Classical theory in criminology has its roots in the theories of the 18th century Italian nobleman and economist, Cesare Beccaria and the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (Hollin, 2004, 2). It was based on principles of utilitarian philosophy. Cesare Beccaria, author of On Crimes and Punishments (1763–64), Jeremy Bentham, inventor of the panopticon, and other classical school philosophers based their arguments as follows,
(1) People have free will to choose how to act
(2) Deterrence is based upon the notion of the human being as a 'hedonist' who seeks pleasure and avoids pain, and a 'rational calculator' weighing up the costs and benefit consequences of each action.
(3) Punishment (of sufficient severity) can deter people from crime, as the costs (penalties) outweigh benefits, and that severity of punishment should be proportionate to the crime.
(4) The more swift and certain the punishment, the more effective it is in deterring criminal behavior.
Pre 18th century was a time in history when punishment for crime was severe in the extreme, and both men proffered the theory of utility. It should be remembered that the Classical school of thought came about at a time when major reform in penology occurred, with prisons developed as a more civilized form of punishment. Also, this time period saw many legal reforms, like the French Revolution, and the development of the legal system in the United States.
New theorists like Beccaria and Bentham looked at the causes of criminal and delinquent behavior, and began to scientifically explain such deviance (Juvenile, 2005, 71). They rejected theories of naturalism and demonology which characterized the European Enlightenment as explanations for these types of behavior. The new theories reflected the rationalism and humanitarianism of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment. These theories have paved the way for more humane form of new world order on criminology.
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