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What does it mean to respect the dignity of a human being? What sort of support do human capacities demand from the world, and how should we think about this support when we encounter differences of gender or sexuality? How should we think about each other across divisions that a legacy of injustice has created? In Sex and Social Justice, Martha Nussbaum delves into these What does it mean to respect the dignity of a human being? What sort of support do human capacities demand from the world, and how should we think about this support when we encounter differences of gender or sexuality? How should we think about each other across divisions that a legacy of injustice has created? In Sex and Social Justice, Martha Nussbaum delves into these questions and emerges with a distinctive conception of feminism that links feminist inquiry closely to the important progress that has been made during the past few decades in articulating theories of both national and global justice. Growing out of Nussbaum's years of work with an international development agency connected with the United Nations, this collection charts a feminism that is deeply concerned with the urgent needs of women who live in hunger and illiteracy, or under unequal legal systems. Offering an internationalism informed by development economics and empirical detail, many essays take their start from the experiences of women in developing countries. Nussbaum argues for a universal account of human capacity and need, while emphasizing the essential role of knowledge of local circumstance. Further chapters take on the pursuit of social justice in the sexual sphere, exploring the issue of equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Nussbaum's arguments are shaped by her work on Aristotle and the Stoics and by the modern liberal thinkers Kant and Mill. She contends that the liberal tradition of political thought holds rich resources for addressing violations of human dignity on the grounds of sex or sexuality, provided the tradition transforms itself by responsiveness to arguments concerning the social shaping of preferences and desires. She challenges liberalism to extend its tradition of equal concern to women, always keeping both agency and choice as goals. With great perception, she combines her radical feminist critique of sex relations with an interest in the possibilities of trust, sympathy, and understanding. Sex and Social Justice will interest a wide readership because of the public importance of the topics Nussbaum addresses and the generous insight she shows in dealing with these issues. Brought together for this timely collection, these essays, extensively revised where previously published, offer incisive political reflections by one of our most important living philosophers.


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What does it mean to respect the dignity of a human being? What sort of support do human capacities demand from the world, and how should we think about this support when we encounter differences of gender or sexuality? How should we think about each other across divisions that a legacy of injustice has created? In Sex and Social Justice, Martha Nussbaum delves into these What does it mean to respect the dignity of a human being? What sort of support do human capacities demand from the world, and how should we think about this support when we encounter differences of gender or sexuality? How should we think about each other across divisions that a legacy of injustice has created? In Sex and Social Justice, Martha Nussbaum delves into these questions and emerges with a distinctive conception of feminism that links feminist inquiry closely to the important progress that has been made during the past few decades in articulating theories of both national and global justice. Growing out of Nussbaum's years of work with an international development agency connected with the United Nations, this collection charts a feminism that is deeply concerned with the urgent needs of women who live in hunger and illiteracy, or under unequal legal systems. Offering an internationalism informed by development economics and empirical detail, many essays take their start from the experiences of women in developing countries. Nussbaum argues for a universal account of human capacity and need, while emphasizing the essential role of knowledge of local circumstance. Further chapters take on the pursuit of social justice in the sexual sphere, exploring the issue of equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Nussbaum's arguments are shaped by her work on Aristotle and the Stoics and by the modern liberal thinkers Kant and Mill. She contends that the liberal tradition of political thought holds rich resources for addressing violations of human dignity on the grounds of sex or sexuality, provided the tradition transforms itself by responsiveness to arguments concerning the social shaping of preferences and desires. She challenges liberalism to extend its tradition of equal concern to women, always keeping both agency and choice as goals. With great perception, she combines her radical feminist critique of sex relations with an interest in the possibilities of trust, sympathy, and understanding. Sex and Social Justice will interest a wide readership because of the public importance of the topics Nussbaum addresses and the generous insight she shows in dealing with these issues. Brought together for this timely collection, these essays, extensively revised where previously published, offer incisive political reflections by one of our most important living philosophers.

