Subjectivity and vulnerability: reflections on the foundation of ethical sensibility.

  • Per Nortvedt
  • Published 2003 in Nursing philosophy : an international journal for healthcare professionals


This paper investigates the possibility of understanding the rudimentary elements of clinical sensitivity by investigating the works of Edmund Husserl and Emmanuel Levinas on sensibility. Husserl's theory of intentionality offers significant reflections on the role of pre-reflective and affective intuition as a condition for intentionality and reflective consciousness. These early works of Husserl, in particular his works on the constitution of phenomenological time and subjective time-consciousness, prove to be an important basis for Levinas' works on an ethics of alterity and infinite responsibility for the other person. In fact, it is difficult to understand the core of Levinasian ethics, of vulnerability as proximity, of ethical sensitivity as passivity and a suffering for the suffering of another, without understanding the influence from Husserl's work. Crucially, the paper will, on the basis of Levinasian ethics, establish an understanding of sensibility as vulnerability and receptivity that is fundamental also for understanding significant intuitions in clinical nursing. Clinical sensitivity and carefulness in nursing are shaped by the concrete and also bodily expressions of vulnerabilities in a receptivity that is pre-reflective and pre-ontological.


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