A timely and insightful analysis of ethical dilemmas.



An internationally acclaimed philosopher considers the moral responsibilities of world citizens.

In a penetrating and salient collection of essays, Nussbaum (Law, Philosophy/Univ. of Chicago; The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at our Political Crisis, 2018, etc.), the latest recipient of the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture, examines the cosmopolitan tradition and its relationship to the challenges of pluralism and globalism in contemporary life. Four pieces trace the history of cosmopolitanism through the work of significant thinkers who grappled with questions of ethical behavior, social responsibility, moral capacities, and human worth: Cicero; Greek Cynics and Stoics, represented by Marcus Aurelius; 17th-century Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius; and 18th-century Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith. The final essays consider thorny contemporary moral problems, such as glaring economic inequality, migration, the efficacy of foreign aid, and human responsibility for the natural world. The cosmopolitan tradition, with roots in ancient Greece and Rome, is grounded in the idea of “the equal, and unconditional, worth of all human beings” who have a basic capacity “for moral learning and choice” and whose dignity is not “inherently hierarchical or based on the idea of a rank-ordered society.” Although central to political liberalism and human rights declarations, cosmopolitanism nevertheless presents “intellectual and practical problems” in considering “what type of treatment human dignity requires.” Specifically, how do material possessions and opportunities, such as access to adequate nourishment, clean water, health care, and education, affect an individual’s expression of dignity and exercise of choice? Providing material support may raise problems: The “benevolent paternalism” of foreign aid, for example, may undermine community efforts to create “durable and adequate health institutions.” Nussbaum makes clear and accessible works and ideas that may be unfamiliar to most readers, and she persuasively argues for a revision of cosmopolitanism—the Capabilities Approach—that emphasizes “the priority of individual entitlements” in promoting human dignity, melding duties of justice with duties of material aid, and taking into account “people’s substantial freedoms to choose things that they value.”

A timely and insightful analysis of ethical dilemmas.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-674-05249-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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