On Clemency Book II, III

But lest the plausible word “mercy” should sometimes deceive us and lead us into the opposite extreme, let us consider what mercy is, what its qualities are, and within what limits it is confined.

Mercy is “a restraining of the mind from vengeance when it is in its power to avenge itself,” or it is “gentleness shown by a powerful man in fixing the punishment of a weaker one.”

It is safer to have more than one definition, since one may not include the whole subject, and may, so to speak, lose its cause: mercy, therefore, may likewise be termed a tendency towards mildness in inflicting punishment.

It is possible to discover certain inconsistencies in the definition which comes nearer the truth than all the rest, which is to call mercy “self-restraint, which remits some part of a fine which it deserves to receive and which is due to it.”

To this it will be objected that no virtue ever gives any man less than his due.

However, all men understand mercy to consist in coming short of the penalty which might with justice be inflicted.