Essay heading: Natural Law

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December 4, 1996






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BECCARIA in 1767 wrote the book called On Crimes and Punishment which made the following arguments: ? The social contractual basis of society (if you violate someone else's liberties, you violate the social contract by which we all live) ? The criminal law should have a restricted scope (it shouldn't try to legislate morality, for instance, although others, like Bentham, thought so) ? People should be presumed innocent until proven guilty (no torture) ? The law should be codified (written) with punishments prescribed in advance ? Punishment should be limited (less harsher) to only that necessary to deter people from ever committing it again (no capital punishment) ? Punishment should be severe, certain, and swift (of these, severity is the least important, certainty the next in importance, and celerity, or swiftness, is about as equal in importance as certainty) ? The criminal justice system should be organized around crime prevention As you can see, BECCARIA synthesized a lot of different ideas going around at the time, and was indeed, the first one to apply Enlightenment thoughts to the problems of crime and crime control...
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What attracts the attention of most thinkers is Beccaria's notion that punishment ought to be swift, certain, and severe (although he actually said the third one of these was proportional to the harm committed, and only later interpretations of his text turned it into "severe"). On another key point, it's important to note that the classical school wasn't all that concerned with criminals...
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