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Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,347 ratings  ·  172 reviews

In this short and powerful book, celebrated philosopher Martha Nussbaum makes a passionate case for the importance of the liberal arts at all levels of education.

Historically, the humanities have been central to education because they have rightly been seen as essential for creating competent democratic citizens. But recently, Nussbaum argues, thinking about the aims of e

Hardcover, 158 pages
Published April 21st 2010 by Princeton University Press (first published 2010)
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Riku Sayuj
Aug 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: r-r-rs

Indian parents take pride in a child who gains admission to the Institutes of Technology and Management; they are ashamed of a child who studies literature, or philosophy, or who wants to paint or dance or sing.

Nussbaum wants to change this situation with this manifesto, with this call to action. With the very poignantly titled Not for Profit, Nussbaum alerts us to a “silent crisis” in which nations “discard skills” as they “thirst for national profit.”: a world-wide crisis in education. She
Jan 08, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm Reading this because of an assignment. It's not the sort of thing or author I'd generally bother with.

The book is trite, simplistic, poorly written, poorly argued - and that from one who is basically in sympathy with her general position. She draws a simple-minded distinction between "education for growth (which is bad; business or technology oriented) and education for critical thinking and self-development (Humanities; though this book, like much of the Humanities today, in fact, exhibits
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education, nonfiction
Nussbaum challenges the current push in education to make everything we learn submissive to a specific career. This view sees education as a benefit to our economy, largely to those who profit from the labor of others. Nussbaum reminds us that education is a public good — it benefits the learner, the teacher, and the communities we live in. The Humanities teach us not just valuable skills like problem solving and critical thinking that we need in our jobs, but empathy and compassion that we need ...more
Jul 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
Nussbaum calls her book 'a manifesto'. Her manifesto on why democracy needs the humanities is made up of 6 interlocking propositions: (1) there is a crisis going on in education today; (2) this crisis is the shedding away of the humanities, which produce the necessary espirit de corps and competencies for an active and productive democracy; (3) this shedding away of the humanities can be attributed to the growth-oriented economy, which prefers professional skill-ism rather than the critical thin ...more
Marcella C
May 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
How many times can one say the exact same thing but phrased slightly differently? Read this book to find out.
Kyle van Oosterum
Mar 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I wanted to understand why the democratic values that I pay lip-service matter. The humanities and the arts are under threat (as it feels like it’s always been) and the question we should be asking is not if we can afford to keep them alive but if we can afford not to. Throughout, Nussbaum emphasizes the centrality of Socratic pedagogy and imaginative empathy as the essential elements to the ethical concern required for a healthy democracy. To be honest, there’s not much to disagree with in this ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: academia
I am not entirely sure what to make of this except to note that it is disappointing, and that may be because 1) these are debates that I find myself in the middle of, as a humanities scholar working in a Science Faculty, and 2) Nussbaum did not really go far enough for me. There is no doubt, this is a political manifesto, and there is a real need for lucid, compelling and powerful defences of the humanities in the current climate where we are repeatedly told that higher education should be devel ...more
Maughn Gregory
Dec 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education, philosophy
Nussbaum recommends Philosophy for Children as an exemplary program of “Socratic pedagogy,” which, she argues, is a necessary component of education in democratic societies. Nussbaum calls attention to a “world-wide crisis in education” (2): making national economic growth its primary purpose. This crisis involves “radical changes … in what democratic societies teach the young,” (2) and in particular, the de-emphasis and even elimination of teaching the humanities and the arts. Nussbaum’s own ph ...more
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
The two stars might be a little unfair, but I'm going by the "It was okay" tag and really that's all it was. It's quite the pack of platitudes. I think it's supposed to be a manifesto, but if so, I didn't find it all the stirring or interesting, and I'm left with no idea what we're really supposed to. All the hard questions get cursory treatment at best. Things pick up in the last chapter when we get some actual research and some specific looks at what institutions are doing wrong or right. The ...more
Molly Patterson
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Nussbaum describes this book as a treatise; she is making an argument about the state of humanities and contemporary higher ed. It is therefore a different kind of book than one might get if she were asking big philosophical questions, and it has the potential to disappoint an audience who expects her to be dispassionate and academic. It is an excellent read for faculty who teach, especially at small liberal arts colleges, and who have lost sight of the larger purpose in the push to Quantify Eve ...more
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was ok

I found this book to be a disappointing read. Rather repetitive and not terribly insightful, I question the reference to this book as a manifesto. It seems to me that there could be a much more thoughtful, broad survey of the decline of the humanities than what is offered here. While I'd hoped this book would do that, I guess I have to look elsewhere.
Dan Graser
Nov 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
As the subtitle of this work suggests, not only is this a case for the study of the humanities for their own sake but more urgently it is a cri de coeur for the necessity of this type of study for the development of future citizens of democracy.

Of course, being a work from Martha Nussbaum, you can expect a great deal of erudite and passionate discussion of Greek philosophy as pertains to the subject-matter and there is a wealth of this on the role of Socratic dialectic and examination, not only
Andrew Carr
May 14, 2016 rated it liked it
One of the main arguments of our era on behalf of public funding of education is the economic benefit it will produce. In the current 2016 Australian election, the Labor Party has argued its education spending policy will add up to 2.8% to growth. US President Barack Obama made a similar case a few years ago that ‘For every dollar we invest in these [education] programs, we get nearly ten dollars back’.

