THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK - Matthew Reisz

Martha Nuss­baum, Ernst Fre­und dis­tin­guished ser­vice pro­fes­sor of law and ethics at the Univer­sity of Chicago, stud­ied the­atre and Clas­sics be­fore switch­ing to phi­los­o­phy, and has de­scribed how the life of the mind helped her es­cape a “ster­ile” and sta­tus-con­scious New York back­ground. She taught at Har­vard, where she faced a good deal of sex­ism and ha­rass­ment, and then at Brown Univer­sity, be­fore mov­ing to Chicago in 1994.

Ac­claimed for The Fragility of Good­ness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Phi­los­o­phy (1986), Nuss­baum has gone on to be­come one of the leading pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als in the US, writ­ing widely on ethics, lit­er­a­ture, pol­i­tics and sex­ual jus­tice. She helped de­velop the “ca­pa­bil­ity ap­proach”, set­ting out min­i­mal con­di­tions for hu­man flour­ish­ing, which un­der­pins the UN’s Hu­man Devel­op­ment In­dex. She has made ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions to de­bates about ed­u­ca­tion in books such as Not for Profit: Why Democ­racy Needs the Hu­man­i­ties (2010), which cel­e­brates the tra­di­tional lib­eral arts ideal and savages ed­u­ca­tional trends that she sees as “pro­duc­ing a greedy ob­tuse­ness and a tech­ni­cally trained docil­ity that threaten the very life of democ­racy it­self”. And she has re­flected on what makes a good life, most re­cently in Ag­ing Thought­fully: Con­ver­sa­tions about Re­tire­ment, Ro­mance, Wrin­kles, and Re­gret (with Saul Lev­more, 2018).

Un­like most philoso­phers, Nuss­baum has given emo­tions a cen­tral place in her work. In Upheavals of Thought: The In­tel­li­gence of Emo­tions (2001), she urged moral philoso­phers to “grap­ple with the messy ma­te­ri­als of grief and love, anger and fear”. Hid­ing from Hu­man­ity: Dis­gust, Shame and the Law (2004) ex­plored the dan­gers of let­ting emo­tions in­flu­ence our law-mak­ing, while From Dis­gust to Hu­man­ity: Sex­ual Ori­en­ta­tion and Con­sti­tu­tional Law (2010) ap­plied such in­sights to the de­bate on same-sex mar­riage. Her lat­est book builds on all this in ad­dress­ing to­day’s “po­lit­i­cal cri­sis”.

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