If general anthropology is, according to the definition of M. de Quatrefages, the natural history of humanity, as zoology is the natural history of animals, criminal anthropology is but the study of a single variety of humanity. In other words, it is the natural history of the criminal person.
Criminal anthropology studies the criminal person in his organic and psychological constitution, and in his life as related to his physical, mental, and social environment–just as anthropology has done for humanity in general. While the classical observers of crime study various offenses in their abstract character, on the assumption that the criminal, apart from particular cases which are evident and appreciable, is a person of the ordinary type subject to the same normal conditions of intelligence and feeling as are the rest of us. Anthropological observers of crime, on the other hand, study the criminal first of all by means of direct observations, in anatomical and physiological laboratories, in prisons, organically and physically, comparing him with the typical characteristics of the normal human, as well as with those of the mentally unstable and violent.
For the student of criminal anthropology, who builds up the natural history of the criminal, every characteristic has an anatomical, or a physiological, or a psychological value in itself, apart from the sociological conclusions which it may be possible to draw from it. The technical inquiry into these bio-psychical characteristics is the special work of this new science of criminal anthropology. Now these data, which are the conclusions of the anthropologist, are but starting-points for the criminal sociologist, from which she has to reach her own legal and social conclusions. Criminal anthropology is to criminal sociology, in its scientific function, what the biological sciences, in description and experimentation, are to clinical practice.
The criminal sociologist is not duty bound to conduct for herself the inquiries of criminal anthropology, just as the clinical operator is not required to be a physiologist or an anatomist. There is no doubt that the direct observation of criminals is a very serviceable study, even for the criminal sociologist; but the only duty of the latter is to base her legal and social inferences upon the positive data of criminal anthropology for the biological aspects of crime, and upon statistical data for the influences of physical and social environment, instead of contenting herself with mere abstract legal syllogisms.
On the other hand it is clear that sundry questions which have a direct bearing upon criminal anthropology–as, for instance, in regard to some particular biological characteristic, or to its evolutionary significance–have no immediate obligation or value for criminal sociology, which employs only the fundamental and most indubitable data of criminal anthropology. So that it is but a clumsy way of propounding the question to ask, as it is too frequently asked: “What connection can there be between the cephalic index, or the transverse measurement of a murderer’s jaw, and his responsibility for the crime which he has committed?” The scientific function of the anthropological data is a very different thing, and the only legitimate question which sociology can put to anthropology is this: “Is the criminal, and in what respects is he, a normal or an abnormal human? And when he is determined to be abnormal, from where is the abnormality derived? Is it congenital or contracted? Is he capable or incapable of reform?”
While this in its most simple terms is all there is to the domain of criminal anthropology, the domain itself is essential to the development of new and innovative measures which society can take to defend itself against crime. Such measures in the end, despite all the secondary aims, are what is of greatest importance.
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