Martha Nussbaum: The Voice of Convention

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  1. 1.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (New York: Basic Books 2008), 2.

  2. 2.

    Ibid., 29, 319. Martha C. Nussbaum, The Clash Within: Democracy and Religious Violence and India’s Future (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), xiii; From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), xxii.

  3. 3.

    Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience, 9, 15, 337.

  4. 4.

    Robert Boynton, “Who Needs Philosophy?” New York Times Magazine, November 21, 1999, Scott McLemee, “What Makes Martha Nussbaum Run?” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 5, 2001,; Julia Keller, “The Martha Show,” Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2002,; and “Gross National Politics: Questions for Martha Nussbaum,” interview by Deborah Solomon, New York Times Magazine, December 10, 2009,

  5. 5.

    Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience, 10, 15, 29. Martha C. Nussbaum, Philosophical Interventions: Reviews 1986–2011 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 2; or “political philosopher,” Clash Within, xii.

  6. 6.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

  7. 7.

    Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience.

  8. 8.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

  9. 9.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), chaps. 5 and 14.

  10. 10.

    Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience, chap. 2.

  11. 11.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013), chap. 4.

  12. 12.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 59; Love’s Knowledge, chap. 1; The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), passim.

  13. 13.

    Nussbaum could have written this:

    We regard men as infinitely precious and possessed of unfulfilled capacities for reason, freedom, and love.…Men have unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding, and creativity….The goal of man and society should be human independence: a concern not with image of popularity but with finding a meaning in life that is personally authentic; a quality of mind not compulsively driven by a sense of powerlessness, nor one which unthinkingly adopts status values, nor one which represses all threats to its habits, but one which has full, spontaneous access to present and past experiences, one which easily unites the fragmented parts of personal history, one which openly faces problems which are troubling and unresolved; one with an intuitive awareness of possibilities, an active sense of curiosity, an ability and willingness to learn.

    “Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society, 1962,”

  14. 14.

    Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience, chap. 1.

  15. 15.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).

  16. 16.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

  17. 17.

    Nussbaum, From Disgust to Humanity, chap. 5.

  18. 18.

    “[W]e live in a world where, on balance, human beings behave pretty badly, and this means that we live in a world that needs good laws and persistent hardworking attempts to make them better.” Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience, 363. “[President Obama’s education] produced a person who knows how to think critically, who thinks with rich information about a wide range of world situations, who repeatedly displays a robust ability to imagine the predicaments of many types of people—and its corollary, the ability to think reflectively about himself and his own life story.” Nussbaum, Not for Profit, 136.

  19. 19.

    See, for example, Nussbaum’s devastating critique, “The Professor of Parody: The Hip Defeatism of Judith Butler,” New Republic, February 22, 1999, 37–45. Arts & Letters Daily has featured this essay in its “Classics” section for years: Nussbaum’s critical review of Closing of the American Mind is also, in a way, an impressive feat of rhetoric, even if it’s not always fair to Allan Bloom. “Undemocratic Vistas,” New York Review of Books, November 5, 1987, Nussbaum recently said that she would approach Closing in a somewhat more generous spirit were she to review it again. Philosophical Interventions, 14–15.

  20. 20.

    Daniel Mendelsohn, “The Stand: Expert Witnesses and Ancient Mysteries in a Colorado Courtroom,” Lingua Franca 6, no. 6 (September/October 1996): 34–46.

  21. 21.

    The passage in full reads: “when male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to nature when male mates with male or female with female, and those first guilty of such enormities [tolmêma] were impelled by their slavery to pleasure.” John Finnis, “‘Shameless Acts’ in Colorado: Abuse of Scholarship in Constitutional Cases,” Academic Questions 7, no. 4 (Fall 1994): 22.

  22. 22.

    Quoted in ibid., 26.

  23. 23.


  24. 24.

    Quoted in Robert George, “‘Shameless Acts’ Revisited: Some Questions for Martha Nussbaum,” Academic Questions 9, no. 1 (Winter 1995–96): 35.

  25. 25.

    Martha Nussbaum, “Platonic Love and Colorado Law: The Relevance of Ancient Greek Norms to Modern Sexual Controversies, Virginia Law Review 80, no. 7 (October 1994): 1621.

  26. 26.


  27. 27.

    Quoted in George, “‘Shameless Acts’ Revisited,” 34.

  28. 28.

    Nussbaum, From Disgust to Humanity, chap. 4.

  29. 29.

    Nussbaum, New Religious Intolerance, 59.

  30. 30.

    Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice, 5.

  31. 31.

