Difference Between Justice and Mercy

Justice vs Mercy

Justice and mercy are two human virtues that are mostly talked about in legal circles. Mercy is a virtue to forgive sinners, or those who are perpetrators of crimes, whereas justice is the principle of meting out punishment to criminals commensurate with the seriousness of their crimes. As such, the two concepts seem to be at loggerheads. However, there are both similarities, as well as differences, between mercy and justice and this article attempts to highlight the differences between the two virtues.


Justice is a concept that is based upon the principle of equality and fairness. Justice demands that people should get what they deserve. In all societies and cultures justice for all and equality before the law are the standards that are sought to be attained. Kings and governments try to be seen as impartial by applying the principle of social justice. Justice is believed to have been served when something is morally or ethically right.

However, in modern times, justice is based upon what is right according to law. There is retributive justice that demands an eye for an eye or life for life, as in criminal procedures. However, there is also restorative justice that seeks to give a chance to the offender, to repent and become a better human being. It is distributive justice that is seen behind socialism, communism, and other social theories that demand allocation of resources equally among the people.


Mercy is a virtue that is similar to forgiveness and benevolence. A person who is kind is said to be merciful as opposed to a person who is cruel. Mercy is seen in acts of giving alms, caring for the sick and the wounded and providing means of relief to people facing natural disasters. Compassion and forgiveness are emotions that are integral to the virtue of mercy. However, when a criminal seeks mercy, he is, in fact, asking for a sentence that is less than what he actually deserves. The concept of a merciful god in Christianity is seen as a way for people to ask for lesser punishment than what they deserve.

Justice vs Mercy

• There seems to be a conflict between justice and mercy when a criminal appeals for clemency from the authorities. Justice requires he be punished, but mercy demands that he be set free or at least be given a more lenient sentence.

• Though God is just, he is also seen as merciful.

• Justice is receiving what one deserves whereas mercy is to ask for what one wants and not what he deserves.

• Mercy is a free gift whereas justice is a right.

• Justice demands an eye for an eye whereas mercy calls for forgiveness and compassion towards the criminal or the offender.