From Publishers Weekly
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 Kasss notion of a bioethics based on "the wisdom of repugnance" and communitarian Amitai Etzionis 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, Whitmans 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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A citizen filled with grief or anger may advance the cause of liberal equity, but a citizen filled with disgust never will. So argues an acclaimed legal theorist in this sophisticated exploration of how emotions enlarge or contract the nation's commitment to equal dignity for all. Nussbaum insists that no strictly intellectual approach to law will ever illuminate the true reasons humans join in self-governing unions. Because they reflect humans' true vulnerability, the emotions of fear, compassion, and indignation provide guides to sound legal philosophy, but disgust, Nussbaum argues, should never form an emotional basis for law because it springs--in her view--from fantasies of superhuman purity and omnipotence. Too scholarly for most casual readers, Nussbaum's analysis nonetheless treats topics (such as same-sex marriage and nudity) sure to interest nonspecialists--many of whom will find her theories about disgust and shame too psychoanalytic to justify her support for judges who have frustrated electorates motivated by such passions. Populists and communitarians will lock horns with legal theorists in the debates this book will provoke. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved