Retributivist Theories' Conjoined Twins Problems

37 Pages Posted: 22 May 2018

Date Written: May 7, 2018


This Article expands a previously published article, which introduced a novel problem to the centuries-old debate on the retributivist justification of punishment. The first article applied the problem of conjoined twins, where one commits a crime and the other is innocent, to pure retributivism. The conjoined twins problem showed that pure retributivism, which holds absolute duties to punish all who are guilty and none who are innocent, fails as a complete theory of punishment. This Article broadens the application of the conjoined twins problem by applying the problem to other versions of retributivism, including deontological, consequentialist, threshold, negative/weak, victim-conscious, and mixed retributivist theories. Exploring each version in turn, this Article uses the conjoined twins problem to show that no version of retributivism can serve as a complete theory of punishment.

Keywords: theories of punishment, justification of punishment, punishment, retributivism, criminal law, philosophy, consequentialism

Suggested Citation

Deitch, Brittany, Retributivist Theories' Conjoined Twins Problems (May 7, 2018). University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 87, 2019. Available at SSRN:

Brittany Deitch (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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