Gerald Postema: "Dilemmas of Discretion: Equity and Mercy"

Event date
3 May 2023
Event time
15:00 - 16:30
Oxford week
TT 2
90 High Street Lecture Room University College

Gerald Postema 

Notes & Changes


It is often said that the rule of law opposes official discretion and, thus, that it opposes equity and mercy because both encourage officials, especially judges, to exercise discretion to mitigate the harshness of law. This chapter argues that discretion plays an important role within law’s rule. Equitable judgment in the private law context and mercy in the criminal law context are compatible with the rule of law and necessary complements to law. Equity seeks to correct law in order to achieve particularized justice; it is internal to the ambition of law and works together with it to achieve that ambition. It is possible to design a public framework for the exercise of equity discretion that yokes law and equity institutionally and internally. Mercy tempers justice; it is a matter of compassionate grace rather than respect for rights. Mercy does not displace justice, nor justice mercy; rather, mercy is an integral part of a morally justified institution of punishment. It enables a distinct form of egalitarian recognition, recognition of common vulnerability. Justice and mercy are complementary values that temper each other at the points where each, on their own, would lose their normative force. Mercy is necessary also in the broader political community. Without mercy, and the compassion that moves it, a rigorous practice of accountability can poison the solidarity characteristic of the mode of association fostered and protected by law’s rule.

Gerald Postema , Professor Emeritus at University of North Carolina, presents the second paper of Trinity Term 2023. 

Professor Postema will present a chapter of his recent book Law's Rule (OUP 2022). We will discuss chapter 11: Dilemmas of Discretion: Equity and Mercy (click on the link to access the chapter via OUP). 


The seminar will start at 3:00pm in the 90 High Street Lecture Room of University College, on Wednesday May 3 (note the different day).


Enter University College through the main gate in High St. Once in the main quad head right to find the "Shelley Memorial". Walk past the memorial to find a door leading to the stairs to the second floor. Once in the second floor find the door that indicates with a sign that you are heading to the 90 High Lecture Room. Walk through the hallway until it ends and you will see the Room to your left. The door to the seminar room will remain open.


This event is open to anyone. No registration needed.

Pre-reading is desirable but not a requirement to attend


If you want to receive the papers we discuss in our seminars join our mailing list by sending a blank email at jurisprudence-discussion-group-subscribe[at]


Found within