaslighting.

You, Shelley, make a similar case against Fricker. I’m referring to your response to Fricker’s claim that someone “who has a medical condition affecting her social behavior” is not an object of hermeneutical injustice but is merely a “poignant case of circumstantial epistemic bad luck” (Fricker 2007: 152). You point out that “people with an ‘undiagnosed condition’ whose social behavior is subject to ‘negative consequences’ due to the ways in which others perceive them are also members of a hermeneutically marginalized group” (2017: 78). Therefore, they are also victims of epistemic injustice. In fact, physicians often disbelieve the testimony of people with chronic fatigue (which I have) for months, if not years, and this, again, is a form of testimonial injustice. Fricker’s analysis ignores the ableist “public perceptions and authoritative epistemologies” (as you put it) that designate people with “undiagnosed medical conditions” as “impaired,” “mentally ill,” and “insane,” and that call for their silencing, vilification, and stigmatization (ibid). Dominant groups perpetrate these stereotypes as an active strategy to control interpretive resources and govern disabled people’s bodies.  

Tommy Curry (2017) refutes Fricker on similar grounds, objecting to her interpretation of the trial from To Kill a Mockingbird, in which Tom Robinson, a disabled Black man, is falsely convicted of raping a white woman (Mayella Ewell) by an all-white jury. First, Curry points out that Fricker doesn’t consider the possibility that Robinson himself may have been a victim of assault by Ewell, given the book’s suggestion that it was Ewell who came onto him, together with the background context in which a Black person is forbidden from resisting a white person’s orders: “if the insinuation of [Ewell’s] father making her kiss him leads one toward the idea that she may be sexually abused by her father, then why is it that the very same actions committed by Mayella towards a Black man, “telling him to kiss her back, [word removed], do not constitute the possibility of the same sexual offense?” (2017: 335).

Most social epistemologists ignore this possibility because it defies the cultural stereotype of the Black male as invulnerable and unrapable. Notably, Berenstain also accuses Fricker, in another context, of perpetrating “the widespread myth that men cannot be the victims of sexual violence, stalking, or domestic abuse, either by women or non-binary people or by other men” (7). The white townspeople from the novel similarly discount this possibility, and Curry suggests that this dismissal is no accident:

Even if the white public knew that Mayella had sexually assaulted Mr. Robinson, their actions would have been no different. They intentionally preserved the order of the South. This was not a moral question; it was a decision to control the economic and political station of Black people for the economic and political gain of white people. The disabled body of Tom Robinson simply conveys to the reader the dedication that white Alabamians have to this order, not their ignorance of it. Stated differently, the white public is not closed-minded or ignorant of racism and epistemic friction; they are aware of the social order, their racial advantage and their individual duties within it. Tom Robinson was merely a victim of this white woman’s sexual appetite and the response of a white supremacist system which sought to maintain her race’s sexual mores (335).

This interpretation also refutes Fricker’s suggestion that the white jurors may not have been responsible for discounting Robinson’s testimony prior to the trial, at which point Robinson’s lawyer “prove[s] beyond doubt that Robinson could not have beaten the Ewell girl so as to cause the sort of cuts and bruises she sustained that day” (2007: 23). Fricker says, “there are those on the jury for whom the idea that the black man is to be epistemically trusted and the white girl distrusted is virtually a psychological impossibility,” something that they are unable to fathom given the available interpretive resources (Fricker: 25). Curry offers a competing explanation for the jury’s epistemic distrust: they made a collective, deliberate decision to ‘preserve the order of the south’ and ‘control the economic and political station of Black people’ for their own benefit.

The preceding remarks show how epistemologies of ignorance that compare “ignorance” to “inability,” “deficit,” and “impairment” are strongly contested by marginalized philosophers. We are beginning to see oppressors described as responsible, deliberate, self-serving “moral parasites” (Shyam Ranganathan 2019). Although these debates are taking place in social epistemology, they carry over to the literature on moral responsibility, in which Fricker also publishes (2014, 2016). The received wisdom in both literatures is still that people are not responsible for mundane forms of oppressive wrongdoing. Marginalized philosophers – who are the main target of oppressive wrongdoing – have objected that this thesis is a form of structural gaslighting and epistemic injustice that ignores and invalidates the experiences of oppressed people. Yet these critical perspectives are few and far between in the responsibility literature.     

