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They stood gazing at the artificial Negro as if they were faced with some great mystery, some monument to another's victory that brought them together in their common defeat. They could both feel it dissolving their differences like an action of mercy. Mr. Head had never known before what mercy felt like because he had been too good to deserve any, but he felt he knew now.
– Flannery O’Connor
To know what mercy is, must one have received it? The losers don't write history, and (known) criminals don't write punishment theory. The scholars who do write punishment theory disagree on how to justify punishment, but they tend to agree that punishment is justifiable on some normative account. And if punishment is just, mercy is viewed as a threat, an extralegal distortion of the principles of legal justice. Quite literally, a merciful judgment is a judgment against punishment. It seems those who are for punishment are logically required to be against mercy. But do the critics of mercy fully understand what they oppose? Is the philosophical critique of mercy equivalent to victors’ history?
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