Criminological Theories Of Classicalism And Positivism Reports Example

Type of paper: Report

Topic: Criminal Justice, Crime, Theory, Social Issues, People, Psychology, Victimology, System

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2020/12/21


This assignment will critically address the criminological theories of classicalism and positivism. The historical background of the theories will provide the analysis of the different scholars and their views on criminology. Some of the aspects of the theories that is evident in the contemporary Irish Criminal Justice such as conscious intent, psychological evaluation, and sentencing. Positivism seems to be looking at the causes of the crimes. While the classicalism looks at the punishment that will be used to deter the criminals. The two theories began in two different eras. The classicalism theory began during the Enlightenment era while the positivism theory began during the Industrial Revolution era. The two theories will prove to be useful in the criminal justice system all over the world.

Classicalism theory

According to Abels, the classical school of criminology was started by the field of criminology. The classical school has a firm belief that people can be able to choose what is right and wrong. The meaning of this fact is that people are rational beings and, therefore, they have the ability to do good deeds or evil deeds intentionally. Abels states that there are many scholars who have developed the theories of crimes and what leads one to crimes. In looking at the history, the classical theory began in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment era. Some of the well-known classical theorists were Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria (Abels, 1010). The classical theory was very popular in the 18th and early 19th century. This was during the age reason when law had not yet being made obligatory.

Historical background

According to Markoff, during the time of Feudalism that is when the classicalism theory began. Feudalism is referred to as the reign of both the military and legal customs in Europe. This occurred from the ninth century to the 19th century (Markoff, P.105). Feudalism was not a formal political system in Europe. This social structure system it described the duties of the nobility warriors around the three key concepts, which were the vassals, fiefs, and the Lords. Their many obligations were brought on by feudalism. These obligations were carried out by the peasantry, nobility warriors’, clergy and nobility. They were all bound by the manorialism, which is stated to be the feudal society. Feudalism at times can be described as the end result of the decentralized empire. Francois-Louis Ganshof was the first to describe the classic feudalism. In the key concept, the Lord can be stated to be the noble. A noble is the one who owns the lands. The vassal can be stated to be the person who was given possession of the lands by the noble. The fief can be described as the land that is owned. In looking at this explanation, it is clear that the vassal has to provide some service to the lord in order to be protected and use the fief.
In the 1500, feudalism had already begun to decline especially in the western parts of Europe. There are many events that occurred during the medieval era that caused the decline of feudalism. During the time of feudalism, land was considered the main source of economy for many kings and nobles (Palmer, p.448). This fact changed in England where people began to change from the land economy and started the money based economy system. The formation of money based system brought about the formation of towns. This fact caused the peasants to move to towns from the countryside. In the towns, the peasants gained some freedom and thus they were able to rent the lands. This reduced the function of the Lords. The Crusader’s wars caused many countries to travel in many regions in Europe, thus brought about the formation of new trading system. The noble people in the society began to lose their powers, thus the kings became stronger. This change of system caused the establishment of the centralized government (Markoff, p.115).

Basic concept of Classicalism

There are many concepts of classicalism theory in criminology. The theory’s concept is that all people in the world are in their nature self-seeking. This fact will cause them to be in a situation where they are able to commit crimes. This is the main reason why the people have formed the government and the justice system so that they can be able to protect themselves from others and themselves. The decision of punishment of a crime is weighed by the particular crime committed.
The crimes committed should be able to fit the punishment that the individuals receive. This fact means that the punishment should not be used to rehabilitate the criminal or the offender. The other major concept of the theory is that people are rational beings and, therefore, they should be able to make judgments about what is right and wrong.

Cesare Beccaria

According to many researchers, Beccaria is believed to be among the major contributors of the school of classical criminology. One of his memorable works in history is the one called On Crimes and Punishment (Siegel, p320). This work as stated by Markoff influenced many people in the world (Markoff, p.105). There are many countries that have modeled their system of government after looking at this work such as Ireland and USA. According to the works of Siegel, this essay written by Beccaria was not received well by the government officials at that time (Siegel, p.321). The reason given for this was that the officials felt like the work was attacking their system of criminal justice. This fact, therefore, caused resistance among the people in high power positions. Beccaria on the other hand was trying to respond to the repressive and sometimes barbaric laws. The laws at that time permitted and encouraged abusive practices.
Markoff shows that the public officials seem to have had unlimited power; therefore, they were able to control other people (Markoff, p.106). This caused many people to lose their freedoms. One of the key principles that Baccaria brought forward was that the punishment of criminals should be based on the usefulness it will have in the end. This information is defined as the Utilitarianism. The meaning it has is that the punishment brought forward for a particular crime should be able to fit it. Beccaria was against the mistreatment and torture of the suspects. He believed that the criminal justice system main purpose in a country should be to prevent crimes from happening. This fact will be done through deterrence. The meaning of this is that the punishment of the crimes should cause a person not to want to commit crimes.