30 review for Sex and Social Justice

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Crider

    If I could give Sex and Social Justice six stars, I would. Nussbaum’s feminism is subtle and careful, with one eye fixed on the shared universal human conditions that enable a “truly human flourishing” and the other eye always paying careful attention to the fine details of particular individual and cultural contexts and the irreducible complexities of human existence. Nussbaum navigates masterfully between the universal and the particular, both at the abstract level (see her discussions early i If I could give Sex and Social Justice six stars, I would. Nussbaum’s feminism is subtle and careful, with one eye fixed on the shared universal human conditions that enable a “truly human flourishing” and the other eye always paying careful attention to the fine details of particular individual and cultural contexts and the irreducible complexities of human existence. Nussbaum navigates masterfully between the universal and the particular, both at the abstract level (see her discussions early in the book of this tension between feminism and liberalism – for her the former serves the latter) and the concrete (see her discussions of female genital mutilation, objectification, and sex work). Throughout the work Nussbaum defends liberalism from radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin, feminism from such decaf “feminists” as Christina Hoff Sommers, and both liberalism and feminism from sexual conservatives like John Finnis. “Equity and Mercy” contrasts bare justice with merciful justice, drawing from ancient stoic ethics (especially Seneca) in support of mercy, which entails a kind of two stage ethical judgment. Once wrongness of action is determined – where bare justice stops – it is right to consider possible mitigating circumstances of the wrongdoer: their particular history, environment, internal motivations, etc. Absent considerations of mercy, justice too easily becomes retributive rather than rehabilitative. The essay is fascinating for those interested in the philosophy of criminal law and ancient ethics, but the discussion is brought around to feminism via a discussion of the radical feminism of Andrea Dworkin, specifically in her novel Mercy. Dworkin, sensitive to the merciless injustice suffered by women around the world, adopts a model of retributive justice toward men. But if feminism is about correcting unjust worldviews and healing individuals suffering from malformed attitudes and understanding, then mercy is better medicine for misogyny. The essay on objectification is Nussbaum at her best. Pointing to the many different things people mean by “objectification” and the confusion that can arise from this, she divides the ways we treat objects into seven conceptually distinct but often interrelated characteristics, like inertness, fungibility, or absence of subjectivity. With these Nussbaum analyzes six literary examples of objectification and discusses which aspects of objectification are really objectionable and which are harmless or even “wonderful” (she borrows the phrase from Cass Sunstein). Identification of a lover with their genitals in the heat of lovemaking, for instance, is without a doubt objectifying, and yet it is not dehumanizing; indeed it recalls that the human individual is an embodied, animal kind of being in addition to a rational kind of being. She concludes that using another individual instrumentally for one’s own purposes is the heart of what is wrong with objectification. But even this is qualified: she offers the example of resting her head on her sleeping partner. This is an instrumental use of another person, but in the context of a relationship there’s a reasonable belief that the person wouldn’t mind. Without this analysis, it’s easy to take one aspect of objectification and assume the others are present as well, and thereby miss the ethical salience of much of human interaction. Nussbaum’s treatment of sex work similarly embraces the complexity of human behavior and motivations. We sell our bodily labor in many different ways, and Nussbaum argues – correctly in my view – that it is not at all obvious that there is something intrinsically wrong with selling one’s sexual labor. Other forms of labor involve selling things potentially just as intimate (the philosophy professor opens up their personal grappling with the nature of the cosmos to the public for a price) and just as bodily invasive (Nussbaum offers a fun thought experiment of a “colonoscopy artist” who is paid to model for new medical devices) without incurring social disapprobration. Nussbaum is sensitive to the problems of perpetuating unhealthy stereotypes about women by participating in sex work, but the injustice of the stereotypes is in part caused by the stigma itself, which involves its own very real human costs in the policing of human – especially female – sexuality. Stigma of sex work should be reduced, and our concern for the well-being of sex workers should take the form of campaigning for more opportunities, not less. Nussbaum is right to conclude that feminism should probably focus more on such unsexy topics as access to credit, and less on titillating topics like sex work. There’s a lot of excellent work in the book. I’m not even mentioning the capabilities approach as it relates to international feminism or the long discussions of ancient Greek homosexuality and how it relates to modern Western sexuality and its social construction. My one complaint about the book is its structure. It appears to be a stapled-together collection of previously written essays. This is fine, but it does lead to some repetition in an already long book. And the final essay of the book, on Virginia Woolf, while interesting on its own, feels entirely out of theme. It should have been left on the cutting room floor.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mary Braden

