Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Equality and diversityValue incommensurability and the politics of recognition$

Steven R. Smith

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781847426079

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847426079.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM POLICY PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.policypress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Policy Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in PPSO for personal use.date: 17 May 2022

Equality, identity and disability

Equality, identity and disability

(p.131) Six Equality, identity and disability
Equality and diversity

Steven R. Smith

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores equality, identity, disability and other related themes, and argues that, consistent with social work codes of ethics and mainstream social policy objectives, the disability rights movement (DRM) promotes universal values of equal rights and individual autonomy, drawing heavily from Kantian philosophy. However, an anti-universalised Nietzschean perspective is also promoted via the social model of disability, challenging the political orthodoxy of rights-based social movements, and the aspirations of social workers to empower disabled people. In this chapter it is argued that the Kantian and Nietzchean strands within the DRM are also incommensurable, but again, when held in tension, permit a radical assertion of disability identity, without conceding to the uncriticality of value relativism and postmodern particularism, but allowing a thorough ‘celebration of difference’ by establishing and promoting reciprocal and interdependent social relations with others who are radically different.

Keywords:   equality, identity, disability, social policy objectives, disability rights movement, equal rights, individual autonomy, Kantian philosophy, Nietzschean perspective, model of disability


Consistent with social work codes of ethics and mainstream social policy objectives, the disability rights movement (DRM) promotes the universal values of equal rights and individual autonomy, drawing heavily on Kantian philosophy. However, I argue here that an anti-universalised Nietzschean perspective is also promoted via specific interpretations of the social model of disability, explored in Chapter Five, that challenge the political orthodoxy of rights-based social movements and the aspirations of social workers to empower disabled people. Developing and applying the philosophical themes explored in previous chapters, my main claim here is that these Kantian and Nietzschean strands within the DRM, albeit conflicting and incommensurable, permit a radical assertion of disability identity, that is, without conceding to the value relativism of some forms of postmodern particularism, and providing a philosophical justification for ‘celebrating difference’ across diverse communities through promoting reciprocal social relations.

As explored in Chapter Five, the DRM has had considerable political success promoting the social model of disability, based on principles that contrast starkly with the medical model, with the latter underpinning, in its various applications, oppressive social policies and practices (Oliver and Barnes, 1998; Swain et al, 2003; Heredia, 2007; Vehmas and Makela, 2009). Contemporary policy and practice has certainly synthesised elements of both models and has conceded to some main tenets of the social understanding of disability. Rather than viewing disabled people as medically deficient requiring ‘cure’ or ‘treatment’, following the medical model, mainstream policy and practice has variously incorporated the social model, which seeks to remedy systemic institutional inadequacies that fail to include disabled people. Historically, these inadequacies have occurred across numerous social and economic domains – labour markets, educational and training facilities, housing and health provision, transport, private and public services, and so on. Consequently, the DRM has vigorously campaigned for equal rights to access, enabling equal participation and inclusion across these domains, as opposed to ‘special needs’ provision delivered via segregated welfare state or charity services (Barnes, 1991; Barton, 1996; Oliver and Barnes, 1998; Swain et al, 2003; Heredia, 2007). Despite initial resistance, governments worldwide have responded by introducing variety of legislation reflecting the social model, outlawing what are now generally regarded as unjustifiable forms of institutional exclusion and discrimination (for example, see the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act in (p.132) the US; the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act in Australia; the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act in the UK).

However, although there have been significant advances promoting the social model, representatives of the DRM and others sympathetic with its cause are keen to remind policymakers and practitioners that progress is at best patchy (Morris, 1991; Oliver, 1996; Swain et al, 2003; Brown, 2009). Some of the patchiness reflects the slow rate at which physical environments previously only catering for non-disabled needs are adapted for disabled people. Nevertheless, there are other limitations relating to what might be called discourse or value landscapes, shaping how non-disabled people view disabled people as possessing a necessarily or essentially diminished condition of disablement (Liachowitz 1988; Barton 1996; Heredia, 2007; Edwards, 2009; Ikaheimo, 2009). Consequently, the DRM focuses not only on issues of inaccessibility and social inequality, but also on questions concerning the detrimental social construction of individual and group-member identity (Hughes and Lewis, 1998; Saraga, 1998; Heredia, 2007). As explored in Chapter Five, this stress on social constructionism reflects a particular interpretation of the social model, highlighting the social meaning given to disability and the subsequent devaluing of ‘being disabled’ – this being distinct from other interpretations emphasising the social causation of disability through institutional practices that structurally exclude people with impairments. My argument is that both these interpretations are promoted by the DRM but produce tensions and difficulties concerning the philosophical bases of its claims, and the political demands that ensue.

For example, the medicalised assumption that the experience of impairment is always diminishing and is a tragic personal loss is wholeheartedly rejected by the DRM: ‘… for many disabled people, the tragedy view of disability is in itself disabling. It denies the experience of a disabling society, their enjoyment of life, and even their identity and self-awareness as disabled people’ (Swain et al, 2003, p 71). However, following this assertion, the difficult philosophical and political question for the DRM is how to fully affirm existing identities given the presence of disabling social structures. The main issue, explored in Chapter Five, is that positive self-awareness is often worked out within and through disabling social practices. Consequently, even if particular environments are viewed as unjust and discriminatory, struggling and living a life in these environments form part of a disabled person’s subjective narrative, developing what might be for her a positive identity and self-awareness, facilitated by comradeship and solidarity with other disabled people who share similar experiences. In addition, I explored how disabled people also often speak of how their outsider or excluded status – being externally imposed by discriminatory social practices – paradoxically can provide a platform for liberating them from pervading dominant norms, and so be subjectively enriching and beneficial (for example, see Morris, 1991, pp 187–187; Mackenzie and Scully, 2007).1 As discussed in Chapter Five, and also explored in Chapters Three and Four, this is not to ignore the disadvantages that many disabled people face when living in discriminatory environments that often severely restrict the (p.133) range of potential lives that may be led by disabled people compared with non-disabled people. Nevertheless, recognising the possibility of experiencing liberated ‘states of being’, as a direct reflection of disabled people’s excluded status, exposes the highly ambivalent character of discriminatory environments, as these relate to the creative and positive shaping of personal identities.

