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Criminology Leisure class


Early Predecessors to 20th Century Criminology

Classical and positivist philosophers of the 19th century had an important impact on
the emergence and development of modern criminology. Current policies of crime
and punishment can be traced to these schools of thought.

Classical Theorists

Cesare Beccaria was the leading theorist of the classical school. His most significant
contribution to criminology was his underlying philosophy of free will. He posited that
human behaviour was purposive and based on hedonism, or the pleasure-pain
principle. Humans rationally choose actions that will bring them pleasure and avoid
actions that will bring them pain. The person who chooses to commit a crime,
therefore, deserves to be punished because they chose to freely to commit a
wrongful act. Accordingly, Beccaria believed that the degree of punishment assigned
to a crime should be painful enough to outweigh any pleasure that would be derived
from committing the crime in the first place. In other words, the punishment should fit
the crime. His contribution to the concept of justice was that the law should be
impartial--all people are equal under the law. Furthermore, judges are instruments of
the law. They are only to determine innocence or guit and to impose the penalties
that are prescribed by law.

The Positive School

Cesare Lombroso was the leading theorist of the positive school. He believed that
punishment should fit the criminal instead of the magnitude of the crime, thereby
rejecting the strict tenets of the classical school. The positivists supplanted the
doctrine of free will with the doctrine of determinism. According to the doctrine of
determinism, people's actions are determined by the environment and their inherited
physical characteristics. They posited that the causes of crime were economic, social
or biological. Thus, positivists emphasized the importance of conducting empirical
research and developed methods for scientifically investigating these causes of
criminal behaviour. The positive school contributed to the concept of justice
indeterminate sentencing (punishment should fit the criminal instead of the crime)
Criminology Leisure class

and the philosophy of rehabilitation. That is, people should be incarcerated until they
have been rehabilitated.

Activity Time

Please discuss both schools of thought with a partner. Can you decide which school
of thought is more prevalent in the current British justice system?

Is this the most appropriate school of thought?

Why/why not?