Background photograph of the back of a waterfall, facing the sun
Hi, I'm
Adam Cureton

About Me

picture of Adam Cureton

I am a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tennessee, having done my graduate work at Oxford, on a Rhodes Scholarship, and at UNC Chapel Hill. My research is mainly focused on ethics, Kant, and the Philosophy of Disability.

I'm a past President of the Society for Philosophy and Disability and the Chair of the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Disabled People in the Profession.

I can be reached by email at

Edited Books


Works in Progress

Exercising Just Entitlements in Apparently Unjust Ways


Solidarity in Kantian Moral Theory
In Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, edited by Mark Timmons, Oxford: Oxford University Press, (Forthcoming).
Critics of Kantian moral theory worry that it denies, downplays, or misrepresents the role of friendship, community, and other loving relationships in the moral life. The aim of this chapter is to describe a new and unorthodox way for such theories to incorporate and justify the status of certain relationships as permissible, obligation-generating, and worthy of promotion, protection, and respect. Contrary to what most defenders and critics of Kant usually believe, the chapter argue that one theme in his thinking is that human persons have intrinsic rational interests in forming, maintaining, perfecting, respecting, and promoting relationships of solidarity. Attributing these “interests of reason,” which are ends, drives, concerns, dispositions, or needs of reason itself, to human persons provides us with rational grounds for what is justifiable to persons, what we could rationally will as universal law, or what we would agree to as rational legislators in a kingdom of ends.
Knowledge, Error, and Enlightenment in Kant's Moral Philosophy
In Human Dignity and the Kingdom of Ends: Kantian Perspective and Practical Applications, edited by Jan-Willem van der Rijt and Cureton, Adam, New York: Routledge, (Forthcoming).
Kantian ideas of dignity, autonomy, and the kingdom of ends are inspiring to many of us, but they can also seem vague, abstract, and not especially helpful for our addressing our practical concerns. An underappreciated and perhaps surprising themes in Kant’s thinking suggests a new and unorthodox approach to interpreting and applying these ideas. Kant sometimes suggests that rational nature includes many intrinsic needs, drives, dispositions, and other interests that help to determine what principles are justifiable to everyone. The aim of this chapter is to explore this theme by considering three specific interests that Kant sometimes attributes to reason. Rational nature, in Kant’s view, includes interests in acquiring knowledge of all kinds, in correcting any errors in our thinking, and in thinking for ourselves in all matters. The chapter examines how these rational interests generate specific norms and help us to understand, connect together, and apply Kantian ideas of autonomy, dignity, and the kingdom of ends.
Character Education for Students with Disabilities
Journal of Moral Education : (Forthcoming).
Many schools see it as part of their mission to provide character education or moral education to their students. Yet many students with disabilities are excluded from these curricula, programs, and policies or denied some of their benefits. This essay explores some specific moral problems and obstacles that disabled students face when it comes to developing or exercising virtues of justice or fairness, self-respect, and self-development. For example, students with disabilities face moral questions about whether and how to request accommodations for their disability, whether to exercise special privileges that they suspect are not necessary to accommodate their disability on particular occasions, what to do when teachers do not provide them with accommodations they need, and how to respond to bias and discrimination directed at those with disabilities. This essay also uses John Rawls’ theory of moral development to consider some of the ways in which schools are impeding or failing to promote the overall character development of disabled students.
Treating Disabled Adults as Children: An Application of Kant's Conception of Respect
In Respect: Philosophical Essays, edited by Richard Dean and Sensen, Oliver, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 270-288 (2021).
My focus in this essay is on whether it is morally disrespectful to regard and treat a disabled person as a child when she has the age, maturity and mental competencies of an adult and when the attitudes and actions at issue do not necessarily violate her moral rights and liberties, diminish her opportunities, or materially affect her wellbeing. My aim is to begin interpreting, applying and supplementing basic features of Kant’s moral framework in order to explain and justify what forms of respect are appropriate for different kinds of persons in different types of contexts. After describing the main features of Kant’s conception of respect, as I understand it, I examine how respect for the moral law, respect for autonomy and respect for moral character can each be applied in ways that explain why we often fail to respect disabled adults by regarding and treating them as children.
