Term Paper: Biological, Biosocial, &amp Classical Theories

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¶ … Biological, Biosocial, Classical Theories

Biological, biosocial vs. classical theories of crime

Compare and contrast Biological / biosocial and classical theories of crime, detailing whether there is a value in using biological or biosocial concepts in criminology in contrast to strictly adhering to classical theory. How do these theories differ? What do biological/biosocial advocates propose and would supporters of the classical school agree with these concepts philosophically or in terms or current crime control practices that they advocate?

The classical theory of criminality is essentially a rational actor theory of crime. It assumes that people are capable of freely making intelligent decisions about their behavior. The philosophical foundation of rationality is the proposition that people are able to weigh options, and decide the best way to maximize their possibility of enjoying pleasure. Rationality entails the ability to calculate and weigh ends vs. means. "The central element of calculation involves a cost benefit analysis: Pleasure vs. Pain" (Keel, 2007, "Theories of Deviance"). In other words, a classical theorist like Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham would suggest that when I am driving down a highway and have a reasonable suspicion I am likely to be caught speeding, I am unlikely to speed. However, if I do not believe I will get caught, if I am in a hurry to get home from work, and I think the conditions are safe enough in my personal estimation to go 85 rather than 55 miles per hour, I am likely to accelerate. The gains I receive from making this choice are greater than the risks I incur. Thus "choice, with all other conditions equal, will be directed towards the maximization of individual pleasure" (Keel, 2007, "Theories of Deviance").

It is the state's responsibility to make sure it is clear that crimes will be punished, so that rational human beings understand that the pain that they will suffer by breaking the social contract will exceed the pleasure they derive from violating it. Crimes are violations of the social good and the state must punish these crimes swiftly, severely, and certainly, although not excessively, as excessive punishment will result in a lack of respect for the legal institutions of the land.

It is almost immediately obvious that there are problems with this rational actor theory. Quite often many crimes do not appear to have a rational basis. "Positivist research on the external (social, psychological, and biological) causes of crime focused attention on the factors that impose upon and constrain the rational choice of individual actors" (Keel, 2007, "Theories of Deviance"). What about a woman who shoplifts things she does not need, simply for the thrill of it? A positivist might suggest that she has a psychological disorder, a problem with impulse control. What about people like serial killers? Some biological theorists propose a genetic cause. What about gang members who engage in seemingly senseless acts of horrific violence, with no apparent reward? Biosocial theorists suggest that subcultures create a scheme of rewards that make deviant behavior attractive, if individuals do not feel that living within the bounds of the social contract will result in prosperity and approbation later in life.

Early theories of crime that proposed a non-rational, non-classical approach suggested that biology alone was to blame, for example, that criminality was evident in the person's family history. Twin studies that showed twins exhibited similar levels of aggression and criminal behavior, XYY syndrome in aggressive males, and genetically transmitted mental illnesses like depression have all been blamed for deviant behavior. However, there are inherent problems with purely biologically-based explanations, such as the fact that it assumes that the behavior deemed to be deviant is inherently bad -- after all, in antebellum America, a slave desiring to run away and live in freedom was deemed to be deviant, while owning another human being was not. Also, individuals without biological or genetic dispositions to violence still commit crimes. Not every boy who joins a gang in a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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