    She's an amazing writer, so get ready to take your time over her sentences and her complex thought structures. She has a lot to say about feminism, unsurprisingly, and also about how to think about gender as a player in our legislative and judicial processes. My favorite part was her explanation of "capabilities" or the aspects of life that all of us humans are equally entitled to access, and how political and economic resources ought to be directed to ensuring that every person has equal capabi She's an amazing writer, so get ready to take your time over her sentences and her complex thought structures. She has a lot to say about feminism, unsurprisingly, and also about how to think about gender as a player in our legislative and judicial processes. My favorite part was her explanation of "capabilities" or the aspects of life that all of us humans are equally entitled to access, and how political and economic resources ought to be directed to ensuring that every person has equal capability, even if this means allocating more resources to some than others. The primary virtue of this approach from a global perspective is that it gives a way to approach implementing change in unfamiliar cultures without invalidating them--and to see what women will choose to do when they given a meaningful range of choices.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nick Klagge

    For a couple of years now, I've had in my head that I should read something by Martha Nussbaum. I'm not sure where this came from; most likely from reading Brain Pickings. For some reason I finally got around to it now. This book was actually not my first choice--I was more interested to read _The Fragility of Goodness_ and _Upheavals of Thought_--but neither was available at the Brooklyn or NY public libraries. And wow, my third choice is a five star book anyway! I told my wife that I think Nuss For a couple of years now, I've had in my head that I should read something by Martha Nussbaum. I'm not sure where this came from; most likely from reading Brain Pickings. For some reason I finally got around to it now. This book was actually not my first choice--I was more interested to read _The Fragility of Goodness_ and _Upheavals of Thought_--but neither was available at the Brooklyn or NY public libraries. And wow, my third choice is a five star book anyway! I told my wife that I think Nussbaum should be taught as the culmination of the Core Curriculum at Columbia. She integrates insights from both the philosophical and literary canons, but is not afraid to take a critical view of either. I knew I would enjoy reading Nussbaum when she talked in her first essay about her "method" as a philosopher. I'm not sure I've ever before seen a philosopher even acknowledge having a "method," rather than presuming to speak from a neutral platform of reason. This was in the context of her critique of cultural relativism, where she nonetheless acknowledges the risk of projecting Western values onto people of other cultures. She says that her method involves spending a lot of time listening to women from developing countries talk about their lives (in her extensive work with UN development programs). In general, she does a remarkable job of supporting her points with arguments drawn from classic literature, philosophy, law, applied development work, and (very occasionally) her own life. This is no glib Malcolm Gladwell-style approach where a writer learns just enough from the real experts to craft a good story. I get the feeling when reading Nussbaum that she would be an intellectual match for the top minds in any one of the fields she draws from. OK, I haven't even written about the content yet. Although the book was published twenty years ago, many of the issues of "sex and social justice" she addresses are still with us. (Legalization of gay marriage being the main exception.) I won't try to summarize the content here, as there is a lot of it and it is wide-ranging since the book is a collection of essays rather than a unitary whole. Instead, I will list a few of the areas that this book made me think more deeply about or changed my perspective on: -The "capabilities approach" to human development, pioneered by Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (which underlies a lot of modern UN development policies). I had a loose understanding of it, but mostly thought it was an impractical approach that non-economists used to score debating points against economists for the simplicity of measures like GDP (without having a better alternative to offer). Her argument in favor of this approach is extremely persuasive and made me revise my opinion of it. -The liberal philosophical tradition in general, particularly via Kant, Mill, and Rawls. I had developed a somewhat critical view of the limits of the liberal tradition, which I associated with libertarian and neoliberal views in modern politics. Nussbaum completely made me rethink this view. She does a great job of critiquing liberalism from within, showing where it has not gone far enough by its own lights (for example, focusing on the family as a unit of analysis rather than understanding inequalities across individuals within a family). She has interesting things to say about the social construction of preferences and where we should and should not second-guess individual choices as revealing of their "true" wants and needs. She is, again, not afraid to critique these philosophical giants where she thinks they erred. And she makes it clear how these ideas can be applied to real problems of justice in our current world. Finally, she had a strong critique of Nel Noddings' care ethics, which I reviewed favorably about seven years ago. -Her extended discussion of homosexual behavior in ancient Greece was quite interesting and impacted my general perspective on sexuality. She argues quite persuasively (drawing on some other scholars) that, while of course there were both homosexual and heterosexual acts in ancient Greece, that people did not in general view themselves as having a stable and ingrained preference for sexual relations with one sex or the other. (They did divide people up, but along different lines.) She uses this analysis to discourage us from "naturalizing" any of our assumptions about sex and its role in life. (It's amazing, as she notes, that until recently, very little was understood about sexuality in the classical period, as scholars had shied away from it as an "untoward" topic--in many cases there were not even accepted translations of various Greek and Latin terms!) I think I was already persuaded in this way from reading NK Jemisin's "Broken Earth" novels, but it is also great and complementary to see it in philosophical format. -The final essay on Woolf's "To The Lighthouse" is extraordinary and made me want to read the book again. My initial response was wow, there's so much I didn't get out of it when I read it in Lit Hum. But of course, that was fourteen years ago (!). Perhaps significantly, I also read this essay just after my 5-year wedding anniversary. In it, Nussbaum discusses some truths about human relationships that I have barely started to understand myself. I'm really looking forward to reading more of her work!

