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An analysis of Criminology and its history

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 5414 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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Legally speaking, a crime is an act that is punishable by law. A person is called criminal who has committed such a legally prohibited act. But still there are some other criteria based on which a person is determined as a criminal or not a criminal.

Criminology is considered a the scientific study which relates both the individual and society to the criminal behavior, including the nature, extent, causes, and control of this behavoir. Since Criminology is fueled from different field like behavioral sciences, sociologists(especially the sociology of deviance) , social anthropologists and law therefore it is an interdisciplinary field in these academic fields[1].

In 1885, an Italian law professor Raffaele Garofalo was the first one who coined the term criminology as criminologia. But later, analogous French term criminologie was used by French anthropologist Paul Topinard around the same time[1]

Since Criminology is a related to crime therefore questions come in one’s mind that what is crime? Why and what reasons make people to commit crimes and is there any way to stop crime from being committed? Every day criminologists ask these kinds of questions, and some other questions that are similar to these. Criminology is a continuously growing field, because every day philosophers come up with new theories and research that link people, society and crime. The main field of criminology has many subfields that contain a number of different theories and philosophies, where they provide a link among criminal, crime and criminal behavior. Classical Criminology and Positivist Criminology are the two main criminology perspectives. Today the field of criminology is made up of these two basic theories and some other theories (like them) and they all collaborate together to provide theoretical framwork that relates both the individual and society to the criminal behavior. [2]

History :

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In the mid-17th century, criminology came into existence when social philosophers started thinking about the crime and concepts of law[1]

(3) Historically criminologists have written very little about the subject of philosophy. Similarly the philosophers have not written much about the crime and criminology field. Due to which, an implicit gap is created betwwen philosophy and criminology which has been absent either in the theoretical assumption of criminologists or in the more general metaphysical , ethical and legal writing of philosopher. However, one thing is sure throughout the history that law and justice were the most important concerns of the philosophers (e.g. Solomon and Murphy1990; Friedrich 1963).

Many of the most important philosophers minds, from Plato, Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine, to Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, Cesare Beccaria, have dealt with the complexities of social obligation, social offence, social control and societal response to crime openly and intensely.

Indeed, crime, as it seems, was never considered properly as philosophical issue. But , at various points in time in the historical, one can find that the subject of criminal behavior was considered by the philosophy, medical philosophy, theology and as well as by ethics where it was considered as a subset of immoral conduct,. But still crime was remained noticeably absent from the most important philosophical theories that is the general ontological, epistemological, ethical and aesthetical analysis. These theories might suggest new viewpoints and different directions for its general comprehension as well as specific applications of it in law and justice studies.

Similarly the field fo philosophy and its corresponding intellectual subfields (i-e ontological, epistemological, ethical and aesthetical) never considered the criminological concerns properly. Therefore criminology evolved into a increasingly interdisciplinary as an independent field having its own scholars and practitioners where philosophy and criminology were regarded as distinct and unrelated subject perhaps.

But still it can be seen that crimilogy and philosophy were related to each other in number of ways and the junction of crimilogy and philosophy were described by scholars in both camps.

The aim is not to fill the gap between the two. But the above discussion is provided in order to understand how the two field were dealt before and how they created a relation to each other.

Note: Due to the time limitation and number of pages I have to write (10 pages at most), I will only discuss some of the important theories that have great influence on the criminology.

Now First, I will concentrate on how the concept and study of crime developed through the history by considering its progress from ancient times to the Middle Ages, then to the modernity and more recently to the postmodernity. In this essay my aim is explain different ways that how the philosophers, from philosophy field, has address the issue of crime. Also how such conceptions have been used to broader intellectual and social transformation. Secondly we will see that how the philosophy is introduced into criminology field.

Crime in philosophy:

For many years, philosophy and social science were one and the same. The philosophers associated with psychology , sociology and criminology( called psychologist, sociologist, and criminologists of ancient times) and from the Middle Ages were confined to these fields because they entertained only those sort of questions which were related to their specific field. It was then that these sorts of questions, during the subsequent historical periods, became a part of specific academic disciplines (Rosenberg 1988) []

Therefore after the affiliation of the criminology with different disciplines, the philosophers, of these disciplines, started to examine the essential questions of crimilogy that is what is crime , Why and what reasons make people to commit crimes, why certain people have a criminal behavior , and how system of justice should take action against the lawbreakers.

