The Life Worth Living

Disability, Pain, and Morality

2022
Author:

Joel Michael Reynolds

A philosophical challenge to the ableist conflation of disability and pain

The Life Worth Living investigates the exclusion of and discrimination against disabled people across the history of Western moral philosophy. Building on decades of activism and scholarship, Joel Michael Reynolds shows how longstanding views of disability are misguided and unjust, and he lays out a vision of what an anti-ableist moral future requires.

More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle said: “let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.” This idea is alive and well today. During the past century, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. argued that the United States can forcibly sterilize intellectually disabled women and philosopher Peter Singer argued for the right of parents to euthanize certain cognitively disabled infants. The Life Worth Living explores how and why such arguments persist by investigating the exclusion of and discrimination against disabled people across the history of Western moral philosophy.

Joel Michael Reynolds argues that this history demonstrates a fundamental mischaracterization of the meaning of disability, thanks to the conflation of lived experiences of disability with those of pain and suffering. Building on decades of activism and scholarship in the field, Reynolds shows how longstanding views of disability are misguided and unjust, and he lays out a vision of what an anti-ableist moral future requires.

The Life Worth Living is the first sustained examination of disability through the lens of the history of moral philosophy and phenomenology, and it demonstrates how lived experiences of disability demand a far richer account of human flourishing, embodiment, community, and politics in philosophical inquiry and beyond.

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Cover image alt text: Rolled paint in shades of blue and lavender. Author name in black, title in white, except for “living” in large black letters.

Joel Michael Reynolds is assistant professor of philosophy and disability studies and core faculty in the Disability Studies Program at Georgetown University, as well as senior research scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and senior advisor to the Hastings Center. He is the founder and coeditor of The Journal of Philosophy of Disability.

Contents

Introduction: The Ableist Conflation

Part I. Pain

1. Theories of Pain

2. A Phenomenology of Chronic Pain

Part II. Disability

3. Theories of Disability

4. A Phenomenology of Multiple Sclerosis

Part III. Ability

5. Theories of Ability

6. A Phenomenology of Ability

Conclusion: An Anti-Ableist Future

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index