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Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò


Thanks for doing this interview, and apologies for the length of what follows. I found a lot of this discussion helpful and welcome, especially your description of what it is to be a philosopher and challenges to the current elitist culture of academia. That said, I was a little concerned about the discussion of IQ and the Ivy League credentials of various folks in your family given that very discussion about elitism. To put my cards on the table: I was first introduced to the notion of generalized, quantifiable metric for intelligence by reading The Bell Curve as a kid, which argued for the intellectual inferiority of Black folks among other things. And as it turns out, IQ testing has been put to pretty nefarious purposes, historically speaking, and labeling many of those merely"elitist" would be euphemistic to the point of propaganda. I also have been persuaded by recent arguments from feminist philosophers that we ought communicate to people that philosophy is a learned and practice skill rather than an innate ability, and further that this may involve communicating less about innate intelligence or talent and more about practice.

Let me concede immediately that none of the preceding need categorically decide what is meant by any individual use of the term "IQ" or appeal to the underlying concept or whether some important norm has been violated. Maybe there is such a metric and it's merely unfortunate that folks found out in the course of pursuing eugenicist projects, maybe we can appeal to it in ways that don't reinforce meritocratic notions of desert that function to justify systems of exclusion (from higher ed, as well as other things).

But it wasn't obvious to me from what you said about IQ and the gifted program what you were taking the problem to be - that your 'true' (in some sense) capacity was hidden from you? If so, I'd ask: in what circumstances are you in favor of a) children being tested for their intelligence and b) the results of this test being communicated to them? Finally, c) what strikes you as being important about knowing one's 'true' intelligence level?

Ben Bagley

It's great for me to hear from other philosophers with ADD. I suspect there are a lot of us, and I find it both interesting and affirming to hear how someone else's ADD has influenced her work in philosophy, and compare it to my own experience.

I totally agree that it's difficult--I suspect impossible in principle--"to pry apart my A.D.D., my intelligence, and my passion for philosophy." I don't really think of my ADD as a disorder at all--it's totally a "mere difference." It makes some things harder for me, but it feels essential to a lot of features of how my mind works that I love and am really grateful for. I'm really awful at elevator speeches (I get so distracted by all the complexities and potential objections I have to brush past!), and it takes me forever to write papers* (I always spend months writing drafts that I only see in retrospect to have been incomprehensible to anyone other than me), but I also think my ADD helps me think more expansively and creatively than I could without it. It also makes philosophy more fun--I think it makes me more more inclined to spontaneously relate a novel I'm reading or a movie or show I'm watching to my research; sometimes even getting distracted doing chores prompts me to spend (at least) ten minutes or so wondering about theories of intention stability!

(And I loved hearing about your high school career--I was also a rotten student growing up.)

[*] Even this comment took almost an hour!


thanks very much for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment on Cecilea's interview. The measurement of I.Q. has a long and troubled history with respect to the construction of disability, intellectual defect, and the classification of these, especially along racialized, economic, gendered, and nationalistic lines. I look forward to reading Cecilea's responses to your concerns.

thanks for your comment and its detail. In case you missed it, Maeve O'Donovan, in her interview with me that was posted on the blog last July, also discussed some of the issues that Cecilea raises in this interview.

You can find Maeve's interview here:

Cecilea Mun

Hi Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò,

Thank you for your comment and questions. My responses are as follows:

Q. But it wasn't obvious to me from what you said about IQ and the gifted program what you were taking the problem to be - that your 'true' (in some sense) capacity was hidden from you?

A. Yes, I am aware of the various issues with I.Q. tests, and the problems with what it actually measures and how it purports to do so. I'll leave the whole business of validating and justifying the accuracy of these kinds of tests to those who create them and promote their use. The main point that I wanted to bring out by mentioning my I.Q. score at the time of my testing, my enrollment in the GATE program, and my performance in Lincoln-Douglas debate was to establish that there was evidence to support the claim that I was recognized as being exceptionally intelligent besides hearsay or my testimony.

In terms of my experiences with having my disability undiagnosed and untreated until I became an adult, it's not that my capacities were hidden from me. My disability mostly affects my ability to read and write (including mathematics) when left untreated, but I can process information very well, am an excellent verbal communicator, and I am very perceptive about various things, including others and myself.

