The Vulnerability of the Common: Spinoza versus Arendt on the Individual and the Social

These two lectures consider recent notions of vulnerability and their implications for a critique of the liberal subject and the grounding of a common social world. The notion of vulnerability has recently provided a ground for a critique of the autonomous subject in the work of Martha Nussbaum who proposes that one must think vulnerability together with autonomy to provide a renewed conception of the liberal subject. By contrast, if one starts with the conception of conatus in Spinoza’s Ethics, III, prop. 7-9 (i. e. the desire to live or “the striving to persevere in its own being”), we are able to develop a conception of the individual which goes beyond the atomistic or liberal subject to establish a complex or relational notion of individual as well as common vulnerability and agency (the potentia agendi of the multitude). The first lecture argues that the vulnerability of the common bears a resemblance to Arendt’s conception of action and the shared world and its singular capacity to reconcile multiplicity and plurality.

Kim Sang Ong-Van-Cung is Professor of Modern and Contemporary philosophy at the University Michel-de-Montaigne of Bordeaux-III (France). She specializes in early-modern philosophy (Descartes, Spinoza, Arnauld, Malebranche, Cordemoy), and its medieval sources (Aquinas, Scotus, Occam and modern scholastic). Her work considers also some important aspects of the contemporary reception of Descartes and Spinoza in Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Michel Henry, Foucault, Deleuze or Derrida. In her books and articles, she traces the history of the psychological lexicon of knowledge and practice (object, subject, idea, representation, intention and intentionality). She has published Descartes et la question du sujet (ed.), PUF 1999; Descartes et l’ambivalence de la création, Vrin, 2001; La Voie des idées?: Statuts de la représentation (XVIIe-XXe siècles) (ed.), CNRS-éditions, 2006; Idée et idéalisme (ed.), Vrin 2006. Her most recent book is L’Objet de nos pensées: Descartes et l’intentionnalité, Vrin, 2012 (The Object of our thoughts: Descartes and Intentionality). Since 2006, she has extended her reflections to subjectivity in political and social theory, examining the work of contemporary critics and the redefinition of the social subject (Foucault, Deleuze, Honneth, Butler). She is preparing a book which develops a spinozistic account of vulnerability in critical theory.

Introduction: Judith Butler, Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley