A Noble but Flawed Ideal
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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. 13th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-674-05249-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2019


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