Blog Assignment 1: “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” by Martin L. Hoffman

Martin L. Hoffman’s “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” discusses the role of empathy in the legal dimension. Hoffman describes how empathy is necessary for a humane community. However, Hoffman also notices that empathy should only take a portion of importance in making an effective legal decision. Hoffman supports his reasoning by guiding his readers from definitions of empathy and various empathic responses to cases of when empathy played a part in altering laws and how empathetic bias can be inappropriate for the legal system.

Under Hoffman’s writing, empathy can be a double sided blade. It is constantly utilized to affect jurors’ and judges’ final decision. For example, in Brown v.  Board of Education, narratives of colored students were utilized to trigger the jurors’ empathetic response. After that, some justices recognize the harm of segregation within young colored students and starts to openly support desegregation. Here Hoffman describes a scenario where justices take the perspective of the victim before considering their decision. On the other hand, Hoffman also gave examples of when empathetic political decision can be ridiculing. Empathy can be “fragile” to bias. Media can easily lead the public’s compassion and the direction of empathetic response. Hoffman brings about the case where a British nanny was bringing to the severe sentence after the child that she was taking care of got shaken to death. This sentence was soon reduced by the judge after the media shifted the public’s empathy from the baby’s parents to the nanny. The emotional tide of people is what’s leading this case from one extreme end to another, showing the power of biased empathy.

Hoffman focused his essay around “justice”- when victims get what they deserve and criminals are punished to the right extent. Although Hoffman takes empathy as on essential entity, he does not believe that it always leads to the fairest result. Empathy will always need logic and reasons to back up.

Works Cited:

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives (2011): 230-254

Blog 1: Hoffman

In Part 14, Empathy, Justice, and the Law, of Hoffman’s writing, he addresses the issue of whether or not empathy should play a role in lawmaking and law enforcement. He argues that while empathy is an important emotion to have and allow to influence justice and law, it “is limited by its fragility, dependence on the salience and intensity of distress cues, and susceptibility to influence by one’s relationship to the victim” (250). It has to be combined with reason and logic in order to keep the law unbiased, effective, and fair. Empathy and reason have to be used in conjunction in order to effectively make a smart decision to carry out the law. In his examples of court cases, such as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, the use of empathy was a good starting point for creating justice (legalizing abortions and eliminating segregation, respectively), but it was only a starting point created by the empathetic feeling of injustice that sparked the motivation to change the situation (248-249). If this feeling of empathy drives sequential decisions, the law could become biased because of emotional favoring. However, Hoffman suggests that a lack of empathy disallows the jurors from connecting with the victim of the situation, so some empathy is essential, but it should not be permitted to rule every decision.

This ties into one of the key words in this reading, “witnessing”. Hoffman describes it as an exposure to someone else’s stressful situation that makes the person feel empathetic distress, and thus cause them to create a long-term solution because of how they “feel for” the situation. The term “witness” is used in a lot of senses, but Hoffman takes it to a different definition, using it to describe not only a bystander, but someone who takes action in a situation. This is essential to his argument because people who fit this description are the ones who establish justice and fairness because of bad situations that they feel empathy towards.

Works Cited:

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.

Blog One: “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” By Martin L. Hoffman

     Hoffman, in his work “Empathy, Justice, and the Law”, describes his theory on empathy and what he believes its role is in our American legal system. He starts by clearly defining two types of empathy (cognitive and affective) and describing the development of empathy in humans. He focuses on the ways empathic distress can be aroused and be transformed into different feelings, depending on the situation at hand. One of those feelings in particular is called “empathic feeling of injustice”, described as the feeling resulting from a victim being treated unfairly. Hoffman believes this empathic feeling of injustice to be extremely relevant when it comes to the law due to its action-motivating properties as showcased throughout history. He gives many examples of those who have used this empathic feeling of injustice to change laws and motivate court room decisions such as Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote the historical anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Yale Kamisar, who wrote articles opposing harsh police interrogation procedures which helped decide a supreme court decision leading to the accused having the right to remain silent and have a lawyer present during interrogation. He gives other, specific court-case examples, such as Roe v. Wade, where empathy has played a role in the decisions, as well as in society subsequent to those decisions. Ultimately, he notes that empathetic motivation has been shown to exist in court-case decisions and law making and although empathy may be a silent motive whereas other times it is on the forefront of the decision making, Hoffman does not deny the fragility and bias that coincide with all empathy in law. Because of this, he concludes with an argument in favor of tying empathy to moral principles in order to reduce biases and gives merit to the idea of expanding our effort to overcoming the biases of empathy in law. Hoffman’s psychological background plays an important role in his theory, as well as the specific language he used throughout “Empathy, Justice, and the Law”.

