Submitted: August 1, 2013
Scientific social theories are formulated based on assumptions about people, their behaviour and their interaction in society. The Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual and scientific movement of 18th century Europe, was characterized by a rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political and economic issues. It was during this period, the idea that human beings were self determining entities possessing fundamental freedom of choice, or free will and rational thought was put forward. Once people were seen as having control over their lives, crime was seen as an individualized form of evil, or that moral wrong doing was by personal choice. English philosopher John Locke postulated that the mind is a blank slate or tabula rasa. Locke suggested that human beings are born neither good nor bad, without innate ideas, and derive knowledge through experience. No one is born a criminal, but something goes awry and deviating from the social norm results in what is deemed a crime. Henceforth, applying the choice/circumstance question to criminal behaviour in an attempt to understand “what went wrong” has generated conflict. The debate has caused much controversy in justifying human characteristics and social practices.
The social problems perspective of crime is a macro analyses which emphasizes that crime is a manifestation of underlying social problems beyond the control of individuals, whereas the social responsibility perspective is a micro analyses which holds that individuals are fundamentally responsible for their own behaviour and choices. However, social science is a slow uphill progression of improvements of methods, and it is important to avoid conclusions which may have harmful sociological or political (biased) effects on groups of people. Therefore, although a crucial distinction exists, perhaps those who become criminals are not the result of choice or circumstance respectively; they are a result of both.
The oldest known explanatory model for violations of social norms is that of demonic possession, spiritual influence or temptation. It was thought that criminal behaviour was the result of a possessed mind and/or body and the only way to exorcise the evil was usually by some torturous means such as trephination. However, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, as a direct consequence of Enlightenment thinking, superstitious beliefs and supernatural explanations for human behaviour were discarded, and people were seen as having control over their lives. The Classical School of criminological thought developed, and theorists such as Cesare Beccaria put forth the idea of rationality or that, “criminals have control over their behaviour, that they choose to commit crimes and they can be deterred by the threat of punishment” (Schmallenger and Volk, 2009: 130). Jeremy Bentham, another founding personality of the Classical School suggested the principle of hedonism or that pain and pleasure were two central determinants of human behaviour, and that individuals would only be deterred from committing crime if the pain of crime commission outweighed the pleasure derived from criminal activity. Bentham reiterated that self-interest is typically what motivates human behaviours.
Biological theories of criminology suggest that the basic determinants of human behaviour are constitutionally or physiologically based. The early biological theories viewed criminal behaviour as the result of defect in the individual that was either biological or genetic in nature and served to separate the criminal from the law abiding citizen. Contemporary biological theories concentrate more on variation in genetic and other biological factors in interaction with the environment. Sociologists and criminologists have speculated about and investigated visible physiological characteristics such as body type, facial features, gender and racial differences as well