Philosophy ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 6-20-2022


In this dissertation, I defend the view that, contrary to popular opinion, vulnerability is not merely susceptibility to harm but also openness to unanticipated change and transformation. Drawing on the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Erinn Gilson, Gilles Deleuze, and Benedict Spinoza, I also aim to show that vulnerability is not a static property of some individuals but rather a relational process that is both universal and differently distributed. My original contribution to vulnerability studies is to trace the mechanism of disavowal across 20th and 21st century figures in philosophy: from Heidegger’s account of disavowing our existential finitude, to Beauvoir’s account of disavowing our fundamental ambiguity, to Butler’s and Gilson’s more politicized accounts of disavowing our vulnerability. Toward the end of the dissertation, I propose that by combining a Spinozist-Deleuzean account of the affects with perspectives from disability studies that challenge common stereotypes and assumption about what it is like to be disabled, we can better understand vulnerability in general and our societal reasons for disavowing it. This, in turn, will enable us to respond more ethically to our and others’ shared vulnerability.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Ann V. Murphy

Second Committee Member

Iain Thomson

Third Committee Member

Paul Livingston

Fourth Committee Member

Rajeshwari Vallury

Project Sponsors

Bilinski Foundation Fellowship




vulnerability, invulnerability, disavowal, feminist ethics, disability

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Philosophy Commons