  4. 4 out of 5

    sinéad

    [ κυρά Μάρθα, σ' αγαπώ και θέλω να το ξέρεις ] Δεν νομίζω πως είμαι σε θέση να γράψω μια καλή κριτική γιατί ήμουν πολύ on and off με το συγκεκριμένο, αλλά είμαι σίγουρη πως είναι από τα καλύτερα δείγματα φεμινιστικής γραφής που έχω διαβάσει στη ζωή μου. Η γραφή είναι τόσο smooth χωρίς να προβάλλει ακραιότητες, η επιχειρηματολογία είναι αρκετά πλούσια και σε ορισμένα σημεία ένιωθα πως θα μπορούσα να τα λέω κι εγώ αυτά που γράφει. Και ίσως να τα λέω από εδώ και στο εξής. Γινόταν ολοένα και καλύτερο [ κυρά Μάρθα, σ' αγαπώ και θέλω να το ξέρεις ] Δεν νομίζω πως είμαι σε θέση να γράψω μια καλή κριτική γιατί ήμουν πολύ on and off με το συγκεκριμένο, αλλά είμαι σίγουρη πως είναι από τα καλύτερα δείγματα φεμινιστικής γραφής που έχω διαβάσει στη ζωή μου. Η γραφή είναι τόσο smooth χωρίς να προβάλλει ακραιότητες, η επιχειρηματολογία είναι αρκετά πλούσια και σε ορισμένα σημεία ένιωθα πως θα μπορούσα να τα λέω κι εγώ αυτά που γράφει. Και ίσως να τα λέω από εδώ και στο εξής. Γινόταν ολοένα και καλύτερο χωρίς να κουράζει ιδιαίτερα, έφευγε νεράκι σε πολλά σημεία και εξέτασε μια αρκετά ευρεία θεματολογία που θεωρώ πως καλύπτεται παραπάνω από "επαρκώς" και θα έπρεπε να απασχολεί τη σύγχρονη γυναίκα. Στα πλαίσια του μαθήματος που έπρεπε να το διαβάσω το εξετάσαμε πιο μεμονωμένα, και αν δεν είχα κάτσει να ασχοληθώ μαζί του εκτός μαθήματος μπορεί να είχα και εντελώς άλλη άποψη. Κάντε μια χάρη στον εαυτό σας και διαβάστε έστω και ένα μικρό κομμάτι από αυτό το βιβλίο. Πιστέψτε με, δεν θα σας απογοητεύσει. ❤️

