Philosophy's real-world consequences for deaf people: Thoughts on iconicity, sign language and being deaf

Human Studies 23 (3):261-279 (2000)
The body of philosophical knowledge concerning the relations among language, the senses, and deafness, interpreted as a canon of key ideas which have found their way into folk metaphysics, constitutes one of the historically sustained conditions of the oppression of deaf people. Jonathan Rée, with his book I see a voice, makes the point that a philosophical history, grounded in a phenomenological and causal concern with philosophical thought and social life, can offer an archaeology of philosophy's contribution to the social oppression of deaf people.This article offers support for such a project while being critical of Rée's philosophical phenomenology, since it presumes, àpriori, two ideas about deafness and sign language: firstly, that deaf experience is like hearing experience but without hearing; and secondly, that the iconic qualities of sign languages are strictly superficial phenomena. Both presumptions, it is argued here, derive from the same philosophical knowledge which has linked deafness to the sense of hearing and the voice, and in doing so secured an intellectual basis for the oppression of deaf people in social life.
Keywords philosophy of language  phenomenology  social theory  deaf studies  sign language
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DOI 10.1023/A:1005636725734
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