The Journal of Philosophy of Disability

Volume 2, 2022

Ally Peabody SmithOrcid-ID
Pages 112-129

How Should (and Shouldn’t) We Think About Profound Intellectual Disability?

Many accounts of the grounds for human moral standing rely on the possession of higher-order capacities of mind that serve as status-conferring attributes, to the exclusion of those with significant intellectual impairments. Interconnectedly, our relationships with those with profound intellectual disability (PID) remain beneath their potential. Taking as a starting point Peter Singer’s graduated account of moral status, its assumptions about PID, and its implications for what we owe those with PID, I argue that rather than conceptualizing PIDs as severe cognitive deficit, we should characterize them as disabilities marked by the impossibility of successful, mutual linguistic communication. Considering existing relationships between non-PID and PID pairs, I center the potential for atypical forms of communication. I close with the beginnings of a more extensionally adequate grounds for moral status, where moral standing is a product of one’s being able to participate in the shared activity of developing and deepening relationships.