• Shreya Srivastava

Moral Psychology And Criminal Behavior



Moral identity development and the manner in which individuals homogenize moral ideals and character development is what is known as Moral Psychology. This bough of psychology is antithetical to what we know as Moral Philosophy. Moral Psychology circumscribes the studies of moral character, judgment, reasoning, so on and so forth at the juncture where two distinct strings of philosophy and psychology meet. the concept underlying Moral Psychology determines the various genres of thinking that bring out moral judgment and its evolution; and the various levels of moral development that can be seen not just in humans but in animals as well; the role of intuitions in moral development as well as decision-making. the basic question so catered to by the concept of Moral Psychology includes in its ambit the constituents that make up a 'good' person. On the other hand, Criminal behavior, giving due regard to sociological and anthropological aspects as also responding to the biological determinants can be defined to include a psychopathological substratum, which in turn includes personality aspects, factors of heredity and genetics, cerebral damage and psychological alterations that are caused by trauma, perinatal insults and also acute intoxication behavior. Similar to personality, attitude, perspective and many other, behavior to form an important aspect of human psychology. This content would uncover the inter-relatedness of Moral Psychology and Criminal Behavior. Moral Psychology can be said to have developed on what we understand as 'Morality' and morality finds its basics in the word Dharma which indicates righteousness and purity of thoughts and actions in every walk of life.

Bhishmapitamaha, in the great Indian epic- the Mahabharata said to Dharmaraja Yudhisthira, that anything leading to conflict is adharma whereas all that puts conflict to an end and brings out harmony and unity denotes dharma.




To understand the traditional Indian concept of harmony and tolerance, it is important to look into the strengths forming the pillars of the age-old Indian Society, viz.

  • The principles of the goals of life (Purushartha Principle);

  • The Social Classification Scheme (Varna Vyawastha); and

  • The various stages of human life (Ashrama Dharma)

The very foundation of the Indian Society was laid on the principle of 'Realistic Idealism'. Be it in the ordinary course of everyday life or handling important relations, Indians since times immemorial associated everything to religious practices with the object of realizing the ultimate truth of life, guided by moral and mental disciplines. A human body was considered synonymous to a temple and the care of it was considered to be a holy as well as a sacrosanct duty. Dharma (duties) were emphasized to secure growth and developments. Purushartha principle which is also referred to as the principle of goals of life emanates from the combination of two Sanskrit words- 'Purusa' meaning person and 'artha' i.e. the aim of life. Morality/Virtues, means of life, enjoyment and complete freedom also referred to as Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha are considered the cardinal goals or ideals of human life. Every person is expected to lead a life enveloped with pleasures and joys leading ultimately to the satisfaction of needs and desires.

Traveling back to the times of Rigveda Samhita, the Varna system was adopted which aimed at giving importance to one's desires and aptitude while choosing a vocation; dividing the society into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras. Immense importance was assigned to the fact that one's Karma should match his/her guna. The second form in which the society was arranged in order to accomplish Purushartha was the Ashrama Scheme of life which divided the life into four stages, viz. Student hood (or Brahmacharya), Married Life (or Grihasthya), The state of forest recluse (or Vanaprastha), and Monkhood (i.e. Sanyasa) depicting the course of duties that individuals undertake for the 'realization of supreme spiritual ideals', amalgamating 'srama' with self-discipline.

The twin function of knowledge is 'Artha-Parichitit' and 'Fala-Prapti'; where the former means the revelation of the existence of some objects and the latter refers to the fulfillment of certain purposes. These depict what we known as Facts and Values. Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha i.e. Virtue, Wealth, Pleasure, and Self-Realization separately, have been considered the basic values, of which, the Indian Philosophy talks about. These are referred to as the triangle of values where Artha is instrumental for it enables individuals to satisfy their basic needs and the Kama is the intrinsic value which is the satisfaction of such needs. Both these values are required to be in consonance with Dharma or the Moral value. A clash in any of them would result in jeopardizing the society.

Dharma vs. Kama

The Kama indicates pleasure, but it has to be understood that not everything that is desired for seeking pleasure is just. The necessary criterion of action is laid down by Dharma and that the Kama which is in accordance with such requirements so laid down, is moral. It is also said by Shri Krishna in Gita, "Dharmaviruddah...... Kamosmi" meaning 'I am Kama, not at strife with Dharma'



Dharma vs. Artha


Although Morality depicts righteousness, it is however not always within the reach of people. We live in a society where vices are the creation of prevailing circumstances and thus break morality into bits. Poverty has been one such grave circumstance causing the collapse through a dozen forefronts such as prostitution, cheating, murder, small scale smuggling, and so on. Poverty has been the root of stimulating all such social evils. Thus, it can be said that 'Poverty throws a Monkey Wrench in the path of morality, in the form of crimes' Even in the current scenario of COVID we see that where social, economic conditions have dwindled by the outbreak and the subsequent lockdown; and where not all have the facilities to work from home, in such state of unemployment, no-food, etc. people have resorted to crimes of theft, robbery, and even murder, disturbing the moral fabric of the society.

India has an ancient legacy of a welfare-oriented economy based on moral values. The societal structure in all times depicted virtue in the processes of governance and wealth generation. Thus, Dharma in an ideal and moral set up-regulates welfare and the common good (Sarva bhute hite ratah). Wealth or Artha influences people away from morality or dharma leading to the germination of selfishness and unlikable values in them.

Moral psychology has been a distinctive and captivating area of study for both philosophers as well as psychologists. The subject in the current times has emerged as an inter-disciplinary field collaborating with neuroscience, game theory, evolutionary biology, and social psychology. It also draws from developmental psychology which offers an insight into the stirring of morality in babies. The Self-Model Theory by Blasi in 1983, establishing a sense of personal responsibility and the dynamism of self-consistency; multiple types of research on psychopaths by Nicholas and Blair on that essence of emotions in moral judgments and many more has immense contribution towards the understanding of 'Moral Psychology of Criminal Behavior'. It is well settled that each individual has a moral identity and among criminals, there is lacking the basic moral understanding.


Law and Morality are interlinked so much so that it is difficult to class them as two distinct phenomenons, and works in conjunction with maintaining Social Order. Both the concepts looks at a catena of misconduct, through eyes filled with hatred. These criminalities include murder, rape, robbery, and everything that enhances moral guilt in society. In the words of Sir Stephen, "The sentence of the law is to the moral sentiment of the public in relation to any offense, what seal is to a hot wax". Any act involving serious moral guilt offends the moral sentiments of the society causing the latter to eagerly wait for the severity of a punishment that is likely to be awarded to the offender committing the act. Thus, with time, moral sentiments get translated into final judgments (where a convict is stamped as a criminal for life) instead of becoming a transient sentiment.


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