Cognitive Disability and Claims to Inclusion

Although legal regulations and definitions have partly improved in favour of people with cognitive disabilities, a large body of evidence suggests that people with cognitive disabilities still very often find themselves in unacceptable situations. Paradigmatic examples include regular long tedious waiting periods or no help to develop communication techniques. Additionally, academic disciplines like philosophy – even if having taken steps in the right direction – are far from standardly bearing in mind the “real-world” situation of people with cognitive disabilities. Furthermore, public discourse about inclusion is still mainly unaware of the fact that particularly people with so-called profound cognitive disabilities beyond school age lack real opportunities to live a meaningful life due to the way society is currently organized.

Against this background, my project’s overall question is whether people with cognitive disabilities have a moral claim to being included into working life. My research is intended to elucidate to what extent concepts like legitimate interests, normative status and dignity can be used to explain why particular people with cognitive disabilities have or don’t have particular inclusion-claims toward society in general and toward specific individuals. The project is divided into three parts, each of which answers questions that help to answer the overall question. In part I, I develop definitions of ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’ that can also be applied to the situation of people with cognitive disabilities. In part II, I examine what we mean by the inflationary used term ‘inclusion’, and on which basis one could think that inclusion is valuable. In part III, I discuss whether and, if so, how we can justify moral claims to inclusion.


Stephanie Elsen
PhD Student

Prof. Dr. Andreas Müller


01.08.2017 - 31.12.2020


This project is funded by the Vice-Rectorate Development, Universität Bern and the Swiss National Science Foundation (Doc.Mobility fellowship)