Criminology: The Classical School vs. The Positive School

Two major schools of thought have both significantly led to the development of today’s modern criminology: the classical school and the positivist school. Cesar Bacteria, “one of the first scholars to develop [an] understanding of why people commit crime,” is a notable theorist whose theories lead to the development of the classical school, which focused more on the individual and the belief that only that individual was responsible for their actions, not that an outside source could have influenced their behavior (Siegel 9).

The positivist school believes “that heredity can make criminal behavior unavoidable or inevitable” for some individuals (The Positive School). Although the classical school began emerging during the eighteenth century, it was to until the nineteenth century that criminology gained respect as a valid scientific field of study; when the positivist school attempted to “use the scientific method to conduct research” on the causes of crime (Siegel 10). Both the classical and positive schools include the observation of behavior from which theories on what causes the behaviors were developed.

With their proposed theories of human behavior, each school sought to change the Judicial system and sentencing of individuals who had been involved in criminal acts. The main idea shared by theorists in both schools of Hough “involved isolating and correcting the specific [defects] that lead to his or her criminal behavior,” and the need for a punishment that specifically fit the individual or the crime (Holms 17). Both advocated for a consistency and a leveling in the severity of punishments based on the severity of the criminal act.

Even though many of the early philosophies have been discredited as greater scientific knowledge and medical research has become available to criminologists, the importance of their initial inclinations towards seeking punishments that fit the offenders rather than the offences still remains as a basic tenet of the current criminal Justice system. Though observation of human behavior was at the heart of each school, there were major differences within the methods through which human behavior was observed and analyses.

The beliefs of classical criminologists “explained that the criminal Justice system drastically needed to be modernized and improved” and the need for a balance between the criminal acts and the corresponding punishments; whereas, the Criminology: The Classical School vs… The Positive School By dauntlessness’s affect criminal tendencies (The History of Criminology). Even with the changes in the judicial system, which the classicists were able to bring about, “crime rates continued to increase,” (Holmes 16).

This proved that some criminal behavior could not be deterred through severe punishments alone, thus changing the direction of thought of what leads to deviant actions. This change in thinking along with the discovery of the applicability of the scientific method when observing human nature led to the emergence of the positivist school of thought. The positivists initially sought to identify specific and irrefutable indicators that would determine whether n individual would be more likely to commit criminal acts, hence the development of the practice of phrenology and physiognomy’s.

While the classicists stressed the importance of the prevention of crime, positivists looked more at the function of the mind and wanted to gain an understanding of what leads an individual to commit a crime. The basic difference between the two schools is that the classical school focuses on fixing the system while the positive school focuses on fixing the individual. Positivists advocated for “rehabilitation” for criminals after gaining an understanding f the social and biological affects, an idea that is still “part of the current criminal justice system,” (Holmes 17).

The classical school of thought and the positive school of thought have both largely affected the modern criminal Justice system. Although the classical school and the positive school almost completely opposed one another on methodology and techniques for analyzing crime, they both brought about much needed reform to the Judicial system and allowed new methods and practices to also emerge. Both have been building blocks for the understanding of criminal behavior ND today we have a marriage of the two schools of thought.

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