Depending on the Undependable: Disability, Fragility, and Stability
In Defining the Boundaries of Disability: Critical Perspectives, edited by Licia Carlson and Murray, Matthew, New York: Routledge, 26-36 (2021).
A common feature of living with a disability is that the systems that provide us with the accommodations we need are often undependable. Many disabled people are in the precarious position of having to depend on accommodations that we could easily lose and that, if we were to lose them, would not be replaced in time to save us from significant burdens or even dire consequences. The aims of this chapter are, first, to examine some of the ways in which systems for providing disability accommodations are often unreliable, second, to explore how the unreliability of these systems helps to explain a significant aspect of what it is like for many of us to live with a disability, third, to draw on these common experiences to suggest some reasons for making disability accommodation systems more dependable, and, fourth, to briefly suggest how this analysis might help us to explain and improve undependable systems of other kinds that many non-disabled people depend on.
The Limiting Role of Respect
In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Disability, edited by Adam Cureton and Wasserman, David, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 380-398 (2020).
People with disabilities sometimes feel disrespected by some of the ways that well-meaning people regard and treat us. Respect for something is often thought to involve understanding and acknowledging it, holding it in high regard and engaging with it, but this chapter argues that there is another aspect of our ordinary idea of respect, one that involves resistance, reluctance and limitation. Negative respect presumptively requires us to recognize and acknowledge respectful limits on how we regard and treat others. Other aspects of human dignity, such as benevolence, appreciation and positive respect, can provide competing presumptions about how to affirm the dignity of persons. We should nonetheless take seriously a general theme that underlies many kinds of legitimate complaints that disabled and non-disabled people have, which is that even well-meaning people sometimes overstep bounds of respect in the otherwise good and virtuous ways that they regard and treat us.
Fair Difference of Opportunity
(With Alexander Kaufman) In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Disability, edited by Adam Cureton and Wasserman, David, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 261-278 (2020).
According to Rawls, Fair Equality of Opportunity requires that those who have the same native abilities and motivations have the same chance of securing offices and positions, regardless of their social class of origin, family background or other social circumstances. Despite its name, this principle does not guarantee equal opportunity for everyone because it allows people with various kinds of physical and psychological impairments and diseases to have lower chances at securing those positions once the adverse influences of their social circumstances have been corrected for. Our alternative principle is partially inspired by Rawls’ Difference Principle. What we call Fair Difference of Opportunity says that the default position should be true equality of opportunity but if there are ways to improve the opportunities of all by allowing more and better opportunities to some, without violating the other principles of justice, then such arrangements would be just. Fair Difference of Opportunity, we argue, is more faithful to Rawls’ basic framework and more friendly to disabled people than Fair Equality of Opportunity.
Ideals of Respect: Identity, Dignity and Disability
In Ethics in Practice: An Anthology, 5th Edition, edited by Hugh LaFollette, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 454-464 (2020).
My aim in this essay is to partially characterize an ideal kind of respectful attitude that we should aspire to have towards all people and to explain why some of the ways we often regard and treat those with disabilities may be incompatible with realizing this ideal. My proposal is roughly that that one kind of respect, which I call ‘identity respect’, is directed at the identity or self-conception of persons; that this kind of respect involves regarding the identity of others as worthy of our understanding, appreciating the value to others of their identities and not being judgmental in our assessments of them within certain limits; and that respecting the identities of all people is a moral ideal because of its connection to our nature as rational persons. Having a respectful attitude of this sort would lead to improvements in how we regard and treat disabled people and others, but reflecting on its nature and value can also advance our understanding of parts of morality that go beyond our moral rights and duties and concern the kinds of attitudes, character traits and relationships that we should strive to develop and maintain.
