Corporeal Interdependence: From Vulnerability to Dwelling in Ethical Community


In Violence and the Philosophical Imaginary, Ann Murphy is critical of a trend in recent feminist and political theory, including that of Judith Butler, of positing an ontology of shared vulnerability as the normative basis for an ethics of non-violence. While supportive of an ideal of non-violence, Murphy argues that there is no way that the appeal to vulnerability can “yield a prescriptive ethics” of non-violence, given that awareness of vulnerability in oneself or others can just as easily provoke violence (75). There is also a concern that emphasizing vulnerability and its link to non-violence actually involves a drift toward protectionism that itself is a form of violence. While it may be illegitimate to derive an ethics of non-violence from recognition of shared vulnerability and interdependence, Murphy rightly supports the kind of ontology that this emphasis on vulnerability comes from: an ontology of human existence emerging from existential phenomenology that gives primacy to the body and to interrelatedness. Here I would like to follow up Murphy’s concern by revisiting that ontology, to examine more fully what kind of ethics it implies.

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