How the Tension Between Mercy and Blame Shaped Our Legal Codes

When we make moral judgments, says Fiery Cushman, the lead researcher at Harvard’s Moral Psychology Lab, the “more primitive, so to speak ‘you caused it, you should suffer’ response never goes away.”“The Barque of Dante,” by Eugène Delacroix (1822)

One day in July 1884, four shipwrecked men aboard a lifeboat headed northwest off the Cape of Good Hope. For three weeks, Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Edmund Brooks, and Richard Parker knocked off sharks with oars, drank urine, and even devoured a wayward sea turtle—bones and all—to survive. With no sign of rescue on the horizon, the quartet began to discuss sacrificing one for the good of the group. The following day, Parker fell into a coma. Dudley, seeing an opportunity, gashed open Parker’s neck with a penknife; the remaining trio began to eat. A few days

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