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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 13, Issue 1, Spring 1999

Anthony P. Roark
Pages 57-68

Retribution, the Death Penalty, and the Limits of Human Judgment

So serious a matter is capital punishment that we must consider very carefully any claim regarding its justification. Brian Calvert has offered a new version of the “argument from arbitrariness,” according to which a retributivist cannot consistently hold that some, but not all, first-degree murderers may justifiably receive the death penalty, when it is conceived to be a unique form of punishment. At the heart of this argument is the line-drawing problem, and I am inclined to think that it is a genuine challenge for the retributivist. I respond on behalf of the retributivist by formulating a line-drawing method that relies on the distinction between clearly deserving and not clearly deserving and is justified by a version of the lex talionis modified with an epistemic constraint.

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