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The Elgar Companion to Law and Economics, Second Edition

Edited by Jürgen G. Backhaus

This thoroughly updated and revised edition of a popular and authoritative reference work introduces the reader to the major concepts and leading contributors in the field of law and economics. The Companion features accessible, informative and provocative entries on all the significant issues, and breaks new ground by bringing together widely dispersed yet theoretically congruent ideas.
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Chapter 34: Cesare Beccaria (1738–94)

Francesco Parisi and Giampaolo Frezza


Francesco Parisi and Giampaolo Frezza It has now become a question of style for American authors to list Cesare Beccaria among the forerunners of the economic analysis of criminal law,1 with specific reference to the work entitled Dei delitti e delle pene (On crimes and punishments) (1764).2 Beccaria was born in Milan, Italy to a wealthy aristocratic family. He studied at a private college in Parma and graduated from the University of Pavia Law School at the age of 20. During his lifetime Beccaria held leading administrative posts in the Council of Lombardy and served as provincial magistrate, while remaining an active member of cultural circles and a proponent of legislative reform. Beccaria’s theories of social welfare In the history of economic thought, Beccaria is occasionally included among the fathers of modern utilitarianism. Scholars have debated the appropriateness of such inclusion, given the frequent use of contractarian theories in his work. Beccaria’s work shows that utilitarian theories can be built on contractarian premises, and his combined use of contrasting paradigms proves that the two perspectives can successfully coexist. According to some scholars, Beccaria utilized a hypothetical contractarian framework to justify the purely utilitarian choices of positive law. In reality, he successfully combined the utilitarian and contractarian perspectives into a single coherent framework. In this respect, contractarianism helped him avoid the paradoxes of pure utilitarianism. Additionally, Beccaria provided a powerful inspiration to Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian approach to social welfare, yet anticipating the more modern contractarian justification of...

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