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Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (Princeton Paperbacks) [Paperback]

Martha C. Nussbaum
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Book Description

22 Jan 2006 Princeton Paperbacks

Should laws about sex and pornography be based on social conventions about what is disgusting? Should felons be required to display bumper stickers or wear T-shirts that announce their crimes? This powerful and elegantly written book, by one of America's most influential philosophers, presents a critique of the role that shame and disgust play in our individual and social lives and, in particular, in the law.

Martha Nussbaum argues that we should be wary of these emotions because they are associated in troubling ways with a desire to hide from our humanity, embodying an unrealistic and sometimes pathological wish to be invulnerable. Nussbaum argues that the thought-content of disgust embodies "magical ideas of contamination, and impossible aspirations to purity that are just not in line with human life as we know it." She argues that disgust should never be the basis for criminalizing an act, or play either the aggravating or the mitigating role in criminal law it currently does. She writes that we should be similarly suspicious of what she calls "primitive shame," a shame "at the very fact of human imperfection," and she is harshly critical of the role that such shame plays in certain punishments.

Drawing on an extraordinarily rich variety of philosophical, psychological, and historical references--from Aristotle and Freud to Nazi ideas about purity--and on legal examples as diverse as the trials of Oscar Wilde and the Martha Stewart insider trading case, this is a major work of legal and moral philosophy.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; New Ed edition (22 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691126259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691126258
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 459,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Winner of the 2004 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Law, Association of American Publishers

"[A] lucid and carefully argued new book."--Brigitte Frase, Ruminator Review

"A remarkably wide ranging and nuanced treatise on the interplay between emotions and law. . . . A short book review cannot do justice to Nussbaum's exceptionally thorough evaluation of shame, disgust and the law."--Stefanie A. Lindquist, Law and Politics Book Review

"Disgust and shame are problematic emotions that often appear to want to repudiate our basic, body-based humanity, Martha Nussbaum claims in this ambitious and timely book. . . . Nussbaum is by no means in favor of purging the law of all reference to emotion: she in fact makes an eloquent case for why this cannot and should not be done. . . . But there are some emotions--Nussbaum mentions jealousy as well as shame and disgust--that appear to offer an unreliable guide to human behavior, to risk calling up mere prejudice and social stigma instead of valid distinctions."--Peter Brooks, Green Bag

"Nussbaum is America's most prominent philosopher of public life, and a new book by her is always a force to be reckoned with. The argument of Hiding from Humanity, characteristically lucid, is carried on at two levels. First, she wants to put disgust on trial. . . . At a deeper level, however, Nussbaum's argument is not simply about the law, but about a whole conception of human society and what it means to be human."--John Wilson, The Boston Globe

"What part should disgust pay in determining which acts society punishes, and how severely? And to what extent, if at all, should disgust's cousin, shame, be harnessed to play a role in punishment? As a liberal, Nussbaum comes to a liberal answer. But this does no credit to the painstakingly fair way in which she sets out and explores the arguments in both directions, and any reader who approaches her book with views firmly set is likely to leave it with solid certainties somewhat shake. . . . She traverses some difficult territory, from necrophilia and bestiality to Martha Stewart, to reach as close to a civilized conclusion as the subject may admit."--David Honigmann, Financial Times

"This study, written in an engaging style that reflects Nussbaum's concern to make philosophy accessible, contains a keen and erudite examination of the emotions of disgust and shame. . . . Getting to the root of what causes us disgust, shame and righteous anger forces us to clarify what we value. This is the task to which Nussbaum's study should inspire us."--Christian Century

"Writing in an academically sophisticated but accessible style, Nussbaum is equally at home discussing Aristotle and Freud, Whitman's poetry and Supreme Court case law. The result is an exceptionally smart, stimulating and intellectually rigorous analysis that adds an illuminating psychological dimension to our understanding of law and public policy."--Publishers Weekly

"[A] sophisticated exploration of how emotions enlarge or contract the nation's commitment to equal dignity for all. . . . Populists and communitarians will lock horns with legal theorists in the debates this book will provoke."--Booklist

"Nussbaum's work is rich and readable. To construct her argument she uses thick case studies and extensive research from a wide variety of literary, experimental, and sociological sources. She gives a fair hearing and fair treatment not only to her own liberal position and its accompanying conclusions but to those whose conclusions mark out strong disagreement with her."--Dolores L. Christie, Magill's Literary Annual 2005

"Hiding from Humanity is a noteworthy addition to recent scholarship on emotions and a valuable counterweight to the growing--and at times unexamined--endorsement of disgust and shame."--Justin Reinheimer, Law, Culture, and the Humanities

