The quality of mercy is not strain'd,It droppeth as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath: it is twice blest;It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomesThe throned monarch better than his crown;His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,The attribute to awe and majesty,Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;But mercy is above this sceptred sway;It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,It is an attribute to God himself;And earthly power doth then show likest God'sWhen mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,Though justice be thy plea, consider this,That, in the course of justice, none of usShould see salvation: we do pray for mercy;And that same prayer doth teach us all to renderThe deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus muchTo mitigate the justice of thy plea;Which if thou follow, this strict court of VeniceMust needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.(The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare)
The assassination of bin Laden is the kind of event that ought to make one pause for philosophical thought. Perhaps now that the first blood-drunk frenzy is exhausting itself, the spiritual hangover will promote reflection (or self-indulgent ranting and whining for those who don’t want to do the harder work). Such a moment forces the deeper questions to the forefront of the mind.
What is vengeance? How does it differ from justice? Is justice punitive or redemptive? What is mercy? Is it different than justice? Which of the three—vengeance, justice, mercy—are compatible and which mutually exclusive? What are the immediate reflexive answers to these questions and do those answers change after reflection?
What does love do to the equation? Does compassion for one person or group necessitate a lack of compassion for an opposing person or group? Do mercy and justice look different when considered by an individual versus a state or a social system? What about whether the object of compassion is an individual versus a state or social system? Does that change the outcome of the discussion?
Ought a state to have a conscience? Is the moral compass of a state a mere reflection of the individuals in positions of power or is there some external collective natural morality to which states ought to adhere? What would it be?
Is justice blind? Should it be? Can it be?
Is mercy ever strained to the breaking point?