Vol. 43 No. 1 (2023): Vulnerability. Environments and Relations

The Vulnerability of the Human Condition: Ontological-Relational Dimensions and Ethical-Political Challenges

Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo

Published 2023-06-01


  • vulnerability,
  • life,
  • responsibility,
  • care,
  • otherness,
  • future
  • ...More

How to Cite

The Vulnerability of the Human Condition: Ontological-Relational Dimensions and Ethical-Political Challenges. (2023). Teoria. Rivista Di Filosofia, 43(1), 89-108. https://doi.org/10.4454/teoria.v43i1.174


Hans Jonas’ The Imperative of Responsibility was published in 1979, at the end of a decade in which ecological issues had been for the first time posed and discussed with a certain urgency and in a systematic way. His reflections illustrate with great clarity the tangle of technological, economic, political, social, and cultural issues related to the protection of the terrestrial biosphere. At the same time, he draws attention to the «critical vulnerability» of nature to human technologically enhanced freedom and the consequent need for collective responsibility and the mobilisation of a «feeling of responsibility» that still needs to be developed. In this essay, I endeavour to clarify the following issues: first, that Jonas’ ethical reflections stem from a biological-philosophical appraisal of life as characterised by vulnerability, given her precarious and unstable condition of «needful freedom» towards matter and the environment; second, that terrestrial life flourished through a multifaceted and unplanned (thus, again, vulnerable) evolution of living forms, ranging from bacteria to human beings – these evidencing a unique degree of freedom; third, that in order to make Jonas’ ecological contribution tenable nowadays, it is necessary to reframe the vulnerability of life as to underline its caring and relational meaning. In this regard, I will try to complement Jonas’ reflections on the vulnerability of life with those by other scholars, like Seyla Benhabib, Bernhard Waldenfels, and Joan Tronto, who underlined the core role played by relationships and care in the experience of vulnerability to the other.