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Criminology Essays - Cesare Beccaria Englightenment

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1182 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Cesare Beccaria Englightenment

Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) is considered to be the founding “father” of early criminology. He was an Italian scholar who actively promoted the improvement of corrections by applying the rationalist philosophy of the Enlightenment to the criminal justice system. His 1764 publishing of Essay on Crimes and Punishments indicted the cruel and inhumane nature in which European jurisdictions dealt with crime in the 18th century. His writings were the first criminological approaches to criminal behavior and societal response to be recognized. Beccaria was the first to stress that punishment should not be for retribution but for the purpose of deterrence. The prevention of future crime was seen as being more important that exacting revenge (Schmalleger, 1999).

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The traits of Beccaria’s beliefs fall into the Deterrence Theory. There are several central points to this theory. One main point which Beccaria promoted is that all individuals possess freewill and manner of rationality in which they make their choices. He believed that people choose all behavior freely, whether conforming or deviant, based on their calculations of rationality. As rational creatures, humans are able weigh potential outcomes of their actions, seeing which may be beneficial or hurtful to their quality of life. If the punishment outweighs the gain of committing a crime, rational people will not commit the offense.

The second leg, rational manner, means that all individuals rationally look out for their own personal satisfaction. This is key to the relationship between laws and crime. While individuals will rationally look for their best interest, and this might entail deviant acts and the law, which goal is to preserve the social contract, will try to stop deviant acts. This ends up with the individuals and the society rationally looking for satisfaction, and at times these interests clash. The third leg in which Beccaria’s theory rest is manipulablibily, universally shared human motive of rational self-interest makes human action predictable, generalable and controllable. (Roshier, pg.16). The job of the criminal justice system is to control all deviant acts that an individual with freewill and rational thought might do in the pursuit of personal pleasure. This is made easier by the fact that human actions are predicable and controllable. With the right punishment or threat the criminal justice system can control the freewilled and rational human being. The problem the criminal justice system has is finding the right punishment or threat Get help with your essay from our expert essay writers...

Popularity Today:

The classical view of criminology has been steadily growing in popularity this decade. The criminological theory of Rational Choice takes many of the Classical ideas and makes them more relative to today’s issues. Rational Choice theory believes in freewill, individuals make rational choice to commit crimes, people use the pleasure/pain to make rational choices, people will choice choices that increase their pleasure, the government has the right and duty to preserve the common good and the society, swift, severe and certain punishment will give the government control over the peoples’ choices ad behavior, deterrence and the use of incarceration and punishment to prevent crime.

Rational Choice theory also deals with the issues of general and specific deterrence, the use of incarceration and "just desserts". General deterrence is that the general public will not commit crimes due to a fear of getting caught, prosecuted and severely punished. Specific deterrence is using punishments to prevent a known deviant from committing future crime or said that if a criminal receives enough punishment for committing an act, that criminal will not commit that act again. Incarceration is the use of prisons to punish criminal, and by taking them out of society, criminal are prevented from committing in new harm. "Just desserts" simply means that an individual commits a deviant act then they deserve to be punished by the government. Beccaria did not write in depth about general and specific deterrence, but he did write in a general manner about the use of laws and punishment, if certain and prompt, can deter the general public and specific criminals from committing crimes. Beccaria also supports the Rational Choice Theory of the use of incarceration and "just desserts" for in these topics main concepts in his treatise, On Crime and Punishments. In studying the recent theory of Rational Choice, one can see the large and lasting impact that Beccaria had on the field of criminology.

In recent policies that have been influenced by Beccaria’s work and his ideas are

truth in sentencing, determinant sentences, swift punishments, corporal punishments, look at crime not criminal, punishment not treatment, people rationally choose crime and less judicial discretion. While not all state governments have adopted all these ideas, most have and many are about to follow. Some of the recent policies go against the ideas of Beccaria these are longer sentences, threes strikes and you are out laws, death penalty and gun control. While many of his ideas about human nature and policies on controlling crime have grown in popularity, still many of his ideas are very unpopular.

The recent trend of more gun control goes against Beccaria’s idea about citizens’ right to bare arms. In writing about the utility of gun control, he writes, " false is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousands real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience’ that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes" (Beccaria, pg. 87-88). Today many opponents of the gun control laws use Beccaria’s warning as a battle cry. Many use his words, along with the words of other theorists of the time, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and James Madison, to support their right to bare arms.


I agree with Beccaria’s views on crime. We can see examples of many types of detterence in our everyday lies.


Adler, F., & Laufer, W.S. (1988). Advances in Criminological Theory. Transaction Publishers.

Beccaria, C., & Young, D. (1986). On Crimes and Punishments. Indiana: Hackett Publishing.

Clear, T., Cole, G.F., &Reisig, M.D. (2005). American Corrections. Wadsworth.

Schmalleger, F. (1999). Criminal justice today, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall


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