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Croce, Benedetto

Croce, Benedetto

WORKS BY CROCE

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Benedetto Croce (1866–1952) was a writer with an unusually wide-ranging mind who dominated Italian intellectual life from the eve of World War i to the middle of the twentieth century. His more than sixty volumes embrace history, literary criticism, political polemic, and formal philosophy, particularly ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of history. It is in this last capacity that he is of concern to social scientists. As a philosopher of history, Croce, while continuing the idealist tradition of Droysen and Dilthey, eliminated a number of the problems that perplexed his German predecessors and contemporaries: he made a radical separation between science (including social science) on the one hand—dismissing it as arbitrary and “practical” in its aim—and the realm of history and philosophy on the other. But rather than impose philosophy on history, as Hegel had done, Croce included philosophy within history, as the methodology of history. He asserted that this philosophical type of history is supreme among intellectual disciplines and that the “truth” of history lies in the logic applied by the historian himself and in his skill in reconstituting in his own mind the thoughts and actions of past generations.

Born of Neapolitan parents, Croce chose to spend virtually his entire life in Naples. His substantial independent means freed him from the necessity of a university career, and he remained a private scholar, largely self-taught and supremely confident in his chosen role as the thinker who would “de-provincialize” Italian intellectual life and bring it into the mainstream of European thought. The most urgent task, he believed, was to combat the vulgarized positivism which pervaded Italian writing and teaching in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and to re-establish the concept of the “spirit” in human affairs. Starting his career as an antiquarian-scholar of his beloved Naples, Croce naturally encountered the writings of his fellow Neapolitan Giovanni Battista Vico, who became his most influential intellectual guide (but as the founder of history philosophically understood, rather than as a schematizer of the past—something with which Croce had little patience). After a brief encounter with Marxism at the turn of the century, and after a more sustained interest in Hegel (although he never became more than a qualified Hegelian), Croce, just before World War i, put together the four systematic volumes of his Filosofia come scienza dello spirito (1902–1917; “Philosophy of the Spirit”), on which his reputation primarily rests. These volumes deal respectively with aesthetics, logic, economics and ethics, and historiography.

The latter part of Croce’s life brought him into closer touch with public events and partisan politics. Appointed a senator of the realm in 1910 and having served from 1920 to 1921 as minister of public instruction, Croce ranked from the mid-19208 onward as the chief intellectual opponent of Mussolini’s fascist regime. Concomitantly, in his writings he began to concern himself with the question of value judgments, which he had earlier neglected, most notably in four substantial volumes of history published between 1925 and 1932 and in his last major philosophical work, History as the Story of Liberty (1938). In these books he argued that the vita morale (”ethical life”) is the central thread of history and that, consequently, history, as “the story of liberty,” is necessarily liberal in character. With the fall of Mussolini in 1943 Croce emerged as Italy’s leading citizen. Too old, however, to give a clear direction to the course of events, he was able to participate only in the first postfascist governments, retiring from active politics shortly after the end of World War ii.

Croce’s influence on subsequent generations of historians and philosophers of history has been widely ramifying, although his reputation in the English-speaking world has suffered from the fact that his chief interpreter, R. G. Collingwood, pushed his teaching to extreme conclusions. Certainly Croce ranks as the single most important member of the twentieth-century idealist school. Some of the difficulties his theory presents are characteristic of most idealist argumentation—a tendency to denigrate science, both natural and social, and to give no clear account of the processes the historian follows in arriving at historical understanding. (In this connection, it is important to note that Croce was largely ignorant of the twentieth-century philosophy of science and that he paid only scant attention to the work of such leading contemporaries as Freud and Max Weber.)

