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Crippled Grace
Disability, Virtue Ethics, and the Good Life

By Shane Clifton

Crippled Grace
Hardback, 285 pages $49.95
Published: 1st March 2018
ISBN: 9781481307468
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All Ethics , All Theology, Social & Economic Ethics, Social Problems

Crippled Grace combines disability studies, Christian theology, philosophy, and psychology to explore what constitutes happiness and how it is achieved. The virtue tradition construes happiness as whole-of-life flourishing earned by practiced habits of virtue. Drawing upon this particular understanding of happiness, Clifton contends that the experience of disability offers significant insight into the practice of virtue, and thereby the good life.  

With its origins in the author’s experience of adjusting to the challenges of quadriplegia, Crippled Grace considers the diverse experiences of people with a disability as a lens through which to understand happiness and its attainment. Drawing upon the virtue tradition as much as contesting it, Clifton explores the virtues that help to negotiate dependency, resist paternalism, and maximize personal agency. Through his engagement with sources from Aristotle to modern positive psychology, Clifton is able to probe fundamental questions of pain and suffering, reflect on the value of friendship, seek creative ways of conceiving of sexual flourishing, and outline the particular virtues needed to live with unique bodies and brains in a society poorly fitted to their diverse functioning.   

Crippled Grace is about and for people with disabilities. Yet, Clifton also understands disability as symbolic of the human condition—human fragility, vulnerability, and embodied limits. First unmasking disability as a bodily and sociocultural construct, Clifton moves on to construct a deeper and more expansive account of flourishing that learns from those with disability, rather than excluding them. In so doing, Clifton shows that the experience of disability has something profound to say about all bodies, about the fragility and happiness of all humans, and about the deeper truths offered us by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Introduction: A Disabled Account of Flourishing
1. The Experience of Disability: The Journey We Would Not Have Chosen
2. Disability, Theodicy, and the Problem of Pain: Why Me, God?
3. Disability, Virtue, and the Meaning of Happiness: A Disabled Reading of the Virtue Tradition
4. Disability, Advocacy, and the Good Life: Mark Tonga’s Story
5. Disability, Psychology, and the Science of Happiness: Measuring Happiness in Hedonic Science
6. Profound Disability, Independence, and Friendship: Practical Reasoning and Moral Agency
7. Disability, Sexuality, and Intimacy: Happiness under the Covers
8. Disability, Limitation, and the Positivity Myth: Sara Chesterman’s Story
9. Disability, Grace, and the Virtue of Letting Go of Control: Wild and Unruly Currents
Conclusion: A Disabled Account of Faith

"In Crippled Grace: Disability, Virtue Ethics, and the Good Life, Shane Clifton invites readers to ponder what it means to flourish with disability. Using virtue ethics and positivist psychology as explanatory tools, he argues for the transformative power of disability to create flourishing lives, well-lived in love, inter-connectedness, and community. Through his own story and those of others, he brings insider narratives and scholarly argument to demolishing stereotypes of disability as great burden or super-worldly heroics. This book brings a deeper understanding of what it means to live the good life; it deserves to become required reading for all health and social care professionals."

—Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Director, Centre for Disability Research, The University of Sydney

"Crippled Grace accomplishes something many people assume could never be done: it offers a theological account of virtue theory adequate for those with disabilities. By weaving together narratives from a range of Christians who are also disabled, Clifton develops a rounded and theological account of human flourishing that also includes the life-experiences of people with disabilities. It is a substantial contribution to the theological literature on disability, and is especially important for its detailed engagement with the philosophical, ethical, and practical implications of paralysis."

—Brian Brock, Reader in Moral and Practical Theology, University of Aberdeen

“This book deserves to be read by anyone interested in the fragility of the human condition and the hope God’s grace gives.”


"The disability movement has properly chided social structures as well as individuals regarding a common myopia: we see partially. This book furthers that cause by probing the interstices of suffering, pain, rage, and disabled sexuality, carrying us into grace, forgiveness, and the happiness that accompanies virtue. Every page bears moving accounts of and trenchant insights into human life stripped bare of pretentious prettiness to give us not only hope and courage but the wisdom for rich, full living and for the flourishing of the communities to which we all contribute. It is an honor to be in the author’s company. Crippled Grace is simply masterful must-reading for those who suffer or care for those who do."

—Ellen T. Charry, Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

Shane Clifton is Professor of Theology at Alphacrucis College in Australia.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 285 pages
 9in x 6in

  PHI005000, REL067070, SOC029000
 Baylor University Press

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