Law History:
The Dawn of Science and It’s Explanation of Crime

     For as long as humans began living in social societies, there have been those who committed crimes against others. For as long as there have been criminals, there have been those who needed to explain and find reasons to why some humans committed those crimes. Superstition and religion tried explaining why there were those who committed crimes, and those explanations were, people who committed crimes were either possessed, or they were born evil. During the late nineteenth century however, the scientific method was beginning to take hold of Europe and in the place of superstition and religion, careful observation and analysis of natural phenomena were being taken in their place to explain how the world worked. This movement inspired new discoveries in biology, astronomy, and chemistry. The reasoning behind these new discoveries was that if the scientific method could be applied to the study of nature, why not use it to study human behavior?

     A man named Auguste Comte (1798-1857), is considered to be the founder of sociology, and started applying scientific methods to the study of society. Comte's theory was that as societies passed through stages, people tried to understand the world with which they lived in. People in primitive societies believe that inanimate objects have life, such as the sun itself was actually a god. However, in later social stages, people were realizing that such things were not true and they started to embrace a rational, scientific view of the world. Comte called this final stage, the positive stage, and the people who followed were called positivist. Today, positivism has two main elements. The first is the belief that human behavior is a function of external forces that are beyond individual control. Some of these forces are social, such as wealth and class, while others are political and historical, such as war and famine. Other forces are more personal and psychological, such as individual's brain structure and his or her biological makeup or mental ability were what influences human behavior.

     The second aspect of positivism is the belief that scientific methods solve problems. Positivists believe in factual, firsthand observation and measurement of conditions and events. Positivists also agree that an abstract concept such as intelligence exists because it can be measured by an IQ test. They challenge ideas, such as a person having a soul, because it cannot actually be proven by scientific methods that human beings have souls. This tradition was further made popular when Charles Darwin (1809-1882), whose work on human revolution encouraged a nineteenth-century "cult of science" that advocated verifying all human activity by scientific principles. Men such as Franz Joseph (1758-1828), and Johann K. Spurzheim (1776-1832), were the first Phrenologists. They studied the shape of the skull and bumps on the head to determine whether these physical attributes were linked to criminal behavior. They believed that external characteristics dictate which areas of the brain control physical activity and although their techniques and methods were eventually discredited, they were part of the early attempts of man trying to explain crime and criminal behavior.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.