04 April 2013

Mercy As A Component of Justice

Many years ago I wrote several short pieces now hosted on the website of Third Millennium Ministries. One of them dealt with biblical exemption laws and four of them (creatively titled part one, part two, part three, and part four) addressed the torah of secured transactions. These came to mind today when I came across this blurb from Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion in which theologian Michael Welker addressed the foundation of human rights law in the Book of the Covenant (the text in Exodus following the Ten Commandments).

Welker considered not only the text but the structure of the text and concludes that ancient Israel's slave laws exemplify the virtue of mercy, the “free creative self-withdrawal in favor of the other or others.” In other words, the torah pulls back from the inexorable logic of the law and creates legal "space" within which virtues in addition to justice can flourish. Important to note, however, is that this space (or mercy) is part of the law.

Another way of framing the issue is in terms of the Aristotelian concept of epiekeia or equity. I address this topic at the outset of my piece, Third Time's the Charm (abstract here) where I note that  "at least since Aristotle, the term equity (epieikeia) can connote something like purposeful interpretation or mitigation of otherwise harsh results (mitigatio iuris)." (Warning: the posted version of Third Time's the Charm is an early draft; the final and revised version will be published later this spring in the Pepperdine Law Review.)

However, I believe that a law-centered approach to mercy is more integrated and can better take into account the three perspectives I use to justify and critique the law (the normative, the situational, and the existential for those who are interested.) (Those who are really interested can check out two of my published pieces: Mission Possible and Consideration in the Common Law of Contracts to see the three perspectives in action.)

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