Therefore, for the DRM, there is a complex and nuanced interface between providing a critique of existing social structures that fail to include disabled people, simultaneously promoting a radicalised, positive assertion of disabled people’s ‘other-like’ and excluded identities. My contention in this chapter, developing the themes explored throughout the book, is that both aspirations – a future looking forward to a more just and inclusive society; and a present affirming existing identities born out of personal and political struggles – often pull in opposite directions, reflecting a philosophical tension within the DRM, drawn, in part, from two distinct and incommensurable traditions of thought. On the one hand, the DRM appeals to the universal and Kantian values of equal rights and individual autonomy, providing a robust normative foundation for challenging existing institutional practices. My principal argument here is that this appeal is based on a future orientating objective perspective – looking forward to what is universally understood as a better world of just practices, equalising the opportunities for disabled people to live a range of potential future lives. On the other hand, the DRM also appeals to an anti-universalised Nietzschean view of values, challenging the political orthodoxy of rights-based social movements. This is based on a full-blooded, present-orientating subjective perspective that views all universal standards and values as oppressive, even those standards and values associated with the demands of egalitarian politics. I argue that both the philosophical and political tensions between these traditions of thought should be more openly acknowledged within the DRM, to understand better its recommendations for policy and practice, as well as to inform the wider debates explored in this book concerning the conflict between promoting values associated with equality and diversity principles.

Kantian ethics: needs, rights and citizenship in policy and practice

Reflecting the ethics of Immanuel Kant, many contemporary political philosophers recommend that social and political institutions should establish individual rights to autonomy, affording equal respect for persons as agents or choosers (Kaufman, 1999; Louden, 2000; Reath, 2006; see also Chapter One for further exploration of these and related issues). However, this recommendation is interpreted in various ways. For example, some Kantian commentators justify the state meeting people’s needs, where state intervention is seen as a requisite for exercising individual autonomy, underpinning the individual’s ability to formulate and implement life-plans. The main claim is that many people would find it impossible to exercise this autonomy, given the presence of unconstrained economic markets (Rawls, 1973; (p.134) Van der Linden, 1988; Hill, 2002). For example, John Rawls establishes individual liberty as a first principle of justice, so that persons can exercise freedom and choice, while also instituting a mechanism for redistributing resources from the better-off to the worse-off operating as a second principle of justice (Rawls, 1973, 1993, 2001). In contrast, other Kantian commentators have argued that guaranteeing rights to exercise autonomy and freedom implies that individuals should not have legitimately earned resources taken from them via a compulsory tax system, intent on redistributing from the better-off to the worse-off (Nozick, 1974; Hayek, 1993). For example, Robert Nozick claims that a welfare state would undermine Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative that we should not treat others ‘… simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end’ (Nozick, 1974, p 32). The problem for Nozick is that the compulsory character of a redistributive tax system funding a welfare state does treat people, the better-off, ‘simply as a means’, given that members of this group are forced to support the interests of the worst-off (Nozick, 1974, pp 32–32). Friedrich Hayek, in justifying a negative conception of liberty, also refers to Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative, to make a similar case against the welfare state:

Our definition of the meaning of liberty depends upon the meaning of the concept of coercion … by coercion we mean such control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another that … he is forced to act not according to a coherent plan of his own but to serve the ends of another … coercion is evil precisely because it thus eliminates an individual as a thinking and valuing person and makes him a bare tool in the achievement of the ends of another.

(Hayek, 1993, pp 20–20)

More generally, it seems then that the relationship between abstract ethical principles and their practical implementation is not straightforwardly delineated. I have argued elsewhere that ethical principles often at best provide only a very broad framework for evaluating policy and practice, and that while such a framework may rule out certain policies and practices out, it does not necessarily rule in specific recommendations (for exmaple, see Smith, 1997; 2007b, pp 1–1). So, within welfare practices such as social work, Kantian ethics provides a philosophical basis for respecting the clients’ or users’ rights to autonomy and choice, found within various professional codes of practice. However, again there is considerable dispute concerning how these rights are substantially interpreted (Hugman and Smith, 1995, pp 36–36; Banks, 2001, pp 24–24). Some commentators amalgamate Kantian ethics and utilitarian commitments to increasing welfare, arguing that commitments to the former lead to the latter. For others, meanwhile, this hybrid solution glosses the substantial conflicts between Kantian ethics, establishing individual autonomy as an ‘end in itself’, as distinct from utilitarian ethics promoting autonomy ‘merely as a means’ to enhancing happiness and/or well-being (Banks, 2001, p 35).2

(p.135) But how are these various debates reflected in the DRM’s position and its promotion of equality and rights? One move of the DRM is to promote individual rights to choice making as a separate category to the state meeting individual needs, as meeting ‘special needs’ in policy and practice is often found to override disabled people’s capacity for decision making (Morris, 1991; Stainton, 1994; Oliver, 1996; Oliver and Barnes, 1998; Heredia, 2007; Hull, 2009). Substantial conceptions of need are defined by non-disabled professionals who exert power over disabled people by imposing state definitions of need on their clients or users. Therefore, meeting individual needs, while it may appear benign, is paternalistic and invasive, undermining a disabled person’s autonomy and rights to self-determination. For example, according to Michael Oliver:

Professionalised service provision within a needs-based system of welfare has added to existing forms of discrimination … based upon invasions of privacy as well as creating a language of paternalism which can only enhance discriminatory practices … institutional discrimination is embedded in the work of welfare institutions when they deny disabled people the right to live autonomously.

(Oliver, 1996, pp 75–75)

The link Oliver makes between anti-paternalism and a disabled person’s right to live autonomously is audibly Kantian. Kant was also deeply antagonistic towards paternalistic policies that ground morality, and subsequent social relations, in predefined values being imposed on individuals (Kaufman, 1999, pp 38–38). Instead, he argued that morality must be grounded in human will and the capacity persons have to choose. Briefly put, the will is undetermined, and therefore free, providing the foundation for any subsequent moral values being chosen by individuals. So, according to Kant, ‘… to be independent of determination by causes in the sensible world … is to be free … when we think of ourselves as free, we… recognise the autonomy of will’ (Kant, 1998, pp 120–120). More abstractly, ‘… now we have a will … the principles of empirically unconditioned causality must come first … the law of causality from freedom … constitutes the unavoidable beginning and determines the objects to which alone it can be referred’ (Kant, 1997, p 13; see also 1997, pp 105–105; 1993b, pp 50–50). Consequently: ‘A subject of ends, namely a rational human, being an individual, must be the ground of all maxims of action’ (Kant, 1998 (1996), p 105).

