Martha Nussbaum

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Martha Craven Nussbaum; born May 6, 1947) is an American philosopher. She has collaborated with scholars like Amartya Sen. Her work has been criticized as pseudo-scientific and anti-Hindu.[note 1]

Martha (born Martha Craven on May 6, 1947) is an American philosopher, with a particular interest in ancient philosophy, law and ethics. She was born in New York, the daughter of George Craven, a Philadelphia lawyer, and Betty Warren, a homemaker. She studied theatre and classics at New York University (NYU) (BA 1969), gradually moving to philosophy while at Harvard (MA 1972; PhD 1975). This period also saw her marriage to Alan Nussbaum (divorced in 1987), conversion to Judaism, and the birth of her daughter Rachel.

During the 1980s Nussbaum began a collaboration with economist Amartya Sen on issues of development and ethics, with whom she was romantically linked at the time. With Sen, she promoted the "capability approach" to development, which views capabilities ("substantial freedoms", such as the ability to live to old age, engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities) as the constitutive parts of development, and poverty as capability-deprivation. This contrasts with a common view that sees development purely in terms of GNP growth, and poverty purely as income-deprivation. It is also universalist, and therefore contrasts with relativist approaches to development. Much of the work is presented from an Aristotelian perspective.

Nussbaum has used the capability approach to reinterpret John Rawls's Theory of Justice. For her, Rawls's Liberty Principle is only meaningful if viewed in terms of substantial freedoms, i.e. real opportunities based on personal and social circumstance. Likewise, inequality in the Difference Principle has to be clarified in terms of capabilities.

Since 1995, Nussbaum has been Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago law faculty. Her current partner is Cass R. Sunstein, a constitutional scholar, also at Chicago.


  • Are there other serious charges that might be made against left-wing historians? in his vitriolic book Eminent Historians, Arun Shourie has charged a large group of historians who dominated the Indian Council for Historical Research with both Marxist ideology and with arranging to corner desirable monetary grants for their own group. the financial charge seems to an independent and highly critical observer, journalist Ramachandra Guha, overdone a little silly: .....Guha does complain, however, of an atmosphere of intellectual orthodoxy and a lack of methodological diversity in the ICHR group, which he contrasts unfavourably with the Indian Council of Social Science Research during the same period. in particular, he feels that a genuine liberal postion - which he (tendentiously ) takes to involve a strong defence of political freedom and equality for all citizens, combined with a rejection of affirmative action - has not been given due representation on government committees, either by the old ICHR group or by its Hindu-right successors. such a complaint, coming from a thoughtful, independent observer, suggests that one might well find that before the ascendancy of the BJP historical scholarship tended toward an excessive emphases on political solidarity and a deficient interest in intellectual diversity. there are legitimate questions to be raised in this area....


