In his article “Empathy,Justice and the Law”, Martin Hoffman further contributes to the conversation on the role of empathy in legal decisions. Hoffman attempts answer the question of what extent empathy should be used when making decisions in court. His stance on this issue is that empathy is a necessary component for hearing out cases, but it must be in moderation and the person who empathizes must be aware of their feelings of empathy. Hoffman supports this viewpoint with several historical examples in addition to an scientific explanation of human processes (234). Given that the general public sees empathy as having a negative role in court cases, Hoffman brings up some examples of when empathy helped the court to ultimately make a major decision. He talks of cases involving slavery and police interrogation, which are both major changes in American History that may have gone differently without the role of empathy (Hoffman 245). Even while Hoffman has proven the importance of empathy, he still must show that it is realistic for judges to understand their feelings of empathy so it can properly be dealt with. Hoffman explains the in depth stages of empathic development in people and ultimately comes to the conclusion that adults (judges) have the full capability to acknowledge their own feelings of empathy, which he argues is necessary in this process (234). With a solid argument for the importance of empathy, Hoffman uses some counter examples to show the necessity of balance. Hoffman does not argue that empathy is always key and must be present, so he explains that feelings of empathy can be limited by relationships between people along with several other limitations. Through his balance of concrete examples,explanation and counterpoints, Martin Hoffman is able to thoroughly support his thesis on empathy in the courts.
One very important term that is used in Hoffman’s essay is “bias”.This term is used often, but one example is on page 251 where the new section is entitled,”Empathic bias in the courtroom”. While this is a widely known term, it takes a particularly important role and meaning in this essay. This is something that does not support Hoffman’s argument, though it is still integral to it. Hoffman would bias as being something that sways a judgment/decision in a way that is no longer natural,sound or fair. Hoffman mentions that having empathy can often lead to a bias in legal proceedings and this is something that cannot occur. Fairness is one of the most ultimate and important aspects of the courts. The major importance in discussing bias is the fact that it is something that will always be lurking which means that there needs to be caution with empathy. There can be empathy but people need to be aware so that when rulings become swayed or unfair, action must be taken. It is ideal that procedures are taken so that the bias never arises.
Hoffman,Martin L. “Empathy, Justice and the Law”.Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. New York: Oxford Scholarship, 2012.