How to Taste Diversity – On Discerning and Defining Capabilities

Lisowska, Urszula (2016). 'How to Taste Diversity – On Discerning and Defining Capabilities' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

The paper focuses on one of the major philosophical elaborations of CA, i.e. Martha Nussbaum’s version of the approach. Its objective is to probe Nussbaum’s project for a diversity-sensitive model of practical reasoning. As such, the paper concentrates on the ethical underpinnings of CA which, however, are necessary if this variety of the approach is to be applied on the socio-political level.
Nussbaum’s CA – which itself has undergone important changes – by no means exhausts her interests. A particularly prolific and versatile author, Nussbaum has taken up various topics in her research. Still, different aspects of her work do seem to overlap at many junctions. The aim of the paper is to bring together these elements of Nussbaum’s philosophy which could contribute to defining a model of practical reasoning. In particular, two ideas will be analysed – the method of ethical perception, which Nussbaum developed in her early ethical writings (especially in the essays collected in the volume Love’s Knowledge [1990]), and her recent account of reasonable moral psychology (most comprehensively presented in the book Political Emotions [2013]).
These two theoretical constructs will be placed against an unorthodox background. Namely, the paper will employ the concept of the judgment of taste, as it was defined by Immanuel Kant and later developed by Hannah Arendt. It will be argued that Arendt’s idea of taste-based political reasoning brings out the interdependency between the two mentioned concepts of Nussbaum’s. When interpreted from this perspective, they appear as complementary. Perception functions as the method of formulating both the conception of the good and specific judgments, resembling taste in its attunement to the particulars of the situation. Reasonable moral psychology, in turn, explains how to cultivate attitudes (especially – emotions) necessary for perception to operate. In this sense, it caters for what Kant and Arendt described as the common sense (sensus communis) – a set of shared dispositions in which taste is rooted.
As a consequence, Nussbaum’s ideas of perception and moral psychology jointly comprise a diversity-sensitive model of practical reasoning. The paper argues that, supplied with the psychological background, perception can be interpreted as an interpersonal attitude. It is, namely, the readiness to respectfully respond to any token of human dignity. As such, Nussbaum’s conception of rationality can contribute to the justification of her capabilities list with its claim to pluralism. In the first place, we can see the content of the catalogue as resulting from the perceptive assessment of various values which make up a good life. Secondly, perception allows for the flexible application of the list, ensuring that the diversity of circumstances is respected in the process. Thus, Nussbaum’s model of rationality seems central to the overall assessment of her project. It enables her to combine liberalism with the focus on the content of the list.
The perspective adopted in the paper also means that special emphasis will be placed on the aesthetic aspects of Nussbaum’s philosophy. In Kant’s philosophy, taste is the faculty responsible for the judgments of beauty. It will be argued that perception resembles this type of aesthetic discernment in many ways. Reasonable moral psychology, in turn, ascribes an important role to the arts in the process of cultivating morally desirable attitudes, including those necessary for the functioning of perception. Thus, the aesthetic motifs are one of the elements which tie together the two aspects of Nussbaum’s account of practical rationality. 
Key words: practical rationality, perception, taste, moral psychology, pluralism

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