Other difficulties are peculiarly Croce’s. His most celebrated dictum that “every true history is contemporary history” has proved most illuminating in showing how contemporary relevance lifts historical writing above mere antiquarianism. But his approach has raised two crucial problems. First, Croce’s concern with values and with what he called ethico-political history led him, in the later part of his life, to stress the abstractions of “reason” and “liberty” as against that understanding of the past in its own terms which had been central to traditional idealist historiography. Nor did Croce ever satisfactorily explain whether he considered these values absolute or relative. Second, although Croce’s work was more consistently rationalistic than that of most idealists (with the significant exception of Hegel), he offered no more than a metaphorical validation (for example, a “lightning-flash” of understanding) for the truth of a given historical interpretation. The paradoxical result is that what started as a rationalist theory terminated in an “act of faith.”

H. Stuart Hughes

[For the context of Croce’s work, seeHistory, article onthe philosophy of history; and the biographies ofDilthey; Hegel; Vico.]

WORKS BY CROCE

(1902–1917) 1954–1958 Filosofia come scienza dello spirito. 4 vols. Bari (Italy): Laterza. → Volume 1: Estetica come scienza dell’ espressione e linguistica generale, (1902) 1958. Volume 2: Logica come scienza del concetto puro, (1905) 1958. Volume 3: Filosofia delta practica: Economica ed etica, (1908) 1957. Volume 4: Teoria e storia della storiografia, (1917) 1954.

(1905) 1917 Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept. London: Macmillan. → A translation of Volume 2 of Croce 1902–1917.

(1917) 1960 History: Its Theory and Practice. New York: Russell. → A translation of Volume 4 of Croce 1902–1917.

(1938) 1962 History as the Story of Liberty. London: Allen & Unwin.→ First published as La storia come pensiero e come azione.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Caponigri, A. Robert 1955 History and Liberty: The Historical Writings of Benedetto Croce. London: Routledge.

Corsi, Mario 1951 Le origini del pensiero di Benedetto Croce. Florence (Italy): La Nuova Italia.

Flora, Francesco (editor) 1953 Benedetto Croce. Milan (Italy): Malfasi.

Hughes, H. Stuart 1958 Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890–1930. New York: Knopf.

Nicolini, Fausto 1962 Benedetto Croce. Turin (Italy): Unione Tipografico.

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Benedetto Croce

Benedetto Croce

The Italian philosopher, critic, and educator Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) dominated Italian intellectual life in the first half of the 20th century. His many critical and philosophical writings brought Italian letters well into the mainstream of European thought.

Born to a prosperous middle-class family, at the age of 9 Benedetto Croce began a rigorous Catholic education in Naples. When his parents and sister were killed in an earthquake in 1883, Croce went to Rome. While he never completed his law degree at the University of Rome, he reacted enthusiastically to the lectures on moral philosophy by Professor Antonio Labriola. Returning to Naples in 1886, Croce began a period of dedicated research, enriched by journeys to Spain, England, Germany, and France. Although his early works were largely historical, Croce transcended Positivistic scholarship and soon began inquiry into the nature of art and history and their relationship. He pursued this path relentlessly after his close study of G. W. F. Hegel and Giambattista Vico. With Labriola's encouragement, Croce briefly (1895-1899) cultivated Marxism but refuted this doctrine in Historical Materialism and Marxist Economics (1900).

A long and fruitful collaboration with the philosopher Giovanni Gentile began in 1896. Working with Gentile, Croce edited Classics of World Philosophy, Writers of Italy, and The Library of Modern Culture. In 1903 Croce founded the bimonthly La critica, an international cultural review. For his contributions to Italian letters, in 1910 Croce was made a life member of the Italian Senate. Later, as minister of education (1920-1921), he conceived educational reforms implemented by Gentile, who subsequently occupied that office.

Croce's opposition to fascism, however, severed his association with Gentile. Through his "Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals" (1925), his denunciation of the Lateran Pact (1929), and his open criticism of Mussolini, Croce became the symbol of Italian intellectual freedom. After the fall of fascist Italy, he was a liaison between the Allies and the Italian monarchy but declined public office. In 1947 Croce established the Italian Institute for Historical Studies, to which he donated a large part of his house and extensive library.

