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Disability and philosophy: applying ethics in circumstances of injustice
  1. Leslie Francis1,2
  1. 1College of Law, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
  2. 2Department of Philosophy, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Leslie Francis, College of Law, University of Utah, 332 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA; francisl{at}

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Despite antidiscrimination laws, disability discrimination remains ongoing. A recent field experiment in the USA indicates that employers are significantly more reluctant to interview qualified applicants with disabilities, whether physical or mental. This reluctance is especially noticeable among smaller employers and for more experienced job applicants.1 Such barriers impede people with disabilities from work, economic self-sufficiency, employer-provided health insurance, and more generally full participation in the societies in which they live. These impediments, in short, are a serious problem of justice and yet another indication that we live in an imperfect world in which non-ideal and partial compliance theorising about justice is imperative.2–4

It is thus highly welcome to see this journal devote a mini-symposium to philosophy and disability. The contributions illustrate many ways that philosophical techniques can inform our understanding of disability and disability discrimination and with this of bioethics more generally. This achievement is not always deliberate for the articles vary in success and at times primarily illustrate the limits of philosophical methods. Nonetheless there are important lessons to be drawn: that context matters to the understanding of disability and disability discrimination, and that applied ethics relies on the interplay of conceptual analysis, understanding of how arguments function, and the challenges of often-unjust social circumstances. The relevance of social context should not surprise readers familiar with claims about the social nature of disability: that the disadvantages attendant on differences in bodily functioning vary with the structures of the built and social worlds. It should also not surprise readers in bioethics familiar with non-ideal justice: that what justice requires in contexts of injustice may be very different from what it would require in an ideal world.

Greg Bognar's ‘Is Disability Mere Difference?’ deploys conceptual analysis to debunk the claim that disability is only difference. Take spinal …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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