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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Thom Brooks

Brooks, Thom (2011). Retribution and Capital Punishment. In Retributivism: Essays on Theory and Policy. White, Mark D. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 232-245.

Author(s) from Durham


This chapter argues that contrary to popular wisdom (and clear pronouncements by classic retributivists such as Kant), retributivists should oppose capital punishment for murderers. He concedes that murderers may deserve to be executed, and that this can be carried out fairly and humanely. Rather, his argument focuses on epistemic problems with ascertaining guilt, which have been made more prominent and visible by recent advances in forensic science (such as DNA testing). Even after guilt was found beyond a reasonable doubt during a fair trial, and confirmed in all subsequent appeals, these scientific advances have been able to clearly demonstrate the innocence of dozens of convicted murderers on death row.
This chapter rejects several other arguments against capital punishment offered as retributivist before outlining and defending his own against actual and potential criticisms.