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Martha Craven Nussbaum photo

Martha Craven Nussbaum

  • U.S.A. / May 6, 1947
  • Philosopher
  • Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, The University of Chicago

A Philosopher Who Has Developed a New Theory of Justice Advocating the Capabilities Approach

Dr. Nussbaum introduced the notion of incorporating human capabilities (what each person is able to do or be) into the criteria for social justice, beyond the conventional theory of equality based on a social contract among rational individuals. She established a new theory of justice that ensures the inclusion of the weak and marginalized, who are deprived of opportunities to develop their capabilities in society, and has proposed ways to apply this theory in the real world.


Brief Biography

Born in New York, U.S.A.
Ph.D. in Classical Philology, Harvard University
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Classics, Harvard University
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Classics, Brown University
Professor of Philosophy, Classics and Comparative Literature, Brown University
Research Advisor, World Institute for Development Economics Research, United Nations University
University Professor and Professor of Philosophy, Classics and Comparative Literature, Brown University
Professor of Law and Ethics, The University of Chicago
Ernst Freund Professor of Law and Ethics, The University of Chicago
Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, The University of Chicago

Selected Awards and Honors

Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences
Order of the White Rose of Finland, First Class Knight
American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Selected Publications


The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1986.


Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2000.


Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, Cambridge University Press, 2001.


Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law, Princeton University Press, 2004.


Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership, Harvard University Press, 2006.


Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice, Harvard University Press, 2013.


Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice, Oxford University Press, 2016.


A Philosopher Who Has Developed a New Theory of Justice Advocating the Capabilities Approach

Dr. Martha Craven Nussbaum has led global discourse on philosophical topics that influence the human condition in profound ways, including contemporary theories of justice, law, education, feminism and international development assistance. She strives to present ethics that effectively promote human welfare amid an environment of globally changing social conditions that often produce conflict in values and emotions.

Among her best-known achievements is the development of a political philosophy that focuses on human capabilities. Over many years, Dr. Nussbaum worked with Dr. Amartya Sen, an Indian economist who attempted to reintegrate philosophy and economics and advocated a capability approach to human well-being. Dr. Nussbaum’s version of the “capabilities approach” was created by developing the results of their collaborative research in a unique way. She has advocated a new idea: that the normative justice should focus on the development of capabilities—what each individual is able to do or be—so people can unlock their potential and flourish. Under the capabilities approach, for example, poverty is reinterpreted as capability deprivation rather than a mere lack of money. Using this theory, Dr. Nussbaum has injected new insights into the discussion of human welfare policy and forms of assistance to developing countries.

Dr. Nussbaum has articulated a broad set of human capabilities that includes the inviolability of good health and bodily integrity, the free movement of imagination and critical thinking, and concern for other people and other species. Her list of capabilities is cited around the world as a normative theory for human rights education—and a base of assessment of human development and a foundation for public policy in areas ranging from child welfare to gender equality. She has attracted global attention for advocating liberal education as the foundation of democracy, and multicultural awareness as a path toward harmony among people of diverse cultures while she has engaged in in-depth discussion with people from different cultural backgrounds, particularly in India.

Dr. Nussbaum has devoted particular effort to researching the emotional origins of laws, and her conclusions influence penal policy and related legislation. She has analyzed the nature of negative emotions, such as anger, disgust and shame, reviewed many cases to examine how human vulnerability is connected to crime and penalties. Amid growing intolerance and discrimination against dissimilar others, her work offers practical significance by identifying the underlying causes of problems and providing new pathways to solutions.

Dr. Nussbaum has led contemporary studies in social philosophy and ethics toward a future of greater human well-being, continuously applying her findings to some of today’s most vexing social concerns. Maintaining a strong sense of mission, she continues to seek ways of promoting the harmonious coexistence of different cultures and restructuring the public sphere.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2016 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Dr. Martha Craven Nussbaum.


Abstract of the Lecture

Philosophy in the Service of Humanity

Near the start of Plato’s famous work Republic, as the characters quarrel about how to define justice, Socrates reminds them: “Remember that it is no chance matter we are discussing, but how one should live.” And political philosophy, as practiced in the Western tradition and also in the non-Western traditions of which I know all too little, has always been a practical discipline, seeing to construct a theoretical blueprint for just and decent lives in a world full of division, competition, and uncontrolled catastrophes. In this lecture I hope to provide some reasons for thinking that philosophy continues to play an important role as we work together for a better world, and to identify some criteria for valuable philosophical work on urgent human issues.

First, why do we need philosophy? In this part of the lecture I shall focus on the contributions that philosophical work has made to development economics during the past thirty years, as an example of the type of insight that philosophy can provide.

Second, what type of philosophy? Here I shall insist on several criteria. To help the progress of humanity, philosophy must be:

1. Rigorous in argument and transparent in presentation, open to all to criticize.
2. Respectful of the contribution of other disciplines, particularly history and economics.
3. Respectful of the fact that most of the world’s people live by the guidance of religious belief, and that this is an element of human life that should not be viewed with contempt, as is so often the case in philosophies of the past.
4. Curious about and respectful of the world’s many philosophical traditions and interested in establishing a cross-cultural philosophical dialogue.
5. Concerned with real human life in all its messiness and complexity, including the complexity of human psychology, which provide both resources in and obstacles to our pursuit of justice.

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Emotions and Cosmopolitanism

Saturday, November 12, 2016
Kyoto International Conference Center
Coordinator and Moderator
Tetsuya Kono (Professor, Rikkyo University)
Organized by
Inamori Foundation
Supported by
Kyoto Prefectural Government, Kyoto City Government, NHK
With the cooperation of
Japanese Association for Comparative Philosophy, Japanese Association for Religious Studies, Japanese Political Science Association, The Japanese Conference for the Study of Political Thought, The Japanese Society for Ethics, The Phenomenological Association of Japan, and The Philosophical Association of Japan


Opening Address Kiyokazu Washida (Chairperson of the Board of Trustees and President, Kyoto City University of Arts)
Introduction of Laureate and the Aim of the Workshop Tetsuya Kono
Laureate’s Lecture Martha Craven Nussbaum (the Laureate in Arts and Philosophy)
“Prejudice, Stigma, Discrimination: Combatting Exclusions Through Policy and Law”
Lecture Yuko Kamishima (Professor, Ritsumeikan University)
“Gender in Public Culture: Whose Obligation to Remove Our Fear?”
Lecture Minae Inahara (Associate Professor, Kobe University)
“Disability and Stigma: Thinking beyond Disgust and towards Humanity”
Lecture Tetsuya Kono
“Cosmopolitan Emotions”
Discussion with the Audience