Over the past 30 years, Martha Nussbaum — a philosopher, University of Chicago law school professor and ranked public intellectual — has played an indispensable role in shaping contemporary conversations about philosophy, feminism and social justice.
In her most recent book, Creating Capabilities, Nussbaum expanded on the “capabilities approach” — a theory developed with Harvard Economist Amartya Sen, which says the central question underlying public policy should be, “What is each person able to do and to be?” Measures of national development that focus on resource growth, such as GDP, Nussbaum believes, prioritize elites and ignore societal inequalities.
Instead, Nussbaum argues for measuring development in terms of opportunities available to all citizens. She’s also a ravenous opera fan (she keeps the latest issue of Opera News on her bedside table and listens to Mozart Arias to make her eyelids heavy), a German speaker and, well, a big fan of shuteye.
“Even in college, I never stayed up all night,” she tells us. “My theater friends thought I was very square, and I guess I am. But I really love sleep.”
Even so, she’s no slouch when it comes to getting out of bed — and maintaining an ambitious, precise morning schedule. Here’s how the a.m. hours shake out for one of our country’s greatest thinkers:
I wake up around 6:45, either by myself or with the alarm; I draw the curtains and raise the shades; then I go get my two morning newspapers, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, and turn on the coffee. I then put on my exercise outfit and stretch my Achilles tendons (chronic problem area) while reading the Arts and Sports sections of the Tribune.
After that, I move to the kitchen and have juice, vitamins, coffee and an energy bar while reading the front section of the Tribune. Then I irrigate my sinuses, and go back to stretch the tendons again, while reading the front section of the Times. By now it is around eight.
I then do my pre-running stretches (while reading the op-ed page of the Times), go run, either outside or on my home treadmill. I have a real professional-quality one, because Chicago is not good for outdoors in the winter. After I finish running, I shower and then practice singing for about 45 minutes to an hour, and then go to the office around 10:30.
Suddenly, our own mornings seem positively leisurely.
Quotes have been edited and condensed.