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Psychological and Sociological Determinism

26 April 2009

Psychological and Sociological Determinism

            Determining criminal behavior is an interesting aspect of criminology and the implications of effectively doing so are very beneficial to society.  This paper will discuss psychological determinism, sociological determinism, their differences, and the people who are associated with both terms. 

Psychological determinism states that people commit crimes because of mental problems they have.  Proponents of psychological determinism believe that defects in the brain predispose people to performing illegal behavior.  In the 1800s, psychiatrist Isaac Ray wrote The Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity, which discussed how people can be insane and not know right from wrong.  Ray agreed with his peer in the field, Philippe Pinel, that criminals were victim of moral insanity, in which a person could not evaluate the morality of his or her actions because of a metal problem.  | | Ray thought that punishing criminals for their crimes, when they had no true malicious intent, was be wrong.  Another notable figure in psychological determinism in the late 1800s and early 1900s is Henry Maudsley; he believed that criminal behavior was just an outlet and/or a side-effect of insanity.  Another words, committing crimes, Maudsley thought, was a way for people to let out their “. . . unsound tendencies . . . [because] they would go mad if they were not criminals.”  Like Ray, the study of insanity was the focus of Maudsley.  In the early 1900s, a medical professor named Henry H. Goddard tested inmates for metal problems and found 25 to 50 percent of them had mental defects.  However, a later study found high percentages of the same “low intelligence” in World War I draftees; therefore disproving Goddard’s idea that intelligence determines criminals. 

Sociological determinism is the belief that social factors determine whether a person is a criminal or not.  In the 1800s, a lawyer named André Michel Guerry took crime statistics and found that there were relations to social conditions, such as age, income level, and gender.  At the same time, a mathematician named Adolphe Quételet also analyzed the trends in crime, which he called “moral statistics,” and found that it was possible to predict behavior based on social conditions.  Gabriel Tarde was a French Judge in the late 1800s who came up the law of imitation; he theorized that criminal (and all) behaviors manifest themselves because humans naturally copy others’ behavior patterns.  | | This would later be the foundation of the theory of differential association.  Émile Durkheim is the best known and most influential of all the sociological determinism scholars.  In the late early 1900s, Durkheim stated his idea that crime was a natural part of life, impossible to stop, and important for society in order to advance.  His reasoning was that crime exists because people have different values, and those values sometimes conflict, resulting in crime.  He believed that people would always have different values in society, so crime would never be eliminated.  Furthermore, he thought that crime was a mechanism for society to advance socially, similar to the theory of natural selection in biology: different values, resulting in criminal behavior, allows the opportunity for “genius” to be created. 

Source: Criminology (Sixth Edition) by Freda Adler, Gerhard O. W. Mueller, and William S. Laufer.