Representing a state of vulnerability is often understood to mean that someone’s fragility and susceptibility to external threats are heightened. It is used in a variety of contexts, from the military and security to describing the emotional, cognitive or social fragility that results from certain circumstances, such as a relationship breakdown or bereavement. In addition, there is a view that vulnerability is universal and can affect everyone at some point in their lives. However, these two distinct interpretations conflict and it remains unclear whether or not vulnerability has a normative pull, or whether it merely describes the human condition without any action-guiding implications.
Represent a state of vulnerability concept because, as with most concepts that are difficult to define, it is not a static property but rather something that changes over time. In some cases, these changes are observable – for example, a person’s vulnerability might be evident in their dependency on social arrangements. But in other cases, the manifestation of vulnerability is latent, such as an individual’s predisposition to a particular medical condition or their innate sensitivity to external threats.
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Carnap’s dictum that “the simpler a notion is, the more useful it is” applies here; a clear definition of vulnerability can help us clarify what we think it means. A promising approach is to treat vulnerability as a family resemblance concept, which is a concept that refers to the potential for a phenomenon and has three parts: (i) the reasons why some X is disposed to Y (e.g. a fragile glass is prone to breakage because of its atomic structure); (ii) the conditions under which Y manifests (e.g. a glass breaks if dropped); and (iii) the resulting manifestation (e.g. the broken glass).