Expressing Respect for People with Disabilities in Medical Practice
In Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics, edited by I. Glenn Cohen, Shachar, Carmel, Silvers, Anita, and Stein, Michael Ashley, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 93-103 (2020).
All too often, the medical community treats people with disabilities in insulting, offensive and demeaning ways. Medical staff often express disrespectful attitudes about disabled people through the meanings attached to the environments they create, the policies they maintain and the manner in which they interact with disabled patients. People with disabilities deserve to be treated justly, humanely and respectfully in clinical settings, but we also deserve to be shown respect in those contexts as well. The aim of this presentation is to explore, interpret and assess these ideas by, first, describing a general way of thinking about respect, disrespect and expressions of those attitudes, second, using this model to explain how medical staff in clinical settings might express disrespectful attitudes about people with disabilities and, third, suggesting some measures they can take to avoid or counteract those messages and to show disabled people positive signs of respect in clinical contexts.
I draw on my experiences of passing as non-disabled to explain how a disabled person can hide his disability, why he might do so, and what costs and risks he and others might face along the way. Passing as non-disabled can bring greater social acceptance and inclusion in joint-projects, an enhanced sense of belonging, pride and of self-worth, and an easier time forming and maintaining personal relationships. Yet hiding one’s disability can also undermine some of these same values when doing so, for example, prevents someone from living up to normal social expectations or from sharing important aspects of himself with others. Hiding a disability can also interfere with a person’s self-respect, self-acceptance, integrity, and self-development. Although the chapter does not take a stand on whether hiding a disability is, overall, prudent, wise or morally justified, it draws out some lessons about disability from why someone might want to hide it.
Kantian Review 23(2): 181-203 (2018).
The most apparent obstacles to a just, enlightened and peaceful social world are also, according to Kant, nature’s way of compelling us to realize those and other morally good ends. Echoing Adam Smith’s idea of the ‘invisible hand’, Kant thinks that selfishness, rivalry, quarrelsomeness, vanity, jealousy and self-conceit, along with the oppressive social inequalities they tend to produce, drive us to perfect our talents, develop culture, approach enlightenment and, through the strife and instability caused by our unsocial sociability, push us towards justice, political equality and the highest good. What are we to make of these arguments, which seem to rely on questionable empirical assumptions, invoke dubious claims about natural teleology and sit uncomfortably with fundamental aspects of Kant’s ethical framework? I suggest that the arguments reveal one of Kant’s deep and important insights about the moral life by partially describing what a good and virtuous person reasonably hopes for.
In Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7, edited by Mark Timmons, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 51-72 (2018).
John Rawls makes a provocative, original, but largely underdeveloped and neglected suggestion about the most basic subject-matter and aims of normative ethical theory. Rawls proposes that the moral concept of ‘right’, which we use when we call an individual action or social practice morally right or wrong, is defined by the functional role it has of properly adjudicating conflicting claims that persons make on one another and on social practices. Substantive moral theories of right and wrong, including utilitarianism, Kantianism and contractualism, are supposed to provide more specific principles, criteria, values and ideals for interpreting and resolving this fundamental moral problem. It is not immediately apparent, however, what moral problem Rawls thinks substantive theories of right are supposed to interpret and address. The aim of this paper is to offer a fuller account of what Rawls could have meant by defining the concept of right as the proper adjudication of conflicting claims that persons make on one another or on social practices. I also describe and assess three implications of this expanded definition of right and I end with two reasons why one might accept some version of it.
Immanuel Kant defines virtue as a kind of strength and resoluteness of will to resist and overcome any obstacles that oppose fulfilling our moral duties. Human agents, according to Kant, owe it to ourselves to strive for perfect virtue by fully committing ourselves to morality and by developing the fortitude to maintain and execute this life-governing policy despite obstacles we may face. This essay reviews basic features of Kant’s conception of virtue and then discusses the role of emotions, a motive of duty, exemplars, rules, and community in a virtuous life. Kant thinks that striving to be more virtuous requires not only respect for moral principles and control of our contrary emotions but also a system of legally enforced rules and communities of good persons. Exemplars and cultivated good feelings and emotions can also be useful aids along the way, but Kant warns us against attempting to derive our moral standards themselves from examples or feelings. The best any of us can hope for, in Kant’s view, is to make constant progress in our difficult struggle for moral perfection.
