Philosophical Interventions: Book Reviews, 1986-2011

By Martha C. Nussbaum | Go to book overview

Introduction

This book began, perhaps, with a conversation with John Rawls in Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Cambridge, in those far-away days when I still loved burgers. It is thus, inevitably, a record both of ongoing commitment and of personal change. I don’t even remember the year of the conversation or the book we were discussing, but the conversation itself made a lasting impression on me. I had just been invited to review a book for some relatively public journal, and I sought Rawls’s advice about whether I should spend my time in this way. I expected him to say no, that writing books and philosophical articles was the important thing: after all, that was how he had spent his life. But he surprised me. He told me that he knew that he himself did not have the ability to speak or write as a public intellectual (thinking, no doubt, of the stammer that always afflicted him, but perhaps also of his dense literary style). If, however, one has those abilities, he said to me, then one has a duty to use them for the public good. I never forgot that, and it has led not only to a side career as a book reviewer but also to the production of some books addressing public issues for a general public, books that I think of as a form of public service owed in gratitude for a life of remarkable happiness and self-indulgence, talking and writing about whatever I love most. Those books include Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997) (written after the Gifford Lectures that eventually became Upheavals of Thought, representing ten years of wanton selfindulgence on topics so lovely to struggle with); The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future (2007); From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law (2009); Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010); and this year, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (2011) (after the intellectual pleasure of pondering all the nuances of a philosophical position in two specialized books, a book explaining it very clearly to the general public). All these books, produced

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