Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law

Martha Craven Nussbaum, Author
Martha Craven Nussbaum, Author Princeton University Press $49.5 (413p) ISBN 978-0-691-09526-4
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Often, contentious social issues like gay marriage, pornography and stem cell research are framed in terms of religion, morality and the public good. This erudite and engaging treatise contends that these debates are frequently really about the primal emotions of disgust and shame. Philosophy professor Nussbaum, author of Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, challenges a number of fashionable intellectual currents, including Leon Kass's notion of a bioethics based on""the wisdom of repugnance"" and communitarian Amitai Etzioni's championing of public humiliation of drunk drivers and other criminals. In response to advocates of populist reflexes of disgust and shame as a cure for social degeneracy, she mounts a critical defense of the classical liberal philosophy of John Stuart Mill, one refounded on a psychoanalytic theory of the emotions. She argues that while disgust and shame are inescapable psychological reactions against human animality, weakness and decay, injecting them into law and politics ends up projecting these troubling aspects of ourselves onto stigmatized groups like homosexuals, women, Jews and the disabled, and is therefore incompatible with a liberal and humane society. Writing in an academically sophisticated but accessible style, Nussbaum is equally at home discussing Aristotle and Freud, Whitman's poetry and Supreme Court case law. The result is an exceptionally smart, stimulating and intellectually rigorous analysis that adds an illuminating psychological dimension to our understanding of law and public policy.
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