(With Anita Silvers) HEC Forum 29(3): 257-276 (2018).
Prevailing philosophies about parental and other caregiver responsibilities toward children tend to be protectionist, grounded in informed benevolence in a way that countenances rather than circumvents intrusive paternalism. And among the kinds of children an adult might be called upon to parent or otherwise care for, children with disabilities figure among those for whom the strongest and snuggest shielding is supposed be deployed. In this article, we examine whether this equation of securing well-being with sheltering by protective parents and other care-givers should unreflectively be adopted for disabled children. We also consider why healthcare providers might reasonably be reluctant to yield to this principle, even if parents instinctively suppose that protectionism is the parenting policy that best serves their disabled child’s interest. We contend that caregivers owe children with disabilities at least as much, and possibly more, respect for self-governance than other children need. In spite of disabled children’s vulnerability and even in view of it, we argue that they should be accorded not only welfare rights to well-being but at least a modified version of liberty rights as well. Healthcare providers are especially favorably positioned to facilitate the latter response. The main components of respectful caregiving can come into conflict with one another, but we present some priorities that advise against adopting a protectionist account of parenting rights, or at least against accepting protectionist views that focus parenting narrowly on shaping ideas about the child’s welfare. In sum, caring for a disabled child, we argue, involves more than creating conditions that will afford her contentment and comfort over the course of life.
Having and raising children is widely regarded as one of the most valuable projects a person can choose to undertake. Yet many disabled people find it difficult to share in this value because of obstacles that arise from widespread social attitudes about disability. A common assumption is that having a disability tends to make someone unfit to parent. This assumption may seem especially relevant as a factor in decisions about whether to allow, encourage and assist disabled people to reproduce and raise children. Yet there are reasons to doubt whether there is such a close connection between having a disability and lacking the ability to raise a child well. The aims of this paper are, first, to identify and clarify some values that are relevant to questions about allowing, encouraging and assisting disabled people to procreate and raise children, second, to give an overview of how these values can help us to address certain legal questions that arise for disabled people who aim to procreate and parent, third, to raise concerns about how to properly assess the parenting capacities of people with disabilities, and fourth, to suggest some ways in which having a disability can actually make someone a better parent.
Kant’s deontology is often seen as a rival to virtue ethics. This chapter argues, however, that while there may be differences between Kant’s and Aristotle’s conceptions virtue (for instance, a virtuous person, in Kant’s view, may be destitute and unhappy, fail to cultivate certain emotions and sentiments, etc.), virtue is central to Kant’s ethics. The key problem is whether there is a Kantian account of virtue compatible with Kant’s view of free will. Kant held that having virtue means having a will that is both good and stable. So to cultivate virtue means to cultivate a stable will. But the idea of character cultivation seems to run counter to Kant’s view of freedom, since for Kant, people are always free to choose how to act. This chapter puts forth a novel proposal for solving this problem, one which has to do with the limits on self-knowledge.
Res Philosophica 93(4): 815-841 (2016).
A comprehensive theory of rational prudence would explain how a person should adjudicate among the conflicting interests of her past, present, future and counterfactual selves. For example, when a person is having an identity crisis, perhaps because she has suddenly become disabled, she may be left with no sense of purpose to keep her going. In her despondent state, she may think it prudent to give up on life now even if she would soon adopt a different set of values that would give her a renewed sense of meaning. Yet we may think that, in many cases, it would be irrational for such a person to allow herself to die. My aim is to explain this prudential intuition by developing a partial framework of rational prudence that interprets and applies the idea that a prudent person acts in ways that are justifiable to herself over time.
