The virtue of mercy is widely admired, but is now marginalized in contemporary public life. Yet for centuries it held a secure place in western public discourse without implying a necessary contradiction with justice. Alex Tuckness and John M. Parrish ask how and why this changed. Examining Christian and non-Christian ancient traditions, along with Kantian and utilitarian strains of thought, they offer a persuasive account of how our perception of mercy has been transformed by Enlightenment conceptions of impartiality and equality that place justice and mercy in tension. Understanding the logic of this decline, they argue, will make it possible to promote and defend a more robust role for mercy in public life. Their study ranges from Homer to the late Enlightenment and from ancient tragedies to medieval theologies to contemporary philosophical texts, and will be valuable to readers in political philosophy, political theory, and the philosophy of law.
Alex Tuckness is a professor at Iowa State University within the departments of political science and philosophy. He is the author of Locke and the Legislative Point of View (2002). John M. Parrish is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the University Honors Program at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author of Paradoxes of Political Ethics: From Dirty Hands to the Invisible Hand (Cambridge, 2007).
Introduction; Part I. Mercy and Politics outside the Western Christian Tradition: 1. Mercy and justice in Buddhist, Islamic, and Eastern Orthodox thought; 2. Mercy and the ancient defense of honor; Part II. Mercy and Justice in the Western Christian Tradition: 3. Mercy as charity in Augustine and early Christian thought; 4. Christian mercy from Anselm to Calvin; Part III. Modern Liberalism and the Decline of Mercy: 5. The primacy of the political in modern natural law; 6. The rise of utilitarianism and the return of retributivism; Part IV. Mercy and Impartiality in the Utilitarian and Kantian Traditions: 7. Mercy as cruelty in Bentham and the utilitarian tradition; 8. Mercy as injustice in Kant and the retributivist tradition; Part V. Mercy and Justice Today: 9. The meanings of mercy; 10. The case for mercy.