Hoffman writes in “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” his ideal vision of the current justice system and its empathy’s ability to interfere with important decisions. In order for an unflawed and fair system, Hoffman claims that our justice system should be “cleansed of emotion, so that reason and logic can prevail.” Whether it be a juror, judge, police officer, or civilian, the inevitable exposure to various events can skew their opinion with the power of empathy. According to Hoffman, this empathy is inevitable. Not only does it start at “around the age of 2, but it “becomes so intense and penetrates so deeply into one’s motive system that it changes one’s behavior beyond the immediate situation.” In the text, Hoffman provides the example of Stowe’s letter of the emaciating conditions of slavery. This letter goes on to become the second bestselling book (only after the bible) in the 19th century. The empathic distress cut deeply into the hearts of its readers, causing a worldwide response, which processed into a movement towards abolition. A similar positive effect can be observed in the courtroom. In a case of Plessy V. Ferguson, empathy helped create a more just education system. Empathy can also negatively affect a court case, as Hoffman describes. Yes, it helps give the victim a voice in a case, however it can also bombard observers with emotion, something Hoffman calls “empathic over-arousal.” This causes observers to turn away or avoid listening to someone due to the sheer amount of emotion. In conclusion, Hoffman argues that it is impossible to react to decisions without empathy, and therefore it must be addressed and accounted for during any legal setting.
The term “empathic distress” is scattered throughout Hoffman’s argument, and is used in each section. He uses the term to describe the response that initiates automatically when trying to empathize with someone. Essentially, this term describes almost the exact opposite of empathy. Rather than focusing on empathizing with the victim, the term describes the sometimes negative damage to the person empathizing. This is crucial to the essay as it often taking in perspectives on both sides, one of the victim and the other of the observer empathizing.
Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives (2011): 230-54. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.