Arguments in Crime and Punishment

This paper aims to provide valuable insights on various philosophies concerning crime and punishment. In order explore some of the major themes of crime, the differing philosophies of scholars, particularly Emile Durkheim, Cesare Lombroso and Cesare Beccaria, are given to shed  wisdom on how  the different arguments of scholars are able to shape the way people perceive crime and punishment at present.

Crime and Punishment
Argument I The Definition of Crime
According to Lombroso, crime is the legacy of the primitive humans which represent the ferocious type of animal. He adds that facial asymmetry, impulsiveness, cerebral sclerosis, instantaneousness, the periodicity of criminal acts, and the strong desire for the evil are all morbid characteristics common to animals and men as explained through anthropological research (Lombroso 1911).

However, Durkheim insists that Lombrosos definition of crime missed some important points such as the sociological factors. Durkheim claims that the society and its perspective of crime is what shapes man and his criminal instincts. He acknowledges that crime is an integral part of all healthy societies (as cited in Jacoby, p. 85, 1994).

Beccaria questions the optimistic view of Durkheim by saying that crime is caused by the despotic spirit of man and therefore,  crime is destructive occurrence  that needs to be eliminated (as cited in Jacoby, p. 278, 1994).  Beccaria claims that crime is the mechanism of men to plunge deep into the law, violate sovereignty and put liberty at risk and that the despotic spirit of man is evident since the ancient war up to the present warfare.

Durkheim counters Beccarias perspective by saying that crime is bound up with the fundamental conditions of all social life (as cited in Jacoby, p. 87, 1994). Durkheim says that crime is needed  because it is an indispensable tool for the normal evolution of morality and law (as cited in Jacoby, p. 87, 1994).

Lombroso disagrees with Durkheim at this point. For him, crime signifies the varying characteristics of men and with this characterization comes the edifice of criminal anthropology that studies the different kinds of criminals from the born offenders to the insane (Lombroso 1911). Lombroso adds that crime symbolizes the changes or the evolution in criminal minds and not the evolution of morality.
Argument II  Crime and the Human Heart

Beccaria declares that an individual should seek from the human heart what is upright and what is wrong because it is in the human heart that people can find valid reasons behind the right of the sovereign society to inflict punishment (as cited in Jacoby, p. 277, 1994). Beccaria views the human heart as having the indelible capacity to distinguish what is right what is wrong.

However, Beccarias notion on the human heart is opposed by Durkheim who stresses that crime is normal and a social fact. Durkheim says that each person in the society has the capacity to commit crime because he or she conforms with the ongoing trend in the collective society. With this capacity, Durkheim reflects that you cannot entrust the discernment of what is right or wrong into the human heart because it is subjected to the dictate of society.
Relative to Durkheims argument, Lombroso claims that humans have possessed the oppressive features of animals which make them capable of being violent (Lombroso 1911). This translates to the fact that anguish and despair naturally thrives in the human heart. Beccaria disagrees with both Durkheim and Lombroso by explaining the prevalence of the laws, grounded on the human heart,  that seek to investigate the right and wrong and impose punishments on those who did evil deeds.

According to Beccaria, it is a fact that laws are established by independent and isolated men who want to enjoy peace, safety and liberty and that laws are based from the inner musing of the heart that has the capacity to offer valuable points to distinguish between what is acceptable and what is intolerable. Lombroso opposes the perspective of Beccaria by emphasizing that the human heart is subject to the impact of its social and physical environments.

Lombroso says that the violent instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals thrive in the human heart ( Lombroso 1911). He adds that the physical, anthropological and  hereditary details explain that lawbreakers are a throwbacks to a more primitive phase in the evolution of humans. Thus, humans are born criminals and they cannot draw way from their biological destiny (Lombroso 1911).

But Beccaria is quick to point out that people have grown weary since the advent of war and that they have been deeply bothered with the uncertainties concerning their liberty. Beccaria says that it is in this period of uncertainty that man has considered their safety as a sacred thing (as cited in Jacoby, p. 278, 1994). He rejects Lombrosos notion by declaring that  primitive people do not mull over their safety.
Argument III Crime and Punishment

According to Durkheim, the transformations in the history of crime and punishment from the ancient barbaric times up to the presents a decrease in the pursuit of death penalty.   He says that such decrease in the pursuit of death penalty is due to the distinct changes in the character of the crime caused by social unity and conscience. Durkheims concept of  conscience is negated by Lombroso.

Lombroso claims that men, particularly those atavistic criminals, do not seem to possess any solidarity and conscience over the issue of crime. He explains that the useless prodigality of torments and torture has never made men better implying that present laws do not need to consider death penalty (as cited in Jacoby, p. 278, 1994).

Beccaria rejects the thinking of Lombroso concerning crime by declaring that the society deeply needs punishments because the sovereign people needs to secure their liberty which is a  very  sacred thing for them ( as cited in Jacoby, p. 278, 1994).

