Butler on Precarity, Opacity and Responsibility
The concept of vulnerability has been an important point of reference for recent feminist interventions in ethics and political philosophy. Judith Butler presents a case for the ethical and political importance of recognizing the vulnerability that necessarily attends subjectivity insofar as the subject is given over to others from the start. This chapter traces the development of Butler’s approach to ethics, arguing throughout that it cannot strictly be understood as an ethics of relationality, since responsibility is for her primarily responsibility for oneself. This opens a problem in terms of the normative status of the other, or in other words, of the ‘ought’ of ethics. This problem is resolved in a turn to the thematic of substitutability. But this ultimately ties her efforts more strongly to traditional ethical thinking than she may really wish. While challenging ‘sovereign’ conceptions of subjectivity, her ethics nevertheless founders on the twin of this view – community conceived as commonality.
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