Vulnérabilité, soin et handicap
: Pourquoi les sociétés humaines prennent-elles soin de leurs membres infirmes, et pourquoi doivent-elles le faire?

  • David Doat

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Philosophy


This dissertation provides the foundation for a philosophy of living beings, a philosophical anthropology and a moral theory which are inclusive of vulnerability, disability and caregiving practices. The aim of this work is to answer the following question: why do human societies take care (even if imperfectly) of their disabled members, and why should this care be recognised as an obligation? In order to achieve this goal, the first part of the thesis establishes a dialogue between philosophy and the natural sciences about the phenomenon of plasticity in evolutionary biology, and proposes a philosophy of living beings which is characterized by an inclusive approach to vulnerability – that is, a conception of vulnerability not only as a negative by-product of biological activity, but also as an essential and positive property of life. The author argues that neither diversification nor development of living beings would be possible without integration of vulnerability within the dynamic nature of biological processes, and considers the implications of reframing the concept of “form” in this manner for the way in which the essential nature of life is traditionally approached in natural philosophy. In the second part of the dissertation, the author demonstrates how the human species, as a distinctive form in the living world, is only able to manage its intrinsic vulnerability through a generic activity of care that is at the heart of human social plasticity, and which includes caregiving behaviors toward disabled individuals as a specific practice. Consistent with such a perspective, the author questions the natural conditions of the appearance of health-related care provision in human societies, as well as the meaning of caregiving with regard to biological and cultural evolution. He argues strongly for the positive evolutionary function of caregiving practices, highlighting their prehistoric origins and criticizing their omission in the main scientific accounts of human evolution. Finally, on the normative side, the dissertation examines the moral justifications used in design and delivery of disability care management practices. It then presents a set of arguments to support the proposal that human societies have a moral duty of care with regard to people with disabilities.
Date of Award20 Jan 2016
Original languageFrench
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SponsorsUniversité catholique de Lille & Métropole Européenne Lilloise (MEL)
SupervisorDominique Lambert (Supervisor), Jean-Philippe Cobbaut (Co-Supervisor), Giovanni Battista Palumbo (President), Laura Rizzerio (Jury), Henri-Jacques Stiker (Jury), René Rezsöhazy (Jury), Eric Charmetant (Jury) & Jacques Arènes (Jury)


  • vulnerability
  • fragility
  • plasticity
  • form
  • experience
  • philosophy of the living being
  • philosophical anthropology
  • human uniqueness
  • care
  • disability
  • human evolution
  • inclusion
  • norm
  • moral theory

Attachment to an Research Institute in UNAMUR


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