Thinking Vulnerability and Resistance Together.

A Comparison of Judith Butler’s and Emmanuel Levinas's Philosophies


  • Emanuele Urso Indipendent Researcher



This paper attempts to reconstruct the understanding of mourning and the related politicization of vulnerability proposed by Butler in comparative terms with Emmanuel Levinas’ interpretation. As this paper will show, the concept of vulnerability enables Butler to highlight the different modes of production and naturalization of economic and social differences. At the same time, however, the concept of vulnerability appears to be an ontological foundation of a philosophy of nonviolence. Vulnerability, in fact, constitutes an experience common to all human beings, which is contrasted by Butler with the liberal ontology of the human as self-sufficient and invulnerable. The philosopher offers an opportunity to reflect in a new way on the dimension of human existence through the U.S. war on terror. In what emerges as a new phase of reflection for Butler, a particular reading of the ethical intrigue described by Levinas takes place. As argued here, by reconceptualizing Levinas' ethical reflection in a critique of the political distribution of existential vulnerability, Butler criticizes the production and representation of bodies in the rhetoric of 9/11. Nonetheless, it will also be pointed out that because Levinas' reflection is built on ethics, the dimension of associated life plays a secondary role in the philosopher's thought. In conclusion, the comparison between the two authors will be used as a privileged gateway to the philosophy of nonviolence developed by Butler, which deals with the interconnection between the dimensions of psychic aggression and social violence.

Keywords: vulnerability, nonviolence, Butler, Levinas.