  • As I continued reading, however, I found myself starting to pull back from the trajectory of Nussbaum’s analysis. I myself have researched much of the same material that Nussbaum has (see, for example, Gerald J. Larson, India’s Agony over Religion, SUNY Press, 1995), but my findings are rather dramati- cally different from Nussbaum’s. What began to bother me about Nussbaum’s trajectory is that she is really not interested in the general issue of “religious violence” and the manner in which religious violence links up with religious sensibilities of one kind or another, whether perpetrated by the left or the right in India. What she is really interested in is mounting a political assault on what she identifies as the “Hindu Right,” and in this regard Nussbaum takes no prisoners. As the book unfolds, the Hindu Right becomes responsible not only for the tragedy at Godhra, but for anti-secularism, communalism, miso- gyny, casteism, excessive male aggression, and the distortion of history. As the book proceeds, the prose grows livid. Says Nussbaum: “Domination over Hindu women and violence against Muslim women lie deep in the Hindu right’s political consciousness” (187). Or again, “Fucking a Muslim woman just means killing her. Instead of murder necessitated by and following sex, the murder just is the sex. Women are killed by having large metal objects inserted into their vaginas” (209). “The Hindu male does not even need to dirty his penis with the contaminating fluids of the Muslim woman. He can fuck her with the clean nonporous metal weapon that kills her, while he himself remains pure. Nothing is left to inspire fear” (209).To put the matter directly, Nussbaum’s analysis lacks balance, nuance, and civility. In short, it is not only unpersuasive; it is a disservice to her subject. In her portrayal of the “The Human Face of the Hindu Right” (chapter 2), she discusses K. K. Shastri, Devendra Swarup, Arun Shourie, and Gurcharan Das, but there is hardly a paragraph about A. B. Vajpayee, L. K. Advani, K. L. Malkani, Murli Manohar Joshi, or any number of other more moderate spokespersons for a conservative Hindu politics. On the other side, Tagore, Gandhi, and Nehru are eulogized with little attempt to offer a nuanced histori- cal assessment.
  • Most striking, however, is that Nussbaum appears to get caught up in a certain version of the self-referential paradox. Nussbaum calls for a “public poetry,” a democratic politics that is open and tolerant by those “who do not fear difference, who seek peaceful relations with people from other religions and ways of life, and who see democratic institutions as strong enough to provide the groundwork for a future of mutual respect.” Moreover, this “public poetry” must be constituted by people committed to a “democracy” that “must learn how to cultivate the inner world of human beings, equipping each citizen to contend against the passion for domination and to accept the reality, and the equality, of others” (79). Unfortunately, however, there is very little “public poetry” or “mutual respect” in Nussbaum’s own treatment of the “Hindu Right.” The great question that must always be posed to the proponents of tol- erance, impartiality, and mutual respect is simply: what to do with those who do not accept those values? Either one can tolerate the intolerant and thereby acquiesce in submission, or, one can refuse to tolerate the intolerant thereby unmasking (as Stanley Fish and others have shown) that mutual respect and tolerance are finally constituted by what cannot be tolerated. Alas, I fear, Martha Nussbaum has yet to resolve that “clash within” her own intellectual orientation.
    • The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future. By Martha C. Nussbaum. Larson, Gerald James // Journal of the American Academy of Religion;Dec2009, Vol. 77 Issue 4, p990
  • But it is ultimately marred by a selective rendering of Indian political history, a stunted view of how India’s myriad social cleavages operate in the political arena (caste and especially regional mobilizations receive too little emphasis), and a self-indulgent writing style that repeatedly pushes Nussbaum’s own voice and character judgments to center stage. She announces in the book’s preface, “This is a book about India for an American and European audience” (p. ix) though it soon becomes clear that the book is more specifically for Americans – and in some senses about America and its relationship to democracy, both at home and abroad. She repeatedly draws parallels between the BJP and Southern right-wing politics in America: “The Hindu right is comparable to the U.S. South, torn between explicit appeals to racism and a more inclusive politics.” ....