      For example, one term in particular that stands out and could be misinterpreted from a non-psychological perspective is “witnessing”. Rather than just seeing something happen, Hoffman uses the term to describe the phenomenon of someone feeling such strong empathy that they are motivated to make a change. For example, Hoffman uses the term to strengthen his argument that empathy inevitably plays a role in law by saying “…empathy with victim groups and witnessing can be crucial links between empathy and law…” (237). Context is very important for Hoffman’s use of the term “witnessing”, especially because an important characteristic of the term is that it goes beyond the present situation and creates long-term motivation to act on a victim’s behalf, due to such a strong feeling of empathy. Contrary to witnessing an event briefly and testifying, the witnessing Hoffman refers to may be life-long and can be much more personally taxing. Providing a context-specific definition was necessary to avoid confusion and to ensure its inclusion strengthened, rather than weakened his argument.

Works Cited

Hoffman, Martin L. “14 Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. N.p.: n.p., 2011. 230+. Oxford Scholarship, Jan. 2012. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.


Blog Assignment 1: “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” Hoffman

Martin L. Hoffman’s essay “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” addresses the concerns of empathy playing “a role in the law”. It is Hoffman’s belief that empathy is essential to the law, especially when involving “pro-social legal principles”. However, he also believes that empathy can become biased in legal cases and that that bias must be given consideration. Hoffman supports his beliefs by using court cases and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin as examples.

In many court cases, empathy is a deciding factor for the judge and jury. Many people do their best to influence the jury using empathy. Hoffman exemplifies many cases in which the use of empathy in court cases results in favorable outcomes. Yale Kamisar’s articles about police interrogations influenced the decision of Miranda v. Arizona by drawing attention to the lack of rights given to people when arrested. School desegregation was argued in the courts due to a lack of legal grounds but was eventually overturned in Brown v. Board of Education due to a feeling of empathetic injustice in the judges. Hoffman writes that this likely would have happened eventually but was expedited due to empathy. Hoffman also makes the point that empathy can cause bias in the courtroom. He brings up a case of a British nanny who shook an eight month old child to death. The nanny was given a life sentence due to empathy for the child’s parents but then her sentence was reduced and she was released because the judge felt empathy for her. This empathetic bias influences Hoffman’s belief that though empathy is important in court cases, empathetic bias must also be considered.

Hoffman uses the term witnessing many times throughout his essay. Witnessing is generally thought to mean seeing something. However, Hoffman’s psychological use of “witnessing” defines the word as empathy for a group of people experiencing some distressing factor that leaves a lasting effect on a person not directly effected by this factor. Hoffman draws attention to the empathic use of witnessing in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The woman in the novel, though a housewife who was politically uninvolved, took great offence to the Fugitive Slave Law and wanted to change it. She saw how unfairly slaves were treated and experienced empathic witnessing. This caused her to want to do everything she could to help slaved. Witnessing is also a key concept in court cases where the judge or jury feels empathy for a group of people undergoing an injustice. The importance of Hoffman’s use of witnessing is due to it being a subcategory of empathy. Witnessing is such a strong form of empathy that it often leads people to act on unjust situations effecting different groups of people. This can sometimes lead to laws being advocated for and eventually passed to fix these situations.

Works Cited:

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.

Martin Hoffman’s “Empathy, Justice, and the Law”

Martin Hoffman’s “Empathy, Justice, and the Law,” gives an insightful look into empathy through the window of psychology, within the context of the courtroom. His intent to answer the question, “Does empathy play a role in law?” is made clear early on. This question is driven home as he steers his way to a conclusion that expresses his opinion: Empathy does have a place in law, but its weighted importance should only come to only render itself useful within the parameters of specific cases. Such cases regarding Constitutional Rights for example, as opposed to one that would simply require empathy to be used as a tactic intending to sway the jury’s opinion of a defendant. Hoffman valiantly compliments this conclusion by introducing several examples where empathy induces favorable outcomes, as well as not-so-favorable outcomes. To highlight some of the positive outcomes, he mentions events such as: Harriet Beecher Stowe, and her use of words to elicit empathy in her readers which inevitably contributed to the abolition of slavery. Brown v. Board of Education, where the legalization of segregation was overturned due to the roles in which empathy played. Roe v. Wade, in which during an apparently controversial decision was made that allowed women the legal right to obtain and use birth control. When Hoffman recedes from the positive events that have occurred, he mentions the story of a British Nanny, who after having been sentenced to life imprisonment for 2nd degree murder, she is released some months later on account of empathic psychological and cultural influences. He goes on to explain the limitations empathy has in the courtroom, most notably in the form of victim impact statements, and empathic biases. In short, he regards empathy as being most complimentary in law when it is exerted in conjunction with lawful principles, and not cases where a defendant is merely grasping at straws.

