Crabtree, Andrew (2017). 'Public Emotions and the Capabilities Approach' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


The recent election and subsequent events in the United States, nationalist movements Europe, Modi’s Hinduism in India and not least civil war in Syria and movement of refugees re-emphasise the roles of emotions in politics and the threats emotions can pose to liberal conceptions of justice and reminding us of German National Socialism. Negative emotions foster discrimination, strengthen inequalities and provide barriers to social change. Thus, exploring the positive role of political emotions is of central importance to those who espouse such a conception and is found in the human development, human security and capability approaches. This panel takes its inspiration from Martha Nussbaum’s book Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice. The papers push the debate forward by critically exploring this source of inspiration, expanding on issues not dealt with in the book and investigating parallels with other authors who have similar concerns.

In Public Goods and Public Spirit, Des Gasper and Flavio Comim examine the seldomly discussed relationships between feelings in public life and the provision, or lack thereof, of public goods which reflect a society’s normative concerns. The concept of ‘publicness’ as an umbrella term for degree of public orientation facilitating our understanding of the linkages between public goods, public information, public reason and people’s values and cultures, the moral sentiments that sustain the structures of cooperation and solidarity seen in a society and illustrates this by examining the case of India (also one of Nussbaum’s case studies). The paper argues that more highly developed countries display higher levels of publicness. Public spiritedness is essential for public goods provision, operation and maintenance, and while acknowledging that Nussbaum’s work goes much further than Sen, Rawls and Harash Mander, they question Nussbaum’s emphasis on the nation state as the fundamental space of justice arguing that Nussbaum’s earlier work on cosmopolitan justice is more appropriate for tackling problems of global justice, human rights and human security.

The nation state plays a central role in Rebecca Gutwald’s discussion of German National Socialism and the connections between Nussbaum’s and Hannah Arendt’s works. As a reaction to German National Socialism, Arendt’s early work prioritized rationality over emotions, but following the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Arendt revised her views to a position similar to that of now espoused by Nussbaum. Gutwald details the similarities and differences between Nussbaum’s and Arendt’s views, stressing in particular that Arendt was more critical of the kinds of emotions we need in the public sphere. Gutwald builds on Nussbaum and Arendt by drawing on new insights from behavioural science, neurobiology and social psychology on emotions in the political sphere. Using examples from the research on resilience and nudging she shows how we could design policies that are directed at emotional education and the related capabilities.

The mutual enrichment of the capabilities approach and other author’s work is also central to Crabtree’s paper Motivations, Political Emotions and Cultures of Justice: Scanlon, Sen, Nussbaum and Honneth. Both Sen and Nussbaum have expressed that Thomas Scanlon’s contractualist ethics either resonates with (Anand and Sen, 2001; Sen 2009) or is compatible with (Nussbaum, 2006) their approaches to justice. Crabtree examines the problematic notion of motivation which is a central concept in all of the author’s works. He argues, with Scanlon, that our social human nature ensures a fundamental motivation to recognise each others’ value as a person but in reality that is often limited to our circle of concern. The paper examines whether or not, Sen’s use of the impartial spectator, Nussbaum’s emphasis on compassionate love and Honneth’s understanding of human flourishing as being dependent on relations of love, law and the ethical life could help bridge this gap.

While not denying the importance of emotions, the paper finds all of the above approaches limited as they fail to explain how justice has been advanced whilst complex personalities (including Gandhi, Lincoln and Whitman) support advances in justice in one domain but not in another even though they may be closely related as in the case of supporting ending slavery but rejecting universal suffrage. Like Gasper and Comim, Crabtree is concerned with issues of global and intergenerational justice. Based on a large number of international data sets, Crabtree argues that in addition to a Scanlonian fundamental motivation, climate change justice will be advanced through fostering reasoned global cultures of justice. Such cultures are not to be understood in Honneth’s communitarian sense but are to be more inclusive.

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