Enlightenment Ideals: Kant and Beccaria on Law-Governed Peaceful Societies - Paper Example

Published: 2024-01-29
Enlightenment Ideals: Kant and Beccaria on Law-Governed Peaceful Societies - Paper Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Law Philosophy Immanuel Kant
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1744 words
15 min read

Laws are made to ensure that people live at peace by prescribing rules and associated punishment for those who break and conflict with others. However, even with the laws and related punishment, people do not have peaceful relationships in the community as most of them violate the law to serve their interests, leading to conflicts. The Enlightenment movement and its contributors such as Kant and Beccaria were of the idea that society should be and achieve law-governed and peaceful relations where people do not break the law to affect peace. Kant and Beccaria believe that the progress towards law-governed and peaceful relations is the continued adjustment of laws to serve the interest of all instead of powerful state members and selected few in public. Rules governing the community affect people differently by limiting some of the public members' rights and extending freedom to others, including the government's influential people. The negatively affected people with limited rights breaks the law and conflicts with others as they seek to express their interests. Kant and Beccaria believed that if the law allows all people to serve their interests by accommodating their natural rights, everyone will obey, leading to peaceful coexistence. This paper explores Kant and Beccaria's ideas of morality and penal codes to show their belief that constant adjustment of laws to serve public rights can lead to the achievement of Enlightenment goals.

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According to Kant, people perfectly become moral to follow the law and live at peace, Enlightenment goals, when such laws appeal to their rights. Kant argues that morality involves doing that which is practical in real life and from an objective point of view (Kant et al., 1991, 116). The argument impacts reasoning where people will act to satisfy their interests and protect their rights regardless of the outcomes. Where laws block individual rights and interests, there are high chances of breaking and conflicting with other people who defend themselves on the same rules. In reference to Kant, laws that limit public rights and interest attract neglect of duty to follow them because people need the freedom to express themselves and not serve others' interests (Kant et al., 1991, 116). Laws that are outside public rights serve others' interests, especially powerful people in the state, including judges and the king. Morality should qualify laws to ensure that people automatically follow them and leave at peace without conflict with each other. As a result, Kant understands that progress towards law-governed relations that serves all interest is the continued alignment of laws to morality, which are objectively practical rules.

In light of Kant, law-governed relations and peace are only achievable when the judgment on crimes is based on public rights since that is the way to serve both parties' interests. Kant argues that infringed rights claims carry with them the element of publicness, which allows justice to both parties in a conflict (Kant et al., 1991, 125). To Kant, the progress towards Enlightenment is increasing freedom to the public to set penal codes since they are aware of the weight of every infringed right and the equivalent punishment. Alignment of penal codes with the public rights leads to fairness because the punishment will relate to the lawbreaking action blocking other selfish goals such as deterrence. Punishment is a way of affecting other people's rights, and such actions should be to the extent that they are "compatible with their being made public" (Kant et al., 1991, 126). In Kant's argument, the application of publicness in judgment allows action on the victim to the extent that they affected other people's rights without going below or higher. Publicness facilitates the definition and determination of a punishment that is equivalent to the affected right to make both parties neutral in moral obligation as the social contract demands. Therefore, Kant's understands that progress towards the goal of Enlightenment is the alignment of penal codes with public rights to facilitate moral obligation.

People who own a country through a republican constitution are also likely to obey the laws and live in peace since they have the burden of protecting and suffering the consequences of any conflict. Kant observes that a republican constitution leads to a "…great hesitation in embarking on…" decisions that can lead to war and disputes (100). Such a republican constitution gives the public power to consent to any engagement such as war, meaning that they give in to any cost and consequences (100). The argument reveals that when people are owners of laws governing their relationships and behaviors, they are less likely to interfere with their peace. A republic constitution is made up of pure public rights, indicating that everyone suffers in case of conflict, leaving no one at advantage of the other. Such neutrality makes people lose interest in conflicting with each other. The constitution also implies that the public has all their rights provided and serving their interest leading to no need for breaking the law. People break the law when it restricts their rights and interest, meaning that when such a constitution provides sufficient natural freedom, no one will be interested in lawlessness. Thus, Kant believed that moving towards law-governed and peaceful relations would involve the continued provision of power to citizens to rule themselves through pure rights.

