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