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19(4): 877-895 (2016).
There are at least two basic normative notions: rationality and reasons. The dominant normative account of reasons nowadays, which I call primitive pluralism about reasons, holds that some reasons are normatively basic and there is no underlying normative explanation of them in terms of other normative notions. Kantian constructivism about reasons, understood as a normative rather than a metaethical view, holds that rationality is the primitive normative notion that picks out which non-normative facts are reasons for what and explains why those normative relations hold. By supposing that there is a plurality of primitive reasons, I argue that primitive pluralism about reasons lacks sufficient normative unity and structure. But Kantian constructivism about reasons faces a dilemma of its own: Either a conception of rationality is thick enough to capture the reasons of commonsense, in which case it cannot play the explanatory role assigned to it, or a conception of rationality is genuinely explanatory, in which case it is too thin to generate the reasons we recognize in commonsense. The aim of this paper is to suggest that if Kantian constructivism about reasons were built on a substantive, rather than merely formal, conception of rationality then it would stand a better chance at unifying the particular reasons we would endorse on due reflection. The groundwork I lay in this paper, I explain, is an essential first step in the larger project of developing a version of Kantian constructivism about reasons that might eventually explain all reasons in terms of rationality
Journal of the American Philosophical Association 2(1): 74-90 (2016).
Simple acts of kindness that are performed sincerely and with evident good will can also, paradoxically, be perceived as deeply insulting by the people we succeed in benefiting. When we are moved to help someone out of genuine concern for her, when we have no intention to humiliate or embarrass her and when we succeed at benefiting her, how can our generosity be disparaging or demeaning to her? Yet, when the tables are turned, we sometimes find ourselves brusquely refusing assistance from others or accepting it only grudgingly while trying to show that we do not need their charity. People with disabilities often find ourselves in situations of this sort, where we bristle at others who rush to open doors for us, for instance, while our kindhearted benefactors are surprised and hurt by the cold reception they receive for their efforts. My aim is to explain some of the ways in which well-intentioned and effective beneficence can be offensive, with special emphasis on cases in which someone provides assistance to a disabled person.
Journal of Medical Ethics 42(1): 32-34 (2016).
Fertility specialists, adoption agents, judges and others sometimes take themselves to have a responsibility to fairly adjudicate conflicts that may arise between the procreative and parenting interests of people with disabilities and the interests that their children or potential children have to be nurtured, cared for and protected. An underlying assumption is that having a disability significantly diminishes a person's parenting abilities. My aim is to challenge the claim that having a disability tends to make someone a bad parent by arguing that the interests of prospective parents with disabilities and the interests of their children or potential children are often aligned and mutually supporting.
Philosophical Studies 172(3): 737-759 (2015).
Kantian moral theories must explain how their most basic moral values of dignity and autonomy should be interpreted and applied to human conditions. One place Kantians should look for inspiration is, surprisingly, the utilitarian tradition and its emphasis on generally accepted, informally enforced, publicly known moral rules of the sort that help us give assurances, coordinate our behavior, and overcome weak wills. Kantians have tended to ignore utilitarian discussions of such rules mostly because they regard basic moral principles as a priori requirements that cannot be tailored to human foibles and limitations. I argue that Kantian moral theories should incorporate public moral rules as mid-level moral requirements for embodied and socially embedded human agents. I explain how certain specific moral judgments about how we ought to act are justified by public moral rules, which are themselves justified by more fundamental moral requirements
International Journal of Applied Philosophy 29(1): 19-35 (2015).