However, as already highlighted, Kant’s philosophical commitment to autonomy and free will can be variously interpreted, especially in relation to the recommendation or otherwise of state redistributive policies. A Kantian ethic might consistently advocate meeting needs via state provision, if state representatives show they first respect rights to individual autonomy and self-determination. Rights to autonomously define one’s own needs could be established, rather than having needs defined by social workers, but as a prelude to these needs being met by the state. Indeed, this is allowed in Oliver’s position, despite his initial (p.136) anti-state-meeting-needs polemic: ‘It is nonetheless right to appropriate welfare services to meet their own self-defined needs that disabled people are demanding, [but] not to have their needs defined and met by others’ (Oliver, 1996, p 7). Consequently, the anti-paternalist Kantian who is sympathetic to state provision establishes the right to choose as foundational to state provision, thus squaring the circle between rights relating to needs-based resource distribution – which can be implemented without respecting the user’s choice and autonomy – and rights reflecting individual autonomy, so meeting a person’s needs consistent with her choices or wishes. This conclusion also has implications for how notions of citizenship are understood, as it is from the latter that, what Oliver calls, active as opposed to passive conceptions of citizenship are promoted. For Oliver, passive conceptions of citizenship are rooted in traditional Fabian justifications of welfare state provision, which often assume that a welfare recipient is a passive receiver of goods and services (Oliver, 1996, pp 63–63). Active conceptions of citizenship, however, assert that the beneficiary is an agent, derived from what are, as argued here, Kantian notions of individual rights to autonomy – where disabled people are perceived as choosers who may actively negotiate with their providers the way services are designed and delivered.3

Moreover, according to Oliver, passive conceptions of citizenship are reinforced in medical model justifications of welfare state provision, viewing disabled people as victims of medical deficiencies leading to dependency and further passivity (Oliver, 1996, pp 63–63). Active conceptions of citizenship, by contrast, are found in social model justifications of rights, participation and equal access, providing disabled people with opportunities to shape the way their needs are defined and met. Oliver cites the political philosopher Michael Ignatieff, who also associates active conceptions of citizenship with the values of rights, freedom and liberty, and passive conceptions with the values of therapy and having compassion for ‘the needy’. According to Ignatieff: ‘As a political question, welfare is about rights, not caring, and the history of citizenship has been the struggle to make freedom real, not to tie us all in to the leading strings of therapeutic good intentions’ (Ignatieff cited in Oliver, 1996, p 71). He then claims that: ‘The language of citizenship is not properly about compassion at all, since compassion is a private virtue which cannot be legislated or enforced. The practice of citizenship is about ensuring everyone the entitlements necessary to the exercise of their liberty’ (Ignatieff cited in Oliver, 1996, p 71; see also Chapters Three, Four and Five here).

The point is that Ignatieff’s position is again audibly Kantian, insofar as he divorces feelings and emotions from reasoning, emphasising the importance of establishing individual rights and freedoms. My argument in Chapter Four, while not separating emotion and reason so completely, also provides a criticism of the claim – often made by liberal egalitarian political philosophers – that committing to principles of social justice is properly motivated by compassion or pity. My central claim is that the motivation derived from these feelings for the ‘suffering other’, while often well intentioned, is frequently misplaced. It often leads the pitier to view persons who suffer as passive victims of circumstances beyond their (p.137) control, so ignoring the subjective capacity a person has to positively respond to her experiences, even those experiences objectively defined as disadvantageous. It is in this context I argued that a subjective capacity to positively affirm a life that is actually led in disadvantageous conditions often cannot be compared with a life that might have been led without these conditions. Consequently, this subjective capacity, reflecting a highly particularist and incommensurable perspective, should be considered independently from any universal demands for equal opportunity, rights and access, that explicitly set out to compare the lives of ‘the advantaged’ with ‘the disadvantaged’ and alleviate the conditions of the latter accordingly (see also Chapters One, Two and Four for further exploration of these and related issues). Developing these themes in this chapter, I argue that the DRM, despite its universalism, also draws from an anti-universalist tradition founded on a Nietzschean subjectivist or particularist philosophy. Nevertheless, I also explore how this conflict between Kantian and Nietzschean themes within the DRM can help to explain more fully its political demands, which both positively affirms the present subjective identities of disabled people, alongside recommending the radical transformation of objective social conditions for the future.

Nietzsche as a surprising ally of the disability rights movement

There are many aspects of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy that seem deeply antagonistic toward the DRM. The latter promotes the universal and inclusive values of equal rights to individual autonomy and participation, which, as previously explored, can be understood in broadly Kantian terms. These values are general moral principles applicable to all persons and cultures and are seen as truths that can be accessed by all rational human beings. The universal value of equality is readily committed to by the DRM as a correlate to establishing these rights, reflecting universal descriptions of the human condition and what it is to be an autonomous person, which includes persons with disabilities.4 In marked contrast, for Nietzsche, the Kantian association between reason and ‘truth’, and the values of equality and rights, require an oppressive obedience and conformity to universal rules, stultifying individual assertiveness and subjective capacities for ‘self-creation’ (Nietzsche, 1956, pp 70–70 and pp 169–169; 1975a, pp 53–53 and pp 121–121; see also Copleston, 1994, pp 390–390; May, 1999, pp 13–13). According to Nietzsche, demands for equal rights, however these rights are conceptualised, emasculate individuals and individuality as human goals are universally endorsed by, what he calls, a common herd. For example, in Beyond good and evil, Nietzsche states that ‘… the diminution of man to the perfect herd animal (or, as they say, to the man of the “free society”) [is the] … animalization of man to the pygmy animal of equal rights and equal pretensions’ (Nietzsche, 1975a, p 109 and pp 175–175).

However, I will now argue that there are Nietzschean themes found within the DRM, despite the latter’s commitment to equal rights and individual autonomy. There are four main planks of the Nietzschean position that explain further (p.138) his anti-universalist perspective: his anti-essentialism; his critique of pity and compassion; his critique of ideals and dualism; and his eternal recurrence thesis – all these I believe reflecting a specific particularist understanding of individual empowerment and identity assertion that is also promoted within the DRM (see also Chapter One for a detailed exploration of the conflict between universalism and particularism and how this relates, in turn, to the wider equality and diversity debate).