Mich, how do you think philosophers should address the problems with extant work on responsibility to which you continue to draw attention?

Philosophers who work on responsibility should be interested in asking what they are responsible for, both individually and collectively. Their priority should be to take responsibility for unjust disciplinary practices and assumptions. They should critically evaluate authoritative sources, asking themselves if they use the most responsible methods, examples, and thought experiments. Readers and listeners of this interview might be interested, for example, in my paper on feminist metaphilosophy and responsibility, which defends a non-ideal, ameliorative, and socially embedded approach. Philosophers seldom do this; that is, they are generally not very introspective or forthcoming about how their identities and experiences inform their work. They tend to assume a “view from nowhere” approach to responsibility, making pronouncements about how socially disembodied people like Smith and Jones interact with each other rather than exploring how situated people navigate asymmetrical relationships.

The god’s-eye-view approach alienates members of marginalized groups from philosophy and this subdiscipline in particular. Few women, racialized, queer, disabled, or otherwise oppressed people work in this subdiscipline. Most of the anti-oppressive work comes from privileged white feminists, and even they’re in the minority. If you look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on moral responsibility, an authoritative source, most of the cited philosophers appear to be nondisabled, straight, white men. I’m not cited, even though I’ve published a book and some recent papers on the topic, and yet I’m cited in the SEP entry on Feminist Perspectives on Argumentation for a paper I published in grad school. This lacuna shows how some subdisciplines work to include oppressed people and others don’t. Gatekeepers are also very unreceptive, in my experience, to critiques of distinguished philosophers like Strawson and Frankfurt, especially when those critiques argue that these distinguished figures didn’t pay attention to the injustices taking place around them.

This resistance makes me wonder whether philosophers want to take responsibility for their profession’s legacy of structural injustice. Few admit that responsibility is a political practice, let alone an unjust practice that silences, scapegoats, and gaslights oppressed people. Even philosophers who admit that the responsibility system is flawed rarely admit that it is structurally and systematically flawed, not by accident but rather because of the choices and values of dominant groups. The current arrangements of professional philosophy and the subdiscipline of moral philosophy, including work in moral responsibility, leave very little room for philosophers to own up to any oppressive wrongdoing.

Mich, how would you like to end this interview? You have provided a great many references throughout this interview. Do you want to recommend any additional articles or other materials related to something you’ve mentioned in this interview?

The resources that I would recommend are the ones I’ve already cited here, which include (in no particular order) books and papers by Tommy Curry, Shyam Ranganathan, Robin Dembroff, August Gorman, Nora Berenstain, Licia Carlson, Kate Manne, Charles Mills, and your own myriad publications.  I would also recommend Sara Ahmed, whose book on the value of complaint I reviewed here, as well as Melinda HallMarta Russell, Stacy Simplican, Robert Chapman, Mikki Kendall, Lola Olufemi, Angela Davis, Jules Holroyd, Rachel Anne Williams, Kyle Whyte, Jill Delston, Helen de Cruz, and Khameiel Al-Tamimi.     

This set of recommendations is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the publications that I’ve cited multiple times and that have inspired me to keep going when academic gatekeeping makes me want to quit.

Mich, thank you so much for your incredibly insightful remarks throughout this interview. I think that your work on moral responsibility is tremendously inspiring. I also want to thank you for the extensive body of resources to relevant literature that you have provided.

Readers/listeners are invited to use the Comments section below to respond to Mich Ciurria’s remarks, ask questions, and so on. Comments will be moderated. As always, although signed comments are preferred, anonymous comments may be permitted.


Please join me here again on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, for the eighty-fourth installment of the Dialogues on Disability series and, indeed, on every third Wednesday of the months ahead. I have a fabulous line-up of interviews planned. If you would like to nominate someone to be interviewed (self-nominations are welcomed), please feel free to write me at s.tremain@yahoo.ca. I prioritize diversity with respect to disability, class, race, gender, institutional status, nationality, culture, age, and sexuality in my selection of interviewees and my scheduling of interviews. The entire Dialogues on Disability series is archived on BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY here.

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