When we encounter people with disabilities in our everyday lives, we may sincerely wonder how (if at all) we ought to help them. Our concern in these ordinary contexts is typically not about securing basic justice. We want to know instead, as a matter of interpersonal morality, when and how it is appropriate for us to open a door for a wheelchair user, to pick up a dropped napkin for her, or to engage her in conversation about her condition. When we do try to give help, we can be surprised and hurt by the cold reception we receive for our efforts. It is worth considering, therefore, how the attitudes of someone who is sincerely trying to help can nonetheless be less than ideal and what kinds of attitudes a disabled person should have toward herself and those who are trying to provide assistance to her. In this paper, I characterize some common attitudes about people with disabilities, explain how conscientious people of good will could come to have them, and then argue that these attitudes are less than ideal because they are incompatible with the virtues of respect, acceptance, and appreciation.
G.A. Cohen accuses Rawls of illicitly tailoring basic principles of justice to the ‘crooked wood’ of human nature. We are naturally self-interested, for example, so justice must entice us to conform to requirements that cannot be too demanding, whereas Cohen thinks we should distinguish more clearly between pure justice and its pragmatic implementation. My suggestion is that, strictly speaking, Rawls does not rely on facts of any kind to define his constructive procedure or to argue that his principles of justice would be its result – facts only come in to determine whether actual people satisfy the moral conceptions he defines and to determine whether his principles of justice can be stable for the right reasons. A distinguishing feature of normative constructivism, I claim, is that it begins with stipulated models that can include normative and descriptive elements; we then proceed to engage in a priori reflection about what these models presuppose and how they relate to one another. Rawls appeals to commonsense morality to partially define a citizen as someone who is engaged in social cooperation with others and a society as a fair system of cooperation; he then draws from these organizing ideas to characterize the original position for choosing principles of social regulation for societies and citizens so defined. Whether or not there are any actual people or societies that match Rawls’ models is a different matter, and irrelevant to the internal structure of his theory, but if the models do apply to people and societies in the real world then Rawls has given a powerful argument that his principles of justice are the most reasonable for them. Rather than watering down principles of justice to suit human nature, Rawls argues for principles of justice on a priori grounds and hopes that we can live up to the moral self-conceptions that underlie them.
(With Thomas E. Hill, Jr.) In Cultivating Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Theology, and Psychology, edited by Nancy Snow, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 87-110 (2014).
Immanuel Kant is known for his ideas about duty and morally worthy acts, but his conception of virtue is less familiar. Nevertheless Kant’s understanding of virtue is quite distinctive and has considerable merit compared to the most familiar conceptions. Kant also took moral education seriously, writing extensively on both the duty of adults to cultivate virtue and the empirical conditions to prepare children for this life-long responsibility. Our aim is, first, to explain Kant’s conception of virtue, second, to highlight some distinctive and potentially appealing features of the Kantian account of virtue, third, to summarize and explain Kant’s prescriptions for educating young children and youth as well as the duty of moral self-improvement that he attributes to all adults, and, fourth, to respond to some common objections that we regard as misguided or insubstantial.
Kant offers the following argument for the formula of humanity (FH): Each rational agent necessarily conceives of her own rational nature as an end in itself and does so on the same grounds as every other rational agent, so all rational agents must conceive of one another's rational nature as an end in itself. As it stands, the argument appears to be question-begging and fallacious. Drawing on resources from the formula of universal law (FUL) and Kant's claims about the primacy of duties to oneself, I propose a contractualist reconstruction of this puzzling line of reasoning
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 93(4): 166-187 (2013).
The leading accounts of respect for others usually assume that persons have a rational nature, which is a marvelous thing, so they should be respected like other objects of ‘awesome’ value. Kant's views about the ‘value’ of humanity, which have inspired contemporary discussions of respect, have been interpreted in this way. I propose an alternative interpretation in which Kant proceeds from our own rational self‐regard, through our willingness to reciprocate with others, to duties of respect for others. This strategy, which shares some similarities with moral contractualism, offers a way to justify other‐regarding moral requirements from self‐regarding rational dispositions.
Intellectual Property
(With Douglas MacLean, Jami Taylor, and Henry Schaffer) In Research Ethics: A Philosophical Approach with Readings, edited by Gary Comstock, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 203-211 (2013).
