ABSTRACT

At the close of the last chapter, I suggested that Butler’s account of an ethics of vulnerability is an important corrective to some of the oversights in MacIntyre and Goodin’s accounts but also requires supplementing of its own. Butler’s critique of the postures of sovereignty and persecution reveals the ethical failure inherent in these ways of responding to vulnerability: they not only perpetuate violence but also partake in an ontologically erroneous division of vulnerability that produces an abdication of responsibility. It does not, however, interrogate the conditions that give rise to these kinds of responses. If an ethics of vulnerability is to be viable, then a consideration of the concrete social conditions that both make possible and preclude ethical response is necessary. An ethics of vulnerability is an immanent ethics, one that cannot bind transcendentally and necessarily, but rather compels only from within our own experience and grounded on a specific set of recognitions: that we all share in a common vulnerability; that particular forms of vulnerability, or precariousness, are often differentially distributed; that we possess a capacity for aggression that can lead us to abuse others in their vulnerability and the expression of which we must mitigate in order to conduct ourselves ethically; and that the vulnerability that we share binds us to one another in a way that we cannot undo or ignore. In seeking to enact an ethics of vulnerability, we must begin to understand where we go awry with respect to these recognitions. That is, the task is one of continuing to integrate ethics into social life, as feminist ethicists have frequently sought to do, exploring what in our social life makes ethics possible and what prevents us from engaging our and others’ vulnerability ethically. The primary aim of this chapter, thus, is both to understand why culturally dominant reactions to experiences of vulnerability tend to be those of avoidance and disavowal not avowal and attentive response, and to understand the forms taken by those reactions.