Elena Pariotti

Ontological Vulnerability and the Language of Rights

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By assuming a legal philosophy perspective, the paper addresses some relevant criticisms to the ontological view of vulnerability and its application to the field of human rights, in order to assess the soundest status to be ascribed to the notion and its soundness to the language of human rights. According to the author, vulnerability should not be understood either as a principle or as a standard, but rather as a heuristic notion, suitable to shape a specific approach for interpreting the principles of dignity, equality and autonomy. The reference to vulnerability seems to be particularly helpful to articulate the relation between such principles and the many forms of domination that may be faced within societies. By emphasizing the social nature of the ontology implied by the idea of ontological vulnerability, the paper tries to take some pittfalls away from this latter: the possibility that, due to its vagueness and to the room left in it to the dispositional component, it fails to face the challenges of discrimination and turns out to normalize injustice.


  • Ontological Vulnerability –
  • Social Ontology –
  • Legal Principles –
  • Legal Interpretation –
  • Human Rights Theories


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