From the Inside Flap

"This exciting book on emotions and the law tackles universal questions central to every legal system. We may pretend that law is a wholly rational discipline. We may try to tame strong emotions. But as Martha Nussbaum shows in her analysis of the passions that influence our attitude to law and its problems, we cannot deny our human feelings. Sometimes in the law, however, we strongly need to keep them in check. Intuition, in particular, is often wrong. Disgust is sometimes based on an infantile dislike of the unfamiliar."--Justice Michael Kirby, High Court of Australia

"This elegantly written book interweaves materials from psychoanalytic theory, ancient and contemporary moral and political philosophy, literature and law. Hiding from Humanity represents a comprehensive, sustained, and highly impressive analysis of the emotions of shame and disgust and the role they play in moral and legal analysis."--Seana Shiffrin, University of California, Los Angeles

"A pleasure to read. The skill and dexterity of Nussbaum's arguments demonstrate why she is so widely admired."--Jack M. Balkin, Yale University

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable 15 April 2009
Hiding from Humanity addresses a challenge to certain echelons of society. One must wonder if our ancestors faced the same distaste for compassion as so many of us do today. Cynicism and hatred, shame and anger rides like a chariot over the softy emotions of our humanity: the very foundation of our creativity and progress.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Case Against Disgust and Shame As a Basis for Law and Punishment 8 April 2006
By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The thesis presented in this book is relatively simple. Human beings are deeply troubled about being human--being highly intelligent and resourceful, on the one hand, but weak and vulnerable, helpless against death, on the other. We are ashamed of this awkward condition and, in many ways, we try to hide from it. In the process, we develop sentiments such as shame at human frailty and disgust at the signs of our animality and mortality.

In addition, we use these two emotions to project our fears on marginalized groups or people who come to embody the dominant group's fear and loathing of its own human frailty. Disgust and shame are therefore two potent human emotions, but they are also problematic and should not be used as a reference in law formulation or legal punishment. On the contrary, law should protect citizens from insults to their dignity such as shaming and scapegoating.

Martha Nussbaum describes her book as "an essay about the psychological foundations of liberalism" and she makes great use of experimental data, including materials from child psychology and psychoanalysis, in her analysis of shame and disgust. On the other hand, apart from a few references to Erving Goffman's psycho-sociology of stigma, she doesn't mobilize insights from anthropology and the social sciences, and doesn't attempt to compare the variations encountered by human emotions across cultures. She dismisses Mary Douglass' analysis of purity and pollution as irrelevant to her subject, and makes no reference to Rene Girard's theory of violence and the sacred.

Likewise, the conclusions she draws from her analysis of emotions and the law are mostly confined to the American context, and she makes no reference to other legal traditions. Her defense of same-sex marriage or her critique of some aspects of obscenity laws are bound to be provocative. Unfortunately, she tends to dismiss her opponents as falling prey to "moral panic" instead of seriously engaging their arguments.

Although I am sympathetic to Nussbaum's liberal agenda, I am not fully convinced by the theoretical foundations of her analysis, and I cannot follow her on some of her conclusions. But Hiding from Humanity nonetheless provides an interesting read. It should be appreciated by all who care about political liberalism and its core ideals of equal respect, reciprocity, and the inviolability of the person.
39 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! 20 Jun 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This is a remarkable book. As a gay man, I found myself saying "thank you" outloud as I finished each chapter. Nussbaum is more than just a wonderful American philosopher, she's a national treasure. If you haven't read her exchange with the, in my opnion, evil philosopher John Finnis, I highly recommend you do. One final point, although I am also a fan of Judith Butler (and I know that Nussbaum and Butler don't always see eye to eye), I see no reason why anyone has to "choose sides." Both of these women are amazing, and both are great to read. The book is very long, which is fine becuase thinkers like Nussbaum have so many interesting ideas and observations on the world we live in. One impression that I got from the book (and this has nothing to do with Nussbaum's own views) is how hard it is trying to come up with a non-theological (that is, non-mystical) argument against homosexuality. Personally, I don't think one can be made -- not a convincing one, at least. Nussbaum co-edited a debate-style book on sexual orientation and American religion, and all the arguments against homosexuality really fell flat and seemed so outdated and almost "hokey." So they really weren't that convincing either. Bottom line is: gays and lesbians have as much right to freedom and the benefits that come with it (marriage, ect.) that straight people do. After all, marriage is all about economic rights and perks whether we want to admit this to ourselves or not. It isn't fair that heterosexuals should have a monopoly on those rights, benefits, perks etc. And besides, who doesn't want gays and lesbians to be in loving, happy, monogamous relationships? And what better incentive is marriage?
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