The Sense of Justice

Empathy in Law and Punishment

Markus Dirk Dubber

NYU Press (publisher)

In The Sense of Justice, distinguished legal author Markus Dirk Dubber undertakes a critical analysis of the “sense of justice”: an overused, yet curiously understudied, concept in modern legal and political discourse. Courts cite it, scholars measure it, presidential candidates prize it, eulogists praise it, criminals lack it, and commentators bemoan its loss in times of war. But what is it? Often, the sense of justice is dismissed as little more than an emotional impulse that is out of place in a criminal justice system based on abstract legal and political norms equally applied to all.
Dubber argues against simple categorization of the sense of justice. Drawing on recent work in moral philosophy, political theory, and linguistics, Dubber defines the sense of justice in terms of empathy—the emotional capacity that makes law possible by giving us vicarious access to the experiences of others. From there, he explores the way it is invoked, considered, and used in the American criminal justice system. He argues that this sense is more than an irrational emotional impulse but a valuable legal tool that should be properly used and understood.

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