When we look at most of the books on criminology or criminological theory, they begin their historical description from the Cesare Beccaria (Beccaria 1764) philosophy. [] Until then, throughout the years of Western philosophy, crime, law and justice were at least implicit topics that precede him.

Criminology and its Philosophical consideration can be traced back to Plato at least, and after this era comes the Middle Ages where the criminology became the subject of theological concerns , later entered to the cause-effect discourse of modernity through the meditative thinking of Beccaria and Bentham. After the modernity it entered to the scientific discourse of the early biological positivists and then finally to the postmodernity.

Although crime is social fact, but still the particular realities of crime are relative to time and place. Therefore whatever speculation, implicit or explicit, might be derived from Plato or Kant, the philosophy of crime in ancient Greece or 18 century German was radically different in western world from what we find today.

Midlle Age:

In Middle Ages, there was a profound influence of the theology on human conceptualization of the world (e.g. Hyman and Walsh 1983; Solomon and Higgins 1996). []The Middle Ages observed the end of the Greek-inspired “crime as vice” philosophy and thereafter the theological-inspired “crime as sin” philosophy was emerged.

Both human world and social life, throughout the Middle Ages, were considered to be characterized by a constant struggle where the forces of good and evil were uneven and were against one another. There was only one important respect the “soul” ,in which the Middle Ages was different. The soul was associated more directly to the supernatural power(Dilman 1999; Kenny 1980). []For example according to St. Thomas Aquinas,

“the soul was gift from God, implanting within humans a likeness to His ultimate reason”.

Therefore, a sinful disobedience shows a failure to responsibly use God-gifted powers of reason and choice. Crime-as-evil took place due to the human appetites, towards worldly pleasures, were tempted by the demon to defeat our conscience embodied in our God-given soul (Enstadter and Henry 1995, p 34-35). []

Rational hedonism ( the emergence of modernity)

The philosophical thinking about crime law and justice remained the same until 17th and 18th centuries, and during these centuries a significant shift in the philosophical thinking about the crime, criminal behavior and justice occurred. The general intellectual environment of the Enlightment and the criminological cohesion in the legal philosophies of Beccaria (1763) and Bentham (1996) were the origin for this philosophical shift. It is understood that the modern criminology started in mid 18th century. Since the classicism presented the criminology in perspective of human nature and behavior which was largely free of theological influence, and therefore established the locus of crime in individual thoughts and reasons instead. Which means that the classicism philosophical thinking, which was rooted in the principle of rationality, highlights personal responsibility, free choice, and hedonistic calculation, rather than putting the human nature and behavior, which was only confined to the supernatural power determination or related to the external struggle that existed between the forces of good and evil.

The utilitarian philosophical thinking of the classicism is considered a metaphysical departure from metaphysical philosophy that was largely inspired form the theology field of the Middle Ages.

(6)most of the people are frightened when they first come across with theory, but still we use theories on daily basis. In our daily life we contact with many things therefore we all make assumptions about things.Theories devise some logical constructions in order to explain the natural phenomena. Although sometimes these phenomena are not observable directly, but still can be refuted or supported by some empirical findings.

Therefore hypotheses are used to create a relation between theory and empirical research.And these hypotheses are testable suggestions that are logically derived from theories.

The testable part of every theory is very significant because scientific hypotheses should be capable of being accepted or rejected(6).

Classical: (6) Classical criminology was presented in a reaction to the barbaric system of law, justice and punishment that existed before 1789. It emphasizes largely on human rationality and free will. The Classical School was more interested in law-making and legal processing rather than studying criminals. This school of thought believed that engagement in any crime was because of the total free will and that individuals evaluated the consequences of their actions. Therefore to prevent people from committing any crime or criminal activity, Punishment is made and it must be larger than the enjoyment of criminal gains. That is why rather than defining the criminal behavior, the classical school emphasized more on the legal definition of crime. Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) were the two famous writers during this classical period, both were the leaders of the movement to human rights and free will(6).

