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Martha Nussbaum- Gleans from ‘The Therapy of Desire’: Philosophers As Compassionate Physicians

Martha Craven Nussbaum is an American philosopher and the current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, where she is jointly appointed in the law school and the philosophy department. She has a particular interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy, existentialism, feminism, and ethics, including animal rights. (full bio link in the source section below).


Today’s gleans from the Blue House of HYGEIA are from Martha Nushbaum’s ‘The Therapy of Desire, Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics.’ Princeton University Press. 2009 edition. First from the introduction pages 3 and 4 and then from chapter 1, page 14.
‘The Hellenistic philosophical schools in Greece and Rome-Epicurian, Skeptics, and Stoics-all conceived of philosophy as a way of addressing the most painful problems of human life. They saw the philosopher as a compassionate physician whose art could heal may pervasive types of human suffering. They practiced philosophy not as a detached intellectual technique dedicated to the display of cleverness but as an immersed and worldly art of grappling with human misery. They focused their attention, in consequence, on issues of daily and urgent human significance-the fear of death, love and sexuality, anger and aggression-issues that are sometime avoided as embarrassingly messy and personal by the more detached varieties of philosophies. They confronted these issues as they arose in ordinary lives, with a keen attention to the vicissitude of those lives, and to what would be necessary and sufficient to make them better.’
‘Philosophy heals human diseases, diseases produced by false beliefs. Its arguments are to the soul as the doctor’s remedies are to the body. They can heal, and they are to be evaluated in terms of their power to heal. As the medical art makes progress on behalf of the suffering body, so philosophy for the soul in distress. Correctly understood, it is no less than the soul’s art of life (techne biou). This general picture of philosophy’s task is common to all three major Hellenistic schools, at both Greece and Rome.
All accept the appropriateness of an analogy between philosophy and the art of medicine. And for all, the medical analogy is not simply a decorative metaphor; it is an important tool both of discovery and of justification.
Once one has in a general way understood that philosophy’s task is like the doctor’s task, one can then rely on that general understanding (further elaborated in a number of general criteria) to find out, more concretely and in greater detail, how the philosopher ought to proceed in a variety of circumstances. And one can appeal to the analogy to justify some new or dubious procedure as philosophically appropriate.
The rival schools debate with one another in terms organized by the analogy, commending themselves to prospective pupils as doctors belonging to rival schools of medicine would debate, proclaiming the merits of their conceptions of the art. As such debates developed, the analogy became both more complex and more concrete. Specific strategies of the doctor were compared with specific philosophical techniques. And the analogy also generated an increasingly rich enumeration of characteristics that a good ‘therapeutic argument’ should have, traits whose importance could be shown by pointing to the presence, and the importance, of analogous traits in medical procedure.’
More about Martha Nussbaum: 🌿 More about the book and the publisher:
Martha Nussbaum- Gleans from ‘The Therapy of Desire’: Philosophers As Compassionate Physicians

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