Philosophical essentialism claims that certain characteristics of any ‘object’ are essential, and therefore not incidental to its existence (Blackburn, 1996, p 125). Unsurprisingly perhaps, there is considerable dispute over what constitutes essential human qualities or characteristics. However, that these qualities or characteristics ought to be identified still has considerable intuitive appeal, one that is often unquestioned by disputants who subsequently promote, for example, universal rights reflecting these qualities or characteristics. For Nietzsche, though, this type of essentialism is fundamentally flawed, as it mistakenly assumes that it is possible to objectively identify these traits via rational reflection and/or scientific method – promising an underlying explanation of who we are as human beings, subsequently giving an essential meaning to human lives (for example, see Nietzsche, 1975a, pp 15–15). This is an empty promise for Nietzsche, distracting us from addressing what he sees as our completely unexplainable and meaningless existence (Copleston, 1994, pp 397–397). There is no essential objective reality that is understandable and purposeful. Rather, human beings invent and create explanation and meaning, derived from particular perspectives or ‘species of life’, as Nietzsche calls it, that radically vary according to each person’s instinctively and highly particularised lived experience (Nietzsche, 1975a, p 17; and related themes explored in Chapter Two).5 Although there is disagreement among Nietzschean scholars concerning both the coherence and centrality of Nietzsche’s anti-essentialism (Berkowitz, 1997; Appel, 1999; Devigne, 1999), the claim from Nietzsche, at least, is that it offers a new way of understanding philosophical pursuit, where essentialism’s pretension for finding ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’ is seen as a disguise for what are merely instinctive prejudicial assertions. For example, in Beyond good and evil Nietzsche claims:

Most of a philosopher’s conscious thinking is secretly directed and compelled into definite channels by his instincts. Behind all logic too and its apparent autonomy stands evaluations, in plainer terms physiological demands for the preservation of a certain species of life … for the most part [philosophers] are no better than cunning pleaders for their prejudices, which they baptise ‘truths’.

(Nietzsche, 1975a, pp 17–17)

But how is this anti-essentialist Nietzschean theme reflected in the DRM? As explored in Chapter Five, the main objection of the DRM to the medical model is that it is based on an essentialist philosophy of disability (Swain et al, 2003, pp (p.139) 98–102; Heredia, 2007; Vehmas and Makela, 2009).6 The medical model associates disability with fixed essential characteristics, defined by non-disabled medical experts, that necessarily signify a life of personal loss or tragedy. According to my arguments here, for the DRM these essentialist interpretations of disability effectively allow non-disabled experts to assert their prejudicial understanding of disablement as being essentially deficient – thus ignoring the possibility of disabled people positively endorsing their identities, including possessing their impairments (for example, see Swain et al, 2003, pp 54–54).7 The Nietzschean claim from the DRM is that there is no one essential truth to ‘being disabled’ that is fixed across time and cultures, but rather a series of perspectives on disability that variously affect disabled people’s lives as these relate to particular social conditions. Personal loss or tragedy is therefore not an inevitable characteristic of impairment possession, despite particular cultural and social prejudices that assume these characteristics are essential to the disabled condition.

The second Nietzschean theme is a critique of pity. As explored extensively in Chapter Four, Nietzsche views this emotion as a drain on the energies of those who experience it, and as condescending to those who are pitied (Nietzsche, 1975a, pp 102–102, pp 132–132 and pp 188–188). Pity also generates feelings of guilt and obligation on the part of the pitier, which for Nietzsche diminish the individual’s capacity for self-creation and positive assertiveness. Moreover, being the object of pity denies the separateness of persons, ignoring differences in how people respond to and experience personal suffering (see also Conolly, 1998; Fraser, 2002; and Chapters Three and Four here). Consequently, for Nietzsche, pity, for all concerned, is the antithesis to what he calls ‘the energy of the feeling of life’ and renders human suffering overwhelming, undermining the individual’s ability to overcome life’s obstacles. For example, he states in The anti-Christ:

Pity stands in antithesis to the tonic emotions which enhance the energy of the feeling of life: it has depressive effects. One loses force when one pities. The loss of force which life has already sustained through suffering is increased and multiplied even further by pity … it gives life itself a gloomy and questionable aspect … which inscribes Denial of Life on its escutcheon.

(Nietzsche, 1968, p 118, emphasis in original; see also Conolly, 1998, pp 280–280)

In a similar vein, the DRM has often campaigned using anti-pity slogans. For example, in the UK a demonstration by disabled people against TV’s Telethon charity fundraiser during the 1980s and 1990s used placards with the injunction ‘Piss on pity!’. The DRM objected to disability charities eliciting the emotion of pity as a motivator for prompting donations from the public, as this reinforced the view that disabled people are passive and tragic victims of their impairment.8 For the DRM, universal generalisations are made about the experience of impairment that override or marginalise the subjective perspective of disabled people that having an impairment may, contrary to expectations contained within these (p.140) generalisations, contribute positively to a person’s life. As explored in Chapter Five, the DRM acknowledges that some, but certainly not all, impairments cause pain and suffering, but this should not detract from the capacity disabled people have to incorporate the experience of their impairment in ways that are positive and life-enhancing.

The third Nietzschean theme is anti-idealism and anti-dualism (also see May, 1999, pp 64–64 and pp 88–88). Ideals imply the classification of opposites or dualities. For example, moral ideals imply the duality of good and evil, and aesthetic ideals imply the duality of beauty and ugliness. For Nietzsche, organised social and cultural systems impose dualities and ideals on individuals, leading to what he calls ‘bad conscience’ and the ‘internalisation of man’ (Nietzsche, 1956, pp 189–189). For example, ideals operate as templates for individual repression, where understandings of goodness and beauty – being derived from external sources, such as religious institutions, the family, popular culture and so on – are then internally endorsed by individuals who conform to dominant social norms and values associated with these ideals. Ironically for Nietzsche, internalisation often involves considerable self-discipline where the individual through her bad conscience imposes on herself these externally sourced values, which in turn fuels a self-loathing and contradiction within the self, diminishing the creative energies of a life that could be led free from conventional moralities and norms. For example, in The genealogy of morals Nietzsche states:

Bad conscience is nothing other than the instinct of freedom forced to become latent, driven underground, and forced to vent its energy upon itself…. This secret violation of the self, this artist’s cruelty … impose[s] on recalcitrant matter a form, a will, a distinction, a feeling of contradiction and contempt.

(Nietzsche, 1956, pp 220–220; see also May, 1999, pp 64–64 and pp 88–88)

In response, Nietzsche invites individuals who are strong and defiant to reject dualistic categories such as good and evil and beauty and ugliness, as these reflect externally imposed and objective categories, and instead freely invent and create particularised and subjective identities and values (see also Nietzsche, 1975a, pp 17–17). My claim is that this Nietzschean theme is also found in the DRM, and similarly emphasises the oppressive character of non-disabled ideals and dualities that explicitly associate ‘less than’ ideal characteristics with being disabled. Consequently, idealism imposes norms and standards that, according to the DRM, devalue a disabled person’s subjective evaluation of her life, with non-disabled objectified categories of beauty, well-being, goodness and personal fulfillment oppressively dominating.9 Alternatively, positively asserting disability identity involves rejecting these non-disabled ideals, substituting them with self-created standards that affirm and celebrate being ‘abnormal’. Echoing these Nietzschean themes, this kind of subjective self-creation for many disabled people becomes (p.141) the hallmark of a liberated life – being free from externally imposed ideals and norms. According to one disabled woman:

If we can appreciate that to be an outsider is a gift, we will find that we are disabled only in the eyes of other people, and insofar as we choose to emulate and pursue society’s standards and seek its approval…. Once we cease to judge ourselves by society’s narrow standards we can cease to judge everything and everyone by those same limitations. When we no longer feel comfortable identifying with the aspirations of the normal majority we can transform the imposed role of outsider into the life-enhancing and liberated state of an independent thinking, constantly doubting Outsider who never needs to fight the physical condition but who embraces it. And by doing so ceases to be disabled by it.

