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Teresa Blankmeyer Burke: October 2013

posted Oct 10, 2013, 11:13 AM by Peggy DesAutels   [ updated Oct 11, 2013, 5:52 PM by Peggy DesAutels ]

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke
Gallaudet University

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke is assistant professor of philosophy at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts college for deaf and hard of hearing people. She received her bachelor’s degree from Mills College, and her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of New Mexico. She is the first signing Deaf woman in the world to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy, having accessed her graduate education through American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters.

photographer: Rhea Kennedy

Burke’s research for the most part resides in deaf philosophy, the space where philosophy intersects with Deaf studies. (The use of uppercase Deaf designates the cultural community of signed language users; lower case deaf designates audiological status). Topics she has published on include moral justification regarding the use of genetic technology to bear deaf children (specifically, the question of signing Deaf potential parents considering this option) and signed language interpreting ethics. 

Burke has interests in virtue ethics, and is using the professional virtues of signed language interpreters, such as (glossed in ASL) DEAF-HEART and ATTITUDE, as a testbed for philosophical accounts of the virtues. Another project uses the notion of deaf gain (contra hearing loss) to work through conceptions of intrinsic and instrumental value. Her newest endeavor explores questions related to deaf well-being; works in progress include papers on deaf liberty and full access to language as a good. She is coauthoring the book Puzzles About Disability (Oxford 2014) with Adrienne Asch, Margaret Battin, Gretchen Case, Leslie Francis, and Anita Silvers.


Burke’s teaching is driven by her experience of learning philosophy in ASL and English. Gallaudet University is a bilingual university -- she teaches philosophy in ASL, using English language texts. Given that American Sign Language is a relatively new language used by few formally trained philosophers, the philosophical lexicon in ASL is quite small. One of Burke’s aims in teaching philosophy to deaf and hard of hearing students is figuring out what it is to do philosophy in American Sign Language. This is not only a matter of developing the necessary philosophical vocabulary in ASL, but also includes such considerations as determining how linguistic features (e.g. use of space, hand and body orientation, gaze) mark philosophical moves, and what an argument looks like (literally) in ASL. In exploring the question of what it is to “talk philosophy” in ASL with her students, one strategy that Burke uses exploits syntactical markers in conversational ASL as pedagogical tools. As an example, when teaching her students to identify arguments, Burke employs the everyday ASL convention of asking rhetorical questions before supplying reasons, which are typically counted off in order on the non-dominant hand.


Burke contributes to public philosophy in the signing Deaf community by facilitating public discussions on bioethics and interpreting ethics through blogs and vlogs in English and ASL. She also blogs for Feminist Philosophers. Burke currently serves on the American Philosophical Association Inclusiveness Committee, the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities Task Force on Disability, the World Federation of the Deaf Bioethics Committee, and chairs the U.S. National Association of the Deaf Subcommittee on Bioethics. She has served as a reviewer for the National Science Foundation, the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Sign Language Studies, and the Gallaudet Research Institute.