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Ian Morton's picture

evolution and autism?

Hi Amelia,

I wanted to reply to the last section of your post where you stress your concern about the woman/autistic individual example and its incongruency with evolution. I agree that women are necessary for reproduction, and I consent that currently autism has not proved to be a fitness boost, but I do not see how this is necessarily relevant to the topic at hand. I suppose my greatest concern stems from your argument that people with autism “will not be the next step from females’ in terms of what is seen as a disorder to later be necessary […] [autism] is not necessary for the continuation of humans like females are. Without this need, it cannot be seen as adaptive.” Perhaps I don’t understand your contention, but I do not understand the relevancy of evolution and adaptability to this specific concern.

First, I do not believe that society went from viewing females as disordered to necessary. I am pretty sure women have almost always been recognized as “necessary” for the creation of life. For this reason I thereby have no reason to believe that the change in women’s status from “disabled” to equal, non second-class citizens, has any relation to the recognition of women’s importance for procreation.

Second, I do not believe that Paul’s comparison of women, homosexual individuals, and autistic individuals bears a significant relation to evolutionary concepts. I believe Paul was stressing how these groups of individuals are occupying different stages along the progression from being viewed by society as inferior to being viewed as different but equal. While “inferior” is often used to imply biological inferiority (e.g. intelligence), I do not believe society was motivated to label a group as inferior because it felt the group was less capable of producing offspring.

In sum, I agree that being autistic is not like being female in the sense that one characteristic is necessary for procreation while the other is not, but I do not see why this difference poses a problem for Paul’s example and the topic at hand. Could you clarify for me what you were trying to say about how this relates to evolution?

Ian HC ‘08

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