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Ardigò, Roberto

Roberto Ardigò (rōbĕr´tō ärdēgô´), 1828–1920, Italian positivist philosopher. His early life was spent in the priesthood, from which he withdrew in dissatisfaction at the age of 43. Later he was a professor at the Univ. of Padua (1881–1909) and defended his conviction that human knowledge originated in sensation against the philosophical idealism then popular in Italy. Most of his writings were collected in Opere filosofiche (12 vol., 1882–1912); he also wrote La scienza della educazione (3d ed. 1909).

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Ardigò, Roberto (1828–1920)


Roberto Ardigò, the principal figure in Italian positivism, was born in Casteldidone in Cremona. He became a Catholic priest, but left the priesthood when, at the age of forty-three, he found it no longer compatible with his beliefs, particularly his conviction that human knowledge originates in sensationa conviction that came to him suddenly, as he recounted it, while staring at the red color of a rose (Opere, Vol. III, p. 368). From 1881 to 1909 he taught history of philosophy at the University of Padua. He spent the last years of his life defending and illustrating his fundamental ideas and debating with the prevailing idealism, which had supplanted positivism as the dominant viewpoint within and without the Italian universities during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. He died in Padua after two attempts at suicide.

The basic interests of Ardigò's positivism were not historical and social, as were Auguste Comte's, but scientific and naturalistic, like Herbert Spencer's. From Comte, Ardigò accepted the principle that facts are the only reality and that the only knowledge possible is the knowledge of facts, which consists in placing one fact in relation to others either immediately or by means of those mental formations that constitute ideas, categories, and principles. When these relations are established, the fact is "explained." Science, therefore, is the only kind of knowledge possible; and philosophy itself is a science that, like all other sciences, uses induction and does not have at its disposal privileged principles or procedures. Metaphysics, which claims to start from principles independent of facts and to use deduction, is a fictitious science. Yet philosophy is not just a "synthetic" discipline in Spencer's sense of the unifier of the general results of the individual sciences. On the one hand, it is a complex of special disciplines that is left after the natural sciences have gone their way. As such, it encompasses the disciplines that are concerned with the "phenomena of thought" and finds articulation in two spheres: psychology, which includes logic, "gnosis" (epistemology), and aesthetics; and sociology, which includes ethics, dikeika (doctrine of justice or of law), and economics. On the other hand, to philosophy belongs the field of the indistinct, which lies outside the realm of the distinct, which constitutes the object of the individual sciences (matter, for physics; life, for biology; society, for sociology; mind, for psychology, etc.). This realm of the indistinct constitutes the unique and common origin of all the realms of the distinct, and it is the object of philosophy as peratology (Opere, Vol. X, p. 10).

The indistinct in the philosophy of Ardigò had the same function as the unknowable in Spencer. Ardigò distinguished it from the unknowable in that the indistinct is not that which is not known but that which is not yet known distinctly. It is a relative concept, because the distinct that emerges from some knowledge is in its turn indistinct with respect to further knowledge insofar as it is that which produces, solicits, and explains that knowledge (Opere, Vol. II, p. 350). The indistinct-distinct relationship was, moreover, used by Ardigòin a manner analogous to the way Spencer used the homogeneous-heterogeneous relationto explain "the natural formation" of every known reality. Every natural formation, in the solar system as well as in the human spirit, is a passage from the indistinct to the distinct. This passage occurs necessarily and incessantly, regulated by a constant rhythm, that is, by an immutable order. But the distinct never exhausts the indistinct, which both underlies and transcends it; and since the distinct is the finite, then we must admit that, beyond the finite, lies the infinite as indistinct. Ardigò conceived the infinite as a progressive development without beginning or end (the analogue to Spencer's evolution), denying that such a development leads to a transcendent cause or principle (Opere, Vol. II, p. 129; Vol. III, p. 293; Vol. X, p. 519). All natural formations, including thought, which is a kind of "meteor" in the life of the universe, emerge from and return to this infinite (Opere, Vol. II, p. 189).

In the domain of psychology, Ardigò held that the I (self) and natural things are constituted by neutral elements, that is, sensations. The self and things differ, therefore, only by the nature of the synthesis, that is, by the connections that are established among the sensations. Those sensations that refer to an internal organ and have the character of continuity are associated in the "autosynthesis," or the self. Those sensations that refer to an external organ and are discontinuous are associated in the "heterosynthesis" that gives rise to things (Opere, Vol. IV, p. 529 ff.). This doctrine, propounded by Ardigò in his very first work, La psicologia come scienza positiva (Mantua, 1870), is similar to that later propounded by Ernst Mach in Die Analyse der Empfindungen (Jena, 1886).

In the moral domain Ardigò carried on a polemic against every kind of religious and rationalistic ethic. It is a fact, according to Ardigò, that humans are capable of disinterested or altruistic actions, but such actions can be explained by recourse to natural and social factors. The ideals and the prescriptive maxims that determine them derive from the reactions of society to acts that either preserve or damage itreactions that impress the individual and become fixed in his conscience as norms or moral imperatives. That which is called "conscience," therefore, is the progressive interiorization accomplished by the repeated and constant experience of the external sanctions that the antisocial act encounters in society (Opere, Vol. III, p. 425; Vol. X, p. 279).

Finally, Ardigò tried to mitigate the rigorous determinism found in all forms of positivism by giving some emphasis to the notion of chance. Chance consists in the intersecting of various causal series that, taken together, constitute the order of the universe. These intersections are unpredictable, though the events that constitute every individual series are not unpredictable. So-called human "freedom" is an effect of the plurality of the psychical series, that is, of the multiplicity of the possible combinations of various causal orderings that constitute man's psychical life (Opere, Vol. III, p. 122).

See also Comte, Auguste; Determinism and Freedom; Idealism; Mach, Ernst; Positivism.


works by ardigÒ

Opere, 12 vols. Padua, 18821912.

La scienza dell'educazione. Padua, 1893; 2nd ed., 1903. Not included in the Opere.

works on ardigÒ

Amerio, F. Ardigò. Milan, 1957. With bibliography.

Bluwstein, J. Die Weltanschauung Roberto Ardigòs. Leipzig: Eckardt, 1911.

Marchesiani, G., and A. Groppali, eds. Nel 70o anniversario di Roberto Ardigò. Turin, 1898.

Marchesiani, G. La vita e il pensiero di Roberto Ardigò. Milan, 1907.

Marchesiani, G. Lo spirito evangelico di Roberto Ardigò. Bologna, 1919.

Marchesiani, G. Roberto Ardigò, l'uomo e l'umanista. Florence, 1922.

Nicola Abbagnano (1967)

Translated by Nino F. Langiulli

Cite this article
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"Ardigò, Roberto (1828–1920)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . 22 Jun. 2017 <>.

"Ardigò, Roberto (1828–1920)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . (June 22, 2017).

"Ardigò, Roberto (1828–1920)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Retrieved June 22, 2017 from