This course has concessions available

New: Martha Nussbaum: Feeling, Fragility, Flourishing

There are few living philosophers as celebrated, renowned (or enjoyable to read) as Martha Nussbaum. Her works span a vast array of subjects, from ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, to global economic development, education, feminism, ageing, love, sex, desire, and animal rights. Above all, Martha Nussbaum highlights the central role of the emotions in ethical and political life. This course offers a comprehensive introduction into this prolific, fascinating and at times controversial thinker. Through studying a range of her writing, including The Fragility of Goodness, Cultivating Humanity, Sex and Social Justice, Hiding from Humanity, up to her most recent work, and will explore what flourishing might mean today.

Available Classes:

Who is this course for

This course is at Upper Intermediate level and wouldn't be suitable for those new to studying philosophy. It would be an ideal continuation course for someone who has previously studied on our Intermediate level courses and now wants a course that explores the work of one philosopher in depth. It may also be suitable for those with some previous grounding in Philosophy and who now want to study in more depth.

Although you should have some previous experience of studying philosophy it is not expected that you need to have much a great deal of familiarity with Martha Nussbaum's work and thought, as this is what the course will aim to provide.

What does this course cover

This course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the thought of Martha Nussbaum (b. 1947), an American philosopher and the current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. Recipient of many honorary degrees and prizes, Nussbaum's work over the last forty years has made decisive contributions to moral and political philosophy, as well as to our understanding of the thought of Greek and Roman antiquity. With an intimidating rate of publication (and whose work has yet to be critically or systematically studied), the course aims to give students a solid grounding in Nussbaum's thought, and to use it as a basis to discuss the questions she raises of the emotions, the good life, sex and gender, global development and the necessity of studying the humanities for the future.

We will begin with The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986), which highlights the acknowledgement of vulnerability for enhancing the human good. We then turn to Cultivating Humanity (1997), which, in arguing for the relevance of classic Greek tragedy for contemporary education, also makes the case for cosmopolitanism and ethical universalism. How do we appraise or defend these arguments today? We'll also explore Nussbaum's disputes with Derrida, Foucault, Judith Butler, Allan Bloom and others. We turn to Sex and Social Justice (1998), and its argument that sex and sexuality are morally irrelevant categories used to enforce social hierarchy, in a powerful work on feminism and social justice. We'll discuss Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame and the Law (2004), to explore how emotions like shame and disgust have been used to dehumanise and degrade others, as well as subsequent work on these themes. We'll also explore selections of her work on global development, ageing, desire and sexuality, to her most recent analysis of contemporary politics, The Monarchy of Fear (2018). All in all, we'll evaluate why the emotions remain central not just to the good life, but to our very understandings of social identity and justice.

At the end of this course, you will be able to:
- Explain the capabilities approach to development and its context
- Recognise why the emotions could be considered central to philosophy and politics
- Explain the nature of flourishing and the good life in Nussbaum's thought, making connections between ancient Greek and Stoic thought and modern moral and political philosophy.

What will it be like

The course will be an interactive mixture of tutor exposition, class discussion and group work. Videos and clips will be used to supplement some of these class-based activities. There are opportunities for further discussion and reading outside of the class via the course's Moodle website.

We will assess your expectations of the course in the first session. Thereafter, you will be able to monitor your progress on the course through participation in class discussion, questions and answers and in-class exercises. At the end of the course, you will be able to measure your progress against the stated outcomes for the course, and through your enhanced ability to think about and discuss the key ideas in Martha Nussbaum's work.

What else do you need to buy or do

Reading materials for the course will be provided online via the Mary Ward Centre's Moodle website and as photocopies. Each class will have a small amount of set reading expected outside class, no more than 30 mins per week.

What this course could lead to

Other Intermediate or Advanced level Philosophy courses at the Mary Ward Centre or other similar establishments. The course also corresponds well with another running the previous term, 'Where are we going? Philosophy in the Anthropocene', taught by the same tutor and at the same level, and taking place on the same day and time the previous term.

mwc logo

I've been to many Centres to study in London and the Mary Ward Centre is one of the nicest I've studied in.

MWC student


This course has concessions available for people who meet certain criteria

Got a Question about this Course?

Contact The Departmental Administrator.

Why come to Mary Ward Centre?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference.   We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening or weekend to suit your timetable.

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’