The Enlightment paradigm more emphasized on the free will , and selfdetermination in human behavoiur and knowledge form which the classical paradigm appeared .

Since the Classical theory of philosophy, in criminology, is emerged from the 18th century theories presented by English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham and an Italian economist, Cesare Beccaria (Hollin, 2004, 2). Therefore at time in history the punishment for crime was severe, and both of the philosopher presented the theory of utility. At that time the causes of criminal and delinquent behavior of the human was looked by new theorists (like Beccaria and Bentham) , and started explaining such deviance scientifically (Juvenile, 2005, 71). Theories such as naturalism and demonology, which were presented by the European Enlightenment paradigm as explanations for these behaviors, were rejected by those theorists. So these new theories were more related to the philosophy of rationalism and humanitarianism of the Age of Enlightenment

Beccaria did not present an entirely new theory in the field of criminology, but rather he wanted to make a more rational punishment for a crime (Classic, 2001). He believed that the punishments should be in hierarchal form depending on the number of times a criminal had been charged previously and more on the severity, and seriousness of the crimes. He believed that conditions under which the death penalty was given should completely depend on the severity of the crime and it should not depend on actual act committed or the level of involvement in the act. In 1764 his book “An Essay on Crimes and Punishment” was published , in which he discussed that why crime occurs and what is the role of society in committing such crimes. (4)He argued that all the people should be treated equally by the law and to avoid the misuse of judicial power then the punishments for particular crimes must be standardized by legislatures.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), another classical theorist like Beccaria also argued that humans are rational beings who make choices by exercising their free will. Thus,both of these philosophers argued that a pain involved in the potential punishment for a crime must be greater than any pleasure in that crime in order to stop the people from commiting such a crime for that pleasure. (6)

Utilitarianism was the major concern of Bentham. He believed that individuals are more concerned about the probabilities of the present and future pleasures rather than considering their pains in present and future time. Therefore he believed that human calculators are calculators that act acooring to calculations, and that they use a sort of mathematical equation for all factors to make a decision whether to commit an illegal act or not. The law is made to make all people happy happiness at all and so that they can live a pleasurable life, on the other hand punishment creates unhappiness but a justification for this punishment is that it prevents greater evil that it produces as a consequence(6).

The early nineteenth century criminologists stated that the philosophy of legal punishments presented by the classical school did not adequately consider the generally varying circumstances of those who were involved in criminal justice system. Therefore , theses criminologists argued that those people who are unable to differentiate between right and wrong, especially children and mentally ill persons, must not be punished with the same punishment for the crime as normal and mentally capable adults who had committed the same crimes are punished. Along with the contributions from the positivists,a later generation of criminologists, these philosopher argued that the punishment for a crime must fit the criminal, not the crime itself (4).

(8) The criminal justice policies were greatly changed by Beccaria’s theory, especially in France, and it was expected that it would soon decrease the crime rate. But actually this was not found in any way whether this occurred or not, because there were no statistics about annual crime rate to measure whether it was going up or down.

In 1827 about sixty years after Beccaria wrote his book, France published its first annual national crime statistics. These statistics showed clearly that crime rate were surprisingly regular. The crime rates for general and for specific crimes such as rape and murder remained the same from year to year. Also, some regions in the country had higher crime rates than some other regions and these differences also remained the same from year to year.

The new crime statistics clearly exposed that the classical punishment policies and philosophy are failed in stopping the crime form being committed, and at the same time these suggested that there were some other factors in the society that had a greater influence on the crime in society.

Due to this shift in philosophical thinking gave birth to a new paradigm of criminology, which was known as positivism. The aim of this paradigm was to study the causes of crime either in the individual or in the larger society (8).

Mazoor (3)


(4)Later, the positivist school of thought in the field of criminology introduces a scientific approach to the field of criminology,and they also included the biological and medical findings in this appraoch.

In the 19th century, the positivist school of thought came into existence due to the “scientific revolution,” especially Charles Darwin discoveries and following scientific advancements. A search for the most important and basic questions about human beings and the universe around them was started and presented by using the “objective” science, instead of using religious and theological beliefs or “arm-chair” philosophy.

