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Oct 17
A Dance, Reunited Atlanta Contemporary
Oct 17
Joy Sorman & Catherine Lacey in Conversation ONLINE EVENT Albertine Bookstore/French Embassy
Oct 17
Joy Sorman & Catherine Lacey in Conversation ONLINE EVENT Albertine Bookstore/French Embassy

Corine Pelluchon / Walls & Bridges

Corine Pelluchon is an associate professor at the CERSES, a research center on meaning, ethics, and society affiliated with the CNRS (French National Research Center) and the University of Paris Descartes. A specialist in the works of Léo Strauss and in moral and political philosophy, she has devoted much of her research and teaching to issues of applied ethics such as medical and biomedical ethics, animal ethics, and environmental ethics. >>more info

>>Book and event with the author

Eléments pour une éthique de la vulnérabilité. Les hommes, les animaux, la nature [Elements for an Ethics of Vulnerability. Humans, Animals, and Nature]
(Le Cerf, 2011)

If we want ecology to be more than simple statements of intent, we must change our lifestyle. The problem is to determine which ethic and which changes in democracy will make it possible to take ecology into account in our lives. Linking fields of applied ethics that are usually studied separately—culture and agriculture, our relationship to animals, the organization of labor and the integration of disabled persons—this investigation develops a rigorous concept of responsibility apt to promote another way of thinking about the topic and another kind of political organization. Far from basing politics on ecology, the author shows that ecology cannot be taken seriously without revising humanism. The subject of the ethics of vulnerability is thus concerned about what the law should be and, in her desire to live, integrates a concern for preserving the Earth and not imposing a diminished life on other humans or species.


Proposed lectures (in French or English)

•Men, Animals, nature: what subject, what democracy? (45min)
Some changes in our ways of living are necessary if we want to make ecology enter our life. What ethics and what political changes could it make it possible? Referring to a chapter of the ethics of vulnerability we have developed in some of our books and which implies the taking into account of our corporality, the inquiry into the ecological crisis pertains to ontology. Our way of inhabiting the earth and of using other livings is the point of departure of our relationship to others and to ourselves.  Not only does ecology lead to a renewal of ethics and politics, but it also provides the opportunity to replace the philosophy of the subject we still find at the foundations of contractualism with another philosophy, which overcomes the dualism between nature and culture we find in existentialism and in environmental ethics. Providing a new understanding of our being-in-the world and of our relation with others, including other species, such philosophy could be the promise of a new social contract.

•The Case for an Ethics of Vulnerability
I shall present the specificity of the ethics of vulnerability I have developed in my books and which is different from the ethics of care, although it shares with the latter an understanding of human frailty and a relational conception of human identity. Born in the context of an inquiry into the conditions of respect for patients at the end of life or suffering from cognitive impairments or physical disabilities, this ethics of vulnerability is not only focused on the passivity of the body, but it also highlights our ability to be for the other. Responsibility, which is the main concept of the ethics of vulnerability and whose rationality has to be taken into account, is another way of understanding subjectivity. This leads to a reflection on the moral dispositions that help health care professionals respect the autonomy of the person, which is not to be simply equated with competence, and makes sense even in the case of Alzheimer patients. A path that travels from ethics to justice makes it necessary to insist on an approach that takes into account the capabilities of the person and bases therapy, not only on the person's frailty, but also on her strength and promotes her ability to take part in our world. However, the goal of the ethics of vulnerability, which is a philosophy of subject, overcomes the medical field. The emphasis on the corporality of the subject and the primacy of claimed responsibility over claimed liberty imply that animals count. They are the objects of our responsibility and the way we exploit them reveals the violence of a social and economical organization based upon an interpretation of human rights that is called into question. The specificity of the ethics of vulnerability, if we compare it to the ethics of care or to animal and environmental ethics, is that the focus is more on the subject of the responsibility than on the object of responsibility, that is on the other, including animals and nature. The point is to change the conception of man and of ethics and politics which still founds contractualism. I will speak of the genesis of this philosophy of the subject which is linked to the reconfiguration of three main notions (autonomy, vulnerability, responsibility) and whose goal is to provide another understanding of ourselves and of our relationship with others. We will see that the medical and biomedical fields are a laboratory and that the ecological crisis is the point of departure of a critical inquiry into ethics and politics. It will be also the opportunity to understand the strategic dimension of the animal question, which plays an important role in the elaboration of the ethics of vulnerability in which political philosophy and ontology are always articulated.