(cited in Morris, 1991, p 187; see also Chapter Five for further exploration of these and related issues)

The outsider who asserts her highly particularised identity in this kind of life-affirming way directs us to the fourth and final Nietzschean theme found within the DRM, namely the thesis of eternal recurrence (for example, Nietzsche, 1975b, pp 330–330). Nietzsche advocates a test for evaluating the strength of the individual where a person is asked to subjectively embrace her life in its entirety, including her personal suffering and struggle, as an eternal recurring event, while also recognising the meaningless content of that life, understood objectively. If she can say a joyful ‘yes’ to her life being lived for eternity in this way, she has overcome what, for Nietzsche, is the objective meaninglessness of human circumstance and experience (also see Solomon, 2001, pp 136–136). This test further reinforces his critique of pity, as those who pity ‘the sufferer’ effectively ignore the latter’s capacity to be strengthened by this most positive subjective endorsement of a person’s life.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight an equivocation within the eternal recurrence thesis that is sometimes explored by Nietzschean scholars, and relates to the arguments presented here and in proceeding chapters. Is Nietzsche claiming that suffering changes form when a person endorses eternal recurrence, so it cannot properly be called suffering as a result? Or is he claiming that suffering remains, with the endorsement of eternal recurrence prompting a new attitude to it (see also Fraser, 2002, pp 72–72)? Pertinent to my arguments throughout this book, the DRM addresses a similar ambiguity within its critique of the medical model of disability. For example, as explored in Chapter Five, one of the main objections from the DRM to the medical model is that it mistakenly associates having an impairment with suffering and loss. I have argued in this chapter that this association is rejected by the DRM on the broadly Nietzschean grounds that impairment possession, despite non-disabled people’s expectations to the contrary, can prelude an enhanced affirmation of life. However, as with Nietzsche’s explication of the eternal recurrence thesis, this particular understanding of impairment possession can be interpreted in at least two ways. First, that the (p.142) life enhancement subjectively experienced eradicates personal suffering – this perspective being ignored by those who promote the medical model of disability and define being disabled as necessarily tragic and deficient. Second, that a person who possesses an impairment can subjectively lead a life that is enhanced, all things considered, even though this impairment can sometimes/often cause suffering objectively understood. I argued in Chapter Five that the DRM promotes both interpretations of impairment possession, but that the second is probably a more plausible experiential account of disablement in its various forms – especially if the meaning of suffering includes the pain of social discrimination. However, disabled people, even via the second interpretation, can still refuse to be defined merely as tragic victims of circumstances beyond their control, and still therefore endorse ‘eternal recurrence’ as recommended by Nietzsche. This is because having an impairment can be fully affirmed, comprising a positive part of the disabled person’s identity as she subjectively understands and interprets her life – even if having that impairment can cause suffering at least some of the time, whether derived from medical and/or social sources.

From Kant to Nietzsche in more than one uneasy move

But where do these arguments concerning the Kantian and Nietzschean themes found within the DRM take us regarding social policy and welfare practice? There are, I believe, three broad responses to the simultaneous promotion of these themes. The first would be to combine elements of these Kantian and Nietzschean philosophies, producing a coherent synthesis of both. This can be called the eclectic response, and holds attractions for policymakers and practitioners who often have to respond to competing demands and interests. However, there are serious difficulties concerning both the philosophical coherence and political plausibility of this eclecticism. It is not clear, for example, how a Kantian commitment to individual autonomy allows for self-creation and individual empowerment of the kind promoted in broadly Nietzschean terms. Exercising individual autonomy, within a Kantian ethical framework, involves first conforming to moral laws based on universal duty-bound obligations to others. These moral laws are, according to Kant, self-imposed, therefore preserving individual autonomy, but as we have seen, this is a very different conception of self-creation and empowerment from that envisaged by Nietzsche, who places the empowered individual outside of universal moral laws – including those derived from Kantian ethics. Some scholars argue that there is a philosophical lineage traceable from Kant to Nietzsche, and later existentialist thinkers, based on what has been called Kant’s Copernican revolution, which centralises human perspective and individual free will within epistemology and ethics (Pippin, 1991; Solomon, 2001). Consequently, it is possible to interpret Nietzsche with this Kantian influence, if Nietzsche’s stress on the subjective reformulation of value is emphasised – that is, where the meaning of value is redefined by individuals, as distinct from his more radical perspectivism that rejects all values outright.10 However, even if the former interpretation (p.143) is granted, this need not concede that Nietzschean conceptions of individual autonomy, self-creation and empowerment are entirely derivative of Kant – albeit they might be in some way related.

For example, in general terms, empowerment and autonomy is associated with expanding freedom of choice and action, increasing a person’s control over the resources and decisions affecting her life. If people exercise choice, so the argument goes, they are empowered, being able to devise and put into practice their life-plans (also see Dworkin, 1988; Stainton, 1994). However, there is considerable conflict between the DRM and social work practitioners over how disabled people should be viewed and treated when promoting individual empowerment. I contend that much of this conflict can be explained by the tensions between the Kantian and Nietzschean conceptions and themes so far explored. Consequently, the DRM’s Nietzschean leanings are a source of great anger often directed towards social workers and other welfare practitioners who are seen to profoundly misunderstand disabled people’s demands and expectations. For example, Oliver and Barnes severely criticise the pretence of voluntary and social workers who aim to empower disabled people:

There are numerous texts advising on how to empower … and conferences where the powerful talk endlessly about how to empower the disempowered. The contradiction in all this is that empowerment is only something that people can do for themselves because, ultimately, deciding to empower someone else, whether they want it or not, is the most disempowering thing that can be done to them.

