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Martha Nussbaum asks: How can we sustain a decent society that aspires to justice and inspires sacrifice for the common good? Amid negative emotions endemic even to good societies, public emotions rooted in love―intense attachments outside our control―can foster commitment to shared goals and keep at bay the forces of disgust and envy.
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Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.Review:
[Nussbaum] maps out the routes by which men and women who begin in self-interest and ingrained prejudice can build a society in which what she calls ‘public emotions’ operate to enlarge the individual’s ‘circle of concern’...Those who would extend the sympathy individuals feel to include fellow citizens of whatever views, ethnicity, ability or disability must ‘create stable structures of concern that extend compassion broadly.’ Those structures cannot be exclusively rational and philosophical--as they tend to be in the work of John Rawls and other Kantian liberals--but must, says Nussbaum, be political in the sense that they find expression in the visible machinery of public life...It is one of the virtues of Nussbaum’s book that she neither shrinks from sentimentality (how could she, given her title and subtitle?) nor fears being judged philosophically unsophisticated. (Stanley Fish New York Times 2013-10-14)
Nussbaum [is] one of the finest theorists on law and ethics...Her journey is a tour de force that travels through Greek and Indian epics, the music of Mozart in ‘The marriage of Figaro,’ the poems of Rabindranath Tagore and Walt Whitman, the rhetorical speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the writings of John Stuart Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, B.R. Ambedkar, Auguste Comte and John Rawls to make a case for establishing just societies by foregrounding emotions that can be developed through critical reasoning...Then she, with incisive brilliance, investigates three emotions that pose special problems for compassionate citizenship: fear, envy and shame and also explain that some societies instead of combating them make the situation worse...Her magnum opus. (A. S. Panneerselvan The Hindu 2013-10-28)
There’s no more interesting or persuasive writer on the wider and connected subjects of emotions and social justice than Martha Nussbaum...Here she brings together strands that go back to her own The Fragility Of Goodness (1986), and in the process delivers a book as important in its way as John Rawls’s definitive but slightly bloodless A Theory of Justice. Here, she draws on aesthetics as well as philosophy to make her point...It’s a great book, though, and goes straight on the shelf beside John Rawls. Political morality for the new age. (Brian Morton Glasgow Herald 2013-11-02)
Political Emotions is an important work, and Nussbaum has created valuable space for love and human imperfection to be weighed more heavily in the search for justice. (Geraldine Van Bueren Times Higher Education 2013-11-07)
Nussbaum stimulates readers with challenging insights on the role of emotion in political life. Her provocative theory of social change shows how a truly just society might be realized through the cultivation and studied liberation of emotions, specifically love. To that end, the book sparkles with Nussbaum's characteristic literary analysis, drawing from both Western and South Asian sources, including a deep reading of public monuments. In one especially notable passage, Nussbaum artfully interprets Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, revealing it as a musical meditation on the emotionality of revolutionary politics and feminism. Such chapters are a culmination of her passion for seeing art and literature as philosophical texts, a theme in her writing that she profitably continues here. The elegance with which she negotiates this diverse material deserves special praise, as she expertly takes the reader through analyses of philosophy, opera, primatology, psychology, and poetry. In contrast to thinkers like John Rawls, who imagined an already just world, Nussbaum addresses how to order our society to reach such a world. A plea for recognizing the power of art, symbolism, and enchantment in public life, Nussbaum's cornucopia of ideas effortlessly commands attention and debate.
(Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2013-08-12)
Justice is hard. It demands our devotion as well as our understanding. For that reason, it must grip our emotions. We must feel its absence and its presence with the depth of feeling that we associate with love. That is the compelling message in Martha Nussbaum's remarkable--and remarkably original--account of political emotions. She explores the place of love in a decent society that aspires to be just. And she explains--with great intellectual and emotional force--how we can cultivate a political love with the kind of complexity that does justice to our humanity.
(Joshua Cohen, author of The Arc of the Moral Universe and Other Essays)
In her sweeping panorama of society and culture, Nussbaum skillfully and flexibly uses her understanding of public emotions to produce a book of considerable wisdom and merit. Her study is anchored in a well-rounded view of a complex but largely unexplored theme in the West as well as in South Asia. (Mushirul Hasan, author of Faith and Freedom: Gandhi in History)
Political Emotions is a remarkable synthesis of two of the most distinctive strands of Nussbaum's thought--a conception of the emotions as essential to our understanding of the world and a political liberalism attuned to the fostering of human capacities. Readers will not fail to be enlightened and moved. (Charles Larmore, author of The Autonomy of Morality)
Martha Nussbaum rises above all the disciplinary boundaries. This wise and engaging study of what patriotism is and how to cultivate it is written by a philosopher, a political theorist, a psychologist, a literary critic, and a historian--all of them at their best and all of them one amazing person.
(Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study)
Reading [Political Emotions] has reinforced, but more importantly broadened, my understanding of love’s significance in political life and how it can be fostered there...I find much political wisdom in Nussbaum’s book. (Walter Moss LA Progressive 2013-11-19)
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