The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble but Flawed Ideal

Harvard Univ. Aug. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780674052499. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780674242982. phil.
What does it mean—and what has it meant—to be a world citizen? Nussbaum (philosophy & law, Univ. of Chicago; Anger and Forgiveness) sympathetically reminds readers of how the stoic ideal of world citzenship has been developed in key texts by Cicero, Hugo Grotius, and Adam Smith. Nussbaum obviously values this tradition but finds damaging stoicism’s cultivation of apathy toward externals. Furthermore, for a political philosophy of international relations (whereby nations hold one another accountable to the needs of justice within their realms), such an ethic is blind to the need to care for nonhuman life and the world environment. Nussbaum joins others (such as economist Amartya Sen) in seeking to enunciate a “capabilities approach”—that is, that social and political justice within and among nations aims at human flourishing, and that such flourishing requires not only liberty but also essential material goods for each person to develop one’s human capabilities.
VERDICT Nussbaum wants to extend the “cosmopolitan tradition” to address key problems, among them international human rights, foreign aid, and asylum and immigration issues. As usual, she demonstrates the value of reading old texts in order to address contemporary concerns in this timely and well-argued contribution.
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