Lecture 1 – Week 1
JSB170 – Introduction to Criminology and Policing
On Crimes and Punishments, Beccaria
Beccaria asserts that in every human society, there are people who will always try and gain power and happiness at
the sacrifice of others. The purpose of good law is to oppose these efforts. However, due to mans’ selfish nature,
good governance is often resisted and as a result, people suffer. It is only after many mistakes and suffering that
people will submit to governance. The role of good governance is to distribute the greatest happiness and good to
the greatest number of people, also known as Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism : The ethical theory proposed by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill that all action should be
directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
If we look to our history, we’ll likely find that laws have been created by the few in positions of power and imposed
upon the masses, and usually serve the interests of the minority that created it. However, past mistakes have shown
that laws should be made by those who are living in a state of freedom and are neither objective nor selfish in
creating laws. The ‘happiest’ and most successful of nations are those who have managed to progress, through the
use of good laws, beyond selfish governance and to utilitaristic governance. (Beccaria 1764:1)
The invention of the printed press (i.e. newspapers and other media distributed to the public) has increased the
spread of ‘truths’ which educate the masses and promote utilitarian goals in lawmaking. This has had a positive
effect on people’s creativity and industrious capacity. However this positive energy did not completely eliminated
the continuing barbaric torment that the powerful still imposed as punishment for crime. The status, abuse, and
punishment of prisoners remained neglected by philosophers, law makers, and the government ‘whose business it is
to direct the opinions of mankind’. (Beccaria 1764:1)
Humans are fundamentally selfish creatures. However, life would be extremely difficult if we all behaved as selfishly as we felt.
Therefore, it should be