Cesare Beccaria

Cesare Beccaria (Photo credit: Alessandro Volta)

First thoughts on Beccaria: his method, his values, his aims. Also, how might Beccaria compare with Voltaire in his critical viewpoint on the use and abuse of authority?

Beccaria is very deliberate in his approach to analysis. He views the law as a tool for preventing violence and suffering, rather than a tool for punishment. He defines laws as “the terms under which independent and isolated men come together in society” (Williams 442). Rather than advocating for extreme individualism, he argues for some restrictions on freedom for the good of society as a whole. Beccaria views individuals outside of society as men who are “wearied by living in an unending state of war” whose freedom is made useless because there is “uncertainty of retaining it” (Williams 442). According to him, men sacrifice a certain degree of freedom in order to live in the sovereign of the nation and “the sovereign is the legitimate repository and administrator of these freedoms” (Williams 442).

Unlike Beccaria, Voltaire is much more individualist in his approach to society. He looks first to the individual and then to society. He analyzes and classifies man according to categories, beginning first with the individual (human nature) and then using those judgments to judge society (Williams 188-189). Accordingly, he process of induction creates a negative (though, some would call realistic) view of humanity: “one country cannot win without another losing, and it cannot conquer without making some people unhappy” (Williams 180). According to Voltaire, the rich prefer an aristocratic system of government, the poor prefer a democracy, and the kings prefer a monarchy.

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