Love and Vulnerability: Thinking with Pamela Sue Anderson

Double Special Issue of Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 25.1–2 (Feb.–Apr. 2020)


Love and Vulnerability: Thinking with Pamela Sue Anderson grew around a critical dialogue with feminist philosopher, Pamela Sue Anderson’s extraordinary, unpublished last work on love and vulnerability – work interrupted by her early death from cancer in March 2017. The first part of the collection publishes this work, edited by close colleagues and friends, for the first time. In a second part, a diverse, multidisciplinary, international range of contributors respond to Anderson’s last work, her oeuvre, and her life and death.

Pamela Sue Anderson’s path-breaking work in philosophy of religion includes: A Feminist Philosophy of Religion (1998) and Re-visioning Gender in Philosophy of Religion: Reason, Love and Epistemic Locatedness (2012). Her last work focused on reimagining love and vulnerability. Extending Michèle Le Doeuff’s critique of the “philosophical imaginary” – the repertoire of unexamined myths and narratives underlying philosophical thinking, and acting as an unthought element within thought – Anderson critiques and then attempts to rebuild the concepts of love and vulnerability. We tend to fear vulnerability as an exposure to violence and suffering. We often project a vulnerability we all share onto “the vulnerable.” We value our perceived invulnerability or strive for a goal of invulnerability. Such has been the nature of our philosophical imaginary but also our social imaginary, Anderson claims. She then proposes a bold reorientation. Let us think of vulnerability, also, as a capability we all share; an occasion, opportunity or condition of possibility for a transformative and life-enhancing openness to others and mutual affection.

Granted, ontological vulnerability – whether personal or social, whether bodily or emotional – does not in itself necessarily lead to reciprocal affection. But we might envisage an “ethical” and, in some sense to be specified, rational vulnerability that aims to do so, under certain conditions of self-reflexive and reciprocal accountability. “Ethical” vulnerability works closely with the project of identifying and eliminating social vulnerability and structural injustice. The task to reimagine love and vulnerability is enormous and all too clearly significant, especially in times of erecting borders between “us” and “them.” Anderson discusses the “war on terror” and attitudes to migrants and refugees. Her overall project is in the interest of social justice; one of its aims is to end the wilful ignorance of social vulnerability and structural injustice. In this project, reason, critical self-reflexivity, emotion, intuition and imagination, concepts, arguments, myths and narrative all have a role to play, according to Anderson, while also needing to be reimagined and rethought. Friendship, conversation, dialogue, collective work and collaboration were also constant themes and preoccupations in her work as well as a way of life for her; they are intricately connected to her understanding of love and vulnerability.

Some contributors trace the emergence of Anderson’s late thinking on love, vulnerability and related concepts in her earlier work or offer synthetic accounts of her oeuvre around these concepts. Others re-join and critically extend one or more of Anderson’s own conversations with a number of fields and thinkers: Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, Henri Bergson, Emmanuel Levinas, Simone de Beauvoir, Paul Ricoeur, Gilles Deleuze, Paul S. Fiddes, Michèle Le Doeuff, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Judith Butler, and A. W. Moore. Some bring Anderson’s work in contact with other thinkers and debates – debates in theology; Continental and Analytic philosophy; feminist, queer and transgender theory; postcolonial theory; African-American studies; and wider debates about the future of the university, the Me Too movement, sweatshops, climate change, and so on. Thinkers, writers, artists and activists brought into conversation with Anderson by contributors include: Hannah Arendt, Sri Aurobindo, John Broome, Wendy Brown, Tarana Burke, Havi Carel, Stanley Cavell, Ananya Chatterjea, Judy Chicago, Stefan Collini, George Eliot, Martha Fineman, Miranda Fricker, Thomas Fuchs, Jesus, Søren Kierkegaard, Jonathan Lear, Margaret Laurence, Niklas Luhmann, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, John Stuart Mill, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Oakeshott, Plato, Michèle Roberts, Matthew Sanford, Amartya Sen, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Iris Marion Young.

Some contributors focus on vulnerability or aspects of it, including: emotional vulnerability; corporeal vulnerability, dying and death; illness and resilience; sexual violence; social vulnerability; the vulnerability of Jesus. Others discuss love and vulnerability, often as part of a larger constellation of concepts and themes, including: (symmetrical) accountability; affectivity; capability; empathy; epistemic justice; feminism; forgiveness; friendship; hope; the human; institutional critique; intuition; metaphysical and ethical unity; narrative; neoliberalism; philosophical nonsense; responsibility; restorative justice; risk; structural injustice; transformation; transformative justice; wilful ignorance; women in philosophy.

Photo of Pamela Anderson with long dark hair staring off screen.