Mercy (Middle English, from Anglo-French merci, from Medieval Latin merced-, merces, from Latin, "price paid, wages", from merc-, merx "merchandise") can refer both to compassionate behaviour on the part of those in power (e.g. mercy shown by a judge toward a convict) or on the part of a humanitarian third party (e.g. a mission of mercy aiming to treat war victims).
Mercy is a term used to describe the leniency compassion shown by one person to another, or a request from one person to another to be shown such leniency or unwarranted compassion for a crime or wrongdoing.
One of the basic virtues of chivalry, Christian ethics, Judaism, and Islam, it is also related to concepts of justice and morality in behaviour between people. In India, compassion is known as karuna.
In a legal sense, a defendant having been found guilty of a capital crime may ask for clemency from being executed.
To be "mercy", the behavior generally can not be compelled by outside forces. (A famous literary example is from The Merchant of Venice when Portia asks Shylock to show mercy. He asks, On what compulsion, must I? She responds The quality of mercy is not strained.)
A number of organizations (e.g. the Mercy Corps, the Sisters of Mercy, Mercyful Fate and the Temple of Mercy and Charity) use the word "mercy" in their name to describe their work.
- Ralf van Bühren: Die Werke der Barmherzigkeit in der Kunst des 12.–18. Jahrhunderts. Zum Wandel eines Bildmotivs vor dem Hintergrund neuzeitlicher Rhetorikrezeption (Studien zur Kunstgeschichte, vol. 115), Hildesheim / Zürich / New York: Verlag Georg Olms 1998. ISBN 3-487-10319-2
- Sterling Harwood, "Is Mercy Inherently Unjust?," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1996), pp. 464-470.
- Jeffrie G. Murphy, "Mercy and Legal Justice," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1996), pp. 454-463.
- Lampert, K.(2005); Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism. Palgrave-Macmillan
- Witt, David (2008); "Mercy"