WDW205 Lecture 3 09/25/12
Classical Criminology and Rational Choice Theory
What is theory?
Basic components of criminological theory
1. Explanatory framework
o What are the ideas, concepts
o How do you explain the phen. of crime and why
2. Research strategies
o Designing a research methodology
3. Data analysis and interpretation
o May have to reformulate the original theory
4. Reformulation of ideas
o Going through steps 1,2,3
5. Policy implication
Common Theoretical Debates
- Tension between theories that focus on structure and theories that focus on process.
- Conflicting assumptions about human nature
o Theories that confuse on individuals that are rational, in control vs. those
who believe that individuals are shaped by their social environment
- Different conceptions of the link between society and individual behavior
o Some theories are highly determinant, that it depends on the social
environment vs. human’s free will
- Degree of social consensus.
- Theories must be “testable.”
- Good theories are not “tautological.”
- Must be able to “operationalize” important concepts or variables
o Must be “measurable”
o Able to test and measure the main concepts of the theory
- Evidence must be observable.
Social Policy and Theory
- Some theories focus on changing the individual.
- Some focus on changing local communities.
- Some theories focus on changing society.
- Some theories focus on changing the law.
- Must consider the practical limitations of theoretically derived policy
- In order to reduce crime we might want to change the severity of the punishment
Crime in the Dark Ages
- Mores and Folkways dominate feudal communities. The “law” varies from
region to region. - Serious crimes explained in spiritual terms: the battle between good and evil.
Demonology is very popular.
- Trephination: An early form of neural surgery designed to release evil spirits
dwelling in the heads of offenders.
- Guilt often determined by “ordeals.” Ordeal by water, ordeal by fire, ordeal by
- The age of brutal public punishment and torture (the pillory, beheading,
hanging, draw and quartering, mutilation, etc).
o Used to show the public the serious concequences of such crimes and to
decease ones likelihood to crime similar crime
- Chaotic, arbitrary justice. Local economic and religious elites use the “justice”
system to eliminate their enemies and maintain power.
- Period of industrialization and urbanization.
- The age of scientific discovery (Newton, Gailileo, etc.).
- Important Enlightenment thinkers include Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Paine.
They introduced revolutionary concepts including: the idea of fundamental
human rights, the social contract, the natural law and equality under the law,
The Classical School: (The founders)
- Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794). An Italian philosopher. Groundbreaking
manuscript entitled An Essay on Crime and Punishment (published in 1764).
- Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). An English philosopher. Most important work
entitled Introduction to the Principle of Morals and Legislation.
- fundamentally changed the way people view crime
The Elements of Classical Criminology
1) People in society have free will to choose criminal or conventional solutions to meet
their needs, solve problems or settle disputes. People have free will.
2) Criminal solutions may, at times, be more attractive than conventional solutions
(they may require less work and a larger payoff). Crime is rational.
3) An individual’s choice of criminal solutions can be controlled by the fear of society’s
reaction to such acts. Punishment deters crime.
Fear of punishment
4) The more severe, certain and swift the punishment, the better it can control criminal
5) The most efficient crime prevention is punishment sufficient to make crime an
The punishment should fit the crime
6) Crime is part of an hedonistic calculus (the pleasure principle)
1) Balancing the benefits over the consequences and then debating if it is worth
it to commit the crime The Contribution of the Classical School
- Introduced the concepts of free will, rationality, utilitarianism and deterrence to
the emerging field of criminology.
- Provided a very specific view of human nature: all men and women are self-
serving hedonists who want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. We are all
capable of crime.
Positivism and the Fall of Classical Criminology
- By the end of the 1800-century positivism was replacing “classical” thinking
about crime causation.