(Oliver and Barnes, 1998, p 10)

In other words, empowerment is not about conforming to an objective set of universal rules, accessible by anyone, including non-disabled professionals, which then can be implemented accordingly. Rather, it is about a person creating for herself a subjective perspective on personal empowerment, to be used against those who seek to impose universal sets of rules, including and especially, those rules that purport to empower. As explored earlier, Nietzsche accuses philosophers, and Kant in particular, of similar manoeuvres to social workers in respect of promoting individual autonomy and free will. Kantian values seemingly underpin personal choice and empowerment, but for Nietzsche, and reflecting the DRM critique, these are guises so as to impose universal values on people that, through this imposition, disempower them.11

However, given this Nietzschean critique found in the DRM, what happens to the DRM’s other commitments to universal values, reflected in the Kantianesque slogan ‘equal rights for all’? This awkward question prompts a second response to the Kantian and Nietzschean themes found within the DRM – that the differences between these two philosophies are irreconcilable and incommensurable, exposing a deep incoherence at the heart of the DRM’s position, as moral and political theory is unable to solve the contradictions between these themes. This can (p.144) be called the incoherent incommensurable response, which, I will now argue, has more philosophical plausibility than the eclectic response, because it does not try to artificially combine or synthesise two conflicting perspectives, but is inadequate both for philosophical and political reasons. As explored extensively in Chapters Two, Three, Four and Five, according to Joseph Raz, ‘A and B are incommensurate if it is neither true that one is better than the other nor true that they are of equal value’ (Raz, 1988, p 332). When valued objects are not equal to or on a par with each other, but neither is one better than the other, they are not comparable and therefore incommensurable. My point here is that the conflict between the Kantian and Nietzschean themes found within the DRM might indeed be incommensurable. I will now defend the assertion that the commitment to a Nietzschean perspective of personal empowerment, involving a rejection of externally imposed objective values or ‘ideals’, does not readily compare with the Kantian promotion of equal rights to individual autonomy, derived from a commitment to follow universal moral rules.

I argued in Chapter Two that lack of comparability blocks the possibility of two conflicting values being weighted and traded off against each other, or from being placed in some kind of lexicographic ordering, with one value taking priority over the other. Instead, lack of comparability reflects a paradigmatic conflict over radically different perspectives concerning the relationship between values and the lives of persons that are incommensurable. Trade-offs between conflicting values reflect the assumption that the relationship between values and the person making ethical decisions is comparable for each value. For example, the value of negative freedom (as related to freedom from government constraint) and the value of economic equality (as related to resources being coercively transferred from the better-off to the worse-off through a tax system) have often been traded off to justify maintaining welfare states within a free-market economy. Those who argue for this trade-off assert that, despite the conflict between negative freedom and economic equality, both should be promoted. More specifically, trading off involves maintaining a balance between these values, recognising that as one value diminishes it is possible to compensate for this loss through the corresponding increase of the other, assuming both values are appropriately compared and weighted; without this comparative assumption, it would be impossible to measure corresponding increases and decreases in conflicting values (for further exploration of these issues, see my arguments in Smith, 1998, pp 214–214; and Chapter Two here). Consequently, when two equally weighted values are traded off, one unit of p will always be equivalent to one unit of q. So, if there is more of p compared with q, some of p might be traded off allowing for more q, until an appropriate balance is reached – in this case an equal balance. Alternatively, when radically different paradigms or perspectives concerning the relationship between values and persons are at stake, there are, in effect, qualitatively different objects that cannot be measured or compared. Therefore, x amount of value p cannot be weighed against y amount of value q, as there is no like for like being traded off as x of p and y of q are not equivalent in any way. Again, following the terminology in (p.145) Chapter Two, this is because these values exist in two qualitatively different ‘value streams’, and so the loss of one cannot compensate for the increase of the other, and, where one value is not lexically prior to the other, they cannot be ranked either – instead, they are incomparable and so incommensurable.

However, if the Kantian and Nietzschean themes found within the DRM are so qualitatively different that they are in two incomparable value streams, this could lead to the claim that its case is incoherent. Either there is a commitment to Kantian universal moral rules and rights, or to a Nietzschean anti-universalist conception of self-creation and empowerment, but there cannot be a rational commitment to both, as they are based on different assumptions concerning the relationship between values and persons. I believe, though, that there is a third response to this conflict consistent with arguments for incommensurability – that is, promoting equal rights and social justice understood in broadly Kantian terms, alongside a Nietzschean type subjective affirmation of individual identity and empowerment. This response does not depend on synthesising the two perspectives as with the eclectic response, or on making trade-offs between them, leading to some kind of measured settlement regarding a ‘right’ balance between the two. Rather, it asserts that recognising this conflict as incommensurable produces irresolvable philosophical and political tensions – but that accepting this irresolvability leads to a better understanding of the DRM’s position, as well as of the wider debates about the conflict between equality and diversity principles.

First, the claim that committing to incommensurable values is incoherent begs a question about the outcome of rational deliberation concerning conflicting values. It assumes that rational deliberation necessarily resolves value conflict through applying a philosophical principle, theory or method. However, as explored in Chapters One and Two, this assumption is controversial, given that there are different philosophical claims that can be made about the efficacy of rational deliberation in these circumstances (see, for example, Raz, 1988, pp 321–321). Constraining the efficacy of rational deliberation is therefore philosophically plausible, but is often not countenanced by theorists who argue that committing to incomparable or incommensurable values is incoherent. Again, according to Raz:

Theories which provide general recipes for comparing values … begin by establishing people’s actual judgements on the relative value of options, and extrapolate principles which can be applied generally and without restriction to any pair of alternatives. Unrestricted generality is built into the theory forming process as a theoretical desideratum. The question of incommensurability is begged without argument.

(Raz, 1988, p 335)

Second, and as explored in Chapter Two, providing philosophical ‘solutions’ to value conflict masks the complexities of lives enmeshed in networks of competing obligations and personal aspirations, relating to, for example, career choice, financial opportunity, the competing demands of family and work, responsibilities (p.146) to friends and strangers, and so on. However, those who argue that these values and choices are often incommensurable recognise that these complexities lead to various conflicts that are held in some kind of unresolved tension, compounded by individual choices and values that often change over time. The point is that these conflicts or tensions may be at the bottom of philosophical enquiry, where further philosophical digging is neither required nor possible to explain completely and perfectly the truth of rational deliberation reflecting those choices made. Again, to quote Raz:

There is a strong temptation to think of incommensurability as an imperfection, an incompleteness … the mistake in this thought is that it assumes that there is a true value behind the ranking of options…. Values may change, but such a change is not the discovery of some deeper truth. It is simply a change of value. Therefore, where there is incommensurability it is the ultimate truth. There is nothing further behind it, nor is it a sign of imperfection.

