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Haslanger, Sally, and . Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?

2000, Nous 34(1): 31-55.

Abstract: This paper proposes social constructionist accounts of gender and race. The focus of the inquiry–inquiry aiming to provide resources for feminist and antiracist projects–are the social positions of those marked for privilege or subordination by observed or imagined features assumed to be relevant to reproductive function, or geographical origins. I develop these ideas and propose that other gendered and racialized phenomena are usefully demarcated and explained by reference to these social positions. In doing so, I address the concern that attempts to define race or gender are misguided because they either assume a false commonality or marginalize some members of the group in question.

Comment: Seminal reading for modules on gender or race.

Nussbaum, Martha, and . Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law

2004, Princeton University Press.

Back matter: “Should laws about sex and pornography be based on social conventions about what is disgusting? Should felons be required to display bumper stickers or wear T-shirts that announce their crimes? This powerful and elegantly written book, by one of America’s most influential philosophers, presents a critique of the role that shame and disgust play in our individual and social lives and, in particular, in the law.
Martha Nussbaum argues that we should be wary of these emotions because they are associated in troubling ways with a desire to hide from our humanity, embodying an unrealistic and sometimes pathological wish to be invulnerable. Nussbaum argues that the thought-content of disgust embodies “”magical ideas of contamination, and impossible aspirations to purity that are just not in line with human life as we know it.”” She argues that disgust should never be the basis for criminalizing an act, or play either the aggravating or the mitigating role in criminal law it currently does. She writes that we should be similarly suspicious of what she calls “”primitive shame,”” a shame “”at the very fact of human imperfection,”” and she is harshly critical of the role that such shame plays in certain punishments.
Drawing on an extraordinarily rich variety of philosophical, psychological, and historical references–from Aristotle and Freud to Nazi ideas about purity–and on legal examples as diverse as the trials of Oscar Wilde and the Martha Stewart insider trading case, this is a major work of legal and moral philosophy”.

Comment: Particularly useful for teaching on the non-rational motivators of moral reasoning and justifications of punishment, and on how emotions can be misleading and unreliable as a guide for law and ethics.

Nussbaum, Martha, and . Sex and Social Justice

1999, Oxford University Press.

Back matter: 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.

Comment: Chapter 'Judging Other Cultures: The Case of Genital Mutilation' can be particularly useful in illustrating the debate on universality vs relativity of ethical norms and values, and in discussing the legitimacy of imposing cultural norms of one culture upon another.

Nussbaum, Martha, and . Objectification

1995, Philosophy and Public Affairs 24(4): 249-291.

Comment: Seminal paper distinguishing seven features of sexual objectification. An excellent introduction to any class on feminism.