Summary & Keyword definition of “Empathy, Justice and Law”

In the essay written by Hoffman “Empathy, Justice and Law”, the author posts an important question: Should we permit empathy to exist in courts, cases and even laws? Some people say that empathy should never effect the law because it is shallow and poor logical that may cause injustice and sightless action which result in negative effects. Others say that empathy is positive and should be concerned with laws since it provides motivation, justice and public concern. From the passage, we can easily find out that the author’s response to this question is “Yes, but only empathy is not enough”(254). Hoffman divided his process into a plurality of steps, which are the definition of empathy, how empathy contribute to the law and some negative sides of empathy(230).

At the beginning, Hoffman gives us the definition of empathy: a meta-cognitive dimension of emotion which has all attribute of pro-social motive and can act as a motive of helping others. He also claims that motion such as witnessing can arouse “empathic distress”, which makes people to “feels what other feels or maybe normally be expected to feel in his or her situation”, and becomes a feeling of injustice as well as a desire of helping unfortunates. Hoffman also claims that empathy develops in our whole life time. The author firstly helps us define the empathy(232-236).

Hoffman then argues that empathy actually contributes to law a lot. He firstly states that public always believe “one should get what one deserves” and “one’s right as a citizen should be respected”. Under this circumstance, people, impelled by empathy, would have a feeling of injustice and anger, which motivates them to seek justice for others. Hoffman provides of Harriet, Frank and Yale Kamisar’s experiences to illustrate his viewpoint(237-239, 244-245).

Hoffman then discusses the impact of “empathic justice” in U.S. Supreme Court Decisions by providing several successful examples such as Brown students’ “school desegregation” in the late 19th century and abortion legalizing. These two examples successfully proof that empathy does have positive effects on laws and sometimes can even change the world into a better place(245-250).

Finally, Hoffman points out that empathy also has some limitations and negative attributes. “Though clearly a pro-social motive, empathy is limited by its fragility, dependence on the salience and intensity of distress cues, and susceptibility”. From the examples of “British nanny” and “Victim-impact statements”, the author claims that empathy can sometimes be non-logical, easy-changing or even misleading, and he says that only empathy is obviously not enough for laws and courts. As a result, we should “keep empathic bias in mind and give consideration in any legal context that might involve empathy”(250-253).

At the end of the passage, Hoffman mainly discusses the term “empathic bias” and its negative influence on the justice. To define the term “empathic bias”, we can easily find that, from the passage, Hoffman defines it as “misleading” “the fragility part of empathy” and “damaging the courtroom”(254). In the passage, Hoffman gives us several examples of “empathy bias”, such as family bias, victim-impact bias, here-and-now bias, and so on. Hoffman mentioned that only takes empathy to court is far away from enough, one should also be logical, knowledgeable and objective. Hoffman says that we should try our best to avoid “empathy bias” and make right choices(254).

Work Cited

Martin L. Hoffman. “Empathy, Justice and Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press. 2014. 213-254

One thought on “Summary & Keyword definition of “Empathy, Justice and Law”

  1. In this summary, he does a great job of sticking to the structure of the summary and including all parts. I would say that his analysis of Hoffman’s argument is quite accurate, and he does a good job of describing the clear argument that Hoffman makes. He also makes in clear that Hoffman is not completely “pro empathy” or “anti empathy”,but describes the conditions that Hoffman lays down. Overall, he is very specific in describing each and every part of the essay in addition to the fact that he states what he thinks is the thesis.
    While this was all done very well, the summary did a lot of listing. He listed all of Hoffman’s main points in chronological order, and I think it is possible to summarize the essay in a way that does not give shorter summary on a paragraph by paragraph basis. He included all of the necessary information, but he could have included a bit more commentary on how each aspect contributes to the whole of the essay. He does this commentary at the start and end of his summary, but it would be helpful for the reader to hear more constant commentary.

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