Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alison M. Jaggar

Second Advisor

Eva Kittay

Third Advisor

Celeste Montoya-Kirk

Fourth Advisor

Alastair J. Norcross

Fifth Advisor

Michael E. Zimmerman


Citizens with cognitive disabilities represent a growing constituency in Western liberal democratic societies and, indeed, within the globe. There are currently millions of citizens with cognitive disabilities living in the United States alone. Most people will experience cognitive disability as some point in their lives, or at least will know and likely care for someone who does. The question of what justice requires for citizens with cognitive disabilities is citizens therefore a topic that any normatively adequate theory of justice must neither to overlook, nor ignore. Central to any liberal theory of justice are the values of political equality and liberty and with these the need to provide justification for all those who are subject to the coercive legal and social institutions that the theory specifies. Although undeniably subject to any political regime and, indeed, to any liberal theory of justice intended to govern one, citizens with cognitive disabilities have frequently and without justification been denied equal justice. This, I suggest, marks a lurking bias in the structure of these theories of justice--the extent of which becomes evident only in light of the plausibility that alternative theories of justice can meet a standard of political equality and liberty for citizens with cognitive disabilities. In light of this I assess four of the most influential contemporary theories of justice: John Rawls's justice as fairness; Martha Nussbaum's capabilities approach; Eva Kittay's connection-based approach and Axel Honneth's theory of differentiated recognition according to these two standards. My analysis clarifies how in the first three, certain of the theorist's methodological commitments precludes the theory of justice he or she advances from meeting either one or the other or both standards. I conclude that of the four, Axel Honneth's theory of differentiated recognition is the most promising. I then propose an approach to justification in terms of contextual transparency that complements Honneth's theory and has potential for upholding a standard of political equality and the liberal standard of justification.

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