The art of imagining: Martha Nussbaum between vulnerability and autonomy

PhD Thesis

Drapalo, Kamila. (2021). The art of imagining: Martha Nussbaum between vulnerability and autonomy [PhD Thesis]. Australian Catholic University Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry
AuthorsDrapalo, Kamila
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

Vulnerability is one of the key notions in contemporary sciences and humanities, as well as in the self-understanding of a human being. It encompasses our ontological fragility and the existential mutability and unpredictability of the world, our relationships, and ourselves. The multidimensionality of the notion is a subject of intense academic research. In this thesis, I discuss whether vulnerability should assume more importance in philosophical anthropology than autonomy, or whether they are equally important. The writings of Martha Nussbaum offer a particularly rich perspective from which to reflect upon this problem. In my thesis I set the following aims: 1) to systematise and critically evaluate the notion of vulnerability in the works of Nussbaum; 2) to examine its relation to the notion of autonomy; 3) to identify and evaluate the advantages and challenges that stem from thinking of the two together. In Nussbaum’s early writings, ontological vulnerability is a starting point for her anthropological reflections. The analysis of her later writings unveils that a profound understanding of vulnerability requires that we distinguish between various forms of vulnerability, and consider it in tandem with – and not in opposition to – the notion of autonomy. Drawing closer attention to Nussbaum’s understanding of imagination, enriched by a reflection on the relationship of imagination to autonomy, appears fruitful in addressing the challenges that stem from the intertwining of autonomy and vulnerability. Apart from imagination’s role in intersubjective understanding, it is central for an understanding of oneself as a subject who, despite his/her limitations, has agency. Imagination conditions the capacity to strive for freedom within the context of our fundamental vulnerability, to reach beyond our immediate conditioning but within the context of such conditioning. Imagination thus becomes extremely important for an ethics between vulnerability and autonomy.

KeywordsNussbaum; vulnerability; autonomy; imagination; capabilities approach
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range1-192
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online05 Aug 2021
Publication process dates
Deposited05 Aug 2021
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Martha nussbaum's non-anthropocentric philosophy?
Drapało, Kamila. (2019). Martha nussbaum's non-anthropocentric philosophy? Etica & politica. 21(2), pp. 135-153.