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.
“One cannot expect Dubber to solve all the world’s problems in one small book. Yet it certainly provides a beginning for what could be enlightening investigations into justice.”
—Law and Politics Book Review
“Working with sources that span centuries, nations, and fields of thought, Dubber combines intellectual history with jurisprudential critique. . . . An important contribution not just to legal knowledge but to legal wisdom by suggesting the challenges and possibilities of reconciling the two sides of law's personality: rules and intuition, reason and emotion.”
—Samuel H. Pillsbury, author of Judging Evil: Rethinking the Law of Murder and Manslaughter
“Dubber’s book is a considerable achievement: lucid, nuanced and a pleasure to read.”
—Susan Bandes, editor of The Passions of Law
“This is a timely, important and inspiring book. We live in a time when the rhetoric of war comes all too easily to the mouths and minds of penal policy-makers and politicians: we have the war against crime, the war against drugs, the war against terror; and offenders, those against whom such 'wars' are fought, are then liable to be portrayed as the enemy—as outsiders whom we need not or cannot recognize as fellows. Dubber offers a powerful corrective to such moral myopia: the sense of justice, as 'the ability and willingness to recognize others as equal and rational persons and treat them as such.' Drawing on history, on law, philosophy and psychology, on a wide range of materials from both Europe and the United States, Dubber develops an account of the sense of justice as a matter of sense, or sensibility, rather than of abstract reason; but also as a matter of justice, rather than of more partial or limited empathy—a sense of justice that recognizes our moral fellowship with other human beings as moral agents. He goes on to show what a central role such an idea could play in structuring a decent system of criminal law—and thus in helping to motivate some of the profound reforms that our existing systems so urgently need.”
—R. A. Duff, author of Punishment, Communication, and Community
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