"Lives Worth Living:" Theorizing Moral Status and Expressions of Human Life


  • Ashley Taylor Syracuse University




personhood, intellectual disability, social justice, normative violence, feminist philosophy


A growing body of work in feminist philosophy of disability, in particular, and philosophy of cognitive disability, more generally, demonstrates the discursive constitution of norms of intelligence and cognitive ability in order to undermine both the false assumptions about human ability and the gendered and racialized norms of rationality, independence, and competence that inform philosophical and bioethical theories about moral status. Many of these philosophical accounts of disability seem designed to—implicitly or explicitly—prove that, given some newly-valued norms,  certain persons do indeed have these capabilities, rather than to transform the social conditions that create such demarcations in the first place. In this paper, I argue that feminist philosophy of disability and moral philosophy more broadly would benefit if they were to consider the social conditions of possibility in which these qualifications for moral status arise, rather than continue to focus on the qualifications themselves. In order to argue in this way, I consider how assessments of moral status and human life simultaneously foreclose possible expressions of "lives worth living." I suggest, furthermore, that feminist philosophers of disability in particular and feminist philosophers in general would benefit if they were to consider the risks that this normative theorizing involves. In turn, I propose a way in which feminist philosophers ought to orient themselves in order to create the conditions of possibility for the emergence of divergent expressions of human well-being and moral potential. 

Keywords: personhood; intellectual disability; social justice; normative violence; feminist philosophy