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15(5): 691-706 (2012).
The value of solidarity, which is exemplified in noble groups like the Civil Rights Movement along with more mundane teams, families and marriages, is distinctive in part because people are in solidarity over, for or with regard to something, such as common sympathies, interests, values, etc. I use this special feature of solidarity to resolve a longstanding puzzle about enacted social moral rules, which is, aren’t these things just heuristics, rules of thumb or means of coordination that we ‘fetishize’ or ‘worship’ if we stubbornly insist on sticking to them when we can do more good by breaking them? I argue that when we are in a certain kind of solidarity with others, united by social moral rules that we have established among ourselves, the rules we have developed and maintain are a constitutive part of our solidary relationships with one another; and it is part of being in this sort of solidarity with our comrades that we are presumptively required to follow the social moral rules that join us together. Those in the Polish Revolution, for example, were bound by informally enforced rules about publicity, free speech and the use of violence, so following their own rules became a way of standing in a valuable sort of solidarity with one another. I explain why we can have non-instrumental reasons to follow the social moral rules that exist in our own society, improve our rules and even sometimes to break the otherwise good rules that help to unite us.
Utilitas 21(2): 217-221 (2009).
Suppose the following: Two groups of people require our aid but we can help only one group; there are more people in the first group than the second group; every person in both groups has an equal claim on our aid; and we have a duty to help and no other special obligations or duties. I argue that there exists at least one fairness function, which is a function that measures the goodness of degrees of fairness, that implies that we should follow a procedure of proportional chances to determine which group to aid.
Essays in Philosophy 9(1): 1-22 (2008).
I aim to identify and describe some basic elements of a Rawlsian approach that may help us to think conscientiously about how, from the standpoint of justice, we should treat the disabled. Rawls has been criticized for largely ignoring issues of this sort. These criticisms lose their appeal, I suggest, when we distinguish between a Rawlsian standpoint and the limited project Rawls mainly undertakes in A Theory of Justice. There his explicit aim is to find principles of justice, which are to govern the basic structures of a closed, well-ordered society that exists under reasonably favorable conditions, that would be chosen by parties in the original position from among a small set of traditional conceptions of justice. Once we develop a conception of justice for a society like that, Rawlsians hope we can make certain revisions to find principles of justice for a society like ours. Finally, I sketch what seems to me a plausible way for a Rawlsian to begin thinking about how a society like ours should provide justice for its disabled citizens.
Teaching Philosophy 30(4): 383-402 (2007).
The goal of this paper is to offer some remarks about how teachers, especially teachers of moral theories and arguments, should respond to insulting messages about disability that may be expressed in their courses. While there is a strong prima facie presumption for instructors to convey the truth as they see it, this is not an absolute requirement when the views they teach have a tendency to be insulting. I investigate some circumstances in which a moral view embeds and expresses an insulting message about disability and I argue that affording due respect to their students requires ethics instructors to be alert to disparaging messages about disability and to send counter-messages when the views they teach give such messages.

Encyclopedia Entries

(With Thomas E. Hill, Jr.) In International Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Hugh LaFollette, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, (2018).
Familiar cases and historical conceptions of hypocrisy vary, but most paradigmatic examples of hypocrisy involve intentionally or unintentionally applying an unjustified double standard to oneself and others that make oneself falsely appear superior to others. Although we argue that these are not essential or defining features of hypocrisy, our tentative summary of its central elements allows us to consider why hypocrisy is a vice and whether hypocritical actions are distinctively wrong. Some might argue, for example, that hypocrisy is incompatible with an ideal of mutually respectful relations because the hypocrite fails to relate to others sincerely and in good faith as equal members of the moral community. Hypocrisy might also conflict with the moral idea of “universality” because the hypocrite treats herself as special by failing to apply to herself a moral principle that she openly expects others to follow. And, through hypocrisy, a vicious person publicly “pays tribute to virtue” but often privately mocks it by treating the morally virtuous traits of others merely as means to her own selfish purposes. Behaving like hypocrites in significant respects, however, may be justified in certain contexts when necessary, for example, to hide from unjust oppressive treatment or to avoid being rude on social occasions
(With Robert N. Johnson) In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Stanford, CA: The Metaphysics Research Lab, (2016).