(6) Positivists, unlike the classical philosophers , wanted to explain the universe around them objectively. The positivist presented the deterministic view of the world, to explain the criminal behavior rather considering the legal issues, and believed that the crime could be prevented through the treatment of offenders or through the or reformation of the offenders. They observed that the biological, psychological, and social qualities determined the criminal behavior. Therefore the positivists were interested in use of scientific techniques to study those behaviors. Data was collected using these scientific techniques to explain different types of social and individuals phenomena.

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The positivist used the theory evolution, formed by naturalists and anthropologists, to the study criminal behavior of human beings.

The focus of positivism was on systematic observations and the accumulation of evidences and objective facts within a deductive frame work, therefore moving from a more general statement to a more specific one(6).

Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859 (Darwin 1859), in which he stated that

“Humans were the same general kind of creatures as the rest of the animals, except that they were more highly evolved or developed.”

After the Darwinian theory, it was started to understand human beings as creatures whose behavior was influenced by biological and cultural background instead of self-determined human beings who acted according to their free will.[16] This was the time that the first “scientific” studies of crime and criminal behavior started to begin.

Positivism describes a method of inquiry that tries to find answers to those questions that are related to the criminal behavoir which is scientific method.

The researcher observes the empirical facts of the real world by testing “hypotheses” to reach the ultimate “truth” and derives “laws” for their reseach work (e.g.the law of relativity).

The the social sciences appreciated this kind of mode of inquiry, presented by positivist, largely through the work of August Comte (1798-1857) who is often called the founder of positivism as wel as the founder of the sociology discipline. Comte stated that theological, metaphysical, and positive or scientific are the three stages through which the knowledge passes.

The scientific or positivist is considered the highest or final stage of knowledge, and through this stage of knowledge the human beings are able to find out regularities among different social phenomena to establish the predictability and control[17 (5).

(5) However, the big breakthrough in the positivist criminology came when an Italian doctor Cesare Lombroso published his book Criminal Man in 1876 which earned him title of the “father of criminology(5).”

Cesare Lombroso), was the leading philosopher of positivist school thought who (6) used the concept of determinism to replace the philosophy of free will and rationality(6).

Lombroso, Influenced by Darwinian theory of evolution, started to calculate the physical features of prisoner and concluded that specific physical characteristics, such as skeletal, cranial, and neurological malformations were more corelated to the criminal behavoir.

(5)In his work, Lombroso discuseed the biological aspects of the criminal behavior, and stated that since the physical characteristics determine the criminal behavoir therefore a criminal is “born” that way and can be differentiated from non-criminals according to these physical characteristics. Lombroso called them stigmata or characteristics.

Lombroso’s work was the beginning of the positivist criminology and then it is subdivided into different fields. Today biology (began with Lombroso), psychology, and sociology there are three major fields of positivist criminology. Thus, biological positivism describes the criminal within the individual by considering its physical structure; psychological positivism locates the causes by considering the personality development; whereas the sociological positivism sees the causes by looking at the social factors and social structure(5).[21]

In late-nineteenth-century, another school of thought came into existence, called cartographic school, who developed statisticians work in field of criminology, and analyzed this data on population and crime. The French philosopher Lambert Adolphe Quetelet, (1796-1874), and Belgium philosopher André Michel Guerry belonged to this school of thought,. Both of these researchers collected the detailed statistical information about the crime and criminal behavior and also tried to identify and find out the circumstances that made the people to commit crime.

A philosopher named Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) also had a great influence on criminology. Durkheim presented the hypothesis about the criminal behavior of people and argued that it is a normal part of all societies. He also argued that there is no such society in this world who have absolute uniformity of moral consciousness.

There is some deviancy in all societies, and that includes the criminal deviance too, or otherwise they will stagnate.

Durkheim also mentioned the ways in which modern and industrial societies play differed role in building the criminal behavior from those societies that were nonindustrial. Individuals in industrial societies possesses a behavior called anomie by Durkheim which is a Greek word meaning “without norms.” Therefore the modern societies needed to develop specialized and specific laws and criminal justice systems that were not important in early societies in order to control behavior.

