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Traditional Classical Theory Verses Positivist Theory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2685 words Published: 9th May 2017

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The reason for choosing Classical versus Positivist Theory is that these two theories were the basis of argument before the Twentieth Century, and, if studied, one could understand the discrepancies of crime theories and debates when dealing with the law, psychiatrists and deterrence(Padhy, 2006).Crime theories emerge from the study of criminology(Padhy, 2006). Criminology is a sociological branch of study utilising crime statistics, psychology and law and the scientific study of human bodies to research criminal behaviour(Padhy, 2006). To understand the implications of criminal behaviour, we need to understand crime, defined when a human being breaks the law realising this varies between countries due to different cultures and values(Padhy, 2006). The law is defined by what the legislature says, thus crime is determined by what these law agencies decide(Fletcher, 1985). Historically, Beccaria and Benthan in the Eighteenth Century emerged with the Classical Tradition of Crime, focussing on punishment and the crime committed(Padhy, 2006). In the Nineteenth Century with scientific enlightenment, Lombroso brought a new theory to discussion focussing on the criminal(Padhy, 2006). Positivism was based on determinism contrasting with Classical Tradition based on rationality. This forgoes individual choice and holds biological and psychological predisposition responsible, giving a new consideration for judges because of a new understanding on criminal behaviour(Padhy, 2006).

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In discussing the nature of human beings, Classical Theorists say that individuals possess the ability to make choices(Beccaria, 1778). Human beings are able to participate in any activity not contrary to legislation, giving free choice(Beccaria, 1778). It is when humans take this right of choice and cause damage to lives and autonomy of citizens that crime is committed(Beccaria, 1778). Both theories view crime as a breach of security causing an interruption to a peaceful society(Beccaria, 1778). Classical Theorists focus on the dependant variables of crime looking at the crime itself, compared to Positivism which focuses primarily on the independent variables of the individual and what caused this act(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). The Classical School of Crime was developed for the purpose of defining criminals as rationale human beings acting to gain benefits, where legislation was aimed to increase peace and maximise welfare(Carnis, 2004).

Discussing the nature of human beings within Positivism says that human behaviour is governed by laws of nature, thus crime is predetermined(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990a). It emerged during the enlightenment period in response to specific theory testing by correlations and relationships between measured variables(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Positivist Theory encompasses "the idea that human behaviour is the product of causal forces over which individuals or collectivities have little control"(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990 p.418). Rejecting Classical Theories, Biological Positivism focuses on empirical evidence from the study of twins, families and genetics to emphasise the biological determinants of criminology(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Eysenck forms both Biological and Psychological Positivism, where upbringing is a form of conditioning to crime to gain a conscience of what is bad or good(Eysneck, 2006). There are two kinds of character types, introvert or extrovert. Introverts are more set in characteristics and difficult to condition or de-condition, whereas extroverts are easily conditioned(Eysneck, 1977). Eysenck suggests that a failure of conditioning to develop a good conscience is the cause of criminal behaviour (Eysneck, 1977). Eysenck suggests that punishment followed soon after crime can re-condition these individuals away from criminal behaviours similar to Classical Theory(Eysneck, 1977).

In explaining the cause of criminal behaviour, Classical Theory explains that humans pursue happiness and pleasure and want to avoid pain(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). With free will and choice comes the influence of that individual's environment where it may limit or promote criminal behaviour(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). For an individual to commit a crime they must use force and fraud to achieve self-happiness or advantage(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). In Classical Theories motivation comes from the human and is the cause of crime. Motivation is the key in defining why the perpetrator carried out the crime, and focuses on how the target made this crime accessible(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990).

