The Positive School Of Criminology - Enrico Ferri - ebook

Ferri disputed Lombroso's emphasis on biological characteristics of criminals; instead, he focused on the study of psychological characteristics, which he believed accounted for the development of crime in an individual. These characteristics included slang, handwriting, secret symbols, literature, and art, as well as moral insensibility and "a lack of repugnance to the idea and execution of the offence, previous to its commission, and the absence of remorse after committing it".Ferri argued that sentiments such as religion, love, honour, and loyalty did not contribute to criminal behaviour, as these ideas were too complicated to have a definite impact on a person's basic moral sense, from which Ferri believed criminal behaviour stemmed. Ferri argued that other sentiments, such as hate, cupidity, and vanity had greater influences as they held more control over a person's moral sense.Ferri summarized his theory by defining criminal psychology as a "defective resistance to criminal tendencies and temptations, due to that ill-balanced impulsiveness which characterises children and savages".

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Enrico Ferri


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My Friends:

When, in the turmoil of my daily occupation, I received an invitation, several months ago, from several hundred students of this famous university, to give them a brief summary, in short special lectures, of the principal and fundamental conclusions of criminal sociology, I gladly accepted, because this invitation fell in with two ideals of mine. These two ideals are stirring my heart and are the secret of my life. In the first place, this invitation chimed with the ideal of my personal life, namely, to diffuse and propagate among my brothers the scientific ideas, which my brain has accumulated, not through any merit of mine, but thanks to the lucky prize inherited from my mother in the lottery of life. And the second ideal which this invitation called up before my mind’s vision was this: The ideal of young people of Italy, united in morals and intellectual pursuits, feeling in their social lives the glow of a great aim. It would matter little whether this aim would agree with my own ideas or be opposed to them, so long as it should be an ideal which would lift the aspirations of the young people out of the fatal grasp of egoistic interests. Of course, we positivists know very well, that the material requirements of life shape and determine also the moral and intellectual aims of human consciousness. But positive science declares the following to be the indispensable requirement for the regeneration of human ideals: Without an ideal, neither an individual nor a collectivity can live, without it humanity is dead or dying. For it is the fire of an ideal which renders the life of each one of us possible, useful and fertile. And only by its help can each one of us, in the more or less short course of his or her existence, leave behind traces for the benefit of fellow-beings. The invitation extended to me proves that the students of Naples believe in the inspiring existence of such an ideal of science, and are anxious to learn more about ideas, with which the entire world of the present day is occupied, and whose life-giving breath enters even through the windows of the dry courtrooms, when their doors are closed against it.


Let us now speak of this new science, which has become known in Italy by the name of the Positive School of Criminology. This science, the same as every other phenomenon of scientific evolution, cannot be shortsightedly or conceitedly attributed to the arbitrary initiative of this or that thinker, this or that scientist. We must rather regard it as a natural product, a necessary phenomenon, in the development of that sad and somber department of science which deals with the disease of crime. It is this plague of crime which forms such a gloomy and painful contrast with the splendor of present-day civilization. The 19th century has won a great victory over mortality and infectious diseases by means of the masterful progress of physiology and natural science. But while contagious diseases have gradually diminished, we see on the other hand that moral diseases are growing more numerous in our so-called civilization. While typhoid fever, smallpox, cholera and diphtheria retreated before the remedies which enlightened science applied by means of the experimental method, removing their concrete causes, we see on the other hand that insanity, suicide and crime, that painful trinity, are growing apace. And this makes it very evident that the science which is principally, if not exclusively, engaged in studying these phenomena of social disease, should feel the necessity of finding a more exact diagnosis of these moral diseases of society, in order to arrive at some effective and more humane remedy, which should more victoriously combat this somber trinity of insanity, suicide and crime.

The science of positive criminology arose in the last quarter of the 19th century, as a result of this strange contrast, which would be inexplicable, if we could not discover historical and scientific reasons for its existence. And it is indeed a strange contrast that Italy should have arrived at a perfect theoretical development of a classical school of criminology, while there persists, on the other hand, the disgraceful condition that criminality assumes dimensions never before observed in this country, so that the science of criminology cannot stem the tide of crime in high and low circles. It is for this reason, that the positive school of criminology arises out of the very nature of things, the same as every other line of science. It is based on the conditions of our daily life. It would indeed be conceited on our part to claim that we, who are the originators of this new science and its new conclusions, deserve alone the credit for its existence. The brain of the scientist is rather a sort of electrical accumulator, which feels and assimilates the vibrations and heart-beats of life, its splendor and its shame, and derives therefrom the conviction that it must of necessity provide for definite social wants. And on the other hand, it would be an evidence of intellectual short-sightedness on the part of the positivist man of science, if he did not recognize the historical accomplishments, which his predecessors on the field of science have left behind as indelible traces of their struggle against the unknown in that brilliant and irksome domain. For this reason, the adherents of the positive school of criminology feel the most sincere reverence for the classic school of criminology. And I am glad today, in accepting the invitation of the students of Naples, to say, that this is another reason why their invitation was welcome to me. It is now 16 years since I gave in this same hall a lecture on positive criminology, which was then in its initial stages. It was in 1885, when I had the opportunity to outline the first principles of the positive school of criminology, at the invitation of other students, who preceded you on the periodic waves of the intellectual generations. And the renewal of this opportunity gave me so much moral satisfaction that, I could not under any circumstances decline your invitation. Then too, the Neapolitan Atheneum has maintained the reputation of the Italian mind in the 19th century, also in that science which even foreign scientists admit to be our specialty, namely the science of criminology. In fact, aside from the two terrible books of the Digest, and from the practical criminologists of the Middle Ages who continued the study of criminality, the modern world opened a glorious page in the progress of criminal science with the modest little book of Cesare Beccaria. This progress leads from Cesare Beccaria, by way of Francesco Carrara, to Enrico Pessina.

