The immediate problem confronted by readers of Martha Nussbaum's early work is that, from a professional point of view, the quality of mind behind the arguments seems far superior to the arguments themselves. From the point of view of the academic philosopher, Nussbaum is far too heavily invested in literature; while, from the point of view of the professional literary critic, she is far too deeply committed to a principle of realism, even to an affective relationship with literary characters, that is incompatible with academic norms. The central idea in her early work is not in fact conceptual or critical at all, but rather moral: a fundamental transformation of life based on a relinquishing of mastery,a submission of the mind to emotion, especially erotic emotion. Nussbaum has commented on the formative impact of an adolescent reading of Plato's Phaedrus, in which she identified herself with the younger partner of the Platonic homosexual couple, the apprentice learner bound to the master by erotic and intellectual ties, and we can see in Nussbaum'searly work residues of this identification. In ''phase two'' of Nussbaum'swork, we can, however,trace a further conversion, in which Nussbaum positions herself not as the apprentice but as the master. In most of the work she has produced since the late 1980s, the values and orientations of her early work are precisely inverted: emotions are now checked or carefully contained, an emphasis on erotic passion is transformed into a zeal for social and educational reform, the personal gives way to the cosmopolitan and even the universal; Stoic or Kantian reason becomes the dominant emphasis as Nussbaum attempts to articulate a general account of ''the human.'' Nussbaum's public disputes over the past decade reveal, in addition to the differences that continue to separate her from her contemporaries, a complex attempt to negotiate the differences that divide her from herself. The most characteristic gesture of the work of the past ten years is an often-revised ''List of Human Capabilities'' that she proposes as a way of guiding quality-of-life assessments, especially in developing nations. The conception behind such a list may represent, as her critics charge, a grossly unprofessional failure of professionalism, as well as moral arrogance; but it may also, perhaps, actually be useful.
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