AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

Mercy : the concept and its moral standing

by Andrew James Brien

Institution: Australian National University
Year: 2013
Record ID: 1033715
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/10405


Despite its high moral evaluation in both secular and religious worlds, philosophers have surprisingly paid relatively little attention to mercy. The discussion that has developed has produced an image of mercy that is to say the least, equivocal. Moreover, the contemporary discussion rests upon a number of problems that have a long and venerable philosophical pedigree. Unfortunately, these problems have neither been clearly identified nor the issues they raise clearly set out. Further, mercy has always been examined in relation to justice, in a broad retributive and deontological context. Mercy's relationship to consequentialism and its moral standing have received next to no attention. The aim of this dissertation is, through an analysis of the concept and an examination of its relationship to other moral entities, to remedy these omissions. In Chapter One I motivate the project. The problems are introduced and solutions offered by others are examined. As well, I set out the approach that will be followed in the remainder of the thesis. Chapter Two consists of an extended analysis of the concept of mercy. I conclude that mercy is both a particular sort of action and a property of agents. As a property of agents, it is a sensitivity to the great need of another person that produces a responsive attitude of concern and care for their welfare. As an action, it is a response to the great need that another agent possesses. In both cases this arises from the perception of the beneficiary's powerlessness and vulnerability to the acts or omissions of the person holding the power. Thus, mercy rests upon a number of beliefs that agents have, as well as specific relationships between, and properties that, the actors within a merciful context possess. Finally, I distinguish mercy from some of its near relatives. In Chapter Three I examine mercy's relationship to deontology, through an examination of three types of justice: retributive, comparative and consensual. I conclude that, although mercy is sometimes incompatible with some forms of justice, this poses neither conceptual nor moral problems. More importantly, I conclude that mercy is compatible with deontology. Chapter Four is concerned with an examination of mercy's relationship to consequentialism. I conclude that mercy is compatible with consequentialism. If mercy is to achieve wide compatibility with this outlook, however, certain extensive modifications must be made to the traditional account of consequentialism, modifications so radical that many consequentialists would find them unacceptable. Chapter Five contains an account of how deontology and consequentialism can accommodate mercy when it is supererogatory. As well, I examine the apparently incoherent claim that mercy is both required, as shown by the arguments in Chapters Three and Four, while also being in some (attenuated) sense supererogatory, a gift and optional. I conclude that, although mercy is often morally required, it is sometimes still supererogatory, a gift and morally optional. In…