Supernatural forces cannot be observed, and the demonic perspective (like our "little green creature" example) is therefore not testable. Toward the end of the 1700s, the demonic perspective was challenged by a group of philosophers who came to be called classical school criminologists. (1)
Classical school believed that God instilled in humans the capacity to exercise free will and the ability to choose a course of behavior through reason. Several scholars - chief among them Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham - used this general platform to argue for legal reform. In doing so, these penal reformers also articulated a scientific Theory of criminal behavior. Classical school theory dominated criminological thought into the late 1800s, until it was challenged by a new group of theorists.
The influence of the classical school of criminology began to wane in the late 1800s. One reason for this decline was that changes in the legal system based on classical theory failed to reduce crime (i.e., crime rates continued to increase).43 More importantly, the underlying assumption of the classical school-that behavior was the result of rational calculation - was criticized for being too simplistic. Throughout the 1700s, scientists such as Galileo and Newton made great discoveries about the workings of the physical world. These demonstrations of cause-and-effect relationships were made through careful observation and analysis of natural events. It was not long before scholars applied this scientific method beyond the physical world to the social world. Auguste Compte, the 19th century scientist considered the "father of sociology," argued that human behavior was caused, or determined, by forces outside of human control. Compte believed that societies progressed through various stages, moving from a primitive understanding of the world (recall the demonic perspective) to a more rational, scientific understanding. He referred to this last rational/scientific stage as positivism, and those who continued this line of inquiry were subsequently called positivists. (1)
The Positivist School of Criminology rejected the Classical School's idea that all crime resulted from a choice that could potentially be made anyone. Though they did not disagree with the Classical School that most crime could be explained through "human nature," they argued that the most serious crimes were committed by individuals who were "primitive" or "atavistic"--that is, who failed to evolve to a fully human and civilized state. Crime therefore resulted not from what criminals had in common with others in society, but from their distinctive physical or mental defects. The positivists understood themselves as scientists: while the classical thinkers were concerned with legal