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Philosophy Today

Volume 64, Issue 3, Summer 2020

Special Topic: Vulnerability

Martin Huth
Pages 557-576

The Dialectics of Vulnerability
Can We Produce or Exacerbate Vulnerability by Emphasizing It As a Normative Category?

Vulnerability is often conceived of as a valuable category countering the ratiocentric and ableist bias in traditional ethical and political theories. Frequently, social formations are ascribed primary responsibility to respond to vulnerability since relevant theories go against normative individualism. However, generalizing norms and hegemonic structures tend to determine the notion, and thus the administration, of vulnerability. The paper argues that the tacit hypostatization and conceptual fixation of vulnerability can generate dialectical shifts that increase vulnerability precisely by emphasizing it. This is illustrated with examples such as exclusive recognition, stereotyping, social control, a disempowering ethics, and the problematic opposition of vulnerability and resilience. While an awareness for the inherent vulnerability of embodied beings is a crucial prerequisite for preventing us from establishing discriminating (though well-intentioned) notions of “special“ vulnerability, the inner dialectic of the concept cannot be remedied by a simple recipe such as the assertion that we are all vulnerable.

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