Bernhardt, Fabian – 2021
Philosophical interest in vulnerability focusses mainly on normative questions concerning its relevance for moral, political and legal theory. However, beneath these questions there lies another one which is epistemological: How do we gain clear knowledge about another person’s pain and suffering? How do we recognize a wounded life? Drawing primarily on the account of Elaine Scarry (1984), the article aims at showing that the difficulties to apprehend and recognize a life as injured are not only grounded in political and cultural frames, as Judith Butler contends, but also in the phenomenological and epistemic features of pain itself. Pain is epistemically fragile. Whereas it is almost impossible to ignore one’s own pain, it is very easy to overlook the pain of others. This epistemic slope has concrete effects on the social and political life. Regarding vulnerability, the normative question of recognition and the epistemic question of recognizability, thus, are closely intertwined.