But Lombroso maintains the concept that punishments should show a decrease in infamy and ferocity which are in proportionate to the increase in length and social safety (Lombroso 1911). Opposing Lombroso, Durkheim addresses the fact that for criminals to disappear, the horror of bloodshed must become greater in those social groups which murderers are recruited due to the collective acceptable trend in the society (as cited in Jacoby, p. 85, 1994).

Beccaria does not accept Durkheims idea of greater bloodshed . According to Beccaria, the impression of punishment should be frequent and long and that legislators should focus on the idea of prolonged torture because it has more effects than the conception of death penalty for both the spectators and the sufferers (as cited in Jacoby, p. 278, 1994).

Lombroso does not agree with the Enlightenment principles of Beccaria.

Lombroso insists that punishments should be tailored to individual criminals rather than to the crimes they allegedly committed but this is not to say that society should not impose punishments on those criminals who acted out of compulsion from their innate and physical and psychological degeneracy (as cited in Becker  Wetzell, p. 147, 2006). He claims  that  the sovereign society still has the discretion to punish violators to prevent crime from inflicting more damages to the society.

Durkheim says that the ideas of Beccaria and Lombroso are in contrast with his  musing on the issue at hand. According to Durkheim, the purpose of punishment is neither deterrence, rehabilitation of the offender, nor the administration of the sufferers just deserts.  Durkheim emphasizes that punishment aims to strengthen social solidarity using the reaffirmation of moral commitment among the conforming social group who see the suffering and expiation of the offender. Durkheim claims that the sole purpose of punishment is to keep the collective society united through social defense of its common conscience.

But Beccaria is  not satisfied with the idea of Durkheim. Beccaria stresses that the point here  is for the common good and the protection of the society as a whole. Beccaria maintains his stance that social order will be greatly promoted through the mathematical scale of crimes as the mode of determining the right punishment to be used.

In addition, Beccaria says that legislators should mark the principal points of division without disturbing the order and should not assign to crimes of the first grade the punishments of the last (as cited in Jacoby, p. 284, 1994).

However, Lombroso claims that Beccarias mathematical scale of crimes and punishments are too abstract and because both the eventual and born criminals might steal or even murder, the scale  is  not applicable at all times (as cited in Becker  Wetzell, p.148, 2006). Lombroso says that legislators should allow judges to assess the level of dangerousness in the defendants themselves as a basis for the issuance of the appropriate sentence.

Durkheim neglects Lombroso and Beccarias conception by stating that crime is universal. Durkheim emphasizes that there is no such a thing as levels or degrees when it comes to crimes and its punishments because crime is the universal feature of all societies. Durkheim  focuses more on the universality of crime and the concept that punishment is designed to act upon upright people because punishment serves to heal all wounds in the collective sentiments.

Lombroso is never satisfied with the functionalist view of Durkheim. According to Lombroso, the society needs to have no pity for the criminals because they are constituted  for evil and do not appear like normal people. Lombroso claims that criminals  are like ferocious beasts engaging into immense slaughter. Durkheim counters Lombrosos statement by stating that offenders no longer seems to be a totally unsociable being, a sort of parasitic element, a strange body introduced into the society because they are a part of the society (as cited in Jacoby, p. 87, 1994).

But Lombroso argues that  such statement is suggestive of Durkheims mildness to offenders. Lombroso insists that offenders are the people who harm the society and therefore, they deserve to be treated as criminals.

Lombroso says that the main point here is that death sentence is to be imposed on the born criminals who have committed serial crimes or to members of organised groups such as mafiosi and brigands and, perpetual incarceration is to be imposed on criminals who committed less heinous crimes (as cited in Becker  Wetzell, p.148, 2006).

Contrasting the views of Lombroso, Beccaria  is firm at saying that death penalty is not to be imposed to the born offenders who have committed a series of crimes for reasons concerning the state. Beccaria reiterates that even though he has established a mathematical measurement of crimes and their corresponding punishments from the highest to the lowest, death penalty is only needed if the offender can still harm the security of the nation and if law and order are losing its authority and power (as cited in Jacoby, p. 280, 1994).

Durkheim opposes Beccarias concept on death sentence and on the implementation of punishment depending on the weight of the crime and the state of the nation. According to Durkheim, the society moves from more to less penal rules, meaning, the legislators tend to impose milder punishments as the society goes through social advancement.

Durkheim says such concept because there seems to be a growth of sympathy among the legislators who have now learned to distinguish between barbaric and just punishments. The idea of sympathy among the legislators is strongly opposed by Lombroso who emphasizes that Durkheims idea is grounded on religious principles. Lombroso strongly claims that he does not dwell on the religious implication behind the evolution in the punishments. Lombroso stresses that the sociological and psychological background which manifest in the criminality of men are the sole indicators of the right punishment to be imposed (Lombroso 1911).

But Beccaria does not accept such notions by the two philosophers. Beccaria says that the regardless of the kind of punishment imposed, it should be essentially public, timely, needed, the least possible in the given circumstances, and must be proportionate to the crimes dictated by law (as cited in Jacoby, p. 284, 1994).


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