Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy
September 18-20, 2008, Stony Brook Manhattan
401 Park Avenue South
The realities of cognitive disability pose a significant challenge to certain key conceptions philosophers have held. Philosophers have conceived of the mark of humanity as the possession of rational cognitive capacities. They have traditionally extended the mantles of equality, dignity, justice, responsibility, and moral fellowship to those with these abilities, whom they speak of as ‘persons.’ What then should we say about those with severe cognitive disabilities? How should we treat these individuals and what sorts of entitlements can they claim? Should we grant the arguments of some philosophers who want to parse our moral universe in ways that depend on degrees of cognitive capacity, not on being human? How do claims for the moral consideration of animals bear on the question? Is it morally acceptable to consign some human beings to the status of ‘non-persons’? Philosophers have rarely faced these questions squarely and systematically.
Speakers include public intellectuals such as Michael Bérubé, Ian Hacking, Martha Nussbaum and Peter Singer. The conference will explore philosophical questions about three specific populations—people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease and those labeled ‘mentally retarded’ —and will raise ethical and foundational questions on regarding both theoretical and practical matters.