Law, Philosophy, Divinity School

The Cosmopolitan Tradition:

A Noble but Flawed Ideal

Harvard University Press, 2019


In The Cosmopolitan Tradition, philosopher and legal scholar Martha Nussbaum takes up debates in modern politics around provincialism versus world citizenship by returning to the classic Greek formulations of kosmou politai that shaped this political tradition and its development through antiquity to modern times. Nussbaum dedicates much of the book to detailing what she argues is a major flaw of this tradition – “namely its focus on “duties of justice” instead of duties of material aid.” She goes on to offer her own way forward, what she terms a “capabilities approach” – a template for constitution-making that focuses on what a “just nation should guarantee to all of its citizens up to some reasonable threshold.”


Read about Martha Nussbaum discussing this book with The Nation here.

“At a time of growing national chauvinism, Martha Nussbaum’s excellent restatement of the cosmopolitan tradition is a welcome and much-needed contribution. Masterfully tracing the development of the idea of universal human dignity from antiquity to the present, she highlights the major contributions of this tradition to our thinking about morality and law, while also providing a persuasive critique of its limitations. Her revision of the tradition, articulated here…is illuminating and thought-provoking.”
Lior Erez
Times Higher Education

Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, appointed in the Law School and the Philosophy Department. Among her many awards are the 2018 Berggruen Prize, the 2017 Don M. Randel Award for Humanistic Studies from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 2016 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy.