Ideas of Martha Nussbaum, by Theme

[American, b.1947, Professor at Chicago Law School.]

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2. Reason / B. Laws of Thought / 6. Ockham's Razor
Keep premises as weak as possible, to avoid controversial difficulties
     Full Idea: One should always choose the weakest premises from which one's conclusion follows, rather than saddling the theory with thicker or more controversial premises.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 8)
     A reaction: I like this because it connects the rather vague Ockham's Razor to the logical concept of Thinning. The key point is that a thinner set of premises that prove something will be more persuasive, because critics may reject premises instead of conclusion.
21. Aesthetics / B. Nature of Art / 8. The Arts / b. Literature
Storytelling is never neutral; some features of the world must be emphasised
     Full Idea: Storytelling is never neutral; the narrator always directs attention to some features of the world rather than others.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 1)
     A reaction: The audience would be a bit stupid if it insisted on neutrality.
21. Aesthetics / C. Artistic Issues / 7. Art and Morality
The Aristotelian idea that choices can be perceived needs literary texts to expound it
     Full Idea: To show forth the Aristotelian claim that 'the decision rests with perception', we need - either side by side with a philosophical outline or inside it - literary texts which display the complexity, indeterminacy, and sheer difficulty of moral choice.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (The Golden Bowl, and Lit as Moral Philosophy [1983], II)
     A reaction: Berys Gaut observes that this depends on a particularist view of moral choice (usually seen as Aristotelian), with little interest in principles.
22. Metaethics / C. The Good / 2. Happiness / b. Eudaimonia
Philosophers after Aristotle endorsed the medical analogy for eudaimonia
     Full Idea: Nussbaum says the post-Aristotelian philosophers did much more than simply advancing and refining Aristotle's ethics. They advanced eudaimonics by explicitly endorsing the medical analogy.
     From: report of Martha Nussbaum (The Therapy of Desire [1994]) by Owen Flanagan - The Really Hard Problem 4 'Eudaimoncs'
     A reaction: Since Aristotle is all about the successful functioning of the psuche, this idea is obviously implicit in his original texts. It needs a positive concept of mental health, and not a mere absence of mental illness. See the Mindapples campaign.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / c. Particularism
Particularism gives no guidance for the future
     Full Idea: Situation ethics offers no guidance for the future.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 8)
     A reaction: Not sure if Situation Ethics is the same as Particularism. Jonathan Danby famously champions the latter.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / f. Compassion
Compassion is unreliable, because it favours people close to us
     Full Idea: Daniel Batson's important research has shown us that compassion is not reliable on its own, because it can easily give priority to people close to the self.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 8)
     A reaction: In Britain animal charities receive vastly more money than children's charities, presumably for this very reason. Kittens - you've got to hate them.
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 2. State Legitimacy / c. Social contract
Social contracts assume equal powers among the participants
     Full Idea: All contract theories, including Rawls's, assume a rough equality of physical and mental power among the participants.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 4)
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 4. Social Utilitarianism
We shouldn't focus on actual preferences, which may be distorted by injustices
     Full Idea: When society puts things out of reach for people, they typically learn not to want those things. ..By defining the social goal in terms of satisfaction of actual preferences, utilitarian approaches often reinforce the status quo, which may be very unjust.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 3)
     A reaction: Maximising happiness is potentially very paternalistic, whereas preference satisfaction is not, which aligns utilitarianism better with liberalism. It is notorious that slaves can be contented with their slavery, and battered wives can remain loyal.
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 6. Liberalism / a. Liberalism basics
Liberalism does not need a comprehensive account of value
     Full Idea: The role of political liberalism in my theory requires me to prescind from offering any comprehensive account of value.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 2)
     A reaction: Obviously liberalism has values, but they are the minimum ones of freedom and respect. Liberals have to tolerate some fairly ugly and miserable societies. Can liberals intervene in family life?
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 12. Feminism
Liberals must respect family freedom - but families are the great oppressors of women
     Full Idea: A liberal society should give people considerable latitude to form families as they choose. …On the other hand the family …is one of the most notorious homes of sex hierarchy, denial of sexual opportunity, and sex-based violence and humiliation.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Rawls and Feminism [2003], 03), quoted by Andrew Shorten - Contemporary Political Theory
     A reaction: The question of how the state might intervene in the family rarely seems to turn up in standard political theory. This idea shows why that is a mistake.
Women are often treated like children, and not respected for their choices
     Full Idea: Women are often treated as passive dependents, creatures to be cared for (or not), rather than as independent human beings deserving respect for their choices. In other words they are often infantilized.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 3)
     A reaction: Her prime example is from India, but you see the same thing in more subtle forms in the UK, especially among older people, and especially in art galleries.
