criminology, classical

Originating in eighteenth-century philosophy, classicism views both criminality and the administration of criminal justice as premised upon principles of rationality, choice, responsibility, and the deterrent power of punishment. It is usually associated with the work of Cesare Beccaria (1738-94; for example, see his Dei delitti e delle pene, 1764) and conventionally interpreted as the advocacy of a humane alternative to the arbitrary and unjustly severe sentencing and punishment of offenders. Underpinning this rationalist approach was an attempt to achieve administrative uniformity; a scale of punishments proportionate to the objective harm caused by the offence; and a belief in the aim of punishment as deterrence not retribution. A social contract is held to be agreed between the individual and society-and deemed to be a rational agreement in everyone's interest. To break the contract, and in so doing the laws of society, demonstrates free will and choice; but it is also a failure to meet one's social responsibilities, which must be met by appropriate punishment on behalf of society, in order to deter others.
Orthodox classicism was criticized for not taking account of circumstances, either of the offender, or in which the offence itself was committed. Critics maintained that, for this reason, punishment that is unvarying, or laid down according to a fixed scale, will be unjust. In this way other considerations are raised, for example the issue of causation (whether environmental or biological), and classicist free-will rationality comes eventually to be replaced by nineteenth-century positivist criminology (see criminology, positivist ) as a dominant perspective. However, the classical perspective has been adapted over time, and a contemporary neo-classical form remains influential in some areas-for example in debates about responsibility for crime. The best recent appraisal of the tradition is Bob Roshier's Controlling Crime: The Classical Perspective in Criminology(1989).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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