So the fact that academic evaluations are mostly based on one's ability to write well was a significant roadblock in my past to my academic success. Furthermore, not only was there a mismatch between my capacities and what I was like "on paper," but such a mismatch led to a life of persistent mis-recognition by others: others explained the mismatch they perceived by attributing it to my lack of concern for academic pursuits (e.g., not being studious, etc.) rather than to my disability.

I'm not sure if you ever had such an experience, but going through life being constantly mis-recognized is very frustrating and can lead to a lot of other problems. Imagine a life in which you know you are capable of doing something, but not in the way that others want you to, so every time you try to prove that you are capable of doing what you know you are capable of, you fail.

Not only this, but as a consequence you also lose your testimonial legitimacy, and people discount your epistemic authority because you have failed to prove to them what you said you were capable of in the way that they wanted. It is in fact a very isolated existence...One in which one wonders if anyone would ever be able to see one as the person that one truly knows oneself to be.

To bring the point home, consider this interview, posted by Shelley [ST: I posted this video to the D&D Facebook group yesterday. Turn on the captions to the video to ensure that you catch every word that Julian says]: You can tell from the interview that Julian has an internal life that is like everyone else's but his disability stands in the way of most people being able to recognize this. Note how in the end Julian also makes a comment about the loneliness he experiences. It's not, I believe, because he doesn't have a social network or people who care about him (since he obviously does), but it's more so about being the type of person that makes it difficult for others (including society as a whole) to truly see them for who they are. By the way, this kind of life is lived not only by those who have disabilities, but also by those who suffer at the hands of the explicit and implicit biases of others (which is a lot of people).

Q. In what circumstances are you in favor of children being tested for their intelligence?

A. In terms of policies for education or child rearing, I think it's really difficult to say because I believe that decisions that affect any person need to ultimately be made at the personal level. I can't say what child and when they ought to get their I.Q. tested or get tested for a disability. In regard to children, I think these decisions ultimately lie with the parents. I think parents need to consider the possibility of their children having a disability especially when the children (rather than the parents) are experiencing constant frustrations with their academic performance, etc.; but before doing so, parents ought to consider other factors first, such as whether or not their children are getting enough exercise, eating properly, and if the parents have overly high expectations of their children. So, to "play things safe" (which in this case means to have policies that do not unnecessarily and unknowingly cause various people a lot of difficulties), I'd say what ought to happen at the societal level is for our society to provide parents with the resources that they would need in order to make it easy for them to make these decisions. This would include 1) accurate information from properly trained educators without the fear of being sued (which would necessarily entail not overburdening educators with an excessive number of students in their classes), 2) removing the stigma of disabilities so that parents, children, and others do not feel ashamed of or guilty about the existence of the disability and making use of such resources, 3) and promoting conditions in our society that encourage and allow parents to spend quality time with their children in order for the parents to be able to get to know their children so that parents can make the best decisions for their children's welfare (this is especially important for those who are economically disadvantaged in our society because life under such conditions is very difficult and one rarely has much time for anything but taking care of the necessities of life and trying not to go crazy from all the stress and frustrations).

Q. In what circumstances are you in favor of the results of this test being communicated to them?

A. I believe children should always be informed although that does not imply that they have a choice or that they necessarily understand the information they are being given. Giving children the information they would need in order for them to understand what is going on is essential to ensuring that they are able to make sense of their life, especially during their most malleable years. This is another aspect of "playing things safe." We shouldn't automatically assume that a child will not understand, and for those who do, it will help them. For those who don't, it won't matter. Furthermore, I believe it's important for those who are responsible for a child's welfare to have an attitude towards that child that respects the child's innate humanity, regardless, and treating children with the attitude of finding it necessary to provide them with information they would need or helping them find this information on their own in order for them to understand things encourages people to respect a child's innate humanity.

Q. Finally, what strikes you as being important about knowing one's 'true' intelligence level?

A. I'm not at all concerned with knowing what one's "true intelligence level" is (whatever that means). What I am concerned with is helping others figure out a way to make sense of themselves and their lives in such a way so as to relieve some of the unnecessary and detrimental stress and frustration that they experience; but ultimately, although I'm not a Platonist, I agree with him that as philosophers we can only point a way. It is the responsibility of the parents and adults to see it and to decide what they will do.

