Article Text

Download PDFPDF
A realist account of the ontology of impairment
  1. S Vehmas1,
  2. P Mäkelä2
  1. 1
    Department of Special Education, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
  2. 2
    Department of Social and Moral Philosophy, University of Helsinki, Finland
  1. S Vehmas, Department of Special Education, PO Box 35, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä 40014, Finland; simo.vehmas{at}


This paper provides a philosophical analysis of the ontology of impairment, in part social and in part not. The analysis is based on the division between two categories of facts concerning the world we live in: “brute” and institutional facts. Brute facts are those that require no human institution for their existence. To state a brute fact requires naturally the institution of language, but the fact stated is not the same as the statement of it. For example, regardless of any human institution or opinion, the presence of an extra chromosome 21 is a brute fact, and despite of people’s constructions or deconstructions, this fact remains. As for the lives of people with extra chromosome 21, the social reality and human institutions enter the picture. The social and moral status of these people is never a matter of brute fact.

  • disability studies
  • impairment
  • ontology
  • postmodernism
  • John Searle

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests: None.