Classicalism vs. Positivism

Topics: Sociology, Criminology, Crime Pages: 5 (1538 words) Published: January 22, 2011
Classicalism vs. Positivism
What is crime? What makes people commit crimes and how can we stop it? These, and many other questions similar to these, are asked by criminologists everyday. Criminology is an ever growing field, mainly because there is more and more research occurring and new theories linking people and crime coming out everyday. Below the main field of criminology there are many subfields that have different theories and philosophies on what they believe link criminal behavior. Two of the main criminology perspectives are Classical Criminology and Positivist Criminology. Although these two are both studied in the criminology field, their views are distinctly contradictory from each other. These two theories and many others like them all collaborate together and make the field of criminology what it is today.

Criminology is basically “the scientific approach to studying criminal behavior” (Siegel 4). It refers to the study of the nature of crime or way that crime occurs. There are many facets of criminology and this definition is the broad umbrella term that covers the main idea. There are three main areas of significance to criminologists: the development of criminal law and its use to define crime, the cause of law violations and the methods used to control criminal behavior (Siegel 4). Since criminology is a science, it is studied in a scientific way using appropriate research tools and the scientific method. As well as criminology being a science, it is interdisciplinary, meaning that it involves two or more academic fields. Criminology intertwines with sociology, criminal justice, political science, psychology, economics and the natural sciences. One can not come up with the subject of criminology without mentioning what constitutes a crime. A “crime is an act that violates a political or moral law” (Wikipedia). These crimes may or may not be deviant. There are many ways to describe criminology, some include, an objective vs. subjective approach, deductive vs. inductive logic and the interdisciplinary approach. In using the interdisciplinary approach, the two main theories most looked at are classicalism and positivism.

As one goes through the history of crime and criminology, it can be seen that criminal codes have existed for thousands of years dating back to dark ages where punishments for crimes were extremely harsh, mainly using different forms of torture. After the Dark Ages came the Age of Enlightenment also known as the Classicalist Era. During this period of time social philosophers came to rethink the punishment process that currently existed and began putting in place a more rational form of punishment. The main emphasis during the Classicalist Era was on philosophy, there was no science involved. Philosophers such as Baccaria, Bentham, Hobbes and Locke found that human beings are rational creatures and they had the free will to determine whether or not to commit crimes. Their view was based on the utilitarian principle that people’s behavior is motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain (Siegel 648). There are different ways that followers of the classicalist view believe can deter crime. Their punishment philosophy is to use the process of deterrence, retribution and incapacitation. Classicalists are heavily reliant on the deterrence theory which basically states that in order to deter crimes the punishment must be swift, certain and severe in order to be effective. As with mostly every theory, there are some problems and criticisms associated with the classicalist point of view. “Classical theory…assumes that rational people will choose to enter the social contract; thus, anyone who commits crime is pathological or irrational, that is unable or willing to enter into a social contract” (Bohm 16). This fails to take into consideration that crime might be rational depending on the person’s social status. Another criticism is how classicalists...
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