Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level





Warren Herold

Committee Member

Eric Funkhouser

Second Committee Member

Richard Lee


Justice, Love, Politics, Poverty, Prison, Tenderness


Martha Nussbaum’s work Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice identifies the role that compassion plays in motivating citizens in a just society. I expand on this discussion by considering how attitudes of indifference pose a challenge to the extension of compassion in our society. If we are indifferent to others who are in situations of need, we are not equipped to experience compassion for them. Building on Nussbaum’s account, I develop an analytic framework for the public emotion of Civic Tenderness to combat indifference.

Civic tenderness is an orientation of concern that is generated for people and groups that are vulnerable in our society. For example, while we are all vulnerable to having material needs, some people are more vulnerable depending on their personal, social, political, economic, or environmental situations. I focus on two social injustices that largely affect African American and African descended people in America—poverty and the American Criminal Justice System.

Whereas compassion responds to suffering, tenderness responds to vulnerability. Since occupying a situation of suffering implies having been vulnerable to suffering, vulnerability is prior to suffering and tenderness is prior to compassion. Civic tenderness is the expansion of tenderness among a society’s members, institutions, or systems. I argue that its expansion is initiated and sustained by a process called tenderization. Tenderization adjusts our perception of situations of vulnerability and motivates us to protect the vulnerable.

Additionally, I propose a plan to initiate this process. I suggest that the state’s role will be to increase the recognition of situational vulnerability for groups like the imprisoned and the impoverished. This recognition encourages the society to adopt legislation considerate of the historical circumstances that caused a particular group’s vulnerability. In addition to legislative safety nets, I suggest the state should tenderize its citizens in order to reintegrate vulnerable citizens into society by giving them a sense of self-respect.

As an exercise in non-ideal political theory, this research draws on social/political philosophy, moral and social psychology, and political science to provide an interdisciplinary perspective of the problem and possible solutions.