His Thought

The essence of Croce's thought may be found in his four-part Filosofia dello spirito (1902-1917; Philosophy of the Spirit), amplified and clarified in many subsequent writings. For Croce, philosophy is the science of the mind, or spirit, wherein all reality resides. The mind's activity takes two distinct, interrelated but not opposite forms, the theoretical and the practical (or cognition and volition). The former perceives and understands reality, the latter creates and changes it. Within the sphere of theory, Croce distinguishes between intuition and logical thought. Similarly, in the realm of the practical, he separates the particular (utilitarian or economic) from the universal (ethical). These four interrelated divisions, none of which has primacy over the others, give rise to man's spiritual activities, which Croce treats in the four volumes of the Filosofia: Aesthetics, Logic, Philosophy of Conduct (Economics and Ethics), and Theory and History of Historiography.

In Aesthetics Croce declared that art is intuition. Realizing that intuition requires communication through language, he later spoke of "lyrical intuition" as creatively expressed impression. Still pursuing the theme in La poesia (1936), Croce distinguished between poetry ("achieved expression") and literature (which bears an external resemblance to poetry but fulfills another function).

As spokesman for an antimystical and antiutopian humanism which maintains that the goal of philosophy is an understanding of the course of human events, Croce has been criticized for not accepting an all-embracing belief, such as Catholicism or communism. He held, however, that there exists no final system or any eternally valid philosophy. Instead, Croce espoused "Historicism," a term by which he characterized the inherently evolutionary nature of his thought.

Further Reading

In general, the most reliable translations of Croce's work are by Arthur Livingston and R. G. Collingwood. For a capsule portrait of Croce see Cecil J. S. Sprigge, Benedetto Croce: Man and Thinker (1952). A more complete study is Gian N. G. Orsini, Benedetto Croce: Philosopher of Art and Literary Critic (1961). There is a chapter on Croce in William Kurtz Wimsatt, Jr., and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History (1957). Henry Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890-1930 (1958), includes a discussion of Croce.

Additional Sources

Caserta, Ernesto G., Studi crociani negli Stati Uniti: bibliografia critica (1964-1984), Napoli: Loffredo, 1988.

Croce, Benedetto, Carteggio, s.l.: Bibliopolis, 1976.

Ocone, Corrado, Bibliografia ragionata degli scritti su Benedetto Croce, Napoli: Edizioni scientifiche italiane, 1993. □

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Croce, Benedetto

Benedetto Croce (bānādĕt´tō krô´chā), 1866–1952, Italian philosopher, historian, and critic. He lived mostly in Naples, devoting himself to studying and writing. He founded and edited (1903–44) Critica, a review of literature, history, and philosophy, which in 1944 became Quaderni della critica. Croce was made a senator in 1910 and was minister of education (1920–21). A staunch opponent of Fascism, he lived in retirement until 1943, when he became a leader of the Liberal party. Croce's system of philosophy is related to the idealistic school in that spirit, monistic in manifestation, constitutes the only reality. In his works on aesthetics Croce held that an artist's mental images, communicated by physical artifacts, constitute works of art. Viewing history as an interpretation of the past, he argued that history is not only a form of thought but the culmination of philosophy. The general title of the work presenting his system is Philosophy of the Spirit (1902–17; tr. 1909–21), which is divided into four parts, Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic, Logic as the Science of Pure Concept, Philosophy of the Practical, and History: Its Theory and Practice. Among his other works are A History of Italy, 1871–1915 (1927; tr. 1929) and History as the Story of Liberty (1938; tr. 1941).

See his essays My Philosophy (tr. 1949); M. E. Moss, Benedetto Croce Reconsidered (1987); D. Roberts, Benedetto Croce and the Uses of Historicism (1987).

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Croce, Benedetto

Croce, Benedetto (1866–1952) Italian idealist philosopher and politician. He was a senator (1910–20) and minister of education (1920–21). When Mussolini came to power, Croce retired from politics in protest against fascism, and wrote the idealistic Philosophy of the Spirit (1902–17). He re-entered politics following the fall of Mussolini in 1943. As leader of the Liberal Party, he played a prominent role in resurrecting Italy's democratic institutions.

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