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VulnerabilityNew Essays in Ethics and Feminist Philosophy$
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Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, and Susan Dodds

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199316649

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199316649.001.0001

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The Importance of Relational Autonomy and Capabilities for an Ethics of Vulnerability

The Importance of Relational Autonomy and Capabilities for an Ethics of Vulnerability

Chapter:
(p.33) 1 The Importance of Relational Autonomy and Capabilities for an Ethics of Vulnerability
Source:
Vulnerability
Author(s):

Catriona Mackenzie

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199316649.003.0002

Recent theoretical work on vulnerability seeks to dissociate the concept from negative connotations of victimhood, helplessness, neediness and pathology, re-conceptualizing vulnerability as an ontological condition of our embodied humanity. Yet in much of this work vulnerability is understood in opposition to autonomy. This essay argues that it is a mistake to conceive of vulnerability and autonomy as oppositional, and that such an approach invites objectionably paternalistic and coercive forms of intervention to protect those identified as vulnerable. It proposes that relational conceptions of autonomy can reconcile the apparent tension between autonomy and vulnerability. Finally, it argues that the obligation to foster autonomy is a matter of social justice and that capabilities theory provides the most promising theoretical framework for articulating this claim and for promoting democratic equality.

Keywords:   vulnerability, autonomy, relational autonomy, paternalism, capabilities, social justice

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