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Cesare Beccaria was one of the greatest minds of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. His writings on criminology and economics were well ahead of their time.
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Cesare Beccaria was born on March 15, 1738, in Milan, Italy. In the early 1760s, he helped form a society called "the academy of fists," dedicated to economic, political and administrative reform. In 1764, he published his famous and influential criminology essay, "On Crimes and Punishments." In 1768, he started a career in economics, which lasted until his death on November 28, 1794, in Milan, Italy.
Criminologist and economist Cesare Beccaria was born March 15, 1738, in Milan, Italy. His father was an aristocrat born of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, but earned only a modest income.
Cesare Beccaria received his primary education at a Jesuit school in Parma, Italy. He would later describe his early education as "fanatical" and oppressive of "the development of human feelings." Despite his frustration at school, Beccaria was an excellent math student. Following his education at the Jesuit school, Beccaria attended the University of Parma, where he received a law degree in 1758.
Even in his early life, Cesare Beccaria was prone to mood swings. He tended to vacillate between fits of anger and bursts of enthusiasm, often followed by periods of depression and lethargy. He was shy in social settings, but cherished his relationships with friends and family.
In 1760 Beccaria extended his family by proposing to Teresa Blasco. Teresa was just 16 years old, and her father strongly objected to the engagement. A year later, the couple eloped. In 1762 they welcomed a baby girl, the first of the couple’s three children.
Also among those people that Beccaria held particularly dear were his friends Pietro and Alessandro Verri. In collaboration with the Verri brothers, Beccaria formed an intellectual/literary society called "the academy of fists." In line with the principles of the Enlightenment, the society was dedicated to "waging relentless war against economic disorder, bureaucratic tyranny, religious narrow-mindedness, and intellectual pedantry." Its main goal was to promote economic, political and administrative reform.
To this effect, academy members encouraged Beccaria to read French and British writings on the Enlightenment, and to take a stab at writing himself. To fulfill his friends’ assignment, Beccaria composed his first published essay, "On Remedies for the Monetary Disorders of Milan in the Year 1762."
Also spurred by his involvement in the "academy of fists" was Beccaria’s most famous and influential essay, "On Crimes and Punishments," published in 1764. "On Crimes and Punishments" is a thorough treatise exploring the topic of criminal justice. Because Beccaria’s ideas were critical of the legal system in place at the time, and were therefore likely to stir controversy, he chose to publish the essay anonymously -- for fear of government backlash.
In actuality, the treatise was extremely well-received. Catherine the Great publicly endorsed it, while thousands of miles away in the United States, founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams quoted it.
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