Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice

2014 Edition
| Editors: Gerben Bruinsma, David Weisburd

Rational Choice Theory

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5690-2_396


Rational choice theory refers to a set of ideas about the relationship between people’s preferences and the choices they make. There are several variants of rational choice theory and this essay refers to these collectively as the rational choice approach (RCA). The conceptual foundations of the RCA originate in Cesare Beccaria’s1764 essay On Crimes and Punishments and Jeremy Bentham’s 1789 work, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. One school of thought, the deterrence approach, builds on Beccaria’s insights that effective punishments need to be swift and certain (Paternoster 2010). Alternative uses of the RCA focus on Bentham’s formalization of the idea that the motivations for actions, criminal or otherwise, are universally grounded in individual self-interest and the desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. As a result, punishments require a level of rationality if they are to influence people’s perceptions of the pleasures and pains...

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California DavisDavisUSA