He was born in Milan, and educated in the Jesuit college at Parma. He showed a great aptitude for mathematics. The study of Montesquieu redirected his attention towards economics; and his first publication (1762) was a tract on the derangement of the currency in the Milanese states, with a proposal for its remedy. Shortly after, in conjunction with his friends the Verris, he formed a literary society, and began to publish a small journal, in imitation of the Spectator, called Il Caffe.
In 1764 he published his brief but justly celebrated treatise Dei Delitti e delle Pene ("On Crimes and Punishments"). The book's serious message is put across in a clear and animated style. It points out the grounds of the right of punishment, and from these principles deduces certain propositions as to the nature and amount of punishment which should be inflicted for any crime. Within eighteen months, the book passed through six editions. It was translated into French by André Morellet in 1766, and published with an anonymous commentary by Voltaire. An English translation appeared in 1768 and it was translated into several other languages.
Many reforms in the penal codes of the principal European nations can be traced back to Beccaria's treatise. In November 1768 he was appointed to the chair of law and economy, founded expressly for him at the Palatine college of Milan. His lectures on political economy, which are based on strict utilitarian principles, are in marked accordance with the theories of the English school of economists. They are published in the collection of Italian writers on political economy (Scrittori Classici Italiani di Economia politica, vols. xi. and xii.).
In 1771 Beccaria was made a member of the supreme economic council; and in 1791 he was appointed to the board for the reform of the judicial code, where he made a valuable contribution. He died in Milan.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.