In the extract, “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” by Martin L. Hoffman, the author address the ongoing discussion of whether or not empathy should give way to reason and logic in justice and the law. Hoffman’s main argument is that empathy should continue to play a role in justice and the law but only under certain conditions. He supports this through a number of ways.
Firstly by clearly defining empathy and the different spheres it can manifest, for instance its “meta- cognitive dimension” (Hoffman 231). This is described in the extract as a feeling or response in someone because of another’s adversity while being conscious of the fact that the adversity is not their own and one can only merely imagine the feelings of the next person, which is the main kind of empathy we see in justice and the law (231).
In clarifying these terms Hoffman is enabled to describe the positive role empathy can play in justice and the law, such as its motivational properties. Hoffman claims that, “empathy arousal leads to observers helping victims” (231). as well as leading to a desire for “fairness, reciprocity, equity”, which is vital for justice. Furthermore, Hoffman touches on scenarios where empathy positively influenced laws in the past as in the case of Harriet Beecher Stow’s book, which ultimately contributed to the abolition of slavery and the role empathy played in the desegregation decision in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in these cases Hoffman also touches on the drawbacks of empathy in justice, where he conveys that empathy on its own is not enough, where he brings out the bias in empathy as well as its fragility (250).
Therefore Hoffman’s main conclusion can be summarized in the statement, “for empathy to play a constructive role it must be linked to a legal concept”.
Hoffman, Martin L.”Empathy, Justice and the Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives.Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54.Print.
(2011). pp 230-254. Print