After the development of Positivism, thoughts of rational decisions and preconceptions of Classical Theory had to be re-evaluated(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Scientists had a new outlook based on experimental methods to question previous rational schemes that dominated criminal theories before the Nineteenth Century(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). In the view of Positivism the cause of criminal behaviour lies in measured variables(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Juxtaposed to Classical Theory, for an individual to commit a crime in the eyes of Positivist Theory they must have an inherited trait(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). With Positivism, there is no acceptance of rational behaviour but crime is explained by biological and social phenomenon. This theory emphasises there is a social reason for each specific criminal act, found through research and correlations(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Characteristics or tendencies that an individual inherits can increase their susceptibility for criminal behaviour, thus Positivist criminologists sustain criminals are caused to behave this way(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Lombroso also described that the cause of criminal behaviours were imbedded in physical characteristics and genetic makeup(Hamlin, n.d)

In explaining crime, Traditional Classical Theories claim crime is caused by human beings acting on incentives(Ehrlich, 1996). Humans follow wilful participation of criminal and unlawful acts, explained by their own choices following self-interests(Ehrlich, 1996). Consistent with Classical Theory, Rational Choice Theory which is an extension based centrally in Classical Theory explains that human actions are based on rational choice, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of the criminal act(Akers, 1990). Criminal activity is committed even with the informed notion of the consequences if one gets caught(Akers, 1990). Disadvantages may outweigh advantages with legal punishment thus the individual will decide not to commit the crime(Akers, 1990). This is where deterrence plays a major role in Classical Theory. The threat of legal and capital punishment aims to offset the advantages and reduce the motivation for crime(Akers, 1990). Deterrence for Classical Theories is aimed at positive punishment meaning reduced crime rates due to harsh consequences(Akers, 1990).

Cesare Lombroso, the founder of Biological Positivism, used scientific methods to explain crime, forming the theory known as Lombrosian Atavism(Rafter, 2005). His theory is imbedded in atavism, explaining that criminals are evolutionary throwbacks to a primitive human advancement(Rafter, 2005). This earlier stage was focussed on savage behaviours because these had a greater advantage than personal and community skills(Rafter, 2005). He claimed that these socially unacceptable behaviours were inherited, thus individuals were 'doomed by their physical makeup to break the law'(Rafter, 2005, p.33). Using scientific principles to study the human body and mind, Lombroso said individuals are born as criminals(Rafter, 2005). Their genetic makeup is the explanation for crime; they have a predisposition and have been caused to act this way(Rafter, 2005). The irregularities Lombroso studied, lead him to find relationships between the criminal man and criminal tendencies(Rafter, 2005). Eysenck, still within Positivism, suggested crime was caused by a lack of conditioning, where behaviour is misguided and guilt is not felt towards criminal behaviours(Eysenck, 1977).

Comparing deterrence between the two theories, Classical Theory follows that punishment is measured by the injury that criminal inflicted on society(Beccaria, 1778). Beccaria condemned torture as punishment because it has been falsified in gaining truth, especially about accomplices(Beccaria, 1778). Beccaria believed that punishment should be explained to the criminal and the quicker the punishment after the inflicted crime, the more just and appropriate it will be because of a greater association between crime and punishment(Beccaria, 1778). The point of deterrence in Classical Criminology is to prevent offenders committing further crimes, thus they must realise the extent of their heinous activity, previously hidden behind the advantages of committing the crime(Beccaria, 1778). Within Classical Theory for persecutors or potential offenders deterrence is best given through restraint, physical or situational punishment(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Historically, punishments were in financial dues to the Prince thus if convicted guilty you were in debt to the Crown(Beccaria, 1778).

As Positivism is focussed on the pre-requisite explanation of crime, deterrence or correction in Positivist Theory must aim to identify those people with criminal tendencies, record what caused their behaviour and look at ways to adjust or prevent this behaviour(Lyons, 1977). Eysenck, suggested that if offenders were caught at a young age, they could be re-conditioned, and possibly taught about good behaviours and given a conscience against criminal acts(Eysneck, 1977). In Positivism, persecution is difficult because if the judge accepts genetic inheritance, where is the line drawn as to how much you are accountable for your criminal behaviours. Husted, Myers and Lui(2008) questioned the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans in a court case as to how much these can be accredited to understand the level to which the defendant can blame their genetic makeup.

