Mercy (Middle English, from Anglo-French merci, from Medieval Latin merced-, merces, from Latin, "price paid, wages", from merc-, merxi "merchandise") can refer both to compassionate behaviour on the part of those in power (e.g. mercy shown by a judge toward a convict), on the part of a humanitarian third party (e.g. a mission of mercy aiming to treat war victims) or divine mercy shown to the penitent. Mercy is a word used to describe compassion shown by one person to another, or a request from one person to another to be shown such leniency or unwarranted compassion for a crime or wrongdoing. Some of the earliest recorded expressions of divine mercy are found in Ancient Egyptian literature. One of the basic virtues of chivalry, Christian ethics, Islam, and Judaism, it is also related to concepts of justice and morality in behaviour between people.
To be "mercy", the behavior generally can not be compelled by outside forces. (A famous literary example is from The Merchant of Venice when Portia asks Shylock to show mercy. He asks, On what compulsion, must I? She responds:
- The quality of mercy is not strained.
- It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
- Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
- It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
- Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
- The throned monarch better than his crown.
- His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
- The attribute to awe and majesty,
- Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
- But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
- It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
- It is an attribute of God himself;
- And earthly power doth then show like God's
- When mercy seasons justice.
Ethicist Jacob Appel has noted a decline of mercy, and a concomitant increase in retribution, in American public life. Appel has written:
One of the glaring -- yet too often overlooked -- failings of contemporary America is that we have become a nation obsessed with justice and retribution. We claim to be The Land of the Free, yet we have lost sight of what it means to be imprisoned: denied liberty and access to one's family, subjected to isolation and violence and unspeakable boredom. We have come to believe, in the most pernicious way, that people should get what they deserve. What a sea change it might be in our public discourse and our civic life if we focused instead upon mercy and forgiveness. A merciful and forgiving culture might find itself with less anger, less social disruption, and even less crime.
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- Jacob Appel. What I Want For Christmas: Mass Clemency, Dec. 23, 2009.
- Ralf van Bühren: Die Werke der Barmherzigkeit in der Kunst des 12.–18. Jahrhunderts. Zum Wandel eines Bildmotivs vor dem Hintergrund neuzeitlicher Rhetorikrezeption (Studien zur Kunstgeschichte, vol. 115), Hildesheim / Zürich / New York: Verlag Georg Olms 1998. ISBN 3-487-10319-2
- Sterling Harwood, "Is Mercy Inherently Unjust?," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1996), pp. 464–470.
- Jeffrie G. Murphy, "Mercy and Legal Justice," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1996), pp. 454–463.
- Lampert, K.(2005); Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism. Palgrave-Macmillan
- Witt, David (2008); "Mercy"
- "Magic in ancient Egypt", Geraldine Pinch, p. 44, University of Texas Press, 1995, ISBN 0292765592
- "The pyramid builders of ancient Egypt: a modern investigation of pharaoh's workforce", Ann Rosalie David, p86, Routledge, 1996, ISBN 0415152925
- Appel, Jacob. What I Want For Christmas: Mass Clemency, Dec. 23, 2009.
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