Dignity, respect, and cognitive disability

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Dignity is typically taken to be an inherent feature of humans, in virtue of which we have moral status and are owed basic forms of respect. When such claims are made, an explanation is owed as to how we come to have such dignity. A very standard response appeals to purportedly universal capacities held by humans, such as rationality. However, this way of construing dignity has the effect of excluding individuals with severe cognitive disabilities. If such individuals do not have dignity, it follows that they lack moral status and are not owed basic forms of respect. This chapter offers an alternative way of construing dignity. Rather than grounding it in natural capacities, the chapter argues that dignity is grounded in the social kind “human.” On this approach, all human beings have dignity, irrespective of their cognitive capacities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Disability
EditorsAdam Cureton, David T Wasserman
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780190622879
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • cognitive disability
  • dignity
  • respect
  • moral status
  • social kinds

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