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Taylor, Sunaura. Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation
2017, The New Press.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner
Publisher’s Note: How much of what we understand of ourselves as “human” depends on our physical and mental abilities—how we move (or cannot move) in and interact with the world? And how much of our definition of “human” depends on its difference from “animal”? Drawing on her own experiences as a disabled person, a disability activist, and an animal advocate, author Sunaura Taylor persuades us to think deeply, and sometimes uncomfortably, about what divides the human from the animal, the disabled from the nondisabled—and what it might mean to break down those divisions, to claim the animal and the vulnerable in ourselves, in a process she calls “cripping animal ethics.” Beasts of Burden suggests that issues of disability and animal justice—which have heretofore primarily been presented in opposition—are in fact deeply entangled. Fusing philosophy, memoir, science, and the radical truths these disciplines can bring—whether about factory farming, disability oppression, or our assumptions of human superiority over animals—Taylor draws attention to new worlds of experience and empathy that can open up important avenues of solidarity across species and ability. Beasts of Burden is a wonderfully engaging and elegantly written work, both philosophical and personal, by a brilliant new voice.

Comment: In this excerpt from her book, Beasts of Burden, Taylor resists the way that animals and intellectual disabled people are often framed in terms of one another. She argues that this does a disservice to both groups. Animals are not voiceless, as they are often constructed. And their comparison to disabled people in the (in)famous argument from marginal cases should not be accepted. Perhaps most importantly, the argument opens for discussion the worth of disabled people’s lives. But this is not something that should be open for discussion, especially given the marginalization of disabled people.

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Wiesler, Christine. Epistemic Oppression and Ableism in Bioethics
2020, Hypatia. 35: 714–732.
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Abstract: Disabled people face obstacles to participation in epistemic communities that would be beneficial for making sense of our experiences and are susceptible to epistemic oppression. Knowledge and skills grounded in disabled people's experiences are treated as unintelligible within an ableist hermeneutic, specifically, the dominant conception of disability as lack. My discussion will focus on a few types of epistemic oppression—willful hermeneutical ignorance, epistemic exploitation, and epistemic imperialism—as they manifest in some bioethicists’ claims about and interactions with disabled people. One of the problems with the epistemic phenomena with which I am concerned is that they direct our skepticism regarding claims and justifications in the wrong direction. When we ought to be asking dominantly situated epistemic agents to justify their knowledge claims, our attention is instead directed toward skepticism regarding the accounts of marginally situated agents who are actually in a better position to know. I conclude by discussing disabled knowers’ responses to epistemic oppression, including articulating the epistemic harm they have undergone as well as ways of creating resistant ways of knowing.

Comment: Wieseler draws on resources developed by feminists and disability theorists to critique the practice of philosophical bioethics (bioethics done by philosophers). In particular, she argues that philosophical bioethics involves and perpetuates ableism. Among its many problems, this ableism is epistemically fraught. It interferes with disabled people’s ability to participate in various kinds of knowledge production. Wieseler uses a lot of technical terms—like epistemic exploitation, epistemic imperialism, and willful hermeneutical ignorance—but she explains everything clearly and the payoff is worthwhile. Wieseler uses these concepts to develop a powerful and thought-provoking critique of bioethical practice with respect to disability. The concepts are also useful in broader contexts, as we’ll see in section 3.

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