Autism as a Form of Life: Wittgenstein and the Psychological Coherence of Autism

Robert Chapman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Autism is often taken to be a specific kind of mind. The dominant neuro-cognitivist approach explains this via static processing traits framed in terms of hyper-systemising and hypo-empathising. By contrast, Wittgenstein-inspired commentators argue that the coherence of autism arises relationally, from intersubjective disruption that hinders access to a shared world of linguistic meaning. This paper argues that both camps are unduly reductionistic and conflict with emerging evidence, due in part to unjustifiably assuming a deficit-based framing of autism. It then develops a new Wittgensteinian account—autism as a different form of life—which avoids these issues. Rather than autistic systemising being the basis of autistic cognition, it is taken to be a reaction to pre-epistemic and semantic anxieties that come with developing as a minority within a different form of life. This re-framing can provide a coherent account of the autistic mind, and has significant conceptual, practical, and ethical implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-440
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Early online date4 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2019


  • autism
  • autistic
  • certainty
  • cognition
  • form of life
  • hyper-systemising
  • mind
  • psychological theory
  • Wittgenstein


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