Undoing ethics: Butler on vulnerability and responsibility
A/Prof Catherine Mills (Monash University)

July 28, 2015, 4:00pm - 5:30pm
European Philosophy and the History of Ideas Research Group (EPHI), Deakin University

Burwood Corporate Centre (level 2 - Building BC)
221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood 3125


  • School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Deakin University


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. In this paper, I trace 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. As I will show, 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. Thus, while challenging ‘sovereign’ conceptions of subjectivity, her ethics nevertheless founders on the twin of this view – community conceived as commonality.

Catherine Mills is Associate Professor of Bioethics and the recipient of an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT120100026) in the Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University. Her current research explores issues at the intersection of reproductive ethics, feminist philosophy and Continental philosophy. She is the author of Futures of Reproduction: Bioethics and Biopolitics, and The Philosophy of Agamben.

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