Beccaria | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Criminology

Beccaria was an Eighteenth-century Italian philosopher who argued that punishment should only be severe enough to offset the pleasure gained from committing the crime.

Cesare Beccaria was an Italian philosopher, criminologist, and economist who lived during the Enlightenment period of the 18th century. He is known for his work, “On Crimes and Punishments,” which argued that punishments should be reasonable and proportionate to the crime committed. Beccaria was born in Milan in 1738 and was a member of the aristocracy. He studied law and economics at the University of Pavia, where he was influenced by the works of Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire.

In “On Crimes and Punishments,” Beccaria proposed a radical shift in the way society approached crime and punishment. He argued that punishment should not be used to satisfy the desire for revenge but should instead serve as a deterrent to future criminal behavior. Beccaria believed that the severity of punishment should be limited to the harm caused by the crime and should not be used to extract confessions or intimidate defendants.

Beccaria also argued that punishment should be public and administered swiftly to be effective. He believed that the certainty of punishment was more important than its severity, as criminals were less likely to commit a crime if they believed they would be caught and punished. Beccaria’s ideas were revolutionary at the time, as punishment in the 18th century was often arbitrary, cruel, and ineffective.

Beccaria’s ideas had a profound impact on the development of the criminal justice system, particularly in the United States. His work influenced the drafting of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and the development of the modern prison system. Beccaria’s emphasis on rationality, proportionality, and the importance of the individual influenced the development of classical criminology, which emphasized the study of the individual offender and their behavior.

Beccaria’s work was also influential in the development of the legal system. His ideas on the importance of the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial influenced the development of the modern legal system, particularly in the United States. Beccaria argued that the legal system should be transparent, impartial, and based on evidence rather than on the whims of judges or officials.

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Last Modified: 07/06/2021

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