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Impacts of Cesare de Beccaria on Criminology: classical theory

Brief Description of Criminology

Criminology is the known as the study of the human behavior and the crime in which it studies the reason that why a person commits crime or engages themselves into these kind of felony. It is a study of sociology which deals with studying about human acts and behavior.

It also focuses on the behavior of a person or how a person reacts or acts in a particular way in different situations.

By this study of criminal behavior one can come up with the ideas or much better punishments to prevent the crime or the prohibited act committed.

There are many criminology theories which emphasize on creating a link between Crime And An Individual[1].

The various theories also believed that a person always have an conscious mind before committing a felony i.e. a criminal or a yet to be proved criminal before engaging into an wrongful act analyses every aspect of a situation .The person before committing a wrongful act makes the decision to commit the crime or not.

Present law is a mere tool of the passions of some, or has arisen from an accidental and temporary need.[2]

As in ancient times from the roman days to Middle Ages, punishments for petty crimes and also severe crimes were too harsh which was not fair and just, torture was common during much of ancient history.

Beccaria’s Thoughts

Cesare de Beccaria (1738-1794) was an Italian jurists, politician, lawyer, philosopher who was also known as the Founding Fathers of the United States.
He also wrote a thesis On crimes and punishment which discourages the capital punishment and death penalty.

Cesare beccaria along with the British philosopher JEREMY BENTHAM, The principal advocate of the classical school of criminology .Beccaria’s essay On crimes ad punishments, which was published in 1764, has helped and greatly impacted on continental European and Anglo-Americans’ jurisprudence.

From what has thus far been demonstrated, one may deduce a general theorem of considerable utility , though hardly conformable with custom, the usual legislator of nations; it is this :in order for punishments not to be, in every instance , an act of violence of one or many against a private citizen, it must be essentially public, prompt, necessary, the least possible in the given circumstances, proportionate to the crimes, dictated by law.[3]

Beccaria was not much pleased by the bad and harsh Judicial and penal systems of Europeans, which believed extracting confessions by the means of torture. He was primarily interested in changing or reforming the cruel, unnecessary, and unpredictable nature of the punishment, also opined that it has a very less sense in the line of punishments.[4] Beccaria finally succeeded to abolish the torture system, Let the punishments fie the crime[5]

Beccaria Proposed The Following Points For The Better Operations of Criminal Justice System, They Were:
· The seriousness of crime should be determined by the harm it inflicts on the society and be based on the pleasure / pain principle.
· Laws should be made by legislatures, and they should be specific.
· The roles of the judges in only to determine guilt and to follow strictly to the letter of the law in determining punishment. Judges should not interpret the law.
· Punishment should be based on the severity of the crime committed and its ability to deter the crime.
· Punishment should not exceed that which is necessary for deterrence.
· Excessive severity in punishment often increases crime that is then committed in order to avoid punishment.
· Punishment should be sure, swift, certain.
· Capital punishment should be abolished and torture as a punishment or to extract punishment should also be abolished.
· The law should be made in such a way which ensures to prevent the crime in first place. It is better to prevent the crime than to punish them.
· All should be treated equally before the law.

Classical Theory of Criminology

The law ought to impose no other penalties but such as are absolutely and evidently necessary ; and no one ought to be punished , but in virtue of a law promulgated before the offense, and legally applied[6]

The classical school of thought about crime and criminal justice emerged during the late eighteenth century.

The classical theory can be described as an approach which laid more emphasis on free will of the criminal or yet to be proved as a criminal and also on the rationality on the part of the criminal.

As discussed earlier the administration of criminal justice system of European was cruel, uncertain, and unpredictable. In nineteenth century England was having more than 100 crimes which were punishable by death penalty. The penal policy was present mere to control the class of people who are more vulnerable to commit crime i.e. the dangerous classes, the mass of property less peasants, workers, and unemployed. Many emerging philosophies which were liberal advocated that a rights of a human or a living being.[7]

Beccaria believed that the major principle that should govern legislation was the greatest happiness for the great numbers

Beccaria’s theory mainly rests on three main pillars which led to the foundation of classical theory are:

# Freewill
# Human rationality
# Manipulability

Beccaria believed that every individual has a freewill and make decision and choices on that freewill , no one bound by any strict norms to follow anything they can go for what they like and their actions or reactions in certain situations are wholly uncontrollable ,individual also make decision on the freewill for their satisfaction and ones’ own well being.

