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History of Crime and Punishment in Europe 17C-18C
This paper traces the history crime and punishment in Europe. It looks at the influences of that time the social and philosophical movements and how they affected the whole evolution of treatment of crime and the thought behind punishment. The paper details about the neoclassical period its forbearers and how they regarded the issue of crime and punishment and their assumptions regarding the problem.
Crime is as old as civilization itself and where you find groups of people, you will consistently find some shape of criminal activity. You will also find punishment. The criminal has always been seen as undermining the values and, even, the very fabric of the society she or he deceives. Accordingly, those found out or found culpable have often been dealt with unsympathetically. Again, the Jewish Mythology will spring to the Western mind with its mantra of an eye for an eye etc. Very often, to the contemporary western mind, the harshness of the penalty was far in excess of the gravity of the original offence. However, the prehistoric, medieval or even early modern people of western society did not like the insights into human behavior which modern society claims for itself. To them, the criminal was, quite simply, a threat to the order, which was essential for the very existence of their society. As society developed and the great cities of the world began to develop and swell so too did the criminal alliance grow and expand.
Age of Enlightenment
The age of 'Reason' and 'Enlightenment' was ushered with the people believing that the reasoning of men could free them of their troubles and lead them to peace, sanctuary, a good government and ideal society. Reason would ensure the progress of humanity and entire society.
The European Enlightenment developed in part due to an active group of French thinkers who thrived in the middle of the eighteenth century: the philosophes. This group was a heterogeneous mix of people who track a variety of intellectual interests: scientific, mechanical, literary, philosophical, and sociological. They were united by a few common themes: an unwavering uncertainty in the perfectibility of human beings, a fierce desire to disperse erroneous systems of thought (such as religion) and a dedication to systematizing the range of intellectual disciplines.
The rallying cry for the philosophes was the perception of progress. By mastering both natural sciences and human sciences, humanity could harness the natural world for its own benefit and learn to live peacefully with one another. This was the ultimate goal, for the philosophes, of rational and intentional progress.
The philosophes movement was not restricted to France, but soon spilled over into other European countries. In England, the movement was possessor by David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edward Gibbon. It was natural that the English would take to the new ideas, since the French philosophes were so heavily prejudiced by English thought: Voltaire by English empiricism and Montesquieu by English government.
We can call the eighteenth century the age of the enlightenment because it was both a peak and a new beginning. Fresh currents of contemplation were wearing down institutionalized traditions. New ideas and new approaches to old institutions were setting the stage for great revolutions to come.
These enlightened philosophes made profligate claims, but there was more to them than merely negations and disinfectants. It was primarily a French movement because French culture dominated Europe and because their ideas were uttered in the environment of the Parisian salon. Therefore, it was a middle-class movement. They nevertheless labored for man in general, for humanity.
Besides Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the most significant of the French philosophes was Francois Marie Arouet or, as he signed his books, Voltaire. Voltaire concentrated on two precise philosophical projects. First, he untiringly worked to introduce empiricism, as it was adept by the English, into French intellectual life. Second, he persisted in proselytizing for religious tolerance; in fact, most of his works that we still read today had as there theme religious tolerance. Obviously, the feudal edifice was crumbling, but there was no real antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy yet. One can detect the bourgeoisie besieged for freedom from state regulations and for liberty of commercial activity. It is also evident that a wave of prosperity brought a greater degree of self-confidence to the bourgeoisie. Great fortunes were made in every town. Mercantilism was loosening its hold on the economy. By 1750, the reading public came into existence because of increasing literacy. However, the philosophes lived a precarious life. They never knew whether they would be imprisoned or courted. Nevertheless, they assumed the air of an army on the march.
From the 17th century, the philosophes inherited the rationalism of Descartes. However, the desire of natural science alchemized into the Enlightenment. Newton had discovered a fundamental cosmic law that was susceptible to mathematical proof and applicable to the minutest object as well as to the universe as a whole. Maupertuis and Voltaire made Newton common property by 1750. John Locke had denied instinctive ideas and derived all knowledge, opinions and behavior from sense experience. Condillac carried this to its conclusion by insisting that even awareness was transformed sensation.
Therefore, the traditional anthropocentric view of the universe laid in ruins and with it the anthropomorphic conception of God. Hence, Montesquieu, Voltaire, the encyclopedists and physiocrats created the fusion of social science which was based on past progress. All of this was done in an atmosphere of religious, political and economic controversy. Biblical criticism came from prosperous Holland and backward Spain, first posited precious metals as the source of wealth, then commerce, and then agricultural production (as developed by the physiocrats).
In all this controversy, social science was foundation to yield evidence -- the critical and historical method of Pierre Bayle. Exotic travel literature had its effect as well. It supported the positivist, experimental mentality of the 18th century. It brought the atmosphere of the "noble savage" into prominence. There was a moral sense in natural man. Rousseau and the encyclopedists succumbed to this idea. Nevertheless, that was not the case with Montesquieu and Voltaire. By 1750, the social sciences had already become inductive, historical, anthropological, comparative, and critical.
There was great faith in the instrument of reason rather than mere accretion of knowledge. Doctrinal substance was not as vital as overall philosophy. We need to keep this in mind if we want to understand the Enlightenment. It was not so much Descartes "reason" but rather Newton's laws -- not abstraction and definition, but observation and experience were points of departure. What placed the stamp on the Enlightenment was this analytical method of Newtonian physics applied to the entire field of contemplation and acquaintance. Order and regularity came from the analysis of observed facts. Lessing said that the real power of reason lay not in the possession but in the acquisition of truth. Therefore, pure analysis was applied to psychological and social processes. From here on out the doctrine of historical and sociological determinism (the application of the principle of causality to social science) was usually accepted. Many historicists have scorned this naive scientific positivism. By facile dogmatism, the philosophes frequently ignored their own method.
Their new ideal of knowledge was simply a further development of 17th century logic and science. However, there was a new emphasis on The particular rather than the general
Observable facts rather than principles
Experience rather than rational speculation.
In Italy, the most influential adherent of the philosophe movement was Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), whose book; On Crimes and Punishments (1764) radically changed the European outlook on justice and the penal system. Beccaria fight that judicial punishment should not be used for punishment, but rather should be used to protect society. Incarceration of the criminal prevented the criminal from committing other crimes, and closely watching and training incarcerated criminals taught them moral and social values that would avoid them from committing crimes once they were released. All other forms of punishment, including physical and capital punishment, were excessive; understand that Beccaria wrote this at a time when most serious crimes were capital crimes and that executions were a common public sight. Beccaria's book entirely changed the face of European society: forty years after it was written.
None of the philosophes engaged in speculative philosophy or abstract thinking (very much); they were primarily concerned with the betterment of society and human beings so their focus was devastatingly practical. This concern was focused on reforming individual human beings and on outdated human institutions and belief systems
The philosophes did not determine natural rights theory, but they made it the foundation of the ethical and social gospel. They establish natural rights into practical politics. They gave natural rights the dynamic force that exposed its explosive energy in the French Revolution. However, their argument moved gradually away from metaphysics toward empiricism -- away from reason toward experience. Liberty of the person, security of property and freedom of discussion were less rooted in conceptual reason…[continue]
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