de Tienda, Lydia (2017). 'Can moral emotions lead to equality?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


A theory of justice that aims at ensuring stability needs to be coherent and grounded in right motives. If a theory of social justice involves defining the criteria of distribution of the duties and benefits of the members of a society, it must also examine the basis of the constitution of that society, ie, what is the nature of the principle of social cohesion. Social contract theories have emphasized elements such as agreement, reciprocity, mutual benefit, impartiality or recognition of equality of members to justify the provision of justice. However, these elements lack the moral and motivational force to be considered principles of social cohesion; therefore, they can not ensure stability and even justice itself. What is at the core of the social network and what leads us to support a proposal for justice is our inner ability to develop meaningful links with others that do not necessarily have the same psychobiological characteristics. The nature of these social bonds is plural, based on a variety of motives. Some relationships are based on friendship, others on partnership, others come from family ties, others from the neighbourhood, work, affiliations and so on. We are able to develop bonds and caring for others for reasons other than sharing nationality, species or intellectual traits. The nature of the bonds does not lie in the recognition of others as equals, that is, having the same psychological and physiological features or political status as one, but rather in affective reasons.

According to the previous argument, to emphasize the genuine moral function of the emotion of compassion for its particular social dimension can contribute to support a conception of justice as inclusion and demand of institutional reforms consistent with this theory. Compassion forms the foundation of social cohesion because of its unique justifying and motivating force. Therefore, compassion is at the origin of the social pact because it is capable of generating sufficiently powerful plural links.

Martha Nussbaum has developed a theory, which puts the political emotions, particularly compassion, at the center of her proposal to achieve justice. Similarly, Adela Cortina has developed a version of the ethics of discourse that focuses on the role of compassion in such a theory. While Nussbaum understands compassion as that emotion that consists of three cognitive elements: a) the thought of magnitude: the thought that someone else is suffering in some way that is important and nontrivial; b) the thought of nonfault or undeserving, that person has not caused her own suffering; and c) and eudaimonistic thought, that a person or creature is a valuable element in my scheme of objectives and plans, Cortina considers compassion as being at the base of her notion of recognition. Cortina states that her notion of recognition is a "compassionate" recognition because compassion is the feeling that urges to worry about justice. However, Cortina does not understand compassion as that patronizing attitude typical of the magnanimity of the strong that agrees to take into account the weak, but as the ability to sympathize with the suffering and joy of those who recognize each other as equal. However, it is unclear who are the subjects that belong to such category of recognition and therefore be subjects of compassionate ties. In this paper I will explore the notion of compassion that both authors develop to analyze whether compassion can deal with inequality, the difficulties that the moral emotion of compassion has to face, and whether there is any other component prior to the emergence of such moral emotion in order to promote equality in justice.

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