  5. 5 out of 5

    Women's National Book Association of New Orleans

    The Women's National Book Association sent this book to the White House today (March 12) in honor of Women's History Month: https://www.wnba-centennial.org/book-... From the Women's National Book Association's press release: In this collection of highly readable articles, Nussbaum, a law and ethics professor from the University of Chicago, makes a series of compelling arguments about the rights of women and homosexuals to be treated with respect for their common humanity. Utilizing statistical dat The Women's National Book Association sent this book to the White House today (March 12) in honor of Women's History Month: https://www.wnba-centennial.org/book-... From the Women's National Book Association's press release: In this collection of highly readable articles, Nussbaum, a law and ethics professor from the University of Chicago, makes a series of compelling arguments about the rights of women and homosexuals to be treated with respect for their common humanity. Utilizing statistical data and real-life stories to bolster her arguments, Nussbaum shows how local customs, traditions, and preconceptions can adversely affect the health and well-being of women across the globe. In her view, patriarchal power is at the root of one the most basic injustices, that of sexual oppression. She envisions a world in which women, gays, and lesbians are treated as fully realized human beings, where sex and sexuality are not seen as justifications for cruelty and abuse.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Huitt

    Ethnocentrism

  7. 4 out of 5

    MB

    This book will change your life. Nussbuam's book deserves a space beside feminist classics such as Beavouir's The Second Sex and Butler's Gender Trouble. Highly highly recommend. This book will change your life. Nussbuam's book deserves a space beside feminist classics such as Beavouir's The Second Sex and Butler's Gender Trouble. Highly highly recommend.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    Things you might be surprised to discover in Martha Nussbaum's Sex and Social Justic: - a brief reference to A Suitable Boy (no, but more philosophers should reference A Suitable Boy); - a fairly lengthy and specific discussion of the erotic and sexual activity that took place in ancient Athens (I might mean classical Athens? my grasp of these distinctions is minimal); - an explanation of why Proust and Jackie Collins aren't mutually exclusive*; - excerpts of questionable aesthetic value from a porn Things you might be surprised to discover in Martha Nussbaum's Sex and Social Justic: - a brief reference to A Suitable Boy (no, but more philosophers should reference A Suitable Boy); - a fairly lengthy and specific discussion of the erotic and sexual activity that took place in ancient Athens (I might mean classical Athens? my grasp of these distinctions is minimal); - an explanation of why Proust and Jackie Collins aren't mutually exclusive*; - excerpts of questionable aesthetic value from a pornographic novel; - an anecdote about Anthony Blunt, as part of a review of Sir Kenneth Dover's memoir - I'm still not sure why this was in here; - a discussion of the similarities between prostitution and academia; - also, I think at one point she admits to not being into S&M that much, really. I much preferred the second half of Sex and Social Justice, which was more conceptual and philosophical. The first half tended more toward descriptive/political science, I thought. Also, there's something weird about her analysis of prostitution. Mostly, she seems to be addressing the common arguments against it, instead of taking a fresh approach. But I think the observation that there are many, many, many unsexy ways in which women are oppressed and constrained is a good one and worth keeping in mind. * Although: "the real lover of novels ... will not read Judith Krantz in the airport because Proust is unavailable; the real lover of philosophy ... will not choose Alan Watts under any circumstances at all" (348). 1. ILU, Martha Nussbaum. 2. The real lover of novels surely comes prepared with something worth reading.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    While in their works Judith Butler attempted to wax poetic on the meanings of gender and Catharine MacKinnon laid down theory on how gender matters to law—and how law could be made to better serve all genders—Nussbaum actually addressed in this book real-world cases as varied as gay rights to prostitution to the lack of agency women have in developing nations. She brings a heavy dose of theory with her and writes powerful, mordant, prose of the issues she tackles in this volume, but her foci are While in their works Judith Butler attempted to wax poetic on the meanings of gender and Catharine MacKinnon laid down theory on how gender matters to law—and how law could be made to better serve all genders—Nussbaum actually addressed in this book real-world cases as varied as gay rights to prostitution to the lack of agency women have in developing nations. She brings a heavy dose of theory with her and writes powerful, mordant, prose of the issues she tackles in this volume, but her foci are the real-world issues and not just the "meaning" or "theory" of sex and gender. Somewhat dated now, especially on gay rights since progress has been thankfully made since 1998 when the book was published, this book is still useful to scholars in the areas of feminist, gender and gay studies plus those working on gender-related law. Any law student (especially those doing an LLM or higher) who is working in depth on MacKinnon needs to read this to see a variety of cases where MacKinnon's concepts might be tested in various ways and get a healthy understanding of the diversity of sociocultural and legal construction of sex and gender the world over.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lena Lang