In ‘Not for Profit: Why democracy needs the humanities’, Martha Nussbaum argues this is a fund
Edwin Pietersma
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
An essay from which I expected much more, to be honest. I agree with her view on the fact that the education system, not merely in the US, is economized, with deplorable results. However, she barely gives any support to her arguments, make strong oversimplifications of her cases, and worst of all, it becomes clear that she is too overly convinced of her own conclusions that she feels there is no need to do so, e.g. the philosophy of Tagore (which is barely reflected upon but take as truth) of th ...more
Ben Warren
Basic ideas:
- education for citizenship as well as marketplace
- democracy hinges on education - without education, democracy will crumble
- not letting pragmatic view of education strip it of its moral guidance and efficacy

- Chapter 4 on Socratic Pedagogy
- Chapter 5 - world citizenship / exposure as the answer to racism/tribalism
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
A fairly random collection of anecdotal history, very slanted assumptions about what is needed for "democratic citizenship," and precious little in the way of argument.

Best avoided.
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: uni
This manifesto started out very promising but it soon went downhill for me. I get why it works on a broader audience but to me it felt like a comparison between Indian and American systems (which both include liberal arts and sciences with a tiiiiiiiiiny bit of humanities). All the while hating on the European way, so sad. Also, she could've better named the book "why liberal arts and sciences is the bomb" because that is all she talked about really.
Kamran Swanson
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
A short and provocative book. She uses her neo-Aristotelian philosophy of emotion-laden-ideas to argue the importance of playfulness, Socratic dialogue, and maternal encouragement in education, and then uses this to argue for the importance of the arts and humanities for our development as human beings and democratic citizens. Chapter IV is also a nice crash-course in the history of educational philosophy that I found useful.
Jun 03, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
Nussbaum wrote this as if it were directed to a broad audience, incapable of following careful and detailed arguments. In place of detailed arguments, pallid exposition of classic psychology experiments (Milgram, Zimbardo, etc.) alongside near constant urging of Tagore's ideas (an Indian philosopher). I expected to come away from the book knowing more about education, and more about the role of education in democracy, but the book accomplished neither.
Nov 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, theory
As a Humanities scholar I'm very glad to see someone defend it. I think nussbaum makes a compelling case and while I do not agree with her methodological nationalism or anthropocentrism I do think that the humanities is crucial in forming good critical humans. I do feel that her point was made clearly early in the book which made me lose interest halfway through. Especially the last two chapters felt like repetition. But regardless it was an interesting read and food for thought.
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
Review - later.
Sunny Chan
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, philosophy
Many people assume that humanities are just for fun or, at their best, for personal development, but Nussbaum has made several strong arguments for how the humanities are valuable beyond the personal level - they also contribute to a healthy democracy.

First, citizens need to able to examine political speeches and appreciate arguments which conflict their opinion. The humanities cultivate in students this capacity through the so-called Socratic pedagogy - rather than rote-learning, s
Lucas Johnston
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nussbaum does a relatively good job of arguing why, in light of recent cuts to the humanities, we actually require them more. Drawing largely on the works of Tagore, Dewey and Rousseau, among others, she presents a case that education is not simply for the purposes of preparing workers but is also necessary for a society itself to function properly. The reason for this is the need for educated citizens in a democracy - if our citizens are uneducated we cannot expect them to consider and critique ...more
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Democracies have great rational and imaginative powers. They also are prone to some serious flaws in reasoning, to parochialism, haste, sloppiness, selfishness, narrowness of spirit. Education based mainly on profitability in the global market magnifies these deficiencies, producing a greedy obtuseness and a technically trained docility that threaten the very life of democracy itself, and that certainly impede the creation of a decent world culture.
(p. 142)

Nussbaum doesn't hold back in this man
Jun 23, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2011-12
In her 2010 book, Martha Nussbaum, a moral psychologist and philosopher, evaluates the declining emphasis on the humanities in modern education and public policy. She argues that radical reform in the '60s successfully pushed modern education to focus on instilling intelligent, open-minded, and empathetic students/young adults. Nussbaum evaluates the shift from critical thinking adults to modern money-making citizens. She emphasizes the need for liberal arts to be emphasized in modern education ...more
Frank Karioris
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Polemical leaning, without, at the same time, some of the excesses that oft come with the genre. It is well argued, well researched, and well thought through. For critical educators, much of it is a bit old hash, but it is still worth the read without a doubt. It sets out an argument for critical education, focusing on the humanities. This limitation on the humanities is both positive and which I have some concerns about - particularly as near the end she makes a comment about the 'great books' ...more
Jason Payne
Not so much a manifesto as a description of the problems inherent in the university as an extension of capitalist machine controlling universities in the US and abroad. For Nussbaum, the culprit is the idea that higher education has increasingly turned toward creating unimaginative, acquiescent worker bees, with which--as someone who's taught at universities for 33 years--I absolutely agree. If there's a problem in Nussbaum's book, it's that there's not much of a path to fix things, save hearken ...more
Kristof Verbeke
The reason for not liking it as much is twofold:

-Too much talking about how private funding is a good system (under certain conditions)
-It reiterates quite a lot what I already thought myself, thus it was hard to continue reading it. However, this does not mean the content of the book or the argument itself is a bad one.

Would read if you are trying to form an opinion on what entails good education and whether humanities need to play a key role in the education (both primary, secondary and unive
Hannah Scanlon
Nussbaum offers a concise and urgent plea on a critical issue facing American democracy, the issue being the decline of liberal arts education in secondary schools and colleges. An ever increased focus on the values of a market economy, such as profitability and efficiency, produce a populace lacking in the values best suited for participation in a flourishing democratic society - values including empathy, open-mindedness, and curiosity. Educators, administrators, and church folk would benefit f ...more
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
I give the author an A for passion and a C overall. The fact—and I agree—that the humanities are useful to individuals and societies is an insufficient and unconvincing argument. No one—other than humanists—will buy this argument. We need a more convincing argument for parents and increasingly savvy students. Expand the mind _and_ have a successful career—now that is convincing! Finally, I object to the author calling her work a manifesto. That politically charged word does not help. Less hyperb ...more
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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.

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