Jeremy Bentham

Research shows that Bentham was a popular British philosopher who has been very influential as a classical theorist. Siegel indicates that Bentham is believed to be the founder of the Utilitarianism School. He had a firm belief that people are rational in that they can be able to know what is right or wrong. The other beliefs he had was that the punishment of the criminals should be made for the main purpose of deterrence. According to Bentham, the happiness of the greatest number of people is the establishment of what is the legislation and morality (Siegel, p332). Bentham principles of morality and legislature claim that there are two engines that the government or states have, which are the reward and punishment. He also believed that the evil that surrounds people is what caused them to form a society and not the hope of good happening.

Limitation of classicalism and critique of Classicalism

Stigler discovered some of the merits of classicalism theory. Stigler discovered that the Classicalism theory educates people that they are rational beings. This means that they are able to know what is right and wrong with the decisions they make in their lives. This fact shows that criminals are aware of what they are doing, but they choose to do crimes anyway. The theory believes that the punishment that is given to offenders should fit the crimes (Stigler, p.446). There are many cases where the punishment of crimes is too severe or brutal for those crimes. The theory is also educating people that the punishment offered to the criminals should be used as a deterrence and not as a weapon. When used as a deterrence it will help in causing the offender not to repeat the same crime.
Many scholars saw the limitations of classicalism theory and that is why they opted for other options of theories for the criminal justice system. According to most scholars of criminology, the classicalism theory assumes and believes that all the people in the world have equal rights. This fact however, in reality is not true. The reason for stating this is that in real life not all people in the society are equals. There are those who are in power and those who have to follow those in power. Research does not show how in the classicalism theory what led the offender to commit those crimes. The meaning of this statement is that a person commits a crime without showing any reason for doing such an act (Stigler, p.447). This will, therefore, cause many people not to have good reason as to why someone is able to commit certain crimes in the society.

Contemporary evident

According to O'Mahony, examples of the contemporary evident of the classicalism theory in the Irish criminal justice system are conscious intent, sentencing, and culpability, structure of punishment. Conscious intent is considered to be among the men’s rea classes. According to the Irish criminal justice system, it believes that when a person commits a crime then they are making conscious decision to do so (O'Mahony, p.507). When they had done this act, then they should be held responsible for those crimes they have committed.
O'Mahony states that sentensing and culpability in the Irish justice system depends on the crime committed (O'Mahony, p.508). The severe crimes, such as murder once the defendant is found guilty they are liable to get life imprisonment. Other charges such DUI cases the charges are less in that the offender might get probation or suspension of their driver’s license and community service. An offender is held culpable of the drug charges especially with intent to sell drugs for over 1300 Euros. According to the conviction that is under the 15A then the offender is culpable of getting a sentence of over ten years.
Most research conducted shows that the structure of punishment is under the basic laws of the Irish government. The structure of punishment is made in accordance with the type of crimes that are been committed by the offenders. The structure of crimes can range from life imprisonment to fines. According to the Irish sentences or punishment, the offenders are subjected to community service orders, compensation orders, fines, probation and for severe cases jail terms (O'Mahony, p.511). The fixed penalty is stated to be system that penalizes some offenders without being convicted in the court of laws. In the system, these offences are usually minor such as road traffic offence and, therefore, most of the time the punishment for these are fines. In looking at the penal justice system in Ireland, it is quite clear that advocates of the just deserts theory of sentencing (Wasiolek, p.527). The reason for stating this is that the structure of the punishment is designed in such a manner that the punishment fits the seriousness of the crime.


Historical background
Abels believes that in the positivism theory the criminal behaviors are brought on by external and the internal factors (Abels, p.1015). He continued to state that in the theory there are three parts that are being broken down such as social, biological and psychological. Positivism theory began to be explored in the late 19th century. The theory is believed to have been brought on by the change of attitude towards punishing criminals. The focus at this point was to look at what causes the crimes. Some of the most notable scholars of the positivism theory are Raffaele Gerofalo and Cesare Lombroso (Anderson, p.4). Through the introduction of the positivism theory, that is when the word criminology began to be used.
Palmer states that the Industrial Revolution brought about social changes in the world especially in Europe. These changes are what caused people to question their everyday life and beliefs. Philosophers began to study people’s behaviors scientifically, factually and objectively. Some of the first well-known sociologist to study the positivism theory was Augustine Comte (Palmer, p.450).