(Raz, 1988, p 327)

Following this analysis, and by way of conclusion, I will now explore how the Kantian and Nietzschean themes found within the DRM, should be held in tension, recognising that the conflict is irresolvable and that the values reflecting these themes are incommensurable. In the process, I examine further the implications of this for policy and practice and the values of equality and diversity explored throughout the book – that is, related to debates concerning postmodernism and its frequent retreat to value relativism, and criticisms by proponents within other social movements, that the universalism of the welfare state can be monolithic and oppressive, marginalising ‘the voices’ of those it is designed to help. In short, my argument is that recognising this incommensurable conflict between Kantian and Nietzschean values and themes would allow social movements, along Nietzschean lines, to sustain their critique of universalist reformers, but also, along Kantian lines, to prevent a postmodern collapse into value relativism and subsequent uncriticality.

Postmodernism and how irresolvable conflicts can be radical and dynamic

Postmodernism has multiple faces, but one characteristic uniting postmodern thought is its undermining of the enlightenment project by rejecting all ‘totalising’ or ‘grand’ theories – seen as misplaced attempts at discovering and then imposing order and unity through unitary and monolithic explanations. The assumption that there is a morally objective standpoint accessible via rational enquiry, found in, for example Kantian ethics, is therefore dismissed. Moral objectivism is then often substituted, explicitly or implicitly, with value relativism, where the moral significance of holding particular values is viewed as entirely relative to the holder, whether conceived of individually or in respect to particular cultures (p.147) (Habermas, 1990; Blackburn, 1996, p 326; West, 1996, pp 189–189; Calder, 2005). However, there is some dispute as to whether, or the degree to which, postmodernism is necessarily value relativist and what impact this has on policy and practice. For example, according to the social policy analyst Peter Taylor-Gooby, postmodernism inevitably collapses into value relativism, but because of its stress on subjective perspectives and preferences, it allows values associated with free-market consumerism to enter through the back door, so to speak (Taylor-Gooby, 1994). Other policy analysts, although they recognise these dangers, do not see postmodernism inevitably leading to this outcome, and acknowledge that elements of the postmodern critique can be used to underpin radical political stances (for example, see Fitzpatrick, 1996; Penna and O’Brien, 1996; Ellison, 1999, pp 57–57).

My argument is, to some extent, sympathetic with the latter interpretation of the postmodern critique, as reflected in the Nietzschean themes explored previously, but also views full-blooded value relativism as an incoherent and self-defeating expression of this critique. There is a notorious problem with postmodern value relativism, as its radical critique of moral objectivism, being an example of grand theorising, can be too indiscriminate. A radical critique, after all, locates itself outside of the paradigmatic framework being critiqued, and therefore claims a privileged position for seeing the world. Nevertheless, claiming any privileged position is precisely what grand theorising is being critiqued for. The dilemma faced by postmodern value relativists, therefore, is that to abandon grand theorising and moral objectivity, as its aim, risks abandoning the critique, as its method (Habermas, 1990; West, 1996, pp 189–189; Nussbaum, 1999, 2000). Nietzsche, being a forerunner of postmodern thought, faces the same dilemma, in that his particularism, explored previously, could lose its critical edge through a similar collapse into value relativism (see also Chapter One for an exploration of this problem for particularism more generally). Despite this difficulty, I think it is possible to defend an alternative position that accommodates some of the Nietzschean/postmodern critique of grand theory and ethical objectivism as being over-unifying and over-totalising, but at the same time does not collapse into the incoherence of a more full-blooded value relativism. Reflecting themes developed throughout the book, my main argument is that when the move is made from recognising particular differences to celebrating or affirming these differences, defending substantive conceptions of equality and rights is possible and can be promoted within a broadly Kantian framework. This defence, though, must fully acknowledge that the Nietzschean themes, also found within the DRM, are incommensurable with Kantian ethical commitments, but that this philosophical tension and conflict provides a dynamic and radical platform for developing egalitarian theory and practice.

It is important, however, first to highlight that recommending the ‘celebration of difference’ can be liberal in orientation, as well as Kantian. As explored in Chapters Three and Four, this recommendation recognises the moral significance of the distinction between persons, and the groups to which they belong, based on the (p.148) premise that individual agents have particular life-plans and cultural backgrounds that matter to them and should be respected. Therefore, the arguments presented here are, partly at least, an attempt to reclaim some of the liberal, as well as Kantian, ground from the value relativist trends in postmodern thought, by articulating the liberalism found in the injunction that we should celebrate differences. Nevertheless, I also argue that the philosophical underpinnings of this politics of recognition found in the DRM and other social movements are right to acknowledge the limitations of this liberal and Kantian project. Using the postmodern critique, many within social movements have radically challenged welfare states, which promote social equality as a universal value, as this promotion over-generalises about the needs of groups defined as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘disadvantaged’, thereby reinforcing their social exclusion (for example, see Hughes and Lewis, 1998; Heredia, 2007; Ikaheimo, 2009). Consequently, universal liberal categories of rights and equality are often imposed on individuals and group members without sufficiently acknowledging the differences between them. For my part, and as defended in this chapter, a Nietzschean perspective to personal empowerment rejects universally imposed rules, and so counters these over-generalising tendencies, but is a perspective that must also be hedged by the universal moral injunction that differences should be celebrated. My main contention is that this latter injunction makes better sense of the former rejection, but only assuming the expectation that persons benefit from multidimensional relational experiences with radically different others as a result – that is, relationships characterised by reciprocation (see also Smith, 2001a, 2002a, 2002b, and Chapters Three, Four and Five here). I will now explore further how this principle of reciprocity, while promoting particularism, can also be coherently promoted as a universal value – that is, as a valued state of affairs that is promotable across and between various cultures and individual life experiences.

In summary, then, the argument so far recommending a celebration of difference implies at least three sorts of appeal. First, a very liberal and Kantian appeal to a universal moral category is permitted, one that promotes and compares goods where diversity is seen as better than sameness. Consequently, the celebration enjoins different individuals and groups not only to assert their own particularised differences, but also to promote the equal capacity or right of other individuals and groups to assert their differences too. Second, a more thoroughgoing Nietzschean appeal to particularism is also allowed, but one where promoting a range of incommensurable or incomparable differences is regarded as a morally preferable state of affairs to promoting goods that are always uniform and comparable, and/or strictly prioritised – that is, given the value of reciprocity, anticipating a mutually enriching encounter between persons and groups who are incomparably different. Third, the principle of reciprocity therefore operates as an overarching shared value across a plural society, providing a wider justification for promoting radically diverse forms of life, many being incommensurable. Consequently, it is a principle that establishes moral parameters concerning the definition and content of healthy social relations, across which a range of incommensurable values can (p.149) be legitimately promoted. I will now provide a brief outline of the definition and content of reciprocal social relations, as these relate to the promotion of value incommensurability and radically diverse forms of life – and as a prelude to the themes explored in the final chapter.

