Huck Finn the Inverse Akratic: Empathy and Justice

  • Chad Kleist


An inverse akratic act is one who believes X, all things considered, is the correct act, and yet performs ~X, where ~X is the correct act. A famous example of such a person is Huck Finn. He believes that he is wrong in helping Jim, and yet continues to do so. In this paper I investigate Huck’s nature to see why he performs such acts contrary to his beliefs. In doing so, I explore the nature of empathy and show how powerful Huck’s empathic feelings are. Drawing from Martin L. Hoffman, I show the relationship between empathy and a principle of justice. This relationship leads to Huck acting virtuously, as Rosalind Hursthouse maintains.


Empathy Justice Moral Psychology Inverse Akrasia Hursthouse 



I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer from Ethical Theory and Moral Practice for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. I would also like to give a special thanks to Nancy Snow for all of our lively discussions, her insight into the nature of empathy and helpful written comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


  1. Arpaly N, Schroeder T (1999) Praise, blame and the whole self. Philos Stud 93:161–188 doi: 10.1023/A:1004222928272 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bennett J (1974) The conscience of Huckleberry Finn. Philosophy 49:123–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Hoffman M (2000) Empathy and moral development: implications for caring and justice. Camb. University Press, N. YGoogle Scholar
  4. Hursthouse R (1999) On virtue ethics. Oxf. University Press, N. YGoogle Scholar
  5. Snow N (2000) Empathy. Am Philos Q 37:65–78Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMarquette UniversityMilwaukeeUSA

Personalised recommendations