Basic concepts of Positivism

Stigler states that the basic concepts of positivism theory are the biological positivism, psychological positivism, and sociological positivism (Stigler, p.448). The positivist criminology has a belief that the criminal behaviors have its own characteristics. This fact is the reason why many of the scholars of the positivism theory when they are conducting their researches they always look at the differences that exist between the normal people and the criminals. According to most of the scholars, they tend to look at the psychological and the biological factors of the criminals behaviors (Stigler, p.450). This will look at the criminal’s behavior within the individual. This kind of thinking is claimed to be called the individual positivism. The other scholars of criminology have looked at the social aspect of the root of one’s criminal behavior. This kind of approach is called the sociological positivism.
In the research conducted by Siegel, he discovered that Cesare Lombroso was the one who started the biological positivism (Siegel, p.325). He had a firm belief that the criminals and the non-criminals were different biologically. The criminals to Lombroso were ‘atavist’ that were supposedly had specific stigmata. This is the reason why they were more primitive if they were to be compared to the others. According to him, the criminal’s facial features had enormous jaws and also their teeth seemed to have stronger canines compared to the normal people. These differences are what have caused the people to be prone to committing crimes.
The other scholar who had looked into the biological positivism was William Sheldon. William Sheldon found out that in the body there are three somatotypes that can be used to measure individuals. These three somatotyes are the ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. According to his results, the criminals were more of mesomorphy (Siegel, p.328). Mesomorphs are claimed to be hard muscular than others. The ectomorphs are claimed to have thin bodies this, therefore, causes them to be fragile and are less likely to commit crimes.
Research shows that Sigmund Freud was among the first people to believe that a person with criminal behavior has mental illness. According to Freud, people’s personality is made of the Ego, id and superego (Neyhouse, P87). There are some scholars who believe that any criminals are considered to have low IQ. Lower IQ causes them be more liable to commit crimes. John Bowlby believes that early childhood experiences could cause a person to be liable to commit crimes or become a delinquency. The attachment theory that shows the relationship between a child and mother will indicate the future of the child (Wilson, p.20). When a child is neglected or physically and emotionally abused. These facts will cause the child to have a future that would cause them to commit crimes. According to Hans Eysenck he believed that people’s personality is what causes them to commit crimes (Neyhouse, P.88).
Siegel believes that the sociological positivism theorists have a firm belief that the society is the main cause of the criminal behaviors of people. The environment where people are living could cause them to take part in criminal activities. There are places where criminal activities are very common. In this places, the society the people there are criminals who engage in selling drugs, stealing and killing. The children growing up in such environments will grow up believing that this is the way life is supposed to be as grownups. According to Ernie Durkheim, when a crime is a normal part of the society then when a person from that society commits crime then it does not go against their morality (Neyhouse, P.100).

Critique of Positivism

In looking at the some of the research conducted, Positivism theory looks into the reason that causes a person to commit crimes. This fact, therefore, looks at the internal and external factors of people with criminal behaviors. Psychological factors have been proven to be some of the factors that cause delinquency behaviors. People’s personality determines their social behaviors and criminal activity. In looking at a person’s reasons for criminal behaviors, will make it easy for people to find a solution for the rehabilitation of the criminal. There are many programs in the prison system that tries to rehabilitate the criminals. In looking at the past of the offenders, most of them seem to have come from an abusive background (Wilson, p.20). This shows that childhood mistreatment have caused them to be prone to commit crimes.
Neyhouse believes that positivism theory tends to look for excuses of what causes people to commit crimes (Neyhouse, P.99). It is a fact that people are aware of what is wrong and right. This fact, therefore, means that people are rational and thus can be able to choose to do good deed or evil. It is true that some of the criminals are psychologically handicap, thus causes them to commit crimes. However, there are those people who have no mental disorder, they come from good neighborhood and have normal body features. These individuals end committing worse crimes that those people who are abnormal. Lombroso view that peoples different biological causes them to be prone to commit crimes. This fact has discrepancies because this will cause people to judge others wrongfully. There are individuals who have high cheekbones and large eye sockets but do not have any appetite to crimes. However, the society will view them differently and thus will cause them to be targets in the society (Neyhouse, P.98).

Contemporary evident

According to Wasiolek the forensic psychologists are very important and useful in the Irish justice system (Wasiolek, p.535). Researchers also have shown that the forensic psychologist work in the criminal justice field as experts in order to assess the offenders (O'Mahony, p.524). The work of the psychologist will be to assess the offender and determine whether they can be able to stand trial. They will evaluate the offender’s behavior when they are arrested. This fact will be able to determine whether the people can plea insanity. The psychologist will evaluate and will be able to predict whether the offender in the justice system is violent. These facts mean that the forensic psychologists are very important in pre-sentence reports, interpret the culpability of offenders in courts, are expert witnesses, they treat the detainees with mental issues and they are good in criminal profiling. There are some detained offenders who have mental issues. The psychologist is used in treating them or listens to their problems.
Forensic psychologists are used for the pre sentence reports. Before the court begins the hearing of any case in Ireland, it is necessary for the offender to be examined by the forensic psychologist. The reason for doing this is so that the offender can be able to be cleared for trial. This will help the prosecutor to refute any insanity claim by the defense team. During the hearing, the psychologist will be used as an expert witness especially for a case of insanity causing a person to commit crimes. The psychologist will be helpful to the prosecutor especially when offender claims insanity caused them to commit certain crimes. In Ireland, there have been many cases where the forensic psychologists have been used in criminal profiling. They are also used in the evaluating the polygraph data of the offenders (O'Mahony, p.526).