In keeping within the scope of psychology, Hoffman makes a clear distinction between two types of empathy: affective empathy, and cognitive empathy. Affective empathy being the ability to connect with someone on an emotional level about what that individual is going through, and cognitive empathy, being able to imagine, or understand what someone is going through. By deconstructing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Hoffman identifies that she is able to share a connection with the characters via cognitive empathy and possibly even affective empathy as well, as stated in the quote: “The high level of detail in depicting slaves’ harsh living conditions, their personalities, and their anguish clearly shows cognitive empathy and suggests the likelihood of empathic feeling as well.” This distinction between cognitive, and affective empathy is important in this essay, because it reveals variability in how a person can empathize with another individual. In the context of law, that becomes important information when dealing with the many different scenarios seen in the courtroom, from the perspectives of the judge and jury being of most prominence.


Work Cited:

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, justice, and the law.” Empathy: Philosophical and psychological perspectives., Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2014.

Blog Assignment 1: “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” by Martin L. Hoffman

Martin L. Hoffman’s book, Empathy, Justice, and the Law, addresses the fragile relationship between empathy and the law, weighing the value of its contribution to the court with the potential biases and fickle nature of the human emotion. Embedded throughout, Hoffman asserts that empathy is a quintessential attribute of law and human interaction with society, positively advancing reform towards higher moral standards and Constitutional justice. Beginning clinically, he demonstrates that empathic distress has historically prompted a helpful response as was the case with some Nazi soldiers when they empathized with the treatment of Jewish prisoners. He continues the discussion with neuroscience, showing that empathy is not just a suspended wash of emotions, rather is linked to a cause and effect path within the mind which often triggers the call for justice. Empathic responses are thus an imperative tie between the people and their laws enforced by the justice system. Advancing to historical examples, Hoffman sites Justice Harlan as the lone dissenter in the Plessy V. Ferguson case which segregated schools. His analysis proves that perhaps the rational decision was to ease tensions by providing separate but equal schooling to colored children, whereas the moral and empathic decision was to protect colored children from degradation. It was empathy for the abuse being suffered by colored children which prompted the ruling to be overturned in Brown V. Board of Education in 1954. Finally, Hoffman concedes that empathy can be damaging as it holds biases towards the group one identifies with, and can foster hostility towards the others. It can lead to incorrect verdicts in the face of salience bias. Victim blaming often occurs as a result of empathy, if one connects more with the perpetrator than the true victim, as was the case of the British nanny in 1997. Within Hoffman’s essay, his careful use of the term “empathy” frames his narrative to reinforce the central theme of action inducing emotion.

Affective empathy is defined early in the chapter as feeling what another feels rather than cognitive empathy which is merely the “awareness of another’s feelings” (Hoffman 230). This discernment is crucial to the thesis of the paper because “empathy’s importance for law is based on its presumed motivational properties” (Hoffman 231). Thus, Hoffman’s central argument is built upon the foundation of action, which is more likely to occur under the influence of affective empathy rather than cognitive empathy (which are often used synonymously). Under the assumption of Hobbesian philosophy which asserts that humans are inherently selfish in their actions in order to ensure their own survival, the only way to ensure affirmative action from an individual is to personalize a plight. This is where the distinction between the two types of empathy is pivotal, because simply being aware of another person’s feelings would very rarely incite a constructive response.

Works Cited

Hoffman, Martin. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie, Oxford University Press, 2011, 230-254.

Blog 1- “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” by Martin L. Hoffman

