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Cognitive Disability, Capabilities, and Justice

1 January 2008


I argue that capabilities approaches are useful in formulating a political theory that takes seriously the needs of persons with severe cognitive disabilities (PSCD). I establish three adequacy criteria for theories of justice that take seriously the needs of PSCD: A) understanding PSCD as oppressed, B) positing a single standard of what is owed to PSCD abled individuals, and C) concern with flourishing as well as political liberty. I claim that conceiving valued capabilities as the end of social distribution may help a political theory to meet these criteria. I posit three further adequacy criteria: D) refusing to see PSCD as less than human, E) valuing moral powers other than practical reason, and F) securing space for care and dependency relationships. I show that how well Elizabeth Anderson and Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approaches meet these criteria depends on their divergent conceptions of what capabilities are for. I sketch another capabilities approach that might better meet the three latter criteria (inspired by Lawrence Becker and Eva Kittay’s work), that conceives capabilities as for agency and relationship.


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