Sociology and Criminology

In the twentieth century, the most influential approach in the field of criminology was the sociological approach to criminology, which was concerned to the study of social behavior, systems, and structures. Further it was divided into social-structural and social-process approaches in relation to criminology.

Social-Structural Criminology

This approaches to criminology inspect the related social circumstances and structures that have a great influence on the criminal behavior.

In the 1920s and 1930s , an ecological school of criminology, was developed, through the work of Robert E. Park, Ernest Burgess, and other urban sociologists at the University of Chicago which is known as Chicago school thought.

(6) Human behavior was the main focus of the Chicago school thought, which was determined by social and physical environmental factors, instead of genetic or personal characteristics. The school believed that community was the main factor in the societies that effected human behavior and that the city functioned as a microcosm. An empirical sociology was developed by researchers from this school of thought, in order to study humans’ behavior in their natural environment rather than looking at their social environment.

Data related to individual cases combined with population statistics was collected by these theorists which constructed an important information and became foundation for criminological theories of today (6).

The theorists of this school also explains relationship between the crime and social and environmental change. Similarly it also tries to explain why certain regions of a city have more tendency to attract crime than its other regions. It is found by researchers that urban areas that convert from residential to business uses are mostly targeted by crime

Yet there exist another school of criminology, included in social-structural approach, known as conflict school of thought. It is based on the Marxist theories of philosophy and argued that under the system of capitalism, crime was the ultimate product of conflict between different classes. The conflict theory proposes that the laws and systems of justice in society appear as a conflict instead of consensus. Laws are made by the group of people who are in power in different societies in order to control those who are not in power. Theorists of this school suggest that those who commit crimes are not basically different from the rest of the population. Therefore they maintain instead that to determine that whether a person is a criminal or not mostly depends on the society reactions toward those who deviate from accepted norms. Conflict theorists and some other theorists argue that most of the time poor people and members of minorities are considered as criminals as compare to members of the majority and wealthy individuals.

In the early 1970s another philosophical thinking in criminology field came into prominence called Critical criminology ( also known as radical criminology), which was also based on the Marxism. It also tries to explain existing social upheaval. Critical criminology is based on the economic thinking and explains the criminal behavior by considering the economical aspect of the society. Theorists form this school, argues that certain inequalities exist in the economical and social aspect of the society which cause criminal behavior and make the people to commit the crime. It does not focus much on the study of individual criminals and believes that we cannot get rid of the existing crime within the capitalist system. Like the conflict school, it also declares that Laws are made by the group of people who are in power in different societies in order to control those who are not in power and that the state and its legal system exist to advance the interests of the ruling class.



(6)Aaccording to Edwin H. Sutherland, Criminology is the body of knowledge which consider the crime as a social phenomenon. And the processes of making laws, breaking laws, and the reacting toward the breaking of laws are included in the field of criminology. Criminologists have devises a number of methods of study which vary from social to behavioral sciences. Criminologists, like other scientists, also presented their theories about crime and criminal behavior over time and place. They also used various methods to discuss the characteristics of criminals, criminal behavior, and victims. Different punishments and treatments for different crimes have been presented in societies in order prevention people from committing these crimes.

Simplicity or complexity of the philosophical theories depends on relationships that are made among different field in formulating these theories.

The matter of truth is that we need theory so as to better understand the function of the world around us. We often recognize what we want to perceive. The behavior of human beings is very complex to study and changes as the time and values of society change, and therefore is almost abstract. Theories related to the criminology are complex, too. The theories that I discussed in this essay are from research, both past and present, which studied the criminal behavior both with systematic observation and very careful logic(6).

* The purpose of these theories are not to observe the individual field of criminology in explaining the causes of criminal activity. But instead , each of the theory tried to explain the big picture of the criminal behavoir and provided ways to prevent it. Combination of theories will be the most accurate means of explaining both criminality in general and individual crimes in particular.*

(7)A number of different aspects of criminal justice policy has been presented throughout the history. The Classical School of criminology presents theories that evolved from a capital punishment type of view to more humanitarian based punishment of people. Positivist criminology stresses on the control of human behavior and crimi


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