The second pillar on which the theory of Beccaria rests is Rational Manner, rationality in an individual indicates that every person looks for their own personal satisfaction and also engages himself into such activities which are good for that individual. Beccaria believed that rational behavior of an individual builds a relationship between Crime and Law, on one hand a person will try to seek and attains personal satisfaction, the satisfaction a person seeks to attain and rational behavior may pulls a person to commit or engage a person into criminal or prohibited acts.
On the other hand law which ensures and protects the social contract, the promise the judicial system follows to protect the humanity and society (people) will try to stop and react upon the wrongful act a person is engaged in and harming the society.

This will result in a clash of interest between the person seeking personal good and the law which is their like strong wall between crime and the society or innocent people.

The third pillar of the classical theory is Manipulability which means a person’s behavior is predictable so is can be controlled. As a human carries a motive of self-satisfaction which is predictable and hence controllable, as one can come up with the ideas of controlling a mind if a person understands that what is going on in the mind.

With the rights amount of punishment and threats the criminal justice system can control and prevent the crime. The classical theory was mainly dependent and also studied about the criminals but concentrated on legal processing and law making.

Beccaria also stated that punishment is established or developed to prevent the individuals from engaging in criminal act and it should be greater than the benefit or the level of satisfaction a person achieves from the criminal acts.[8]The classical theory stressed on the legal definition of crime but not on the definition or determined criminal behavior.

Beccaria opined that the government has a right to inflict a punishment which is required and is necessary for the crime. He stated for punishment to attain its end, the evil which it inflicts has only to exceed the advantage derivable from the crime; in this excess of evil one should include the certainly of punishment and the loss of the good which the crime might have produced. All beyond this is superfluous and for that reason tyrannical"[9]

Thus, the government has a right to punish and could punish a criminal but the punishment could not exceed or be more than what is required for the security of the society.

The classical theory of Beccaria laid cornerstone of modern western criminal law which was politically, uniformity, and described penal sanctions. The law ought to impose no other penalties but such as are absolutely and evidently necessary; and no one ought to be punished, but in the virtue of a law promulgated before the offense, and legally applied.[10]

It is reflected in recent analysis that the importance of Beccaria’s work may have been exaggerated. It was also stated that the work of beccaria was less prominent or important than the work of other social reformers[11] in the eighteenth century .

Beirne opines that Beccaria’s famous treatise[12] was a mere application not of the rationality and humanism to the crime policy of the society and law but stressed on the application of Scottish inspired science of man, which emphasized on only utilitarianism[13] and determinism. Beirne also believed that Beccaria was putting much stress on the happening of a crime is dependent upon natural law[14] rather than focusing on the freewill.

By applying the pure classical theory it would disable the judges to exercise their Discretionary power and make them rest only on the simple assumption of the ability to exactly measure individual conceptions of pain and pleasure[15].

Beccaria expresses not only the need for the criminal justice system, but also the government’s right to have laws and punishments. He stated but merely to have established this deposit was not enough ; it had to be defended against private usurpation by individuals each of whom always tries not only to withdraw his own share but also to usurp for himself that of others.[16]

At last I want to add that there is a need for a systematic set up to ensure the individuals that they are living in such a society which is protected against any individual or group that wants to take their personal liberties back which are forfeited by the social contract and also those who want to harm the personal liberties of others living in the society.

So there is a need for and a right to have laws and a criminal justice system to ensure that all individuals in society obey or follow the social contract.

[1] Positivist Therory , L'Uomo Delinquente, The Criminal Man and Anthropological criminology
[2]Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, On crimes and punishment (1764).
[3] Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, On crimes and punishment (1764).
[5] Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, On crimes and punishment (1764).
[7] Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau.
[8] Akers &sellers, 2012.
[9] Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, On crimes and punishment (1764).
[10] The French declaration of the Rights of Man, passed by the revolutionary National assembly of France in 1789
[11] Voltaire and Bentham (Newman & Marongui, 1990)
[12] Dei Delitti e Delle Pene (On Crimes and Punishments)
[13] British philosopher Jeremy bentham
[14] Determinism Philosophy
[15] Utilitarianism
[16] Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, On crimes and punishment (1764).

Written by: Medha Tiwari - Institution: K.R. Mangalam University

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