Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 1125–1145 | Cite as

The Distinction Between Curative and Assistive Technology

  • Joseph A. StramondoEmail author
Original Paper


Disability activists have sometimes claimed their disability has actually increased their well-being. Some even say they would reject a cure to keep these gains. Yet, these same activists often simultaneously propose improvements to the quality and accessibility of assistive technology. However, for any argument favoring assistive over curative technology (or vice versa) to work, there must be a coherent distinction between the two. This line is already vague and will become even less clear with the emergence of novel technologies. This paper asks and tries to answer the question: what is it about the paradigmatic examples of curative and assistive technologies that make them paradigmatic and how can these defining features help us clarify the hard cases? This analysis will begin with an argument that, while the common views of this distinction adequately explain the paradigmatic cases, they fail to accurately pick out the relevant features of those technologies that make them paradigmatic and to provide adequate guidance for parsing the hard cases. Instead, it will be claimed that these categories of curative or assistive technologies are defined by the role the technologies play in establishing a person’s relational narrative identity as a member of one of two social groups: disabled people or non-disabled people.


Assistive technology Bioethics Neuroethics Philosophy of medicine Brain–computer interface Relational narrative identity Disability 



Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. #EEC-1028725). The author would also like to thank his research assistant, Albert Dumaran, as well those who provided feedback on earlier drafts, including: Hilde Lindemann, David Wasserman, Sean Aas, Stephen M. Campbell, members of the “Ethics Thrust” of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (especially Sara Goering and Eran Klein), members of the University of California San Diego Transdisciplinary Disability Studies Reading Group (especially Cassandra Hartblay, Brian Goldfarb, and Jason Dorwart), and participants in the “Spectrums of (Dis)ability” seminar at the 2017 American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

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