Pietro Verri

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Detail of Pietro Verri monument in Milan.

Pietro Verri (12 December 1728 – 28 June 1797) was an Italian philosopher, economist, historian and writer.


Sull'indole del piacere e del dolore, 1781

Born in Milan, then under Austrian rule, to a conservative noble family, he received a strongly religious education, from which he began to rebel when he reached his twenties. He volunteered to serve in the Seven Years' War in order to escape his father's decision to register him for legal studies, but quit after a year. In his early life he translated Destouches' works (1754) and wrote satirical almanacs (Borlanda impasticciata, Gran Zoroastro and Mal di Milza) which scandalized the Milanese society. In 1761, together with his brother Alessandro, he founded a literary association, the Società dei Pugni ("Society of the Fists"), and, from 1764, published the magazine Il Caffè ("The Coffeehouse"), where some 40 articles by him on various subjects appeared and which became an important reference on Enlightenment Milan. Other figures who wrote on it include his brother Alessandro, the famous philosopher Cesare Beccaria, Alfonso Longo and Pietro Secchi. :)

In 1764 he also entered the public administration, where he distinguished for his reforming attitudes: in particular, he proposed the abolition of the exaction of taxes through intermediaries. After a documented Bilance on the Commerce of the State of Milan, in 1769 Verri published one of his most notable works, the Elementi del Commercio ("Elements of Commerce"), inspired by a wide interpretation of liberalism in commerce. This was followed by the Meditazioni sull'economia politica ("Meditations on Economic Politics", 1771), where he enunciated the laws regulating supply and demand (also in mathematical form), explained the role of money as "universal good", and supported laissez-faire in trade, arguing that balance of payments equilibrium is achieved by GDP adjustments rather than by exchange rate adjustments; as such, he was a precursor of both Adam Smith and marginalism.

As resistance against his reforming work in administration stiffened, Verri devoted himself increasingly to philosophy. In 1773 he wrote Dell'indole del piacere e del dolore ("Discourse on Pleasure and Pain"),[1][2] followed in 1777 by Osservazioni sulla tortura ("Observations on Torture"), in which he stressed the uselessness and cruelty of torture.[3][4]

In 1777 he began the Storia di Milano ("History of Milan", two volumes, 1783 and 1798), a notable example of Enlightenment historiography. The ecclesiastical reforms of Joseph II of Austria inspired him the Dialogo fra Pio VI e Giuseppe II a Vienna ("Dialogue between Pius VI and Joseph II in Vienna", 1782), followed by La Decadenza del Papa ("The Pope's Decay"), marked by his disappointment for the lack of influence of Enlightenment's ideas on the Papacy.

Joseph II's increasing despotism led Verri to abandon any position in the Austrian administration of Lombardy in 1786; ten years later, after the French invasion, he returned as member of the Milanese municipality and was one of the founders of the Cisalpine Republic. Though disapproving the Jacobin excesses, Verri however welcomed the possibility of moral and economical improvement in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which he considered influenced in turn by the Enlightenment movement.

In 1786, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Also notable is his correspondence with his brother Alessandro.

Verri died in Milan in 1797.

The younger brother of Alessandro Verri and Pietro Verri, Giovanni Verri, is supposed to be the natural father of the noted Italian novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni.[citation needed] Their other brother, Carlo, was also a politician.

Verri's death bicentennary was commemorated on an Italian postage stamp in 1997.



  1. ^ Rother, Wolfgang (2008). "Il dolore è il principio motore di tutto l’uman essere". Pietro Verri e Cesare Beccaria al di là della felicità, in Piero Giordanetti, Giambattista Gori, Maddalena Mazzocut-Mis (eds.): Il secolo dei Lumi e l’oscuro. Milano, Udine: Mimesis. pp. 71–84. ISBN 978-8-88-483789-9. 
  2. ^ Rother, Wolfgang (2012). Felicità, ragione, interesse e dovere. Aspetti della filosofia morale di Pietro Verri, in Anna Maria Rao (ed.): Felicità pubblica e felicità privata nel Settecento. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura,. pp. 93–100. ISBN 978-88-6372-461-5. 
  3. ^ Rother, Wolfgang (2014). "Folter und Todesstrafe. Cesare Beccaria und Pietro Verri im europäischen Kontext", in Frank Jung, Thomas Kroll (eds.): Italien und Europa. Die Zirkulation der Ideen im Zeitalter der Aufklärung. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink. pp. 143–59. ISBN 978-3-7705-5087-6. 
  4. ^ Rother, Wolfgang (2016). "Contractualism and Humaneness. The Philosophical Framework of Pietro Verri's and Cesare Beccaria's Arguments on Interrogational Torture and Capital Punishment". Beccaria. Revue d’histoire du droit de punir. 2: 69–89. 
  • Wolfgang Rother, Pietro Verri, in Johannes Rohbeck, Wolfgang Rother (eds.): Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, Die Philosophie des 18. Jahrhunderts, vol. 3: Italien. Schwabe, Basel 2011, pp. 273–95 (Bibliography: pp. 345–47).
  • Capra Carlo, I progressi della ragione. Vita di Pietro Verri, Il Mulino, Collezione di testi e di studi, 2002, 648 p.
  • C. Capra (a cura di), Pietro Verri e il suo tempo (Verri, La Milano dei Lumi), Bologna, Cisalpino, 1999, 1200 pages. 2 vol.
  • Baia Curionis, S., Una grande famiglia: i Verri in Franco Della Peruta (a cura di), Storia illustrata di Milano, Elio Sellino Editore, Milano, 1993.
  • Bouvy, Eugène, Le Comte Pietro Verri: 1728-1797: ses idées et son temps, [S.l.n.n.], 1889.