Hill, Thomas E., Jr.
In The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, edited by Robert Audi, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (2015).
In Encyclopedia of Political Thought, edited by Michael Gibbons, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, (2014).
The term “constructivism” names a family of political, moral and metaethical views that, in general terms, regard some or all normative claims as valid in virtue of being outcomes of a “procedure of construction” in which actual or hypothetical agents react to, choose, or otherwise settle on principles of justice, moral rules, values, etc. Traditionally, moral validity or justifiability was thought to depend on God, the Forms, or some other independent moral order. Various procedures of a different, epistemological, sort were then proposed to help us gain access to the moral facts, which were thought to exist independently of us (e.g., we might need to undergo physical and mental training of the sort described in Plato's Republic or learn how to reflect in a “calm, cool hour”). Constructivists, by contrast, think that there are certain procedures that are not designed to discover which normative claims are already valid. For them, the validity of some or all reasons, principles, values or other normative claims consist in being the result of a procedure of construction. For example, Rousseau (1997) held that states are legitimate just in case and because they would be agreed to by reasonable people who were concerned to advance their own basic interests in freedom, self-improvement, and happiness, while Locke (1998) argued that governments are legitimate just in case and because free and equal (male, property-owning) people in a state of equal freedom actually agreed to them so long as those governments remain within the confines of natural law.
(With Thomas E. Hill, Jr.) In International Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Hugh LaFollette, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 5070–5078 (2013).
“Supererogation” is now a technical term in philosophy for a range of ideas expressed by terms such as “good but not required,” “beyond the call of duty,” “praiseworthy but not obligatory,” and “good to do but not bad not to do” (see Duty and Obligation; Intrinsic Value). Examples often cited are extremely generous acts of charity, heroic self-sacrifice, extraordinary service to morally worthy causes, and sometimes forgiveness and minor favors. These concepts are familiar in institutional contexts, for example, when teachers give points for “extra credit” work, corporations give “bonuses” for profitable leadership, and armies award medals for extraordinary service and valor. Moral philosophers, however, have generally focused on whether or not some of these terms refer to a fundamental moral category and, if so, how the category should be defined, which acts the category includes, and whether various moral theories adequately acknowledge it. The idea that acts can be good and praiseworthy but beyond duty has seemed puzzling for several reasons. For example, it seems that “good and praiseworthy” appeals to scalar standards of (“more or less”) value and virtue whereas “duty,” “required,” and “obligatory” invoke nonscalar norms that make (“all or nothing”) demands. This raises the theoretical question whether morality presupposes two distinct conceptual schemes, and, if so, to what extent and how these can be unified in a consistent and coherent moral theory.

Book Reviews

This book is the first of a planned two-volume project that emphasizes the central role of care in the moral life, explores the nature and value of giving and receiving appropriate care in various practical contexts, and presents and defends a moral theory of care that aims to justify a set of substantive and stringent moral duties to care for others, especially those who are unable to care for themselves. Kittay has been developing parts of this project for most of her long and impressive career, often drawing on her experiences raising a child with significant cognitive disabilities, on testimony from disabled people, and on ideas from virtue ethics, philosophy of disability and feminist philosophy. A common theme of her research, which is expressed in the main title, Learning from my Daughter, is that the deeply held moral judgments many of us have about the value of certain kinds of intimate caring relationships, particularly ones that include vulnerable people, are rich materials that must be reflected in any plausible moral theory. With characteristic and admirable humility and sophistication, Kittay in this book aims systematically to unify and expand her ideas about care into a free-standing moral theory that could be incorporated into other moral theories or extended into a comprehensive one of its own.
© 2021, Adam Cureton