In “Empathy, Justice and the Law” Martin L. Hoffman addresses the role of empathy in the legal system. Hoffman believes that empathy has a large role in the legal system, but not without the presence of legal standings to back up decisions. He also warns that everyone involved in the case must be aware of their biases as to not allow them to hijack the evidence in the case. Hoffman uses the example of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe used her own experience of losing her 18-month-old son to empathize with slave mothers who had their children taken from them to be sold. The book was widely read all across the world and played a large part in the abolition of slavery. Her empathy allowed her to influence other people around the world and create a positive social change in America. Another example Hoffman uses to develop his point is the case of Brown v. Board of Education, the famous case that overturned the de-facto segregation of schools. In the trial Thurgood Marshall, used narratives of the poor conditions that the black children faced in their schools to prove that separate does not mean equal. The heart wrenching accounts that the justices heard stirred up an empathetic response. Hoffman alluded that some of the justices felt the empathetic response and used that as fuel to search for any kind of legality that would allow them to overturn this ruling. This example is a more direct showing of how empathy in the courtroom itself can lead to a ruling. Hoffman does warn however, that there are issues with empathy in the courtroom. He sights four main issues: the fragility of empathy, “empathic over-arousal”, the familiarity bias, and the salience bias. Hoffmann states that empathy can be easily influenced by our relationship to a victim, the intensity of the cues that they give off, and even our own selfish motives. “Empathic over-arousal” refers to when a story becomes too much for the listener to comprehend so they distance themselves in order to lessen the impact on their own empathic distress. Familiarity bias refers to humans’ tendency to feel more empathy towards people who are like us, which can skew our views of people who are not similar to us. Salience bias states that it is more difficult to empathize with a victim who is not physically present. He warns that all of these issues can cause people to be blinded to the actual evidence that is being promoted and may skew the ruling.

In order to understand empathy Hoffman defines first five methods of “empathic arousal” (Hoffman, 232). Meaning five ways that humans identify someone is in distress, which causes an empathetic response. “Mimicry” is when someone sees the victim’s physical attributes such as facial expression or posture and automatically imitates them. This mimicry sends triggers to the brain, which cause emotions similar to what the victim is feeling (Hoffman, 232). “Conditioning” is the second form of empathic arousal. Conditioning allows humans to feel empathy for people who are in distress at the same time that they are (Hoffman, 232). “Direct association” is when someone is able to make a connection to another’s situation based on an experience in the past (Hoffman, 232). These three are all involuntary responses that allow children to feel empathy before their brain has fully developed the capacity to understand (Hoffman, 232). “Verbally meditated association” is when the victim explains their situation and the listener is able to understand what they are saying(Hoffman, 232). “Perspective taking” allows a bystander to imagine themselves in the victims situation and feel what they would feel if they too were in that situation (Hoffman, 233). The previous two empathic arousals require more cognition and thus are typically only seen after childhood (Hoffman, 233). It is important to understand empathic arousal to understand how people develop empathic distress in courtrooms, but also just in general.


Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.

Blog 1: Summary of “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” by Hoffman

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”.

Work Cited:
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

Blog Entry #1: Hoffman’s “Empathy, Justice, and the Law

In Martin L. Hoffman’s essay, “Empathy, Justice, and the Law,” Hoffman discusses the importance of empathy in law as well as the numerous ways in which empathy can be invoked. Hoffman argues in favor of the presence of empathy in America’s legal system despite opponents who list the detriments empathy can have on court rulings. He notes empathy as a motivator that drove some of America’s greatest Supreme Court rulings, such as Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, and Miranda v. Arizona, now considered defining principles in American law today. Empathy’s presence in the legal system offers a human perspective and understanding that cold reason cannot. By using empathy, it has been shown that people, Harriet Beecher Stowe for instance, have contributed to history, bringing about change in both the mindset of the people and eventually the law itself. With this evidence, Hoffman builds a strong argument for empathy’s importance in legal contexts. Hoffman acknowledges the shortcomings of the inherent biases that come with empathy, and encourages that people learn to recognize their biases and develop strategies that support reason-based and empathic decision-making with as little bias as possible.

In addition to writing about empathy’s role in law, Hoffman is careful in defining empathy’s meaning within the context of his essay which is centralized around empathy. While there are a number of interpretations of empathy, the empathy Hoffman consistently refers to in his essay is affective empathy, the type of empathy that goes beyond acknowledgment of another’s feelings and takes it upon oneself to feel what the victim feels. This distinction is important when Hoffman writes, “I now turn to individuals whose empathy with societies’ disadvantaged led to actions on their behalf, which in turn had contributed significantly to changes in laws that not only benefitted the disadvantaged but also has consequences for society as a whole” (Hoffman 238). Without Hoffman’s definition of empathy, it would be confusing trying to understand why merely acknowledging the feelings of the disadvantaged would lead to such drastic changes. But if readers understand that it was affective empathy that had caused such reactions and distress to bystanders that it compelled them to help, one can truly understand the power of empathy in moral decision-making. In defining empathy as the affective variety in his essay, Hoffman allows readers to understand the amount emotion and humanity empathy is capable of drawing out of people, making it an integral part of our legal system which would operate solely on cold reason if left alone.

Works Cited:

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Web. Accessed Sept 7, 2016.

Blog Assignment 1 – …And Justice for Law – A Summary of Hoffman’s “Empathy, Justice, and Law”

              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.

Works Cited

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives (2011): 230-54. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.