•Animals: an issue of justice (30 or 45 min)
Animal ethics analyzes the moral status of animals and some ethicists think that animals have rights. This moral and legal status of animals is the point of departure of an inquiry into the moral or immoral aspects of our way of using these living and sentient beings. I would like to present a different approach whose focus is less on the status of animals than on us. To be sure, animals are beings and subjects that seek to flourish according to their specific or ethological norms. These norms put a limit to the right we have to use them. Such a claim, which has nothing to do with the extension of human rights to animals, has far-reaching consequences when we speak of intensive farms. However, the point is less to determine what rights animals could have than to call into question the foundations of human rights. The animal question, far from being reduced to the problem of the nature of animals, is an opportunity to critically examine the most important ethical and legal categories. Moreover, the animal question is a test for our justice. The violence that characterizes our exploitation of animals for food and fashion for instance is the proof that our justice is an injustice and animals are not the only victims of such an organization of production and work. It is not only a moral issue, linked to cruelty, but it is a matter of justice. Why does it make sense to speak of justice in our relationships with animals? Does the inquiry into animal condition highlight the failures of our political organization and could it be the first step toward a new understanding of ourselves and of politics, toward a reconstruction of democracy, as Derrida puts it?

•Ecology and politics (30 minutes or 45 min)
The point is to analyze the political changes that are necessary if we want to take into account the ecological crisis, which is not only due to the erosion of biodiversity nor to the degradation of resources, but which concerns also our way of understanding ourselves, our subjectivity, and our social and economical organization. This implies a critique of capitalism understood as a way of existence, if not as a system of domination linked to a specific anthropology. However, our approach is more an internal than an external critique of political and economical liberalism. Our goal is to point out the institutional changes that are necessary to supplement representative democracy so that it can take into account the ecological issues, that is to say the interests of future generations and of other species as well. Do we have to extend the representative system and how is it possible? What are the new duties of the State in such a context? The conditions of deliberation and of a better participation of citizens are at the core of such inquiry, but the latter also shows that some changes in the political culture are necessary if we want to discuss ecological issues. These issues are different from those which pertain to distributive justice. They cannot be solved in the frame of procedural justice since they require the discussion of the ontological positions underlying one’s political opinion. How is it possible to change politics so that we can give a (more ) democratic answer to the ecological crisis?

•Ecology: a philosophical issue (45 min, 1 hr)
Or Ecology and Ontology. The Case for a Philosophy of Existence. (30 min)
Ecology is the study of the interactions of living beings with their environment. What is the specific contribution of philosophy in such a field, which refers to sciences and also to politics, if not militancy?  In order to answer this question, we have first to understand that ecology is a philosophical issue. Ecology actually leads to overcome the dualism between nature and culture we find in existentialism but also in environmental ethics. The point is to provide a philosophy of existence where freedom is not understood as opposed to nature and where new structures of existence highlight the link between ecology and existence. The inquiry into the materiality of our existence, which focuses on “the things we live in and from,” is part of a philosophy of corporality that renews our understanding of our being-in-the-world. Our way of exploiting other beings, of inhabiting the earth and using resources (which are better called “nurtures” as in Levinas), is the point of departure of our relationship with ourselves and with  others.  Such an approach, which pertains to ontology, implies a statement on the moral categories that shows the necessary changes ecology provides in our way of thinking about ethics. It also requires a reflection on the political institutions that could make ecology enter politics and leads us to a new social contract.


Please download and fill out the Walls & bridges Application Form and send to Anne-Sophie Hermil and Mathilde Billaud

Dates already booked
-Wednesday, October 9th: Walls & Bridges, New York
-Wednesday, October 9th: Columbia University
-Friday, October 11th: Lycée Français, New York