Retributivism and the Moral Enhancement of Criminals Through Brain Interventions

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter will focus on the biomedical moral enhancement of offenders – the idea that we could modify offenders’ brains in order to reduce the likelihood that they would engage in immoral, criminal behaviour. Discussions of the permissibility of using biomedical means to address criminal behaviour typically analyse the issues from the perspective of medical ethics, rather than penal theory. However, recently certain theorists have discussed whether brain interventions could be legitimately used for punitive (as opposed to purely therapeutic) purposes. For instance, Jesper Ryberg argues (although he himself is not a retributivist) that there is nothing to prevent retributivists from endorsing brain interventions as a legitimate form of retributive punishment. Legal academics have not yet paid sufficient attention to whether this proposal would be compatible with international human rights law, nor have retributivist philosophers discussed whether their favoured penal theories have the conceptual resources to explain why brain interventions would not be an appropriate method of punishment. This chapter considers whether there is any indication that these interventions are being used at present for punitive purposes and whether this would violate the European Convention on Human Rights. It examines different versions of retributivism and considers which theory is in the best position to challenge the use of brain interventions as a form of punishment. Finally, it considers whether offering these interventions as an alternative to punishment would violate principles of proportionality.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMoral Enhancement
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Perspectives
EditorsMichael Hauskeller, Lewis Coyne
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)1108717349, 978-1108717342
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


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