I have argued elsewhere that, through individual or social forms, mutual acts of giving and receiving between persons, characterising reciprocal relations, are not solely defined by the production of valuable ‘objects’ that can then be used by others (Smith, 2001a, 2002a, 2002b; see also Chapters One, Three and Four here). Certainly, central to establishing reciprocal relations is acknowledging the value of ‘things produced’ for mutual exchange. However, this value cannot, I believe, be assessed independently from what I have called the ontological stance of givers and receivers. In other words, it is how people are with others – not just what they produce for others – that defines and shapes reciprocal relations. For example, if a person defines herself, or is defined by others, as having little or nothing to contribute in mutual exchanges, as is often the case with disabled people, then possibilities of both acknowledging and developing reciprocal relations are diminished, whereas if non-disabled people are open to receiving a wider variety of benefits from what disabled people have to offer, reciprocal exchange is more likely. This is so even if the giver, a disabled person, has the same to offer in both contexts. How, though, does this understanding of reciprocity relate to the arguments presented so far?

First, it can be seen how establishing reciprocal relations in large part relies on fostering an attitude of mutual self-worth derived from a positive assessment of what the first person can offer to the other, and what the other can contribute for the benefit of the first person. Consequently, there is a recognised equal status between persons based on these assumptions of mutuality and exchange. Second, this recognition of equal status allows for differences between individuals to be celebrated, anticipating the possibilities of increased reciprocity, even if existing social relations might unjustly reinforce the correlation between particular differences and social disadvantage. This is based on the assumption that the presence of difference provides for a wider variety of exchanges to take place, across economic, political and cultural domains, as well as through emotional exchanges in more intimate or personal relationships (again, see Chapter Two for further exploration of these and related issues). Third, the adjacent claim is that this multilayered understanding of reciprocity provides normative justification for the injunction that we should celebrate differences, and political and sociological space for disempowered groups to assert their identity on an equal basis to others, against more dominant and oppressive constructions of identity. More specifically, in relation to the DRM, it allows a full-blooded assertion of disabled people’s rights to equality and inclusion, reflecting the universalism and moral objectivism of Kantian ethics, at the same time promoting a robust affirmation of individual particularised identity for disabled people, reflecting the subjectivism of Nietzsche.

With these latter points in mind in particular, I turn to the final chapter, where I argue that establishing these kinds of reciprocal relations accommodates a (p.150) philosophically coherent and politically plausible response to the conflicts between the values of equality and diversity when promoting radical causes. This fully recognises that there is no rational or complete ‘answer’ to the various paradoxes of human experience and agency, the unpredictable and nuanced ways in which individuals become attached to valued objects, and the subsequent development and shaping of their identities. I conclude, following the Nietzschean and postmodern themes, and the continental tradition more generally, that we must accept that there are unfathomable aspects of human experience that cannot be explained via reason or moral theory. But I also contend, following the Kantian and universalist themes, and the Anglo-American analytical tradition more generally, that this acceptance permits a universal acknowledgement and celebration of incommensurable forms of life – anticipating that human beings are often enriched by their surprising encounters with others who are radically different.



(1) See also my other arguments in Chapter Five and how, for example, self-reported liberation from dominant norms is not peculiar to disabled people, but is found in other oppressed and marginalised groups too.

(2) See also my critique of liberal egalitarian teleology in Chapter Four promoting well-being as an end, and Nietzsche’s critique of well-being promoted as an ultimate human goal in, for example, Nietzsche (1975a, pp 135–135) and Chapters Four and Five here.

(3) An example of this principle being reflected in policy and practice is found in direct payments, where money is given to disabled people to buy in their own care, as distinct from the provision of services organised by a ‘care manager’, usually a social worker; see also Giddens (1998) and Gray (2001) for other explorations of active agent-based conceptions of citizenship and the implications for policy and practice.

(4) It is pertinent to note that there is considerable debate within the DRM as to whether a disabled person should be referred to as a ‘disabled person’ or a ‘person with a disability’. Mostly, the preference in the UK is for the term ‘disabled person’, on the grounds that it unashamedly recognises that a person has an identity associated with disablement – personhood, in other words, cannot be abstracted from the specific particularised experience of disability. By contrast, welfare professionals such as social workers, and some in the DRM (most notably from the US), often use the term ‘person with a disability’ – based on a more generalised and universal assumption that a person with a disability, like all persons with or without disabilities, is a person first who has an impairment second. As can be seen from the arguments presented here, the latter use broadly reflects universal Kantian ethics, which emphasises the universal abstract character of personhood, while the former reflects Nietzschean particularism, which emphasises the highly subjective and non-universal character of individual human experience. My main claim is that recognising these two uses as conflicting goes a long way to explaining these and similar conflicts (p.151) within the DRM, and also the conflicts between the DRM and the aspirations of welfare practitioners (see also Chapter One for further development of these and related themes).

(5) From this Nietzschean perspective, I argued in Chapter Two that particular valued attachments are made via a background of random and accidental events – that is, events without intrinsic meaning and purpose – and that these attachments in turn largely create meaning, mattering deeply to specific persons. I also argued that because these attachments matter to all persons, this leads paradoxically to universal reasons for valuing these attachments.

(6) It is the case that much of the postmodern anti-universalist critique of liberalism, and western philosophy and morality more generally, is anti-essentialist for similar reasons. It is also a critique found in the work, among many others, of Butler (1990), Saraga (1998) and Foucault (2001), and explored further in Chapter One.

(7) From the previous exploration, it can be seen that, by implication, Kant too is an anti-essentialist, in that he resists the reductionism of the medical model, which defines disabled people as essentially deficient. Kant and Kantians focus instead on the abstracted person as chooser, that is, separate from her phenomenal attributes of impairment (also see note 4). Kant’s anti-essentialism, however, does not extend to the anti-universalism and particularism of Nietzsche, given Kant’s argument for universal moral principles founded on recognising persons as choosers (again, see Chapter One for further exploration of these and related issues).

(8) See also Nietzsche’s similar critique of charity (Nietzsche, 1975a, pp 98–98) and Chapter Four here.

(9) Again, see Saraga (1998), and other postmodern and post-structuralist critiques, for an exploration of how these types of oppressive dualities are experienced by minority groups generally.

(10) The highly moot question remains as to whether this strategy for interpreting Nietzsche makes his philosophy less profound (Devigne, 1999).

(11) See also Thompson (2008) for an interesting defence of what he calls existentialist ethics being applied to professional social work practice, which includes an examination of Nietzsche.