Monday, March 5, 2012

Treasures in the Stacks: Beccaria's Essay on Crimes and Punishments

Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) was an Italian philosopher, economist and criminologist, whose great work Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crimes and Punishments) was published in 1764. The book, an incredibly influential treatise on criminal justice and penology, advances the utilitarian principle that governments should seek the greatest good for the greatest number when punishing criminal offenders. Beccaria believed that this goal could be achieved most effectively by focusing on deterrence--not retribution. He advocated for swift punishment (thus creating a strong association between the commission of a crime and the resulting punishment) and for proportionality. Any punishment beyond which was absolutely necessary was deemed tyranny by Beccaria. He ardently opposed torture and advanced early and sustained arguments in opposition to the death penalty. Voltaire contributed extensive commentaries on the work, which are included in the back of the volume.

We own several editions of Beccaria's famous work, but featured here is the first edition published in English (London 1767). The volume was donated to the collection by the late Kathryn Preyer.

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