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Coster, A.

Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Mercy and the Rule of Law

In my thesis, I explore the apparent conflict between mercy and the rule of law. While mercy has been considered a virtue in many philosophical and theological traditions, both on a personal and on a political level, the rule of law is an even more fundamental cornerstone of at least Western legal systems. The rule of law is considered fundamental because it ensures predictability of government interference, which enhances autonomy and inspires obedience to the law in citizens. However, mercy seems to undermine this predictability: it seems too motivated by partial feelings that are not publicly articulable as reasons. Furthermore, it seems that mercy is per definition something that escapes codification in rules. Thus, mercy, although an important virtue, seems to undermine a fundamental part of our legal system.

In this thesis, I argue that many objections to mercy are unfounded, or at least not necessarily sound: mercy is not necessarily too sentimental, partial, or particularistic to be compatible with the rule of law. Furthermore, although mercy is incompatible with the most formalistic interpretation of what the rule of law should be, it is not incompatible with a more common-sense conception of the rule of law, which I argue is preferable. I therefore conclude that a concern of the rule of law does not justify excluding mercy from the judicial system.

Last modified:22 June 2018 11.53 a.m.