Cecilea Mun

Thank you Ben Bagley for your comment. Yes, I agree that there are probably more of us in philosophy than we are aware of and I'm glad my interview helped affirm some of your own thoughts and experiences. It's always nice to know that others can relate with one's experiences and that one truly isn't the only one in the world with such experiences! If you ever see me at a conference or something, please feel free to say hi.

Jesse Prinz

Hi Shelley, hi Cecilea.

Thanks for the wonderful interview. So much to think about here. Cecilea, thanks for opening up about A.D.D. Many of the smartest people I know did not get grades that reflected their intelligence. A lot of these people miss out on academic careers as a result, even though they would have so much to contribute. We are so lucky you overcame these obstacles and joined the profession. Thanks too for your incredible service in creating the new journal. That's an amazing achievement and a gift to philosophy.

I was curious about the relationship between your own experiences wrestling with A.D.D. and your research interest in emotions. People think it's just about attention, but I think there are a lot of emotions involved too, and for anyone dealing with a stigmatized mental style (I prefer that term to "disorder"), there can be a lot of anguish. Can you say a bit more about how your life experience has contributed to your research interests? Has it also shaped your view about the nature of emotions?

Another question too. I personally relate to a lot of the symptoms of A.D.D., and close family members have been diagnosed. At the same time, it's a diagnosis that has led to some controversy and understanding of it is still unfolding (for example, I notice you don't include the H, which is sometimes there, for hyperactivity, and I wonder whether this is a contingent dimension, especially in adults). Critics of psychiatric diagnoses sometimes complain that categories are imposed by psychiatric professionals and don't correspond to reality. I don't think that's exactly right, but I do think these categories emerge under various forms of social influence. So I think we can say that some diagnoses are real but also social, in the sense that social conditions promote the emergence of certain symptoms (I would say "traits") as coping mechanisms. This is something I wrestle with personally: both the reality of certain challenging traits, and the way in which they may be socially shaped or constructed. I know that you have written on social construction in the context of emotions. Do you have a view about the way that the lived experience of those of us who do not fit prevailing psychological norms might be influenced by social, cultural, or biographical factors?

Thanks again to both of you. Shelley, the series continues to amaze.


I really value how you have extended remarks that Cecilea made in the interview to your own situation and the questions that it raises for you. It's always wonderful to have your input and insights on these interviews. I'm very pleased that you find them so interesting and provocative.

Readers/listeners who missed Jesse's interview in the Dialogues on Disability series can find that here:

Cecilea Mun

Hi Jesse,

Thank you for your compliment. I appreciate your characterization of the Journal of Philosophy of Emotion as an achievement and a gift! I hope it continues to be both...

Here are my responses to your three questions:

Q. Can you say a bit more about how your life experience has contributed to your research interests?

A. I think my A.D.D. was not a direct influence in my decision to specialize in the philosophy of emotion. In other words, I didn't choose to specialize in philosophy of emotion because I was interested in learning about my emotional experiences as a person with A.D.D. I was not actually diagnosed with A.D.D. until after I began researching emotions, when I was A.B.D. (all but dissertation).

I think my A.D.D., along with the way I think about things (e.g., systematizing, drawing analogies, etc.), indirectly worked against as well as contributed to me deciding on a specialization in philosophy. I think I could have in fact specialized in pretty much any area of philosophy simply because I find so many things to be interesting and interconnected. In some sense, I kind of fell into specializing in philosophy of emotion. I didn't actually start researching emotions until I was almost done with my coursework as a Ph.D. student. Moral psychology was one of the last seminars I took before I was A.B.D., and I kind of got stuck on shame as a topic because my intuitions about what shame was were so different from the standard account of shame--that it necessarily involves a global, negative self-evaluation. Researching shame got me into researching emotion, which led me to realize how rich emotion was as a research area. It allowed me to exercise my interests and knowledge in other areas of philosophy (e.g., Ancient philosophy, Modern philosophy, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, moral psychology, ethics, feminist philosophy, etc.), as well as my interest and knowledge in psychology and public policy. Once I discovered this, I was hooked and I finally felt "at home"--as if I finally found my place or niche in philosophy. Due to my A.D.D., I was constantly moving from one area to another. I didn't want to stay in one area because I found doing so to be too restricting, that is, until I happened upon philosophy of emotion.

