Empathy, the Constitution, and Sexual Orientation


Empathy, the Constitution, and Sexual Orientation



Should America allow gay marriage? Are demands for civil rights by homosexuals analogous to earlier movements for equality by black Americans, women, and others? How have personal attitudes – particularly disgust – shaped law in the United States? This episode of Why? will focus on the enlarging sphere of respect that American culture is cultivating for all of its members, as well as the role the humanities play in articulating political rights. Join us for a discussion about constitutional interpretation regarding same-sex relations, and the role that the ethical and sympathetic imagination plays in recognizing the humanity of others.

Martha Nussbaum is one of the most distinguished and important philosophers living today. She is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, appointed in the Philosophy Department, Law School and Divinity School. She is an Associate in the Classics Department and the Political Science Department, a Member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program. She is the founder and Coordinator of the Center for Comparative Constitutionalism. She received her BA from NYU and her MA and PhD from Harvard, and has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford Universities.

Her publications include Aristotle’s De Motu Animalium (1978),The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986, updated edition 2000), Love’s Knowledge (1990), The Therapy of Desire (1994), Poetic Justice (1996), For Love of Country (1996), Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education(1997), Sex and Social Justice (1998), Women and Human Development (2000), Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2001), Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004), Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (2006), The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future (2007), and Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (2008). From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law will be published in February 2010. She has also edited thirteen books. Her Supreme Court Foreword, “Constitutions and Capabilities,” appeared in 2007 and will ultimately become a book to be published by Harvard. Her current work in progress includes: Not For Profit: Liberal Education and Democratic Citizenship (Princeton); The Cosmopolitan Tradition (Harvard); Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Harvard); and Compassion and Capabilities (Cambridge).

Why?’s host Jack Russell Weinstein explains “Martha Nussbaum’s work has been both a tremendous influence professionally and an immeasurable inspiration personally. If there’s something I want to write about, in virtually every instance, she’s been there first. At the same time, she’s accessible, interesting, and concerned with reaching out to the general public. I’m tremendously excited to have her on the show – if time permitted, I would interview her for hours.”


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Publication Date



Institute for Philosophy in Public Life


Grand Forks, ND


Same-sex marriage--United States ; Homophobia ; Constitutional law--United States ; Sexual orientation



Empathy, the Constitution, and Sexual Orientation