    I really loved this book a lot. I didn't expect to as it appeared at to be a long and cumbersome text. I first started reading it because I thought it my duty to bone up on such a seminal text if I were to call myself a feminist. I continued reading it because each essay captivated me. I wish I could quote it verbatim at people who oppose women's right as well as LGBT rights. I particularly loved the final essay on the love between Mrs and Mr Ramsey. I will definately go back and reread that on I really loved this book a lot. I didn't expect to as it appeared at to be a long and cumbersome text. I first started reading it because I thought it my duty to bone up on such a seminal text if I were to call myself a feminist. I continued reading it because each essay captivated me. I wish I could quote it verbatim at people who oppose women's right as well as LGBT rights. I particularly loved the final essay on the love between Mrs and Mr Ramsey. I will definately go back and reread that one. I also learned what intracrural intercourse was, so that was new. Who knew that in Greek culture it was expected that a male would take a younger male as a lover/apprentice but not have anal intercourse with him lest he be ruined for his later position in society. I certainly didn't.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nora

    Adding this to my list of long-ass books that I was overambitious enough to think readable on the amount of time I have! I read about half of it. The author is clearly brilliant and harsh. Sometimes she seemed to engage with arguments that are kind of dumb, and sometimes she would start to get into a really interesting and controversial topic and then suddenly back away saying she didn't have enough space to get into it, and I was like GET INTO IT MARTHA! A lot of the ancient Greek stuff was lik Adding this to my list of long-ass books that I was overambitious enough to think readable on the amount of time I have! I read about half of it. The author is clearly brilliant and harsh. Sometimes she seemed to engage with arguments that are kind of dumb, and sometimes she would start to get into a really interesting and controversial topic and then suddenly back away saying she didn't have enough space to get into it, and I was like GET INTO IT MARTHA! A lot of the ancient Greek stuff was like, huh? Anyway, I want to come back to this one eventually.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ella Forte

    I am continually reminded of the intellectual I aspire to be when I read M. Nussbaum. This book, while not my *favorite* is still greatly informative. Issues like justice relating to gender and sexual orientation are becoming more and more a part of our national dialogue. Nussbaum's reason (admittedly, sometimes biased) view is much needed today. I am continually reminded of the intellectual I aspire to be when I read M. Nussbaum. This book, while not my *favorite* is still greatly informative. Issues like justice relating to gender and sexual orientation are becoming more and more a part of our national dialogue. Nussbaum's reason (admittedly, sometimes biased) view is much needed today.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter Broady

    One of our greatest living philosophers - the essay on objectification is the most interesting, I think. I look forward to reading more of her work on development as I continue my studies in economics.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rabya

    i don't know how i feel about this book i haven't cracked it open yet but i should read this i really don't agree with the whole take of "feminism" in the west i don't know how i feel about this book i haven't cracked it open yet but i should read this i really don't agree with the whole take of "feminism" in the west

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    I didn't read much of this and it was overdue. I will possibly read it another time. I didn't read much of this and it was overdue. I will possibly read it another time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anna

  17. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark Connely

  19. 5 out of 5

    Facundo

  20. 4 out of 5

    Robert and Amelia

  21. 5 out of 5

    Siobhan

  22. 5 out of 5

    sheyda

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tim Lisle-williams

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nur Hassan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Navpreet Sooch

  26. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mallika Dehingia

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristi

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amy

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