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Hiding from Humanity

Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Hiding from Humanity
    Book Description:

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    Drawing on an extraordinarily rich variety of philosophical, psychological, and historical references--from Aristotle and Freud to Nazi ideas about purity--and on legal examples as diverse as the trials of Oscar Wilde and the Martha Stewart insider trading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

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2594-3
    Subjects: Law, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    A California judge orders a man convicted of larceny to wear a shirt stating, “I am on felony probation for theft.” In Florida, convicted drunk drivers are required to display bumper stickers reading “Convicted D.U.I.” Similar stickers have been authorized in other states, including Texas and Iowa.¹ Penalties like these, involving public shaming of the offender, are becoming increasingly common as alternatives to fines and imprisonment.

    Jamie Bérubé was born with Down syndrome. As a result of changes enacted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, he has an Individualized Education Plan that provides for him to be "mainstreamed" in...

  5. Chapter 1 Emotions and Law
    (pp. 19-70)

    Frank Small had a quarrel with C. R. Jacoby in Keyser’s Saloon. Jacoby walked out of the saloon and down the street with his wife. As he was walking away, Small came up to him, put a pistol to his head, and shot him. Jacoby died two days later. In an attempt to mitigate the grade of the homicide from murder to manslaughter, Small argued that he had been impelled to kill by an intense surge of anger that persisted from the time of the quarrel until the fatal attack. On appeal from his conviction for first-degree murder, he argued...

  6. Chapter 2 Disgust and Our Animal Bodies
    (pp. 71-123)

    Disgust is a powerful emotion in the lives of most human beings.² It shapes our intimacies and provides much of the structure of our daily routine, as we wash our bodies, seek privacy for urination and defecation, cleanse ourselves of offending odors with toothbrush and mouthwash, sniff our armpits when nobody is looking, check in the mirror to make sure that no conspicuous snot is caught in our nose-hairs. In many ways our social relations, too, are structured by the disgusting and our multifarious attempts to ward it off. Ways of dealing with repulsive animal substances such as feces, corpses,...

  7. Chapter 3 Disgust and the Law
    (pp. 124-171)

    We have seen some reasons to be particularly mistrustful of disgust as a guide to the legal regulation of conduct. Even though it is evidently a very strong emotion, Leon Kass’s contention that it contains a wisdom that steers us reliably in moral matters is not supported by our analysis of its cognitive content and its social history. Indeed, its propensity for magical thinking and its connection to group-based prejudice and exclusion make it look particularly unreliable. Devlin’s position is, so far, less damaged by our analysis, because he grants that disgust is based on social norms. He does not...

  8. Chapter 4 Inscribing the Face: Shame and Stigma
    (pp. 172-221)

    Like disgust, shame is a ubiquitous emotion in social life. When I was a child one of my relatives, fond of advice giving, used to say to all children, “Soar with your strengths and learn to cover your weaknesses.” And of course we all do learn to cover our weaknesses as we go through life, whether by compensating for them with other strengths, by training to overcome them, or by avoiding situations in which they will inevitably manifest themselves. Most of us, most of the time, try to appear “normal,” a notion whose strangeness I shall later discuss, but whose...

  9. Chapter 5 Shaming Citizens?
    (pp. 222-279)

    Societies inflict shame on their citizens. They also provide bulwarks that protect citizens from shame. Law plays a significant role in both parts of this process. A decent society, one might think, would treat its citizens with respect for their human dignity, rather than degrading or humiliating them. A decent society would also protect its citizens from at least some types of degradation or humiliation. In this chapter we shall investigate public shaming, asking whether the law should ever use shame as a device to bolster public morality. In the next chapter we shall study a few of the ways...

  10. Chapter 6 Protecting Citizens from Shame
    (pp. 280-319)

    So far, I have argued that the law must refuse to take part in active stigmatizing of vulnerable people and groups. But of course a decent society needs to go further, finding ways to protect the dignity of its members against shame and stigma through law. This is such a fundamental goal of any decent society that it might lead us in many different directions. Laws protecting the freedom of religion and conscience; laws protecting citizens against arbitary search and seizure (touched upon in chapter 5); laws against cruel and degrading punishments (partially treated in chapter 5); laws against the...

  11. Chapter 7 Liberalism without Hiding?
    (pp. 320-350)

    Throughout this book we have been connecting the analysis of disgust and shame to the idea of political liberalism: the idea, that is, of a social order based on the idea of human dignity and on social relations characterized by reciprocity and mutual respect, including respect for differing conceptions of the ultimate good in human life. The analysis of emotion and the political conception illuminate one another. Thinking about the ideals inherent in the political conception helps us identify clearly some dangers we face if we give disgust and shame a prominent role in the foundations of the law. For...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 351-388)
  13. List of References
    (pp. 389-400)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 401-411)
  15. Index of Case Names
    (pp. 412-413)