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The Classical and Positivist Theoretical Perspectives of Criminology

Critical Reflection Essay Introduction

All aspects of criminology cannot be fully comprehended by any single theory. However, various theories are crucial for a better understanding of some important aspects that may contribute to more efficient criminology approaches. Moreover, criminology theories are not mere scientific abstractions, but a guide to practical actions and reforms. The current paper compares and evaluates two theoretical perspectives (the classical and positivist). Their corresponding strengths and weaknesses will be presented.

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Critical Reflection Essay Body Paragraphs

The Classical Theory of Criminology

The classical theory emerged in the 17th century as a result of the development of free-market capitalism, Enlightenment, and scientific revolutions. It concentrates on individual rights, private property, and the equality of people. It suggests that social contracts are necessary to organize peaceful cooperation among individuals (Hale 2005). Law protects individuals without violating their rights. All criminals are considered as rational actors, consciously selecting means to attain their criminal ends.

The main benefit of the classical theory is the recognition of universal liberties and rights that should be granted to all citizens, regardless of their race, gender, sex, etc. As a result, it led to the emergence of modern legal institutions and bureaucratic mechanisms (Gibson 2000). The main pitfall is the confusion of equality of men before the law (that is the foundation of justice) and equality of men in all other respects (that is a misrepresentation of reality).

The Positivist Theory of Criminology

The positivist theory was developed in the second half of the 19th century as a response to colonization, industrialization, and the development of scientific thought. It adopted a scientific method that was widespread in natural sciences. Positivists understood crimes as an example of social ills (Kamin 1974). They focused on individual treatment, as they believed that offenders are irrational. The main benefit of the positivist theory is the recognition of diversity among people, and their desire to determine those factors that contribute to the higher probability of criminal behavior in the future. The main pitfall of this theory is almost complete neglect of free will and free choice of offenders and the representation of their actions as a mechanical response to an external influence (McEvoy & Gormally 1997).

Although the classical theory emerged more than one century earlier than the positivist one, I found the former theory to be much more convincing. Firstly, it is necessary to establish equal rights for all people through legal norms, as it is the basis of peaceful cooperation. Secondly, it is important to analyze the motives of crimes (although no criminals are 100% rational, they use specific means to attain their ends). Finally, the negation of free will is inadmissible in any social sciences (White & Haines 2008).

Critical Reflection Essay Conclusion

Both theories make some unrealistic assumptions and misrepresent reality in some way. However, the classical theory seems to be more relevant nowadays and may serve as a basis for future reforms. This theory also contributed to the humanization of the legal profession, explaining the legal impossibility of capital punishment and torture. Therefore, it is necessary to pay additional attention to understanding offenders’ motivation and addressing their incentive structures through guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens.

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