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Natality or Birth? Arendt and Cavarero on the Human Condition of Being Born

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Abstract

This essay offers a critical analysis of Hannah Arendt's notion of natality through the lens of Adriana Cavarero's feminist philosophy of birth. First, I argue that the strength of Arendtian natality is its rootedness in an ontology of uniqueness, and a commitment to human plurality and relationality. Next, I trace with Cavarero three critical concerns regarding Arendtian natality, namely that it is curiously abstract; problematically disembodied and sexually neutral; and dependent on a model of vulnerability that assumes equality rather than asymmetry. This last issue is further developed in the final section of the essay, where I examine the idea that birth, for Cavarero, becomes the very concept by which we can distinguish and normatively differentiate acts of care and love from acts of wounding and violence. Upholding the normative distinction here depends on a conceptual distinction between vulnerability and helplessness. To maintain the ethical potential of the scene of birth, I argue that we have to insist on the very characteristics Cavarero attributes to it—ones, as this essay aims to show, that are ultimately missing in the Arendtian account thereof.

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Articles
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Hypatia , Volume 33 , Issue 2 , Spring 2018 , pp. 273 - 288
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Copyright © 2018 by Hypatia, Inc.

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