News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: More Nussbaum; This Time on Shame AND Disgust

Friday, June 23, 2006

More Nussbaum; This Time on Shame AND Disgust

Fascinated by the intellectual depth and emotional profundity of Nussbaum's work on disgust and shame in the law, I offer the following article she wrote for Chronicle of Higher Education. ...

Summing up why shame and disgust are ambivalent criteria to use in the law, Nussbaum writes:

In general, a society based on the idea of equal human dignity must find ways to inhibit stigma and the aggression that are so often linked to the proclamation that "we" are the ones who are "normal." Such a society is difficult to achieve, because incompleteness is frightening, and grandiose fictions are comforting. As a patient of the psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott said to him, "The alarming thing about equality is that we are then both children, and the question is, where is father? We know where we are if one of us is the father."

It may even be that a society in which people acknowledge their equal weakness and interdependence is unachievable because human beings cannot bear to live with the constant awareness of mortality and of their frail animal bodies. Some self-deception may be essential in getting us through a life in which we are soon bound for death, and in which the most essential matters are in fact beyond our control. But if we cannot fully achieve such a society, we can at least look to it as a paradigm (as Plato said of his ideal city), and make sure that our laws are the laws of that community and no other.
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