Even the ancient Greeks tried to find a logical explanation for why people commit crimes. In the theory of guilt, the question of free will emerged because the circumstances of the time demanded it; besides, the cleverest philosophers could not resolve the dispute. Within philosophy, there were two schools of thought on the interpretation of a free will. The first one is determinism, which held that the will depended on external and internal causes, and indeterminism, which held that the will was not dependent on anything (Müller et al., 2019). The dispute between these philosophical currents has not been resolved to this day.
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The classical criminology school is based on religious philosophy and Renaissance philosophy. Within this theory, there are two positions regarding free will. One asserts that determinism is compatible with free will; the other denies it (Amarasinghe, 2020). From the legal perspective, the second position eliminates guilt from human behavior, which means the collapse of the doctrine of crime and culpable infliction of harm. Such a collapse is possible only in periods of social chaos and lawlessness; law always professes the principle of subjective imputability.
Punishment of one or more individuals, which in itself is suffering, is only fair when it ultimately results in greater pleasure for all. The legal policy thus becomes the object of a hedonistic calculus. The transformation of social reality on new foundations is the powerful message of the classical school of criminology founders, addressed to later generations (Amarasinghe, 2020). The rationalization of criminal policy is based on rejecting the inconsistencies of existing criminal justice practices.
The classics thus advocated the inevitability and immediacy of punishment. They also have formulated an important position according to which punishment must be commensurate with the crime committed. Otherwise, a fairly widespread contradiction is generated between the two, leading to the occurrence of crimes caused by the penalties themselves. Classics thought that the inevitability of even a moderate punishment always produces a greater impression than the fear of more severe punishment, but accompanied by the hope of impunity (Amarasinghe, 2020). At the same time, the inability of the classical school to offer effective measures against crime and the growth of crime led to the emergence in the 1970s and 1980s of a new trend called the positivist trend.
The anthropological school or otherwise positivism initially emerged in Italy. The founder of this school is considered to be Cesaro Lombroso. During the positivist period, researchers used statistical and factual data about crimes and criminals. Despite this, there was no unity of opinion about the nature of criminal behaviour. For example, representatives of biological positivism explained crime through the physical characteristics of humans – that is, their internal predisposition to criminal behaviour (Carrabine et al., 2014). A prominent representative of this trend was Cesare Lombroso, who studied the connections between ethnic and hereditary characteristics of humans (Dunnage, 2018).
He learned many individuals serving time for crimes and created portraits of potential thieves, murderers, and rapists. Cesare Lombroso formed a classification of criminals and revealed the dependence of the type of crime on the person’s external features (Dunnage, 2018). Thus, such early theories did not pay any attention to the human will, explaining crime by anatomical features.
Representatives of the sociological trend Auguste Comte and Franz von List talked about the social conditionality of crime. They sought to encompass many factors that cause crime – a lack of social structure, economic, social, and cultural problems (Kruger, 2020). In the criminological literature, a significant number of works are devoted to the influence of the social environment (Murphy, 2020). The authors are unanimous in proving the fact that the norms of the social environment have a significant, more often than not, a decisive influence on the choice of the subject of behaviour. This fact is also stated in the framework of judicial review (Simmons, 2017). Thus, it seems indisputable that the impact of the environment affects criminal behaviour.
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General strain theory focused primarily on disadvantaged groups, in which shared aspirations and the inability to achieve these goals were seen as driving factors of crime. For example, people whose incomes placed them below the poverty threshold could not achieve common, socially acceptable ambitions through legitimate means (Brezina, 2017). Thus, they were forced to adopt criminal behavior to achieve their goals. Key components of a general strain theory included consideration of the role of emotion in crimes of overstimulation (Brezina, 2017). It was also essential to consider the wide range of possible sources of social pressure that might lead a person to commit a crime.
It can be easily understood how this theory works with a concrete example. In San Francisco, a teenager rode his bicycle into a Walgreens store and put many items in a trash bag, then left the store without paying for them (Fitz-Gibbon, 2021). Customers and a security guard looked on in shock at the perpetrator, but no one tried to stop him. Cases like these can be explained from the point of view of the theory. Society has failed this child, and he is forced to steal to survive.
The influence of environmental norms on behaviour means nothing but the determinacy of behaviour, that is, its dependence on the relevant criteria. Suppose the subject commits a crime, having been brought up in a dysfunctional family, having linked his or her fate with criminal elements. Then it can be concluded that the social norms that the individual absorbed became dominant ones, and the decision in this situation was inevitable. This further means that the subject’s will is not free but dependent on the relevant normative institutions. This is how the representatives of the deterministic view of criminal responsibility would have reasoned about free will (Simmons, 2017). Social relations, as it is known, are regulated by morals, customs, religious standards (Abdulla, 2018). Non-compliance with social norms is, in principle, socially dangerous behaviour, as certain harm is caused to society and its values.
