Social Theory and Practice:1-30 (forthcoming)

Linda Barclay
Monash University
Individuals with what are usually referred to as ‘profound’ or ‘severe’ cognitive disabilities are primarily discussed in philosophy and bioethics to determine their moral status. Nothing approaching a consensus view has emerged from this intractable debate. In this paper it is argued that theories of moral status have limited relevance to the unjust ways in which people with cognitive disabilities are routinely treated in the actual world. To address these injustices we need to focus much more on neglected issues of social inequality and social hierarchy. After explaining what is meant by moral status and social status respectively, I discuss three possible relationships between them, demonstrating that determinate answers about the moral status of individuals with profound cognitive disabilities are neither necessary nor sufficient for defending the imperative that they be treated as our social equals.
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