Beccaria is, on the other hand, is similar to Kant in arguing about the path towards enlightenment goals but from a different angle of equality of all men. According to Beccaria, a law that does not provide equal respect to all men pushes the underserved to take power in their hands in an oppressive way to get respect (27). Beccaria observes that people have mutual needs with infinite actions, and when the law cannot provide for equality in access, some will be "…falling below the common standard…" leading to despotism (27). Equality in the law can bring peace amongst society members because of the experienced respect for all. The respect which Beccaria refers to is the ability to possess items and freedom to actions where those who have it are persons of honor, which every man strives to achieve. A law that denies some men such recognition, which is their right, pushes them against the rule in attaining respect. The result is a conflict since those with honor will use the law to defend their worth as others break to achieve their worth. As a result, Beccaria argues that the community can move towards a situation where everyone follows the law without conflicts if such codes serve everyone equally.

Apart from equality, the movement towards a law that respects man is progress to a state of law-governed society. Beccaria observes that unwarranted punishment through poor or immature judgment "…causes real infamy to its victims due to the feeling of disrespect for individual rights (41). In the same way that torture impacts other people's fear of following the law, punishing an innocent person will make many became lawless (41). Beccaria ties the idea of reason and respect where no men will provide the same reverence to a law that limits their rights by torturing them or crimes which other people commit. People have the potential, out of their moral being, to reason, and through reasoning, they will know that some laws are unfair and should not be guiding their moves. Such people tend to become lawless even in other rules which appear appropriate as they fight for their respect leading to sustained conflicts. However, Beccaria observes that the punishment and justice process, which respects individuals, leads to pain that cannot purge infamy because of fairness, respect for individual rights. Therefore, Beccaria understands that society can turn to the law governing relations without apparent breaking if such codes can continuously improve to respect public members.

Beccaria also observes that rule of the people increases conformity to the laws leading to peaceful coexistence between members of the public and with the state. A free state allows the development of a contract instead of command, influencing people towards responsibility and following the law without coercion (60). Beccaria argues that a free state where people can freely serve their interests is like a family where members submit to the head "… to share in its advantages…" such as education and peace (61). Freedom towards individual interest and rights influences people to become responsible since their actions and behaviors will lead to the cost burden of peace, and lack of resources in a state, or advantages. "The evils which arise from knowledge are in inverse proportion to its diffusion…" where knowledge is understanding of the outcomes of individual freedom (105). Where people Knows the negative results of their liberty, they are less likely to use it in a way that will break their peace. A democratic nation offers liberty for people to know what their freedom means concerning peace. As a result, moving towards a peaceful and law-governed society involve providing people with more freedom in their rights that will impact responsibility towards their own life, including peace.

In conclusion, Kant and Beccaria have a standard view that people use their reasoning to follow the law or not depending on how it favors their rights and interests. Following the social contract theory, society members live in harmony where each member upholds responsibility towards the other, including respecting rights and freedom to exercise one's actions. However, where the contract favors few people, others are likely to break the law as they seek to respect and serve their interests leading to conflicts. Kant and Beccaria observe that society members do not follow the established codes leading to conflicts because such rules limit their rights and ability to serve individual interests. The laws are not based on pure public rights leading to inequality in expressing interests and enjoying freedom, especially amongst the wealthy and powerful in the government. Such discriminative law punishes the innocents on behalf of the criminals leading to infamy and limiting respect for influencing despotism. However, Kant and Beccaria observe that people can be law-abiding and leave at peace if the same laws uphold morality, allowing people to serve their interests and serving equity. Therefore, a society can move towards enlightenment goals if the state continues to upgrade its laws towards adherence to pure rights instead of serving the interests of a few.


Cesare Beccaria, M., marchese di Beccaria, C., Beccaria, C., & Davies, R. (1995). Beccaria:'On Crimes and Punishments' and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press.

Kant, I., Brinton, D. M., & Goodwin, J. M. (1991). Kant: political writings. Cambridge University Press.

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