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Moral status: what a bad idea!


Correspondence: Professor Anita Silvers, Philosophy Department, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave., San Francisco, CA 94132, USA (e-mail:



Advocates of people with disabilities sometimes have advanced their cause within a conceptual frame of human exceptionalism, shaped specifically by one or another proposal about a moral property or capacity with which human individuals alone are endowed.


This essay is a philosophical reflection about the notion of moral status.


Arguments presented here show, however, that framing the pursuit of protection for people with disabilities in terms of humanity's exceptional moral status is more hazardous than helpful.


Appeals to moral status do not settle debates about whether there are obligations to provide protection and support for individuals with disabilities because the idea of moral status is as contentious as the disagreements it is invoked to resolve.