Biological/Biosocial and Classical Theories of Crime
Classical theories in criminology came out in the 1700s, all of which revolving around concepts on government, social groups and economic theories of John Locke. What can be noticed in the classical theories of criminology is that not too much of these were focused on individual criminals (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 15).
What the Classical Theory Offers
The focus of classical theories was on the legal process, lawmaking and the crime in general. Before this, religious concepts and structures resembled the judicial system, aristocratic rulers and the ruling monarchy.
What took place before the theories even came out was a society with no written laws. Enforcement was done through the instinct of the ruling class. The ruling class did not use much of published law, but more of their own impulsive whims and personal interpretation (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 15).
During those days, the role of the law was to defend the power of the state and the church.
The law was also designed to maintain these institutions. Whoever was accused at a given time was set up in private trials and secret hearings (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 15).
The accused, during those days, had to endure very harsh and intolerable sanctions. The accused was then used as a tool for suppression meant for the people who had anything to say against the Church or against the aristocracy. Because of this situation, human rights activists started to be concerned about this. The judicial system has been wreaking havoc in society in the sense that its depth of abuse is being tolerated when in the first place, it should never have been (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 17).
What the Classical Theory, the choice and the individual are given the most attention to. In this case, the decisions of an individual depends on the benefit and cost. The Classical Theory can then be used as a tool in explaining human behavior through ways in which pain and pleasure can be minimized and maximized. The underlying concept behind the Classical Theory is deterrence (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 17) .
Before this, people believed that they are accountable for serving the government’s needs. The thought of a fresh social contract, where the authority was there to provide service for the governed, gave birth to a new idea that strengthened Lockien ideas where an individual surrenders his freedom but only in such a way that the amount of freedom is enough to protect the rights of other individuals. Indeed, a new concept of contractual relationship is born and with this, the middle class is starting to be seen. Undoubtedly, this has been stressful for the elitist groups and for everyone who held the highest positions in the land (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 17).
The purpose of the Classical Theory is then to discourage criminal behavior. It also aimed to protect the rights of society and every individual who build the community (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 15).
In Classical Law, it is automatically assumed that it is the responsibility of the individual to act responsibly and practice moral conduct. It is expected of an individual to weigh consequences of his actions. With Classical Law, it is clear how it is expected that everything that a person does is done because of personal choice or free will. It is automatically expected of a person to act rationally all the time. Because of this, it clearly goes to show how harsh punishments were rejected except on greater evil. Classical criminologists considered harsh repercussions as inherently heinous (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 17).
Only the level of hurting enough to outstand the increase of the pleasure of an action should be employed. Individual rational motive or in other words, deterrence, was established by enforcing a pain higher than a gain to make sure that the person went for the correct choice. Meanwhile, a societal deterrence was established when the society saw what results were ready for them and befell the people who violated the law. The capital punishment is opposed to the Classical Theory since capital punishment makes the state look like it is forgiving murder and is generally, a tyrant in itself (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 20).
Biosocial/Biological Theory and Crime
Biosocial/Biological Theory, on the other hand, presented new and surprising discoveries. With this new theory, it is then assumed that whatever is causing a person to act deviantly, or to possess criminal traits and behaviors, is related to the genes. If it is not hereditary, then it can be caused by biological harms. Examples of biological harms would be head injuries, and getting exposed to toxic substances (Rowe, 2003, pg. 64).
As a child grows, he or she encounters accidents or if not, develops damages to some parts of his or her brain. This theory came out when studies showed that criminals and delinquents displayed organic differences in their brains compared to the individuals who were productive citizens of a society (Rowe, 2003, pg. 64).
Moreover, children who grow up in areas where pollution is depressing develop brain damage in the long run because of the toxic substances coming from industrial wastes. Aside from brain damage, a child also develops learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders among many other disorders. When this happens, a child finds it hard to socialize with other kids. He or she is not able to interact and communicate well with other people. The child, then, develops impulsive behavior, which later on become worse than that. He or she later on turns out to develop criminal behaviors, too (Rowe, 2003, pg. 64).
The oldest theories and scientific methods were used as tools in explaining the behavior of a person. During the earlier years, these methods were done through measuring the size of outward body shapes like foreheads and skulls. However, science no longer relies on that method alone. With biosocial/biological theory, criminal behavior is not measured through the physical features of the body but through the experiences and objects an individual encounters everyday (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 46).
The biosocial/biological theory brings forth the role of society, geography and the environment. The role of these areas to the behavior of an individual is evaluated through observing the geographical area a person is accustomed to. This means the town he is living in, the neighborhood he grew up in and the family he shared his life and growing years with (Rowe, 2003, pg. 65).
While this may seem significant and sensible, there is a danger to it. The belief that criminal behavior is genetic, led to the Nazi crimes in the early 20th century. People learn to discriminate a society or a community because the environment they grew up in, according to biosocial/biological theory, developed them into criminals. This theory can lead to discrimination and abuse (Rowe, 2003, pg. 67)
The Classical Theory suggests that the behavior of a person is out of his own free will. With this, punishment, control and treatment are focused around altering the behavior of the person, or of the people who can potentially violate the law (Williams and McShane, 2004, pg. 15). When it comes to the biosocial/biological theory, more research will be done when it comes to the environment, biological framework of individuals and their genetic makeup in general. The motives of the authorities concerned when it comes to sentencing and imposing punishment for a criminal is the only way to tell if this theory is better or worse than the classical one (Rowe, 2003, pg. 64). With any of these two theories, it is only the economic situation and the political system of a nation that identify the direction of the state’s criminal justice system.
Rowe, D. (2003). Does The Body Tell?: Biological Characteristics and Criminal Disposition. Criminological Theory Past to Present, 2nd ed. Edited by Cullen, Francis T. and Agnew, Robert. Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing.
Williams, F. P. III and McShane, M. (2004). Criminological Theory, 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:Prentice-Hall. Retrieved 23 July 2008 from
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