What matters is not who commits crime more often, but whether there is a correlation between standard of living and type of crime. Prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction, and vagrancy are conditions that can contribute to crime (Håkansson & Jesionowska, 2018). But a vagrant lifestyle alone does not make a person a criminal (Wardhaugh, 2017). Indeed, alcoholism leads to personality degradation, the primitivism of needs, and with a lack of education, ambitions are diminished (Adan et al., 2017). However, there is no direct correlation between these two circumstances and the commission of a crime.
For some crimes, it is possible to identify common features characteristic of those who commit them. Analysis of the state of crime shows the dynamics of growth in the number of crimes against sexual freedom and sexual inviolability (Laver, n.d.). Among the criminals who commit violent crimes, there are many persons of lower social level, with abnormal family conditions, with violation of behaviour in childhood; some of them stayed in orphanages. Often children from dysfunctional families, where parents abuse alcoholic beverages, become criminals. Such children more easily fall under the bad influence; they have a distorted idea of sexual roles. Mature men who rape minors and older women are characterized by very low self-esteem. However, such statistical information may be entirely inapplicable for another type of crime.
According to the views of some philosophers, free will is limited, on the one hand, by the individual’s physiological potentials, on the other hand, by a specific set of actions in a given situation. Consequently, the constraints on people’s freedom are the conditions of the world around them and their mental barriers, but they are still free to choose behaviour patterns. Thus, there is limited freedom, but then can people call it freedom if it implies a desire for two opposites simultaneously.
The ambiguity of this question can undoubtedly cause difficulties in answering it from the position of indeterminism. It cannot be said that a person is completely deprived of freedom of choice of behaviour in his or her actions. At a certain stage of the decision to act, the subject can choose between two equilibrium impulses. Consequently, the question is whether society has the right to punish a criminal who had only partial freedom of choice of a behavioural option at the moment before the final decision was made.
According to the theory of the dangerous condition of a person, some people have an inherent propensity to commit crimes. Indeed, various aspects of the offender’s personality may affect the degree of guilt in the crime committed (Murphy, 2020). For example, one cannot equate a first-time offender who commits theft with one who does robbery professionally. The stated, however, does not mean the unconditional guilt of a previously convicted, that is a potentially dangerous person in committing an offence. It turns out that the person’s danger replaces the person’s responsibility for the act committed as such. Therefore, the act itself is perceived as an external manifestation of one of the symptoms of a dangerous condition, which is not entirely correct.
The modern period of development of criminology, which has been considered since the beginning of the twentieth century, is marked by a large number of theories explaining criminal behaviour. They include the study of the processes of formation of a person’s criminal propensities in a small group, microenvironment, the study of criminal motivation, and the origin and development of the concept of crime prevention. During this period, new branches of criminology appeared – victimology, family criminology, and media criminology.
For example, the theory of stigmatization proceeds from the fact that it is a law that defines the concept of crime and, in a sense, creates crime and, consequently, criminals. It is not the act itself that matters but its evaluation by society. The theory of stigmatization is mainly applicable to the study of recidivism. Criminals who have repeatedly served their sentences differ from first-time offenders precisely because they have already undergone the process of stigmatization, and not only legal but also moral stigmatization (Tyler & Slater, 2018).
The criminal stereotype that exists in the ordinary public consciousness creates a moral and psychological barrier between criminals and law-abiding citizens. The higher it is, the clearer the stigma of the criminal, the harder it is to cross this barrier, the lower the primary crime rate (Tyler & Slater, 2018). Stigmatization theory provides moral and criminological arguments for rejecting corporal, shameful, and excessive punishment. It has had a significant impact on criminal policy and legislation in many states regarding limiting imprisonment.
In criminal law, a person is found not guilty until proven otherwise. The legal basis for this presumption is that only a minimal number of all human actions are committed under duress or other exceptional circumstances that eliminate free will (Newburn, 2016). The elimination of free will implies the disappearance of free will in the legal sense of the word. This means, for example, that the person who is threatened may still have the autonomy to choose a course of conduct, but legally the free will disappears. In some cases, at the same time, the will disappears both legally and in its real meaning. Free will and coercion in criminal law are autonomous legal concepts based on categories of psychology but not coinciding with them. Thus, free will exists for the purposes of positive criminal law, and beyond it, or in its philosophical-theoretical aspect, the debate can, of course, continue.
Crime is simply another form of human activity, and it is subject to all the same laws to which perfectly legal activities are subject. Thus, crime can be studied as other economic types of activity. In particular, there is a separate field in economics, the economics of shadow markets, which describes quite successfully, using general laws of economics, how these very shadow markets work. Moreover, criminology and, in particular, macro-theories allow people to understand what is behind such a phenomenon as crime and where efforts for the most effective control over this phenomenon should be applied. Because humans cannot defeat it definitively, but it is possible to minimize the harm it causes.
Abdulla, M. R. (2018). Culture, religion, and freedom of religion or belief. Taylor & Francis Journals, 16(4), 102-115. Web.
Adan, A., Forero, D. A., & Navarro, J. F. (2017). Personality traits related to binge drinking: A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 8, 1-11. Web.
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