I don’t always agree, but Nussbaum has thought deeply. Of J.S. Mill:
“The key notion in making something legally regulable is the notion of a potential harm. If there’s no harm in the offing except a self-chosen one, for Mill that’s just no business of the law.”
She’s quite after decoupling religious moral teaching from the laws of the state, and using Mill to do it. She has also argued that disgust ought not to be the basis of our laws, and can get in the way of a free and egalitarian society:
“But disgust always has this edgy irrationality about it. It’s a way of fleeing from yourself. Whether it’s useful in evolutionary terms, that I leave to evolutionary scientists. Probably it is. That doesn’t mean that in the law we should rely on it. The imagination of humanity, of course, can be unreliable too. But all we’re really asking is that people see the other people as people.”
You mean see people as ends in themselves, and not means to an end? It’s a good idea, but I wonder if moral and religious principles aren’t lurking somewhere here in the background, vis a vis Kant, or Darwin, or simply through Mill’s utilatarianism? I think it’s also reasonable to worry about a potential secular morality developing out of this (evolutionary psychology, neuroscience etc.) that could become secular moralism. “Humanity” could become a blunt instrument; a way to keep a free and open society by asking this much of its individual members, but also problematic when it comes to individual liberty and the state.
There are always reasons to be a Stoic.
Yet Nussbaum doesn’t go as far as to argue that morality is based in our feeling:
“I don’t think any emotion should be trusted on its own without being constantly in dialogue with moral principles. At every point, whether it’s anger or fear or any emotion–even compassion, which can, of course, lead you to favor your family against other people–you should always be asking, Is this consistent with the idea of a society of people who are free and equal?”
Jesse Prinz has made those arguments, via David Hume:
An interesting thinker.
Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal…Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution…Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”…
Mill’s Harm Principle Mentioned: