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Martha Nussbaum, Essentialism, and Human Sexuality

22 Pages Posted: 3 May 2010  

Carlos A. Ball

Rutgers Law School

Date Written: February 1, 2010


The type of liberal humanism defended by Martha Nussbaum can be criticized as “essentialist” because it is grounded in commonalities, found across time and place, which allow us to recognize each other as human. I argue in this Essay, however, that Nussbaum’s writings on sex and sexuality are entirely consistent with social constructionist (as opposed to essentialist) understandings of sexual orientation. I also explain why Nussbaum’s liberal humanism, which encourages us to recognize the humanity of those who seem least like us, is a compelling form of argumentation on behalf of sexual minorities.

Suggested Citation

Ball, Carlos A., Martha Nussbaum, Essentialism, and Human Sexuality (February 1, 2010). Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2010; Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Paper No. 077. Available at SSRN:

Carlos A. Ball (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

United States
973-353-3008 (Phone)

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