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Forgiveness and mercy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K024-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Forgiveness and mercy are regarded as virtues in many moral and religious traditions, although different traditions will emphasize different aspects. The Christian tradition, for example, tends to emphasize purity of heart as the core of the virtue of forgiveness, whereas the Judaic tradition gives priority to the social dimension of reintegration into the covenanted community. Forgiveness involves the overcoming of anger and resentment, and mercy involves the withholding of harsh treatment that one has a right to inflict. Both allow for healing, but some critics would say that this healing may come at too high a price. Forgiveness, if carried to extremes, can lapse into servility, entailing a loss of self-respect. There are similar paradoxes associated with mercy, particularly in the context of punishment; too strong an emphasis on mercy can lead to a departure from justice. Clearly, though both forgiveness and mercy are obvious virtues, there are difficulties in putting them into practice in the complex situations that make up everyday reality. Recently there has been considerable discussion in philosophy and law of the role that apology might play in earning forgiveness or mercy.

Citing this article:
Murphy, Jeffrie G.. Forgiveness and mercy, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K024-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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