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Two Puzzles About Mercy

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Abstract

Anslem raised a puzzle about mercy: How can anyone (God, say, or a judge) be both just and merciful at the same time? For it seemed to Anselm that justice requires giving people what they deserve, while being merciful involves treating people less harshly than they deserve. This puzzle has led to a number of analyses of mercy. But a strange thing emerges from discussions of this topic: people seem to have wildly divergent intuitions about putative cases of mercy. Examples that are taken by some to be paradigm cases of mercy are seen by others to be clear instances of non-mercy. This phenomenon gives rise to a new puzzle: Why is it that people seem to have such wildly divergent intuitions about putative examples of mercy? This paper proposes a new analysis of mercy that provides solutions to both of these puzzles about mercy.

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