Renato Treves was born in Turin on the 6th of November 1907. He attended the Liceo M. D'Azeglio and the Law School of the University of Turin, where he came into contact with, among others, Norberto Bobbio, Vittorio Foa, Alessandro Passerin d'Entreves, and where he sympathized with the group of "Giustizia e Libertà" (Justice and Freedom), embracing the principles of "social liberalism". He graduated under the mentorship of Gioele Solari with a dissertation on Henri de Saint-Simon and achieved university professorship at the University of Messina, where he was arrested for suspected anti-fascist activities and immediately released.
After transferring to the University of Urbino in 1938, as a Jew he was excluded from the competition for his chair and decided to move to Argentina. There he married Fiammetta Lattes and they had three sons (Tullio, Aldo and Anna). In Argentina Treves taught philosophy of law and sociology at the University of Tucumán. In 1947 he returned to Italy and regained the chair at the University of Parma, from where he moved immediately to the University of Milan, and started to teach again philosophy of law and sociology.
As one of the protagonists of the post-war rebirth of sociology in Italy, he actively cooperated with the Centro Nazionale di Prevenzione e Difesa Sociale (National Center for Prevention and Social Defense). Together with its secretary general Adolfo Beria d'Argentine, he coordinated, among other things, an extensive study on "The administration of justice and the transformation of Italian society", from which twelve volumes by various authors were published between 1967 and 1976. In 1962, with William M. Evan and Adam Podgórecki, he promoted the establishment of the Research Committee on Sociology of Law of the International Sociological Association. Renato Treves chaired this Committee until 1974 and became an active promoter of the sociology of law, at home and abroad, especially in Spain. In 1974, he founded "Sociologia del diritto", the Italian journal specialized in sociology of law.
He taught sociology of law in Milan until his retirement in 1983. In 1989 Renato Treves was one of the founders of the International Institute for the Sociology of Law of Oñati. He was awarded honorary degrees by the University of the Basque Country, the University Carlos III de Madrid and the Pandios of Athens. He died in Milan on the 31st of May, 1992. Renato Treves defended a relativistic and perspectivistic philosophical position, influenced by authors such as Karl Mannheim, José Ortega y Gasset, Charles Wright Mills and Hans Kelsen, introducing the latter's "Doctrine of pure law" in Italy. Opposed to dogmatism and champion of a critical perspective on science, Treves rejected any metaphysical vision of the law. He favored a methodology that results in sociology of law as an empirical science, non value-neutral but based in his case on the values of freedom and social justice.