Criminology – Rational actor model   no comments

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This week I have struggled to achieve my aims set out in last week’s blog. Due to other coursework commitments my reading has taken a back seat and I have only managed to complete my reading on criminology. However I feel I have spent to long blogging about such a small part of my reading. I think next week I need to ensure I set aside enough time for reading both disciplines and try to be more concise when writing my blog. Hopefully this will mean my blogs will cover a lot more reading then they currently do.

So for criminology, this week I have been reading about the tradition of the rational actor model. This model can be traced back to a range of ideas (political, philosophical, economic, and social) that were developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The model is based on the idea that people have free will and make a choice to commit a crime in the same way that they would choose to take part in any other behaviour. This tradition has two major sets of influences:

Social contract theories – this is the idea that a lawful government can only exist with the voluntary agreement of human beings who have been able to exercise free will. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1678) argued that the key basis of any social contract is the involvement of human free will. However, Hobbes had a somewhat negative view of humanity and felt that there was a need for a ‘ruler’ or ‘institute’ (Leviathan) to support social contracts and enforce laws. It was here that the idea of the modern criminal justice system first emerged. This meant that contracts that subjects made between themselves could be legitimately enforced.  Alternatively, it was later argued by John Locke (1632-1704) that people should not be subjected to a Leviathan as people acquire their ‘natural rights to life and liberty from the Christian God.’ Therefore, these rights are not theirs to transfer to another. He suggested that if natural rights were to be conserved, then it required institutions to clarify, codify ad maintain the rights to life, liberty and property.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) argued that people were admirable, equal and free individuals in the beginning, but became morally corrupted as they came together in groups and societies and became dependent on each other. He argued it was necessary to create human laws that deem all to be equal and provide every individual with a free vote on the enactment of legislation. He also developed the concept of ‘general will’ – individuals also have a shared interest in the welfare of the community.

Therefore, when a human being chooses to freely enter into a contract to perform ‘civic duties,’ they can be seen as a ‘rational actor.’ To ensure compliance of contracts laws can be enforced, providing they have been approved by people who are party to the social contract.

Utilitarianism – This approach was developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, both of whom were political philosophers. It seeks to consider the rightness of acts, policies, decisions and choices by looking at the happiness of those affected by them. Bentham (1748-1832) suggested that morality was based on the actions of human beings that promoted happiness were to be seen as acceptable and those that produce the opposite were not. Happiness was considered to be pleasure and unhappiness pain. These were then assessed based on their intensity, duration, and proximity. The rightness of an act or policy was calculated based on the number of people experiencing pleasure and the overall balance of pain verses pleasure. This was accepted by Mill (1806-73) but he sought to define qualities and quantities of pleasure. He argued that the social consequences of an act or policy should be considered as the ‘good,’ and that some pleasures should rank higher than others. Both social factors and the quality of the act or policy were considered significant in providing reasoning for an individual’s behaviour. It was Bentham’s contribution that had the biggest impact on the rational actor theory, with his ideas of fear being the biggest control over a humans beings exercise of free will, and that punishment is considered the main way of creating fear, thus influences the free will of an individual and controlling their behaviour.

Next week I plan to try and achieve my aims set out in last week’s blog, ensuring that I cover enough reading but keep the blogs concise.

Written by kd2v07 on November 13th, 2010

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