Comparison between the Classicalism and Positivism

There are many differences between the classical theory and the positivism theory. One of the main differences can be seen in the works of Anderson, which states that both theories came from two different eras, where people’s beliefs were different (Anderson, P.10). The classical theory occurred during the Enlightenment era while the Positivism theory occurred during the Industrialization era. It has been established that during the Enlightenment era, the punishment that occurred for criminals was barbaric and cruel (Anderson, P.11). This is one of the core reasons why this theory was formulated to change the ideology of the government. On the other hand, the positivism theory was formed at a time when people were changing in their ideology and beliefs. Research shows that the classicalism theory believes that people are rational and, therefore, can be able to make decisions to be either good or evil. This fact means that people have free will to choose what is right and wrong. Therefore, when a person commits crimes, they are fully aware of the actions and the consequences of those actions.
According to the scholars of positivism theory, they believe that there are reasons as to why crimes are committed. Some of the reasons are that there are some certain circumstances in life such as social, biological and psychological that causes people to commit crimes. Cesare Lombrosso one of the key people to begin the positivism theory believed that the biological features of a person causes them to be prone to committing crimes (Neyhouse, P115). Research shows that in the classical theory, the criminal offenders had to take responsibility for their actions through punishment. Punishment is stated that it should be used as a deterrence. Deterrence in the criminal justice system would cause the offenders to fear committing the same crimes. The scholars of the classical theory did not believe in capital punishment for offenders. According to the positivism theory, the criminal offenders are not rational in that they cannot be able to make right and wrong choices. This fact means that the criminal offenders should not be held accountable for the crimes. Positivism suggests treatment for the offenders and not punishment. This treatment will help in rehabilitating the criminals.


According to Anderson, the classicalism and positivism theories are very useful in the criminal justice system. The reason for stating this is that the theories contain some of the aspects that are useful in the criminal justice system. In looking at the history of the theories, one can be able to understand the reasons why they were formed. The criminal justice system especially during the Enlightenment era and the Industrial Revolution era was very unfair. The criminal justice had barbaric punishments in, which the criminal offenders faced. This kind of unfairness can still be experienced in the modern world criminal justice system. This is the reason why many scholars for classicalism theory such as Palmers and Abels are arguing for the punishment of the offenders in the criminal justice system to fit the crime committed.
According to Neyhouse, the positivism theory was developed during the moment in time when people were questioning their beliefs (Neyhouse, p.89). Some of the beliefs included the classicalism theory. The scholars for positivism theory such as Cesare Lombroso were claiming that there are factors that cause the offenders to commit crimes. These factors are biological, psychological and sociological. The factors have helped a lot in the modern criminal justice system for many countries especially in finding the motives of crimes committed by people. According Siegel, researching for the motives of crimes committed will help the mentally unstable offenders to get help.

Work cited

Abels, Richard. The Historiography of a Construct: 'Feudalism' and the Medieval Historian. History Compass, 2009 : 1008-1031. Print
Anderson, Ferracuti. Criminological Theory Summaries. Cullen & Agnew, 2011 : 1-16. Print
Markoff, John. Abolition of Feudalism: Peasants, Lords, and Legislators in the French Revolution. Penn State Press, 2010 : 105-210. Print
Neyhouse, Teresa. Positivism in Criminological Thought : A Study in the History and Use of Ideas. LFB Scholarly, 2002 ; 87-180. Print
O'Mahony, Paul. Criminal Justice in Ireland. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 2002 : 500-580. Print
Palmer, Steve. The Decline of Feudalism and the Rise of the Bourgeoisie. Monthly Review (1957) :445-454. Print
Siegel, Larry. Criminology, 8th edition. Thomson-Wadsworth, 2003 : 308-500 Print
Stigler, George. The Optimum Enforcement of Laws. Journal of Political Economy (1970) : 445-467. Print
Wasiolek, Edward. On the Structure of Crime and Punishment. Modern Language Association, 1959: 526-536. Print
Wilson, Harriet. Parental Supervision: A Neglected Aspect of Delinquency. British Journal of Criminology (1980) : 20. Print

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