The Ethics of Vulnerability
A Feminist Analysis of Social Life and Practice
By Erinn Gilson
Routledge – 2014 – 192 pages
As concerns about violence, war, terrorism, sexuality, and embodiment have garnered attention in philosophy, the concept of vulnerability has become a shared reference point in these discussions. As a fundamental part of the human condition, vulnerability has significant ethical import: how one responds to vulnerability matters, whom one conceives as vulnerable and which criteria are used to make such demarcations matters, how one deals with one’s own vulnerability matters, and how one understands the meaning of vulnerability matters. Yet, the meaning of vulnerability is commonly taken for granted and it is assumed that vulnerability is almost exclusively negative, equated with weakness, dependency, powerlessness, deficiency, and passivity. This reductively negative view leads to problematic implications, imperiling ethical responsiveness to vulnerability, and so prevents the concept from possessing the normative value many theorists wish it to have. When vulnerability is regarded as weakness and, concomitantly, invulnerability is prized, attentiveness to one’s own vulnerability and ethical response to vulnerable others remain out of reach goals. Thus, this book critiques the ideal of invulnerability, analyzes the problems that arise from a negative view of vulnerability, and articulates in its stead a non-dualistic concept of vulnerability that can remedy these problems.
"In this finely crafted analysis of vulnerability, Gilson integrates insights from philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze with the feminist analyses of Margaret Walker, Judith Butler, and Hélène Cixous to present a radical reinterpretation of the concept. Gilson's analysis displaces the many constricting dichotomies associated with the concept of vulnerability, such as weakness/strength, passivity/activity, dependence/independence, and femininity/masculinity. This revised account opens up possibilities of ethical response and social critique hitherto obscured. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals/practitioners."--S. A. Mason, CHOICE
Introduction Part 1: The Normative Significance of Vulnerability 1. Responsibility for the Vulnerable 2. Thinking Vulnerability with Judith Butler Part 2: Avoidance and Disavowal 3. The Ideal of an Invulnerability 4. Risk and Control: The Formation of Entrepreneurial Subjectivity Part 3: Rethinking Vulnerability 5. Vulnerability Beyond Opposition 6. Vulnerability in Social Life: Sexuality and Pornography Conclusion
Erinn C. Gilson is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Florida, USA. Her research focuses on ethics and social thought from a feminist perspective and informed by contemporary European philosophy. She is currently exploring issues surrounding food ethics and the question of the significance of ethical failure.