25. Social Practice / A. Freedoms / 5. Freedom of lifestyle
Negative liberty is incoherent; all liberties, to do and to be, require the prevention of interference
     Full Idea: The very idea of 'negative liberty' an incoherent idea: all liberties are positive, meaning liberties to do or to be something, which all require the inhibition of interference by others.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 3)
     A reaction: This rejects Isaiah Berlin's well-known claim that negative liberties are good, but positive liberties are far too dangerous.
25. Social Practice / A. Freedoms / 6. Political freedom
Political freedom is an incoherent project, because some freedoms limit other freedoms
     Full Idea: It is unclear whether the idea of promoting freedom is even a coherent political project. Some freedoms limit others. The freedom of rich people to make large donations to political campaigns can limit the equal worth of the right to vote.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 4)
     A reaction: It is not just American right-wingers who over-emphasise 'freedom'. French philosophy seems to be riddled with the same thing.
25. Social Practice / C. Rights / 1. Basis of Rights
Political and civil rights are not separate from economic and social rights
     Full Idea: My approach rejects the distinction, common in the human rights movement, between 'first-generation rights' (political and civil) and 'second-generation rights' (economic and social). The second group are preconditions of the first group.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 3)
     A reaction: [last sentence compressed] This sounds like the sort of point Marx argued for. Nowadays it is feminists who make this point most strongly.
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 1. Basis of justice
Capabilities: Life, Health, Safety, Mental life, Love, Planning, Joining in, Nature, Play, Control
     Full Idea: Ten Capabilities: Life (decent), Health (reproduction, shelter), Safety, Mental life (with education), Love (relationships), Planning (with free beliefs), Joining in (and non-discrimination), Nature (relations to), Play, Control (politics and property).
     From: report of Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 2) by PG - Db (ideas)
     A reaction: She gives her crucial list in rather wordy form. To have impact it needs to be reduced to brief simple slogans.
Justice requires that the ten main capabilities of people are reasonably enabled
     Full Idea: The basic claim of my account of social justice is this: respect for human dignity requires that citizens be placed above an ample (specified) threshold of capability in all ten of the areas.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 2)
     A reaction: [The capabilities are given, briefly, in Idea 21009] The one word that bothers me here is 'dignity'. It is very vague, and can, I think, be reduced to much clearer and more obvious concepts. A person lacks dignity when they vomit, in ordinary usage.
Capabilities are grounded in bare humanity and agency; qualifying as rational is not needed
     Full Idea: The capabilities approach grounds rights claims in bare human birth and minimal agency, not in rationality or any other specific property, something that permits it to recognise the equal human rights of people with cognitive disabilities.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 3)
     A reaction: She says elsewhere that she also sees animals as included in the capabilities approach. This is a rejection of the Kantian grounds for rights (by a well-known Aristotelian).
Rights are not just barriers against state interference; governments must affirm capabilities of citizens
     Full Idea: A prominent idea, common in the U.S., sees rights as barriers against interfering state action. ...The Capabilities Approach, by contrast, insists that all entitlements involve an affirmative task for government, to actively support capabilities.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 3)
     A reaction: This makes her approach very left wing, by U.S. standards, because it needs higher taxation and a degree of government paternalism. Her approach strikes me as an excellent agenda for a fairly interventionist European liberal party.
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 2. Religion in Society
Any establishment belief system is incompatible with full respect for all citizens
     Full Idea: The idea of equal respect is difficult or impossible to render compatible with a religious establishment, even one that is benign and noncoercive. Any established church (or government secularism) denigrates nonbelievers, by stating they are an out-group.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 4)
     A reaction: This sort of applies to membership of anything. She is sort of right, but there is no reason in principle why full respect should not be accorded to any out-group.
25. Social Practice / F. Life Issues / 6. Animal Rights
We should respect animals in the way that we respect the animal nature in humans
     Full Idea: If we show respect to our own animal natures, it is simply inconsistent, and a kind of vicious self-promoting of a sort to which Kantians are especially opposed, to refuse the same respect to our fellow creatures.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 8)
     A reaction: Nussbaum says Kant is hopeless on animals, but Christine Korsgaard offers this Kantian approach that demands genuine respect for animals, even though they are not considered rational. Nussbaum says animals are agents. Did Kant respect our animality?
It may be no harm to kill an animal which cannot plan for its future
     Full Idea: The painless killing of an animal of a species that does not make plans extending into the future may not be a harm: this depends on how we think about the harm of death.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 8)
     A reaction: Very old human beings may have no plans for the future. I, on the other hand, have got lots and lots of plans. Definitely. No one can specify the harm of death. How can it be distinguished from the harm of not being born?
The Capabilities Approach sees animals as agents, not just as having feelings
     Full Idea: The Capabilities Approach sees animals as agents, not as receptacles of pleasure or pain.
     From: Martha Nussbaum (Creating Capabilities [2011], 8)
     A reaction: This is in opposition to the utilitarian view. The key consequence is that animals can be victims of injustice, as well as of cruelty. Nice.