One of our most prominent philosophers and public intellectuals explores how literature can contribute to a more just society. "Timely and urgent . . . a tract for the times in the guise of a defense of the literary imagination".Morris Dickstein, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW. Index.
In "Poetic Justice, " one of our most prominent philosophers explores how the literary imagination is an essential ingredient of just public discourse and a democratic society.
Martha Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. Among her many publications is Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (OUP 1990).
Timely and urgent. . . . Ms. Nussbaum's appeal to the outlook of fiction as a model for judicial and social policy is bracingly utopian and immensely heartening. --Morris Dickstein, The New York Times Book Review "No one has made a better case for the importance of literary and humanistic education to the public life of the nation. Martha Nussbaum's new book should be required reading for every member of Congress." --Stanley Fish, author of Professional Correctness: Literary Studies and Political Change
"Nussbaum argues elegantly that the novel, by engaging our sympathy in the contemplation of lives different from ours, expands our imaginative capabilities so we may better make those judgments that public life demands of us. . . . Nussbaum's thesis . . . deserves to be shouted from the rooftops-like Whitman's Song of Myself." --Kirkus Reviews
"Nussbaum fascinatingly argues that the so-called 'reasoning mind' has blinded us from that all-too-obvious aspect of being a human animal-our emotions." --Raul Nino, New City
"Nussbaum is one of our profound contemporary thinkers. . . . We do not know whether or not reading novels really does make people more humane [but] here is the strongest argument yet published." --Keith Oatley, Toronto, Ontario Globe & Mail
Those staid souls who always wondered what novels were good for now get to hear it from Nussbaum (Ethics/Univ. of Chicago; The Therapy of Desire, 1994, etc.), who instructs us in the use of imaginative empathy as one of the necessary tools for living the just life. Nussbaum argues elegantly that the novel, by engaging our sympathy in the contemplation of lives different from ours, expands our imaginative capabilities so we may better make those judgments that public life demands of us. Her sources are carefully chosen: Aristotle, the Stoics, Adam Smith, et al., are called into service appropriately and sparingly. On the down side, the literary examples - Dickens's Hard Times, Richard Wright's Native Son, and E.M. Forster's Maurice - are perhaps too predictable a trio; Nussbaum also makes reference to Whitman, however, which brings some fresh air into the book. Poetic Justice reads like the series of law school lectures it was originally: there is much enumeration of points to be proved before proving them. It alternates between academic mouthfuls and the thoughtful phrase juste (we read that love is "not, in the relevant sense, blind: it perceives its object as endowed with a special wonder and importance"). For whatever reason (perhaps Nussbaum doesn't have the feeling for literature that she does for the law), the book only gets truly interesting with the citation of legal cases, especially the dreadful Mary Jane Carr v. Allison Gas Turbine Division, General Motors Corporation (1994), which begs the question of why the court would rule "mighty" GM powerless to stop mass sexual harassment of a single female worker. Poetic Justice will be most appreciated by philosophers, lawyers, and economists; creative types may be frustrated by the face-value uses the literary passages are put to. Nussbaum's thesis, however, deserves to be shouted from the rooftops - like Whitman's Song of Myself. (Kirkus Reviews)
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