Cesare Beccaria and his Context

Tuesday 7th February, Senior Parlour, Gonville and Caius College, 5-6:30pm

Professor Renato Pasta (University of Florence)

Supported by the DAAD Cambridge Research Hub with funds from the German Federal Foreign Office (FFO)

The Essay on Crimes and Punishments, a short book which Cesare Beccaria published anonymously in July 1764, set a new agenda for penal reform which endures to this day. By blending different and at times conflicting strands of Enlightenment thought, including utilitarianism and contractualism, the text stressed the crucial meaning of sympathy and human life in order to bring justice back to a hierarchical society based on inequality. Beccaria’s views challenged the institutional foundations of the Ancien Régime and posited a clear-cut distinction between religious sin and crime. In order to try to make sense of his legacy, this paper situates him within his Lombard intellectual and political context and outlines the diverse strands of French philosophical thought that influenced him. The paper shall also discuss some aspects of the Habsburg reformist government which fostered the Enlightenment in Milan and affected  Beccaria’s own life and career.