Beccaria’s cultures

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International conference, Paris, France, 4-6 December 2014 (École Normale Supérieure, Université Paris 8, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3)
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Organizing committee: Philippe Audegean, Christian Del Vento, Pierre Musitelli, Xavier Tabet.

Honorary committee: Carlo Capra (Università degli Studi di Milano), Roger Chartier (Collège de France, Paris), Gianni Francioni (Università degli Studi di Pavia).

Scientific committee: Manuela Albertone (Università degli Studi di Torino), Pascal Bastien (Université du Québec à Montréal), Luigi Ferrajoli (Università degli Studi Roma Tre), Vincenzo Ferrone (Università degli Studi di Torino), Alessandro Fontana (École Normale Supérieure de Lyon), Jonathan Israel (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Catherine Larrère (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), Francine Markovits (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense), Annamaria Monti (Università Bocconi, Milano), Renato Pasta (Università degli Studi di Firenze), Wolfgang Rother (Universität Zürich), Jean-Paul Sermain (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3), Ann Thomson (European University Institute, Fiesole).



The aim of the conference is to look into the various “cultures” that nurtured Beccaria’s thought, and into the various “cultures” he tried to transform, enrich or question.
We’ve deliberately chosen the term “culture” for its scope and indeterminacy, as we hope to encourage open and many-sided reflections on the intellectual disciplines and on the fields of knowledge that stimulated Beccaria’s intellectual development, on the languages that structured his worldview, on the cultural and ideological traditions that shaped his ideas. We would also like to open a debate on the way Beccaria’s work, from Of Crimes and Punishments to his actions as a state official, bears witness to the ways disciplinary boundaries and areas of knowledge were constantly redefined, to the ways languages and traditions were questioned, and culture deeply renewed. The intellectual venture of the Caffé, which began in 1764, may also be food for thought and debate.
Nevertheless, we would like to define more specifically culture as any set of references, readings, problems, styles, methods, which tend to appear as a coherent and significant whole, as a shared area of debate and questioning. In that sense, an author can have numerous and shifting cultures, which sometimes overlap, according to the ways he defines the intellectual output that precedes or surrounds him.
We could then look into at least three related questions, which do not exclude other approaches or reflections:

1. Can we get a precise overview of Beccaria’s education and readings and do they form a coherent whole? What was, according to him, the role in his intellectual development of legal culture, philosophical culture, economic culture and literary culture? Did he give a central role, in his education, to Italian culture, French culture, English culture or ancient culture? How can we assess the importance and the influence on his intellectual development of mathematical culture, medical culture or theological culture? All this also raises more specific questions: what were, for Beccaria, the roles of Protestant culture, the culture of natural rights, baroque culture, materialist or “radical” culture, republican culture? These are only general examples and the list isn’t closed. In the end, our goal is to examine the coherence, the order (as a hierarchy or as an architecture), the (harmonious or tense) relationships between the different “cultures” that, according to Beccaria, determined the intellectual landscape of the time.

2. How and why did Beccaria, intentionally or not, change the dividing lines and balances of power between these various cultures? How and why did his style and references, his vocabulary or lexicon act on the various conceptions of knowledge, of its objects, methods and boundaries, as well as on the order of precedence between intellectual disciplines? For him, what was the most appropriate “culture” for the exercise of power? After Of Crimes and Punishments, did he pursue or did he alter his project? Were his later works and his role as a state official animated by the same tension (or intention)?

3. The early reception of Beccaria’s work, which closely followed the first edition of Crimes and Punishments, opens a third area of study. Franco Venturi’s work on the first translation into French and Gianni Francioni’s work on Pietro Verri’s “revision” successfully demonstrated the increasing changes in the generic contours of Beccaria’s text, as it went from hand to hand. First conceived as a satire or as a moral and philosophical pamphlet, it was gradually turned into a short treatise on criminal law. Later interpreters followed suit, appropriating the text to use it as a tool for their own problems and projects. Not only did they read and understand it in different ways, they also redefined it in different ways by associating it to a variety of “cultures”. We suggest to arbitrarily place the terminus ad quem of the “early reception” round the Congress of Vienna. How was Beccaria’s work read and understood, from the late Enlightenment to the revolutions that mark the end of the century? In which ways, according to the interests and to the cultures of its interpreters, was it received and conceived?

The conference will welcome specialists in history, law, literature and philosophy, who will jointly examine the conflicts between different cultures – and not only between diverging ideas – as well as the stylistic and disciplinary redefinitions witnessed in Beccaria’s work and its early reception.

Abstracts in English, French or Italian (300-400 words) should be submitted, together with a short CV, to Philippe Audegean (, Christian Del Vento (, Pierre Musitelli ( and Xavier Tabet ( before 15 November 2013.

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