Mercy and Legal Justice

Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1986

14 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2009

See all articles by Jeffrie G. Murphy

Jeffrie G. Murphy

Arizona State University College of Law

Date Written: 1986


This article examines the relationship between mercy and legal justice. Generally, mercy often is but should not be confused with excuse, justification and forgiveness. If a person has actually done the right thing, or if he was not responsible for what he did, then it would simply be unjust to punish him, and mercy need not be considered. Mercy only plays a role when one is truly guilty. But if this is true, then the question of how mercy and justice relate to each other arises, for if mercy is a distinct virtue, as well as justice, some might argue that the exercise of mercy detracts from the exercise of justice and thus a merciful act is an unjust one. This article shows that this is not so because, while it might seem that way when mercy is considered in the criminal law context where a sentencing judge hands down a sentence, mercy need not detract from justice in the civil context, where a merciful individual is merely waiving the right to exercise a punishment upon another.

Keywords: Mercy and Justice, St. Anselm, Criminal Law

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Jeffrie G., Mercy and Legal Justice (1986). Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1986, Available at SSRN:

Jeffrie G. Murphy (Contact Author)

Arizona State University College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
(480) 965-5856 (Phone)
(480) 965-2427 (Fax)

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