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Phenomenology; Justice; Mercy; Law; Book of Jonah; Literary Interpretation


What would a phenomenology of justice look like and what role would mercy play in that account? The unruly experiences and lives of the individuals and communities wrapped up in the dramas of justice are paradoxically distant from legal and philosophical reasoning, laundered by rules of evidence for the instrumental exigencies of the former, and frequently effaced by the disciplinary conventions of the latter. One casualty of these habits of reflection is our understanding of the role of mercy in the experience of justice. Wanting to recapture space to imagine the role of mercy in justice, this paper makes an exploratory turn to a world consumed with representing the messy experience of justice and still thick with the language of mercy – to the poetic and narrative world created in the Book of Jonah. Drawing inspiration from a close reading of this mythic tale, I argue that mercy is an essential feature of the phenomenological architecture of justice, requiring us, as it does, to connect abstract judgment with the complexities and exigencies of our concrete conditions. Though distant from contemporary legal and political theory, I argue that mercy in fact remains an uncanny aspect of our experience of justice and so demands a political and legal scholarship that spends as much time reflecting on the sources and nature of mercy as a political virtue, as it does on the demands of reason and the dictates of law alone.