Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 151-172

First online:

Empathy and justice motivation

  • Martin L. HoffmanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, New York University

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Empathic distress is defined as an aversive feeling contingent on another's physical, emotional, or economic distress. The paper (1) summarizes a developmental scheme consisting of four stages of empathic distress; (2) suggests that causal attributions may partly transform empathic distress into sympathy, empathic anger, feeling of injustice, and guilt feeling; (3) notes the evidence that these empathic affects often serve to motivate moral behavior, and therefore that they qualify as moral motives; (4) points up limitations of these affects/motives and the need to embed them in justice principles; (5) discusses links between empathic affects/motives and principles of distributive justice/ (6) argues that Rawls' theory of justice, which excludes empathy, may nevertheless require it for the “difference principle” to influence behavior in real life; (7) hypothesizes a functional equivalence between empathy and the “veil of ignorance”; and (8) speculates that the conjunction of empathic affect and justice-principle thinking — in life and in abstract didactic contexts like Rawls' “original position” — may produce a principle having the motivational and stabilizing properties of a “hot cognition.”