The Human Embrace: The Love of Philosophy and the Philosophy of Love: Kierkegaard, Cavell, Nussbaum

By Ronald L. Hall | Go to book overview

Five

THE LOVE OF WISDOM

Martha Nussbaum's interest in ancient philosophy is by no means a merely theoretical interest. She is a practical philosopher first and foremost. Or as I might put this, she sees philosophy as more than an abstract aesthetic enterprise. For her, any philosophy worth its salt must have an existential dimension; it must have something to do with the concrete world, with human beings; it must address concrete human needs; it must be responsive to human perplexities, sufferings, joys; it must instruct us on how we as human beings ought to live if we are to live well, if we are to satisfy our innate desire for happiness (eudaimonia). For Nussbaum, good philosophy is therapy for the human soul, the good philosopher its physician. This, Nussbaum tells us, is what the ancients thought, and this, she tells us, is what they have to teach us.1

Interestingly enough, she, like Kierkegaard and Cavell, approaches her existential interest in the human via an exploration of the human wish to transcend itself. Her exploration takes her to the Greeks, to Plato and Aristotle, and to the inheritors of this tradition, the Hellenistic Schools. It takes her as well to literature, where she sees these themes of transcendence being worked out in a way that complements and completes the work of philosophy--or better, in a way that humanizes philosophy; in a way that gives philosophy more existential import.

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1
The two works where this is most emphasized are The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986) (hereafter FG); and The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990) (hereafter TD).

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