A Milanese jurist, economist and criminologist:


False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real
advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would
take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown
in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that
forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm
only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.
Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most
sacred laws of humanity, the most important of the code, will respect
the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease
and impunity, and which, if strictly obeyed, would put an end to
personal liberty - and subject innocent persons to all the vexations
that the guilty alone ought to suffer? Such laws make things worse for
the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to
encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be
attacked with greater confidence than an armed man. They ought to be
designated as laws not preventative but fearful of crimes, produced by
the tumultuous impression of a few isolated facts, and not by
thoughtful consideration of the inconveniences and advantages of a
universal decree.

On Crimes and Punishments, 1764

In On Crimes and Punishments Cesare Beccaria seeks reform in the criminal justice system. His biggest problems with the current system were:

  • The use of torture to obtain confession
  • Secret accusations
  • Arbitrary power of judges
  • Inequality of sentences for different individuals
  • Personal connections gained the defendant the favor of the court
  • The use of capital punishment

  1. Social Contract
    1. Punishment is justified only if it is in defense of the Social Contract.
    2. To ensure everyone will respect the punishment in order to uphold the Social Contract.
  2. Utility
    1. Method of punishment should be that which serves the public good.

  1. Social Contract
    1. Individuals give up some rights to live in a group.
    2. Some freedom is sacrificed, limits on freedom.
    3. Right to Life is not sacrificed, that would violate Natural Law.

Beccaria was firmly against the death penalty, as it did not comply with another part of his reasoning, that all punishments must be "Certain and Severe." Capital punishment is quite severe, but not certain. There are a good deal many cases in which the punishment is not imposed. In order for capital punishment to be an effective deterrance against crime, it must be certain, which it is not.

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