Elena Consiglio

Looking for the "Vulnerable Subject": The Mencian Account of the Person

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The idea of the legal subject as an autonomous agent, with the capacity to choose and freely determine herself without external constraints or interference, complete in herself and independent, has had remarkable normative implications in structuring contemporary legal systems. The philosopher Martha Fineman recently argued against this notion, proposing the alternative one of "vulnerable subject." This paper suggests that the notion of the person elaborated by the classic Confucian thinkers encompasses the "vulnerable subject." The Confucian theorizations resonate with the ethic of care; however, their moral and normative relevance carries the potential for a broader scope of application, beyond the relation of care. In the first part of my paper, following a short introduction aimed at sketching the main arguments of the feminist and Marxist critique of the liberal subject, I will illustrate the Confucian framework, and in the second part I will show how the Confucian understanding of personhood can be profitably used, testing it with the case study of persons trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.


  • Vulnerability
  • Person
  • Liberalism
  • Ethics of Care
  • Human Trafficking


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