Credits to
Vincenzo Giglio

Criminal justice at the time of Voltaire and the case of Jean Calas

Issue 3/2021

Abstract. Two and a half centuries ago Voltaire was attracted by the judicial affair of a certain Jean Calas, an elderly and peaceful merchant, who, together with his family, was tried, convicted and put to death as a murderer of his son.
The philosopher took an interest in the Calas case, imposed it on public attention and promoted its revision, obtaining the rehabilitation of the deceased.
He then made it one of the cornerstones of his well-known Treatise on Tolerance, pointing to it as an example of justice that strays so far from man that it is no longer able to understand it.

SUMMARY: 1. Introduction. – 2. The death of Marc-Antoine Calas and the judicial affair that followed in Voltaire’s story. – 3. Brief notes on French criminal justice at the time of Voltaire. – 4. The Calas case in light of the procedural rules of the time. – 5. Some possible parallels between the justice of Voltaire’s time and ours.


To read the Reflection, click on “open file”.



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