Until recent years it was simply assumed, by folk and analytic philosophers alike, that to be disabled is a bad thing. The public generally saw disability as something to be pitied and ‘cured’ through medical intervention if reasonably possible. Philosophers often used disability as an archetypal example of something bad that could happen to a person. Recent movements in Disability Studies and Disability Rights have challenged this traditional assumption. Disability Rights Activists campaign for disability to be seen as a way of being different, rather than a way of being worse off. They often argue that a large amount (or all) of the disadvantage caused by being in possession of a disability is due to discrimination, prejudiced attitudes and their structural manifestations. And there are now some philosophers (e.g. Barnes (2016)), who agree, arguing that disability is not detrimental to well-being, minus the effects of ‘ableism’. This position can be analogised with the now orthodox position on homosexuality: that it is not bad to be homosexual if we discount the effects of homophobia.
The emergence of this novel view has led to a disagreement between two philosophical camps with respect to the connection between well-being and disability. The traditional view is that being disabled is always (or most often) detrimental to well-being: that a disabled person S will (or is likely to) be better off if we could remove her disability but hold all else in her life fixed. The contrasting view, espoused by Disability Rights activists and philosophers such as Barnes, is that being disabled is a neutral characteristic, like race or sexuality, in that it is not likely to make a person’s life worse if we discount the negative effects of prejudice and discrimination. It is the primary goal of my research to understand the complex relationship between disability and well-being, and to argue that one of these views is correct.