    Lists can be found in Martha C. Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 77–80; Political Emotions, 415; and Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), 33–34.

  32. 32.

    Discussions of the “capabilities approach” or equal respect doctrine may be found in many of Nussbaum’s books (New Religious Intolerance, 61–68; Liberty of Conscience, 76–85; Sex and Social Justice, intro. and chap. 1; Political Emotions, 118–24), but they receive their most extended treatments in Women and Human Development, Creating Capabilities, and Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006).

  33. 33.

    Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice, 34.

  34. 34.

    Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought, chap. 1; Poetic Justice, chap. 3.

  35. 35.

    Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought. Martha C. Nussbaum, Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame and the Law (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), chap. 1.

  36. 36.

    Nussbaum, Women and Human Development, introduction, chap. 2.

  37. 37.

    Nussbaum, Political Emotions.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., chap. 1.

  39. 39.

    Nussbaum, Hiding from Humanity.

  40. 40.

    Nussbaum, From Disgust to Humanity, 26 and passim.

  41. 41.

    Nussbaum sometimes groups fear with disgust and shame: New Religious Intolerance, chap. 2; Political Emotions, chap. 10.

  42. 42.

    Nussbaum, Political Emotions, 188, chaps. 8–11.

  43. 43.

    Nussbaum, New Religious Intolerance, chap. 3; Frontiers of Justice, 78–80.

  44. 44.

    Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience, 348.

  45. 45.

    Nussbaum, New Religious Intolerance and Liberty of Conscience.

  46. 46.

    Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice, chap. 1; Women and Human Development, 34–51.

  47. 47.

    Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice, 70, 74, 78, 80, 83–84; Women and Human Development, 5.

  48. 48.

    Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. and ed. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 2.1.3.

  49. 49.

    Ibid., 2.2.1.

  50. 50.

    Ibid., 2.4, 6–7.

  51. 51.

    Ibid., 1.1.5; 2.2, 4–5; 2.3.8.

  52. 52.

    Martha C. Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 2–3.

  53. 53.

    Nussbaum, Not for Profit, 2.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., 1.

  55. 55.

    See Spirit of the Laws: “Commerce cures destructive prejudices, and it is an almost general rule that everywhere there are gentle mores, there is commerce and that everywhere there is commerce, there is gentle mores. Therefore, one should not be surprised if our mores are less fierce than they were formerly. Commerce has spread knowledge of the mores of all nations everywhere; they have been compared to each other, and good things have resulted from this.” Charles de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, trans. Anne M. Cohler, Basia Carolyn Miller, and Harold Samuel Stone (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 20.1.

  56. 56.

    Nussbaum, “Undemocratic Vistas.”

  57. 57.

    Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity, chap. 3; Not for Profit, chap. 6.

  58. 58.

    Nussbaum, Poetic Justice.

  59. 59.

    “Instead of a monolithic ‘politically correct’ orthodoxy, what I hear when I visit campuses are the voices of many diverse individual faculty, administrators and students, confronting curricular issues with, for the most part, resourcefulness, intelligence, and good faith.” Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity, 78.

  60. 60.

    Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity, 7, 18–19, 37–41, 109–11.

  61. 61.

    Nussbaum, Not for Profit, 55. The following passage, in which Nussbaum reflects, twenty-five years later, on her harsh review of The Closing of the American Mind, is worth quoting at length:

    I have…shifted more toward Bloom in a way that involves a partial change in my own views. I now have far less objection than I once did to the idea of a liberal arts curriculum based on a list of Great Books. I still see the dangers of that approach; excessive deference to intellectual authority, excessive parochialism (such as the focus on European culture that Bloom recommended), and insufficient attentiveness to the activation of the student’s own critical powers. Nonetheless, these pitfalls can be avoided by good teaching and by wise updating of the core lists themselves, as has by now been done at both Columbia and my own university. Such a core does something that is very good in this era of video games and social networking: it makes sure that people are actually reading big, complicated books. Times have changed, and it seems likely that the only way to make sure that undergraduates actually read a novel of George Eliot, a dialogue of Plato, or a treatise of Rousseau or Hume is to put it on a list—though one would be well advised to supplement any such list of “classics” with more recent works that engage undergraduates, and with works from a variety of cultural traditions.

    Philosophical Interventions, 14–15, emphasis added.

  62. 62.

    Nussbaum, Philosophical Interventions, 15.

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Eide, S. Martha Nussbaum: The Voice of Convention. Acad. Quest. 27, 185–198 (2014).

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  • Political Theory
  • Capability Approach
  • Cultivate Humanity
  • Political Liberty
  • Philosophical Intervention