Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 151–172 | Cite as

Empathy and justice motivation

  • Martin L. Hoffman


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.”


Social Psychology Economic Distress Justice Motivation Empathic Distress Aversive Feeling 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin L. Hoffman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNew York UniversityNew York

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