Date of Award

Fall 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Luft, Sebastian

Second Advisor

Jones, John

Third Advisor

Abrams, Thomas


Western philosophy has asserted that in order to be a person, one must be rational. This idea was not challenged until the nineteenth century. One school to challenge this notion was phenomenology, which asserted that what made one a person was their ability to empathize. While the founder of the school, Edmund Husserl, did not assert that the ability to decipher nonverbal cues was necessary in order to empathize, several of his followers did. This emphasis on deciphering nonverbal cues proved problematic for some populations, especially the Autistic. Autism is a neurological condition which makes it difficult to decipher nonverbal cues. Because of this, Autistic people are accused of lacking empathy. This is especially problematic in the case of women. Scholars such as Simon Baron-Cohen argue that on average, women are more empathetic than men. If one lacks empathy, then one has an extreme male brain. The extreme male brain is called Autism. Hence, even if an Autistic person identifies as female, her femininity is in question due to her having a male brain. If phenomenology argues that the person is shaped by their ability to empathize, then there must be a way to account for the experiences of Autistic women. In order for phenomenology to account for empathy, there must be a theory which can account for breakdowns in empathy, can critique current therapies which force the Autistic person to pass as non-Autistic, and must provide the Autistic woman a path to being authentically herself. One such theory is that proposed by Martin Heidegger. Heidegger argues that being-with-others is vital for one to be a Dasein. Still, Others can press upon Dasein to conform to their standards. The pressure to conform can lead Dasein to forget who she is. In order to be authentic, Dasein must go through the process of anxiety, after which she can become authentically herself. Thus, Heidegger’s theory gives women a path in which they can share their experiences, thus providing necessary insights to philosophy, psychology and sociology.

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