  • Such parallels are interesting, but they are very casually drawn, and sometimes have the unfortu- nate quality of hearkening back to stale modernization models of democratic development: India’s experiences will track and repeat those of the US. Much ink has been spilled in response to Huntington’s thesis – and much of it has been quite critical – but Nussbaum’s present-tense char- acterization, and her failure to place it in its original context (as part of a spirited early post-Cold War debate among political scientists about what new fault lines might emerge), is just the first of several instances in the book in which she does not deal entirely fairly with subjects, and lets a polemical penchant get in the way of professional standards of scholarship (Nussbaum’s editors at Belknap/Harvard University Press have applied a fairly light touch, and the book comes across almost as a star vehicle for its author). The image of Hindu nationalism as a response to wounded masculinity recurs throughout the book. For whatever real merit there might be in examining the Hindutva movement and its conceptions of “Mother India” through such gender-conscious lenses, Nussbaum’s preoccupation with this theme leads her to make some questionable choices in terms of both methodology and professional ethics for the personal interviews that she conducted for the book. A particularly frustrating chapter, which she calls “The Human Face of the Hindu Right,” uses bait-and-switch. “It is relatively easy...
  • Unfortunately, the vignettes she offers on three “leading figures of the right” – “The Zealot” K. K. Shastri, “The RSS Scholar” Devendra Swarup, and “The Politician” Arun Shourie – alternate between car- toonish and condescending, and only fleetingly convey the empathy that Nussbaum claims to be seeking. ....
  • What makes her stylistic choices here so disappointing is not just that they are beneath commonly held standards of professional scholarship, but that they fall short of the standards of conduct that Nussbaum herself (via Gandhi) sets for India and America. In its own way, is not her treatment of these all-too-human subjects a kind of “violence,” a seeking to put them in their place? To her, such means are apparently justified by the Hindu nationalist movement’s own sporadic penchant for literal brutality, but the adage often attributed to Gandhi resonates: “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” It is precisely when Nussbaum’s book is at its most polemical that it casts the dimmest light upon its very important subject matter. ...for example, Nussbaum makes no mention of the December 2001 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament, which significantly height- ened tensions with Pakistan (which, Indian officials said, had links to the terrorists) well into 2002. India’s 150 million Muslims obviously are not the sinister “fifth column” they represent in the fevered minds of Hindu zealots and cynical politicians such as Narendra Modi (indeed, leftist “Naxalite” extremists probably represent a much greater threat to India’s internal security than groups such as the Student Islamic Movement of India), but Nussbaum either cannot or does not wish to take seriously the question of Muslim extremism within India, or a broader regional backdrop to sectarian tension and violence.....
    • Jason A. Kirk (2008) Hindu Nationalism Five Years after Godhra, India Review, 7:1, 73-90, DOI: 10.1080/14736480801901238
  • Nussbaum, if she were truly a well-wisher of India, would educate herself about Indian philosophy, religion and culture and read reports about Indian events by other than her Marxist/Socialist friends and colleagues. She should, as a rhetorician, be especially interested in the fourth-century logician Vatsyayana’s identification of the vices and virtues of speech. The vices originating from speech, according to him are mithya (falsehood), parusha (caustic talk), soochana (calumny) and asambaddha (absurd talk). The virtues of speech are satya (veracity), hitavaachana (talking with good intention), priyavaachana (gentle talk) and svaadhyaaya (recitation of scriptures). Prof. Nussbaum may want to appear on the “right side of history” but that should not be at the expense of truth.
    • Prof. Ramesh N. Rao, Selective Outrage, Suspect Ethics, [1] [archive]
  • I have so far left unstated a fact crucial if one is to understand Martha Nussbaum. She is in my view an unscrupulous propagandist, avid to defend her opinions by fair means or foul; and I regret to say that this aspect of her modus operandi soon surfaces in the book. ... Indeed, Nussbaum has a habit of eliding facts inconvenient to her thesis.
    • What Tower? What Babel? Winter 1997 David Gordon. Review of CULTIVATING HUMANITY by Martha C. Nussbaum 4 1997 Volume 3, Number 4


  • Aristotle's De Motu Animalium (1978)
  • The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986)
  • Love's Knowledge (1990)
  • Nussbaum Martha, and Sen Amartya. The Quality of Life. (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993)
  • The Therapy of Desire (1994)
  • Poetic Justice (1996)
  • For Love of Country (1996)
  • Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997)
  • Sex and Social Justice (1998)
  • Women and Human Development (2000)
  • Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2001)
  • Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004)


  1. IndiaFacts Staff. "Eight anti-India Intellectuals and Academics you must be Aware of" [archive]. IndiaFacts. Retrieved 26 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Juluri, Vamsee. Rearming Hinduism [archive]. Westland. ISBN 978-9384030520. Retrieved 26 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Neelakandan, Aravindan. "Wendy's Ban Wish Syndrome" [archive]. Center Right India. Centre Right India. Retrieved 26 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Malhotra, Rajiv, Breaking India

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