What is vulnerability, and why does it matter morally? In contemporary political and social thought, a number of concepts are called upon to help us identify and understand situations that generate moral and political responsibilities: deprivation, disadvantage, oppression, exploitation, and so forth. In this talk, I will argue that an independently salient notion of vulnerability is often latent in these discussions. From this basis, I will offer a constructive account of vulnerability as it occurs in social relations. I will distinguish between dependence vulnerabilities, which derive from particular relations of dependence between agents, and status vulnerabilities, which derive from structural social conditions. In examining the normative contours of both categories, I will suggest that vulnerability matters morally and politically not only by virtue of the idea’s relationship to harm, but also because of the power-ridden ways in which agents relate to each other within relations of vulnerability. I aim to demonstrate vulnerability’s distinct conceptual merits and thereby make the case for its place among ideas that illuminate injustice.
Ockham Society Convenor: Sean Costello | Ockham Society Webpage