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How Locke, Molyneaux and the Enlightenment affected the way we think about the arts and perceptual disabilities, and what is the way forward?

Hayhoe, Simon (2006) How Locke, Molyneaux and the Enlightenment affected the way we think about the arts and perceptual disabilities, and what is the way forward? In: Cinema Without Barriers: The fifth sense: sensorial perceptions between art and vision, 2006-02-18, Milan, Italy, ITA. (Submitted)

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The word Challenge is fashionable and overused in sentences synonymous with disability. Since the 1990s papers have described the challenge of being disabled, the challenge in the derision shown towards the treatment of disability, or the challenge of functioning in social or cultural environments with even the most minor disabilities. These instances have led to a model of our understanding of disability that sets people with disabilities against the world, or at least against people who are not disabled. This paper challenges the notion of Challenge, and instead asks this seminar to more readily comprehend perceptual disabilities in order that they can more readily debate its normalisation through social, cultural and scientific technologies. This approach is termed the Epistemological Model of Disability. The model is based on the two main principles: the first is that knowledge taught and promoted through institutions such as the cinema, museums, schools and universities about disability have been formed by our moral and philosophical theories of normality, the second is that our understanding of disability is based on the classification of people with disabilities as a homogenous group which is mainly defined by their physical rather than social traits. The paper illustrates the Epistemological Model by describing how our modern notions and treatment of blindness has been created by some of the founding questions of the Enlightenment. The first question was from Molyneux to Locke. This question asked whether a man born blind, on gaining his sight, could recognise by sight objects he had previously only touched before. This is the study on which the body of our psychological understanding of people who are blind are based. Studies based on Molyneux’s question determined that studies prior to the latter quarter of the Twentieth Century would focus on studying touch and blindness rather than investigating a perceptual understanding of how people who are blind understand two dimensional representations in art forms. Furthermore, this question also determined that future studies would focus on the study of people who are congenitally or very early blind rather than those who are diagnosed as being blind yet have residual vision, or who became blind later in life, who remain the majority of blind people. This paper also illustrates how the philosophy of the moral and ethical equivalence of the blind population, begun by Diderot, was influenced by social, sexual and economic conditions in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The focus of this debate was the under and working class population, as they were often blinded by syphilis and they were often to be found begging on the street. This moral debate was later to influence the institutional education of the blind population, in particular institutional art education. Such forms of institutional education were also influenced by local religious cultures. In British asylums, for example, blind students were almost exclusively put to work learning industrial arts, as the Protestants that formed these independent institutions believed that students could find God through hard work and using their hands productively. Similarly in Austria, the Catholic founder of the Viennese Institute, who was also the first to teach aesthetic art education to students who were blind, believed that teaching students through non-commercial handwork would prevent the students from masturbating, and thus promote a more positive emotional development.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: © 2006 Simon Hayhoe
Divisions: CPNSS
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2010 12:05
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 11:00

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