Q. Has it also shaped your view about the nature of emotions?

A. It may have indirectly contributed to my view about the nature of emotions in a somewhat similar way that it indirectly contributed to my decision to specialize in philosophy of emotion. My A.D.D. and mental style, as you might say, motivates me to expand my knowledge outward. In the case of emotions, it motivates me to learn about different theories of emotion; but then, for somewhat practical reasons as well as my penchant for solving problems or challenging myself, I wanted to figure out a way to fit all these theories into a unified view--the result is my meta-semantic structural pluralism about emotions, which basically understands emotions to be deeply or thickly layered aspects of the world. It's also silent about the question of whether or not emotions constitute a natural kind because, according to my view, that's a least one of the questions the science of emotion (broadly defined) aims to answer, and we have yet to achieve this aim.

Q. Do you have a view about the way that the lived experience of those of us who do not fit prevailing psychological norms might be influenced by social, cultural, or biographical factors?

A. I agree with you that there are social/cultural/biographical, or one might say ecological, factors that play significant roles in reifying various aspects of the world, including mental styles or traits. I don't think, however, that these mental styles or traits are socially constructed through and through. I think there are, at least, certain physical factors if not biological factors that play a role as well.

In regard to a view about how social, cultural, or biographical factors differently influence the lived experiences of those of us who have non-normative mental styles, I think there's a lot that can be said here, even if we focus simply on how our emotional experiences might be different compared to others' experiences. For example, a specific type of emotion that we experience might be calibrated very differently compared to how it is calibrated for most. Also, if we consider simply living life in general (all the practical aspects of life), the mere fact of living with others given our non-normative mental styles might give rise to certain traits, which may in turn be problematic in certain social circumstances. For example, because of my A.D.D., I developed the strategy of constantly checking and double-checking information for accuracy (both in terms of how it's conveyed and my understanding), and when something is "incorrect" I like to try to find out the source of the inaccuracy. This is mostly because I need to make sure that I know whether or not the mistake was mine in order for me to try to keep myself from making the same mistake in the future. I do this when I am working by myself, but also with others. This coping strategy isn't a problem when I am working by myself, but when working with others, I think people sometimes misunderstand my need (as a coping strategy) to find the source of the mistake as me blaming them for those mistakes. In fact, I don't have any negative affective associations with the fact that a mistake was made (perhaps another coping strategy), as long as it's not a life or death situation and it can be fixed. So here, my A.D.D. gives rise to a coping strategy that has, at times, problematic consequences for me, especially in social situations.

Oh well, nothing I can really do about that except to just stop caring sometimes (another coping strategy) about what other people think, and that's mostly because I am too tired of constantly having to explain myself to people...And frankly, if people have a problem with this, they can just shove it. LOL.

Polaris Koi

Hi Cecilea and Shelley,

Many thanks for this post!

I'm currently doing a PhD in Philosophy, and my attitudes towards my own AD(H)D are in a constant flux. Sometimes it manifests itself as a strength – I'm impatient, and that tends to make me "cut to the chase" and pay a lot of attention to what can be eliminated from a single project to make it work (saving all the interesting stuff for the long list of future projects...). As another perk, when I hyperfocus, I can get a lot of work done very fast. For example, I wrote my BA thesis in four days, and got top marks.

On other days, I simply can't get anything done. I try to do my reading, yet by the end of a page, I don't remember what was on it. My thoughts wander, I get up to get coffee/water/whatnot, take a 5-minute break that turns into 2 hours, and by the end of the day I feel incredibly frustrated. When I was younger, this frustration also manifested as self-destructive behavior. These days I have that stuff under control, yet I often go home feeling like nothing's coming out of what I do. In other words, while I always make the deadlines one way or another, the progress is incredibly stressful.

So it means a lot to me to read from other philosophers who have both executive functioning disabilities and other positions of disadvantage -- I, too, lived my childhood in poverty. It's a message that says, this background can really be worked with.


Thanks very much for sharing your experiences and perspective, Polaris! Please come back anytime!

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