Cesare Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments
1. The Enlightenment as context
2. Social contract theory
4. Deterrence and prevention
*Relationship between crime rates and death penalty is a scientific method because its
been tested many times. The death penalty does not deter crime.
Critical approach would ask: why do we need the death penalty in the first place? To
separate good people from bad people.
1. Context: The Enlightenment (Critical approach)
Post-Enlightenment society—this uses the principal of human reason to the cjs.
We inherit the same values and knowledge of the enlightenment society. That is
why scholars say we are living in post-enlightenment. The enlighten is an elite
intellectual and cultural movement during 18 century Europe, and as a
movement they wanted to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform
practices in society and to advance knowledge. Interested in spreading:
democracy, liberty, and of knowledge. How did it spread? There were bloody
wars in 17 century and in 18 it stopped, so ppl had time to create art and
culture. This peace lead to prosperity, and then came optimism. There were 3
major themes out of enlightenment: progress in advances in knowledge and
science (truth was universal). Prior to the enlightenment, there was knowledge
from texts and teachings of the church, and classical texts of knowledge. Prior to
the enlightenment, if you produced any new knowledge, that knowledge was
devalued and you would be regarded with suspicion. During the enlightenment,
new knowledge was valued (new explorations). The knowledge that was valued
needed to be innovative, for the betterment of society.
History: time of peace and prosperity in 18 century Europe
Knowledge from new discoveries, inventions and explorations Immanuel Kant: What is Enlightenment? He would say the freedom to use
our own intelligence.
Freedom from tutelage—the state of constantly being tutored from
authority. When we are being tutored always, we are not being
The light of reason (reason gives us knowledge)
Reason in the 18 century:
• enlightenment and self-improvement
• Philosophy (1 type of knowledge)
• Science (2 type of knowledge)
Rhetoric and symbolism during the Enlightenment
• Science and philosophy
• cruel Light of reason vs. Darkness of passion
• Middle Ages/Dark Ages
• Spiritualism (see textbook) –depended in the belief of god, and the belief in the
devil and evil demons. Spiritualism in the middle ages were people who
committed sinful acts were criminal, this is where crime is normatively defined, on
moral grounds. Why did people commit crime? Because you were possessed by
evil demons or by the devil. There was an assumption that people would fear
God’s punishment. God was known as the judge. There were trials by battle
where the two families battle, and trial by ordeal where god will save the
innocent, but innocent women would die as would the guilty women.
• Crime = sin
• Fear of God
• Trial by ordeal
• Enlightenment as time of increasing secularization— secular cjs. Where you
don’t need to believe in god to determine whos guilty, but we need our own
human reason. He feared the catholic church because they banned his secular
Reason vs. Ignorance
Order vs. Disorder
Ignorance associated with superstition, tradition, barbaric customs, and prejudice
—when judges were ignorant, it lead to disorder and sentencing disparities.
Judges are judging on the basis of their passion, and not their reason.
E.g. Judicial discretion and sentencing disparity
Reason takes the form of consistency—reason leads to order
Solution: minimizing the judicial discretion altogether. Mandatory minimal
Humane reason vs. Cruel passion Humanitarianism—reason associated with humanitarianism. In the 18 century,
human reason was based on facts and values.
Humane punishment—rational punishment should not be severe (morally
speaking—values). If you use cruel punishment, you will brutalize your citizens.
“The countries and times most notorious for severity of punishments were
always those in which the most bloody and inhuman actions and the most
atrocious crimes were committed; for the hand of the legislator and the
assassin were directed by the same ferocity...” (excerpt p. 94/course kit p.
34) – in other words, cruel punishments do not deter crime, but may cause
violent crime because the legislator is no better than the violent criminal.
Beccaria’s model of hu