1764: Essayon Crimes and Punishment

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But the operation of punishment soon put a stop to this impolitic boldness. Italy and France were polluted with the blood of those martyrs to the freedom of thought. All sects, all governments, every species of authority, inimical as they were to each other in every point else, seemed to be of accord in granting no quarter to the exercise of reason. It was necessary to cover it with a veil, which, hiding it from the observation of tyrants might still permit it to be seen by the eye of philosophy.

This free-thinking assumed afterwards superior courage; and, while in the schools the philosophy of Aristotle, imperfectly understood, had been employed to improve the subtleties of theology, and render ingenious what would naturally have borne the features of absurdity, some men of learning established upon his true doctrine a system destructive of every religious idea, in which the human soul was considered only as a faculty that vanished with life, and in which no other providence, no other ruler of the world was admitted than the necessary laws of nature. This system was combated by the Platonists, whose sentiments, resembling what has since been called by the name of deism, were more terrifying still to sacerdotal orthodoxy.

Accordingly the most timid caution was observed respecting this secret doctrine, which had never failed of numerous adherents. It had particularly been propagated among the heads of governments, as well as among those of the church; and, about the period of the reformation, the principles of religious Machiavelism became the only creed of princes, of ministers, and of pontiffs. These opinions had even corrupted philosophy. What code of morals indeed was to be expected from a system of which one of the principles is, that it is necessary to support the morality of the people by false pretences; that men of enlightened minds have a right to deceive them, provided they impose only useful truths, and to retain them in chains from which they have themselves contrived to escape?

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There remains only a third picture to form,—that of our hopes, or the progress reserved for future generations, which the constancy of the laws of nature seems to secure to mankind. And here it will be necessary to shew by what steps this progress, which at present may appear chimerical, is gradually to be rendered possible, and even easy; how truth, in spite of the transient success of prejudices, and the support they receive from the corruption of governments or of the people, must in the end obtain a durable triumph; by what ties nature has indissolubly united the advancement of knowledge with the progress of liberty, virtue, and respect for the natural rights of man; how these blessings, the only real ones, though so frequently seen apart as to be thought incompatible, must necessarily amalgamate and become inseparable, the moment knowledge shall have arrived at a certain pitch in a great number of nations at once, the moment it shall have penetrated the whole mass of a great people, whose language shall have become universal, and whose commercial intercourse shall embrace the whole extent of the globe. This union having once taken place in the whole enlightened class of men, this class will be considered as the friends of human kind, exerting themselves in concert to advance the improvement and happiness of the species.

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Those operations of the mind that lead to or retain us in error, from the subtle paralogism, by which the most penetrating mind may be deceived, to the mad reveries of enthusiasts, belong equally, with that just mode of reasoning that conducts us to truth, to the theory of the development of our individual faculties; and for the same reason, the manner in which general errors are introduced, propagated, trasmitted, and rendered permanent among nations, forms a part of the picture of the progress of the human mind. Like truths which improve and enlighten it, they are the consequence of its activity, and of the disproportion that always exists between what it actually knows, what it has the desire to know, and what it conceives there is a necessity of acquiring.

Cesare Beccaria: Of Crimes and Punishments

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We may show what obstacles, more or less powerful, these vices of education, those religious and contradictory creeds, that influence of the different forms of government, opposed to the progress of the human mind. It will be seen that this progress was by so much the slower and unequal, in proportion as the objects of speculative enquiry intimately affected the state of politics and religion; that philosophy, in its most general sense, as well as metaphysics, the truths of which were in direct hostility to every kind of superstition, were more obstinately retarded than political enquiry itself, the improvement of which was only dangerous to the authority of kings and aristocratic assemblies; and that the same observation will equally apply to the science of material nature.

Cesare Beccaria: - Constitution Society

The habit of writing only in Latin upon the sciences, philosophy, jurisprudence, and even history, with a few exceptions, gradually yielded to the practice of employing the common language of the respective country. And here we may examine what influence upon the progress of the human mind was produced by this change, which rendered the sciences more popular, but diminished the facility with which the learned were able to follow them in their route; which caused a book to be read by more individuals of inferior information in a particular country, but by fewer enlightened minds through Europe in general; which superseded the necessity of learning Latin in a great number of men desirous of instruction, without having the leisure or the means of sounding the depths of erudition, but at the same time obliged the philosopher to consume more time in acquiring a knowledge of different languages.

"The first prominent European to call for an end to the death penalty, Beccaria is considered the founder of the modern abolition movement..

This also was the period auspicious to the birth of that spirit of criticism which alone can render erudition truly productive. It was still necessary to examine what had been done by the ancients; but men were aware that, however they might admire, they were entitled to judge them. Reason, which sometimes supported itself upon authority, and against which authority had been so frequently employed, was desirous of appreciating the value of the assistance she might derive therefrom, as well as the motive of the sacrifice that was demanded of her. Those who assumed authority for the basis of their opinions, and the guide of their conduct, felt how important it was that they should be sure of the strength of their arms, and not expose themselves to the danger of having them broken to pieces upon the first attack of reason.

As far back as the Ancient Laws of China, the death penalty has been established as a punishment for crimes

The law of the descent of bodies was discovered by Galileo, from which he had the ingenuity to deduce the theory of motion uniformly accelerated, and to calculate the curve described by a body impelled into the air with a given velocity, and animated by a force constantly acting upon it in parallel directions.

Foucault salutes great reformers like Beccaria, but reform needs to be situated within a process by which crimes became less violent and punishments less intense.

In the same manner the sources of inequality and counteraction, which operate respecting the very same science in different countries, are also the joint effect of political and natural causes. We may enquire, in this inequality, what it is that is to be ascribed to the different modes of religion, to the form of government, to the wealth of any nation, to its political importance, to its personal character, to its geographical situation, to the events and vicissitudes it has experienced, in fine, to the accident which has produced in the midst of it any of those extraordinary men, whose influence, while it extends over the whole human race, exercises itself with a double energy in a more restrained sphere.