Choosing Flourishing: Toward a More "Binocular" Way of Thinking about Disability


There is a long-standing debate between people who can seem to be arguing "for" and "against" disability. Those arguing for have often been disability scholars and those arguing against have often been utilitarian philosophers. At least since the mid-2000s, some on both sides have sought to move beyond that debate, but that has proved difficult. Here I seek two small steps forward. One step is critical, and is aimed at we who line up "for" disability. Specifically, I suggest that the phrase "choosing disability" is misleading in at least two ways. First, when someone argues that she should be able to gestate a child who is, e.g., deaf, she does not view deafness as a disability, but as something more like an enhancement. Second, when someone else argues that no one should selectively abort fetuses with traits like deafness, she is not arguing for choosing deafness, but against making a choice based on the presence of a disabling trait. The other step is constructive, and aimed at those lined up on both sides. I suggest that we should adopt a more "binocular" approach to thinking about disability: one which, using the social and medical "lenses" on disability, helps us see it in more depth. If we get better at having a conversation about what disability is, rather than arguing for or against it, we can get better at promoting the flourishing of people with disabilities.