Centering Justice on Dependency and Recovering Freedom
Justice and Disability. There we began to exchange our very different views onwhat it means to include disability within theories of justice. Our work has developed in part in response to each other’s thinking and writing.Aswehave responded toeachother, we have learned from each other, and our views today are more compatible and less divergent than they were when we each startedonour journeys.Yetweeachcometo the experience very differently, and this is reflected in our different approaches. My relationship to disability beganwhen I
first became a mother in 1969. Shortly after my daughter Sesha’s birth, my partner and I began to understand that she was not developing as other babies were and that she would have severe lifelong disabilities, primarily cognitive disabilities. This realization came while I was still a graduate student inphilosophy. I havealreadywritten quite a bit aboutmy daughter Sesha and the way inwhich shehas had aprofound impact on the way I thought about a number of philosophical issues. Some readersmight be familiar with her frommy writings or (more likely) from the writings of such notables as Martha Nussbaum, Anita Silvers and Leslie Francis, or William Kymlicka. (I tell her that she is much more famous and more frequently cited than her mother.) As I studied philosophy, and later taught and wrote, there was always a bracketed consideration that needed attention: namely, that theworldasphilosophyportrayed ithad no room in it for people such as my daughter. She failed to fit the definition of ‘‘man’’ or ‘‘personhood’’ or ‘‘moral agent’’ or-most pertinent to this essay-a subject due justice. Yet I never treated her as anything but a person, and although I did not expect moral agency from her, she radiated sweetness and light, harmony and, dare I say it, goodness; that is, goodness in the sense of a lack of malice, anger, or any sort of viciousness. If and when she was slighted or mistreated or denied what was
due anyone else, I have reacted to these as injustices. Therewasnopoint of equilibrium I could reachbetween the theories espoused by philosophers and the reflected considerations that guidedmy interactions with and expectations concerning my daughter. Although I could not calibrate my relationship to my daughter by philosophical theories without diminishing her, and robbing myself of the fullness of motherhood, I continued to believe in the importance of theory, both as an intellectual project and in its influenceonpractice and socialpolicy. So I have chosen to alter the theory rather than regardmydaughter as a nonperson shut out from the protections and entitlements of justice. I have concluded that if a theory of justice could not accommodate my daughter, it failed a crucial criterion of adequacy.