Books by Martha C. Nussbaum

Released: Aug. 13, 2019

"A timely and insightful analysis of ethical dilemmas."
An internationally acclaimed philosopher considers the moral responsibilities of world citizens. Read full book review >
Released: July 3, 2018

"An engaging and inviting study of humanity's long-standing fear of the other."
A philosopher considers Trumpism through the lens of history, classical thought, and a bit of Hamilton. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2008

"A timely topic and a fine example of scholarly yet accessible writing."
Well-considered, challenging analysis of America's commitment to religious liberty. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2000

"malnutrition, drudgery, bad marriages, illiteracy, and more."
A major voice for ethical law calls for a global feminism to address the deplorable conditions of women in the Third World. Read full book review >
SEX AND SOCIAL JUSTICE by Martha C. Nussbaum
Released: Dec. 1, 1998

University of Chicago law and ethics professor Nussbaum combines feminist theory and an internationalist perspective to fashion a stunning defense of justice. In a series of works (Poetic Justice, 1996; The Therapy of Desire, 1994; etc.), Nussbaum has tried to demonstrate the value of philosophy to the practical matters of everyday life; she continues that work here. She begins with the assertion that justice consists of respecting the equal worth of all human beings, given the universal human capacities of choice and reasoning. An essential element of this respect is protecting the liberty of individuals to create lives of their own choosing. As women in general, as well as lesbian and gay men, have too often been denied such freedom, justice should be and is a central concern for feminism. Yet Western feminism itself has too often neglected the needs and conditions of women of the non-Western world. A feminist theory of justice must concern itself both with abstract liberties, such as freedom of expression, and the practical needs of nutrition, health, education, shelter, and physical safety. Against charges that her vision of justice is a foreign idea being imposed upon other cultures, she argues that she is defending the creation of space in which free choice for all, including women, actually exists. In another vein, against those who would impose a rigid cultural relativism, she argues that local tradition is not always an inviolable code that must remain unchallenged. Such traditions may simply reflect the most powerful voices—invariably male. We must be suspicious of norms formed under conditions of injustice. All these themes are developed in a series of carefully crafted essays. There are weaknesses here. Questions of sexuality are not particularly well integrated within her arguments, and as she admits, she does not deal with the question of global redistribution of wealth as an essential element of justice. Nevertheless, a brilliant book. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 27, 1996

Nationalism or internationalism? That is the question debated in this provocative collection of essays by some of today's most subtle minds. In a 1994 Boston Review essay, ``Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,'' Nussbaum (Poetic Justice, 1995, etc.) powerfully argued against patriotism as well as its darker incarnations (such as ethnocentrism), in favor of a universalist allegiance ``to the worldwide community of human beings.'' While not particularly new in its philosophical underpinnings, this essay created an enormous controversy in academia. Now, in a work featuring such notable scholars and thinkers as Nathan Glazer, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Hilary Putnam, and Michael Walzer, Nussbaum and editor Cohen (who is the editor of the Boston Review) have brought together 15 of the most notable and considered responses. As Europe and North America seem to be moving slowly toward confederation—and much of the Third World toward disintegration—the issues these essays raise are of vital importance. Philosophically, the conflict between patriotism and cosmopolitanism goes straight to the heart of what it means to be human. Are we political animals, forged by the particularities of our lives? Or do we share a larger commonality, some irreducible essence that is true everywhere and always? Predictably, most of the authors in this collection seem to come down somewhere near the middle, emphasizing, with only slightly different weightings, the importance of both the national and the cosmopolitan. Almost without exception, their critiques are thoughtful, revealing, and perfectly nuanced. Nussbaum concludes the book by answering and critiquing the previous pieces. Retreating a little from her previous position, she does acknowledge that cosmopolitanism is an ethical ideal that can only be aspired to through the ``local.'' Rarely does one come across a forum where all the facets of an important idea are so thoroughly debated. This is the give-and-take of intellectual debate at its finest. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1996

Those staid souls who always wondered what novels were good for now get to hear it from Nussbaum (Ethics/Univ. of Chicago; The Therapy of Desire, 1994, etc.), who instructs us in the use of imaginative empathy as one of the necessary tools for living the just life. Nussbaum argues elegantly that the novel, by engaging our sympathy in the contemplation of lives different from ours, expands our imaginative capabilities so we may better make those judgments that public life demands of us. Her sources are carefully chosen: Aristotle, the Stoics, Adam Smith, et al., are called into service appropriately and sparingly. On the down side, the literary examples—Dickens's Hard Times, Richard Wright's Native Son, and E.M. Forster's Maurice—are perhaps too predictable a trio; Nussbaum also makes reference to Whitman, however, which brings some fresh air into the book. Poetic Justice reads like the series of law school lectures it was originally: there is much enumeration of points to be proved before proving them. It alternates between academic mouthfuls and the thoughtful phrase juste (we read that love is ``not, in the relevant sense, blind: it perceives its object as endowed with a special wonder and importance''). For whatever reason (perhaps Nussbaum doesn't have the feeling for literature that she does for the law), the book only gets truly interesting with the citation of legal cases, especially the dreadful Mary Jane Carr v. Allison Gas Turbine Division, General Motors Corporation (1994), which begs the question of why the court would rule ``mighty'' GM powerless to stop mass sexual harassment of a single female worker. Poetic Justice will be most appreciated by philosophers, lawyers, and economists; creative types may be frustrated by the face-value uses the literary passages are put to. Nussbaum's thesis, however, deserves to be shouted from the rooftops—like Whitman's Song of Myself. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1994

A scholarly and beautifully written account of late Greek and Roman thought in which Nussbaum (Philosophy, Classics, and Comparative Literature/Brown Univ.) analyzes the use of philosophical argument as a technique for enabling people to grapple with fear of death, love and sexuality, anger and aggression. Her theme is the ancients' concept of philosophy as a practical art of living (analogous to medicine) that welds ethics, religion, and emotional introspection in the pursuit of truth and the removal of unsound beliefs from the soul. Omitting Plato, who has been the subject of excellent recent work by other scholars (especially Gregory Vlastos), Nussbaum begins with background chapters on Aristotle and then works her way through the Epicureans, the Skeptics, and the Stoics. Much of the book is devoted to the writings of Lucretius and Seneca, whom she treats as thinkers in their own right rather than simply users of other people's thought as a vehicle for personal poetic or dramatic expression. She questions Lucretius' view of erotic love as essentially aiming at fusion rather than intimate responsiveness. Here and elsewhere Nussbaum makes subtle but vital distinctions. As in The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (not reviewed), she writes with a mixture of passion and delicacy on the one hand, professional scholarship on the other—a blend that in itself expresses her concept of philosophy as practical, compassionate, and inclusive. She sees in the Hellenistic philosophers a basic tension between transcendence and involvement in life, and an understanding of politics and emotion that has much to teach us today. There is a useful glossary of philosophers and their schools for the nonexpert. Stimulating, solid fare, likely to appeal to classicists, philosophers, and all who are concerned with perennial human issues. Read full book review >