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PHI101_71013_Lecture15_Oct20-1

PHI101_71013_Lecture15_Oct20-1 - PHI 101(71013 Dr Tuomas...

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Limits of Personhood: The curious cases of wild children October 20, 2009 PHI 101 (71013) Dr. Tuomas Manninen ASU-West
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“An exception proves the rule” Two interpretations of this saying: (1) Etymological: From the mention of exception, we can discern the general rule. (2) Scientific: an unusual case can be used to test whether a rule is valid or not.
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Exceptional cases: Wild children Victor of Aveyron Genie
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Wild children – the myths
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Wild children – a definition “The phrase [‘Wild child’ or ‘feral child’] covers a multitude of stories. Mostly it describes children brought up by animals; but over the last few centuries these words have been applied to children who have grown up alone in the wilderness, lost in the woods and forests. More strangely the same phrases are also used for those few children who have lived through another, perhaps crueller kind of loneliness, locked for long years in solitary confinement in single rooms . What unites all these stories is the image of a human life developing in complete isolation, cut off from all human contact. […] These children raise the deepest and most insoluble of questions: what is human nature? Does such a thing even exist? How do we differ from other animals? […] And the inevitable silence of these children provokes a further mystery: what part does language play in creating our humanity?” (Newton 2002, xiii)
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Wild children – an early explanation An excerpt from Carolus Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae… , 13 th ed. (1767). Here ( op.cit. , 28) a number of wild children are classified into species Homo Sapiens Ferus , a subspecies of H.s.
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Wild children – further explanations “Many scientists jettison wild children as the stuff of myth and legend. Other denounce the accounts or evidence as fraudulent or see the children themselves as frauds. While some critics challenge the factuality of the stories (or some aspect of them) and the authenticity of the reports (or some aspect of them), others attempt to dissolve or erase the class wild child (to dismiss wild children as an independent phenomenon) by reducing wild children to unrecognized or mislabeled instances of other, usually ‘biologized,’ classes, already existing or in process of formation” (Benzaquén 2006, 62-63).
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Wild children – further explanations (2) “The most influential and lasting alternative explanation for the wild child phenomenon is congenital defect : idiocy, imbecility, and the other labels progressively coined to refer to the same ‘thing’ in supposedly less offensive ways: mental defect, mental retardation, feeble-mindedness, mental handicap, learning or developmental disability, special needs, and so on” (Benzaquén 2006, 63).
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Wild children – a list of cases From Andrew Ward’s website, “FeralChildren.com”: http://www.feralchildren.com/en/children.php
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The philosophical problem From a philosophical perspective, the cases of wild children raise the concern that personhood (in Locke’s sense) may be a social construct rather than an intrinsic feature borne by all humans.
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