Perhaps the most dominant account of disability within philosophy conceives of disability as a defective departure from the normal functioning of a species. Taking her cue from disability-positive testimony among disabled people, however, Elizabeth Barnes has recently argued for a “mere difference view” of physical disability, that is, the view that so-called disabilities may not be intrinsically bad (or good) for well-being. In light of similarly positive testimony about mental otherness in the neurodiversity movement, I will explore whether it is (1) possible and (2) desirable to extend the mere-difference view to mental illness and cognitive impairment. I will focus primarily on Manic-Depressive Disorder and Down Syndrome, because their distinctive features are straightforwardly relevant to two prominent types of theories of well-being: namely a hedonic view and an objective goods view. I approach (1) by considering issues surrounding the reliability of first-person testimony of those of unsound mind, and then by examining whether a coherent story of how mental disorders are more than the defective functioning can be told despite the fact that they often seriously undermine autonomy. I then explore (2) by explicating the implications of accepting Down Syndrome and Manic-Depressive Disorder as mere-difference on other theoretical and practical issues.
Ockham Society Convenor: Sean Costello | Ockham Society Webpage