The Journal of Philosophy of Disability

Volume 2, 2022

Thomas NadelhofferOrcid-ID
Pages 6-27

Chronic Pain, Mere-Differences, and Disability Variantism

While some philosophers believe disabilities constitute a “bad-difference,” others think they constitute a “mere-difference” (Barnes 2016). On this latter view, while disabilities may create certain hardships, having a disability is not bad in itself. I argue that chronic pain problematizes this disability-neutral view. In doing so, I first survey the literature on chronic pain (§1). Then, I argue that Barnes’s mere-difference view cannot adequately accommodate the lived experiences of many people who suffer from chronic pain (§2). Next, I consider two ways Barnes might respond and I explain why these responses are not workable (§3). Finally, I conclude with a brief discussion of disability variantism, the view that just as some disabilities can be neutral or even positive for some individuals, other disabilities like chronic pain can understandably make some people’s lives miserable not because society has failed them but simply because some conditions can openly conflict with well-being (§4).