Classical and Positivist Theory cause practical implications when dealing with court orders. Judges in court must use their intuition with evidence to determine guilt(Padhy, 2006). Judges have often been said to move towards a more Classical approach insisting that humans choose to commit the crime because we are free willed and make our own decisions(Padhy, 2006). Courts must issue a sentence in the hope of preventing further criminal behaviour(Padhy, 2006). Classical Criminology emphasised to judges and juries that offenders must be deterred thus preventing further acts of criminality(AIC, 2009). Based on this deterrence, the sentence must be given equally with no regard to race, socioeconomic status and age(AIC, 2009). There is no excuse for genetic determinism if embracing Classical Criminology in the courts so procedures and sentences must be based on what the individual committed(AIC, 2009). This contrasts with Positivism where an individual can blame their genetic makeup. Positivism is embraced when dealing with psychologists or psychiatrists where they focus on the deterministic features(Padhy, 2006). They highlight the external environment and internal predispositions under involuntary control, thus blaming criminal behaviour on the lack of choices or free will that individual had(Padhy, 2006).

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In the late Twentieth Century, classical tradition re-emerged because it was used to explain deviant behaviour in adolescence(Padhy, 2006). There was a rise in juvenile crime and instead of focussing on Positivism the courts had reverted back to Classical and Rational Choice Theory where juvenile offenders were accountable for their crime(Padhy, 2006). After a crime the state had to promptly implement punishment in the hope of stopping this increase in juvenile deviance(Padhy, 2006).

Both Classical and Positivist theories have their flaws. Deterrence theories are at the heart of Classical Theories. Sherman, Smith, Schmidt and Rogan(1992) conducted an experiment measuring the effect of punishment on subsequent offenders. They found that punishment and arrest did not reduce subsequent crime in domestic violence, and that in fact arrest increased undesirable behaviour especially in those who were single, unemployed and had low conformity levels(Sherman, Smith, Schmidt & Rogan, 1992). This goes against the theory of deterrence in reducing further criminal activities.

Positivism denied the main idea of Classical Theorists where the principles of crime causation weren't based on free will and choice but focussed that there was a specific cause to that certain crime(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). Positivism is based on empirical evidence thus the new emerging ideas including critical theory, poststructuralism and post modernism are offered as extensions or critiques of Positivism suggesting a way to understand societies of the modern world(Agger, 1991). Within Positivism, it must be understood that criminal acts are consistent with their level of predisposition to crime(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990). However Hirschi & Gottfredson(1990) report no evidence of this relationship but positive criminologists just conclude the type of crime committed from the empirical evidence that best explains it(Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1990).

Lombrosian Atavism was critiqued where teachers and textbooks showed vague appreciation of what he contributed to crime theories(Rafter, 2005). Lombroso's work was often ridiculed, being the first to study the characteristics of a 'born' criminal(Rafter, 2005). Lombroso was critiqued for his lack of statistics, and there was speculation he didn't always use control groups(Vedder, Koenig and Clark, 1953; cited by Rafter, 2005). Lombroso was however credited as being the father of introducing scientific method and research into criminology(Rafter, 2005).

Briefly commenting on practical and social implications of what has been discussed, Classical Theories allow for no blame on genetics, thus punishment is given in relation to damage caused(Beccaria, 1778). Correction rehabilitation is enforced to stop reoffending(AIC, 1999). Socially, these individuals may be excluded from society with home confinement, correctional centres and psychiatrist treatment and rejected from society because of their criminal stigma(LeBel, 2008). Practically, in Classical Tradition the State has a right to impose punishment to the perpetrator if they caused social harm(Padhy, 2006). Practical implications within Positivism, involves criminologists catching and persecuting criminals, recording their genetic characteristics ascertaining why they are different from non criminals and therefore developing the atavistic criminal(Lyons, 1977). Rehabilitation must focus on how to correct these imbedded criminal behaviours, whilst identifying future individuals with criminal tendencies and placing preventive measures into action.

When a law of the state is broken, whether we approve or disapprove of it, is classified as a criminal act(Hart, 1958). Concluding, we have witnessed that Classical Theories hold no presuppositions that cause criminal behaviour, their decision is controlled and not influenced by pre events. Motivation for crime comes from the perpetrator and will show in the nature of criminal acts. Beccaria was the founder of Classical Tradition in the Eighteenth Century, but when the scientific revolution emerged, Positivism was a result of utilising scientific methods. Lombroso used biological explanations for crime, describing the characteristics or stigma of an atavistic criminal. Eysenck focused on both biological determinants for characteristic types and behaviour determinants as an explanation for crime where a lack of developed morals and conscience cause a criminal to not feel guilty. Both theories emphasise deterrence and correction to prevent further criminal behaviours.


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