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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Epistemologies: Multiple Perspectives on the Acquisition of Knowledge
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However, even if sign languages are richer than other languages this would not be something good about being deaf per se. Rather it would be an advantage to be a signer, and hearing people can also learn sign language. Third, depending on the society within which they live, deaf people may be limited to a fairly small Deaf community. Some will claim that this limitation should be thought of as being caused by a society that will not sign, rather than by being caused by deafness itself. I claim that in themselves communication problems are relational. Whether they are said to be located in society or the individual depends on whether we think society or the individual should change. The solution to this normative question is not straightforward and depends on numerous contingent factors.

I conclude that whether it is a good or bad thing to be deaf is hard to determine. Plausibly, being deaf may be a bad thing for some deaf people but not for others. Deaf people who would like to communicate with hearing people but cannot are more greatly disadvantaged than those who are happy sticking to the Deaf community. In addition, deaf people have different sensations than hearing people. Whether deaf sensations are better than hearing sensations will likely be largely a matter of taste.

If being deaf is good for some people but not for others, this would not be a surprising conclusion. Commonly, the same biological condition can affect people differently because different people have different aims, different abilities, and different preferences. The case is no different for deafness.

Further research might consider a number of questions:

  • How exactly does the lived experience of deaf people differ from that of hearing people? How do the sensory abilities of deaf and hearing people differ? How do sign languages differ from oral languages in their capacity to serve various types of human need?
  • It is becoming increasingly common for a wide variety of differently abled persons to claim that it is good to be like them. To give just some examples, such claims have been made by some of those with Aspergerís syndrome, anorexia, dwarfism, intersex conditions, and schizophrenia. Further research of a historical and sociological nature might consider the conditions under which such claims are made, and further philosophical research might usefully consider the normative question of when such claims are justified.
  • What, in general, are the components of a good life? Can an adequate philosophical account of the good life be developed? How important is it to have friends, meaningful work, or linguistic capabilities?

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