Inaugural Lebowitz Prize: Expanding Justice, Including Disability

Anita Silvers of San Francisco State University and Eva Feder Kittay of Stony Brook University are the first scholars to receive the Martin R. Lebowitz and Eve Lewellis Lebowitz Prizes for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution.  

The prizes are awarded by Phi Beta Kappa in conjunction with the American Philosophical Association. Each winner receives an honorarium of $10,000.


Silvers and Kittay will present their award-winning work during the symposium “Expanding Justice, Including Disability” at the Eastern Division American Philosophical Association this December.


Kittay described their work together as a new area for an ancient field of inquiry, one in which the able body and capable mind have been taken as a givens. 

“Disability touches on all the big problems that philosophy sets as its domain: the meaning of life, the relationship of the body and mind, the idea of a good life, the relationship between reason and emotion, the problem of justice and so many more,” she explained.  

For their APA symposium, Kittay and Silvers will focus on the question of justice and of how ideas of justice must be expanded or altered to allow people with disabilities to be included as participants in society and recipients of the good that a just social order enables.  

“Our differing positions come out of our different relationships to disability, but we have both learned from each other and have modified or clarified our positions through our continuing dialogue,” Silvers said. “These lectures should be another step in our efforts to find the best way to expand justice and include disabled people within its scope.” 

Eva Kittay and Anita Silvers both earned bachelor’s degrees from Sarah Lawrence College in the 1960s, before a Phi Beta Kappa chapter had been established there. Kittay began college a year or two after Silvers graduated, so they did not know each other until they met later, as philosophy professors, and discovered they had a common interest in disability studies.

“We first engaged in interactive discussion during an NEH Summer Seminar about a decade ago,” Silvers recalls. “Each of us is now working on a book that reflects a decade of development of our philosophical views.” 

Both philosophers write about theory of justice and disability informed by their life experiences. Silvers was severely disabled by polio as a child, in the last epidemic before the Salk vaccine. At Sarah Lawrence, and later, she participated in various civil rights activities for racial justice, not even daring to imagine that people with disabilities also could gain recognition of their civil rights. Kittay is the mother of a severely cognitively disabled daughter and so approaches the topic from a different standpoint.

“I want to thank the APA, Phi Beta Kappa, and the Lebowitz family for this wonderful honor,” said Kittay. “I am so pleased and grateful that Anita’s and my work on philosophy and disability are being recognized.”  

“The Lebowitz Prize offers an enormously valuable opportunity for discussion and development of philosophical perspectives on issues important to personal and civic life,” Silvers commented. “I was happily surprised, and feel immensely fortunate, to be a pioneer winner of this prize.” 

Kittay is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at SUNY-Stonybrook. Silvers is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at San Francisco State University and is the 2009 winner of the APA’s Quinn Prize for contributions to philosophy and philosophers. 

The Lebowitz Prizes are made possible by a generous bequest from Eve Lewellis Lebowitz, honoring her late husband, Martin R. Lebowitz. Eligibility for the prize is limited to members of the American Philosophical Association who are recommended by a fellow APA member. 


“Expanding Justice, Including Disability”

By Anita Silvers and Eva Feder Kittay

Counter-point lectures to be delivered at the December 2013 APA meeting. 

Eva Kittay and Anita Silvers are among the contemporary philosophers who first subjected the question of disability to philosophical treatment. After publishing books that presented divergent critiques of how the prevailing philosophical approach to justice failed individuals with disabilities, in 2002 they co-directed an NEH Summer Seminar on Disability and Justice. Here they promoted sharply different proposals about how theory of justice should be revised. In the course of leading the seminar discussions, their different viewpoints were joined, clashed, and each consequently was deepened and refined. 

Over the years that followed, they developed their respective approaches to justice theory in a continuing dialogue that is increasingly cited in the philosophy, political science, and bioethics literature. A growing group of young scholars is following their lead, addressing aspects of the topic and related theoretical matters in doctoral dissertations, articles, and books. And established scholars are turning to explore this subject or at least acknowledging it in their own work.    

While Kittay and Silvers agree that some conceptualizations that have been central to traditional theory of justice must change, and they overlap to some extent about which ideas these are, their reasons, and consequently their conclusions, tend to be at odds. Their Lebowitz lectures will build on their contrasted accounts and valorizations of dependence and independence. Their areas of disagreement have implications for both public policy and the types and targets of activism appropriate to improve it. They diverge importantly, for example, on what the State and society at large owe individuals with disabilities.

Kittay argues that positing the citizen as independent leaves no place for those who cannot participate or function independently, such as the severely cognitively disabled individual. She contends that care of dependents is at the origin of social organization and thus there is a fundamental social obligation to those who are most dependent. Every individual has been fully dependent in early life and few escape such full dependency at some point beyond childhood. We continue to depend on others both for necessities and for those things that enrich our lives. Given these indisputable features of human existence and social life, Kittay argues that independence is a fiction that can only distort our thinking about justice. Dependency and our need for care must play a central role in a fully adequate theory of justice. In response to concerns about a society that gives such prominence to care, Kittay articulates an ethics of care that rules out unwarranted paternalism, maintaining that if attitude or actions are paternalistic, they may be assistance of some sort, but do not meet the standard set by a normative concept of care.

Writing sometimes as a single author, sometimes with philosopher of law and bioethicist Leslie Francis, and sometimes with Michael Stein, director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability, Silvers has been developing what some political theorists are calling a new, more inclusive understanding of citizenship, with a cooperative scheme “reconceived to enable individuals with a broader range of capabilities to act as, and be treated as, full citizens.” Her proposed lecture argues for the importance of independence and assesses the role of dependence in citizenship. An innovatively expansive analysis of agency, as well as improved accounts of moral and legal standing, will be included as building blocks for her view.  

These different responses to the challenges disability, dependency and care pose to traditional conceptions of justice, agency and citizenship need to be addressed if we are to develop a fully adequate and inclusive conception of justice.