Enrico Pessina alone remains of the two giants who concluded the cycle of classic school of criminology. In a lucid moment of his scientific consciousness, which soon reverted to the old abstract and metaphysical theories, he announced in an introductory statement in 1879, that criminal justice would have to rejuvenate itself in the pure bath of the natural sciences and substitute in place of abstraction the living and concrete study of facts. Naturally every scientist has his function and historical significance; and we cannot expect that a brain which has arrived at the end of its career should turn towards a new direction. At any rate, it is a significant fact that this most renowned representative of the classic school of criminology should have pointed out this need of his special science in this same university of Naples, one year after the inauguration of the positive school of criminology, that he should have looked forward to a time when the study of natural and positive facts would set to rights the old juridical abstractions. And there is still another precedent in the history of this university, which makes scientific propaganda at this place very agreeable for a positivist. It is that six years before that introductory statement by Pessina, Giovanni Bovio gave lectures at this university, which he published later on under the title of “A Critical Study of Criminal Law.” Giovanni Bovio performed in this monograph the function of a critic, but the historical time of his thought, prevented him from taking part in the construction of a new science. However, he prepared the ground for new ideas, by pointing out all the rifts and weaknesses of the old building. Bovio maintained that which Gioberti, Ellero, Conforti, Tissol had already maintained, namely that it is impossible to solve the problem which is still the theoretical foundation of the classic school of criminology, the problem of the relation between punishment and crime. No man, no scientist, no legislator, no judge, has ever been able to indicate any absolute standard, which would enable us to say that equity demands a definite punishment for a definite crime. We can find some opportunistic expedient, but not a solution of the problem. Of course, if we could decide which is the gravest crime, then we could also decide on the heaviest sentence and formulate a descending scale which would establish the relative fitting proportions between crime and punishment. If it is agreed that patricide is the gravest crime, we meet out the heaviest sentence, death or imprisonment for life, and then we can agree on a descending scale of crime and on a parallel scale of punishments. But the problem begins right with the first stone of the structure, not with the succeeding steps. Which is the greatest penalty proportional to the crime of patricide? Neither science, nor legislation, nor moral consciousness, can offer an absolute standard. Some say: The greatest penalty is death. Others say: No, imprisonment for life. Still others say: Neither death, nor imprisonment for life, but only imprisonment for a time. And if imprisonment for a time is to be the highest penalty, how many years shall it last —thirty, or twenty-five, or ten?

No man can set up any absolute standard in this matter. Giovanni Bovio thus arrived at the conclusion that this internal contradiction in the science of criminology was the inevitable fate of human justice, and that this justice, struggling in the grasp of this internal contradiction, must turn to the civil law and ask for help in its weakness. The same thought had already been illumined by a ray from the bright mind of Filangieri, who died all too soon. And we can derive from this fact the historical rule that the most barbarian conditions of humanity show a prevalence of a criminal code which punishes without healing; and that the gradual progress of civilization will give rise to the opposite conception of healing without punishing.

Thus it happens that this university of Naples, in which the illustrious representative of the classic school of criminology realized the necessity of its regeneration, and in which Bovio foresaw its sterility, has younger teachers now who keep alive the fire of the positivist tendency in criminal science, such as Penta, Zuccarelli, and others, whom you know. Nevertheless I feel that this faculty of jurisprudence still lacks oxygen in the study of criminal law, because its thought is still influenced by the overwhelming authority of the name of Enrico Pessina. And it is easy to understand that there, where the majestic tree spreads out its branches towards the blue vault, the young plant feels deprived of light and air, while it might have grown strong and beautiful in another place.

The positive school of criminology, then, was born in our own Italy through the singular attraction of the Italian mind toward the study of criminology; and its birth is also due to the peculiar condition our country with its great and strange contrast between the theoretical doctrines and the painful fact of an ever increasing criminality.