Antonio Aliotta

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Antonio Aliotta, the Italian philosopher, was born in Palermo and taught at the universities of Padua and Naples. Moving from studies in experimental psychology, La misura in psicologia sperimentale (1905), Aliotta published in 1912 a vast critical analysis of contemporary philosophy titled La reazione idealistica contro la scienza (English translation, London, 1914) in which he defended a monadological spiritualism with a theistic tendency. When the shadow of the neo-Hegelianism of Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile began to loom over Italy, Aliotta took sides with the opponents of this idealism and in his teaching and writings spread the news of other philosophical movements going on outside Italy, especially the philosophy of science, realism, and pragmatism.

From 1917 to 1936, in the mature phase of his thought, Aliotta's sympathies were above all with pragmatism, and his experimentalism suggests many points of similarity with the philosophies of William James and George Herbert Mead. Experimentation is the only means of establishing the truth of any knowledge whatever, even metaphysical and religious. By "experimentation," Aliotta does not mean simply the techniques of the laboratory but any kind of trial-and-error procedure in any field of human activity. History is a kind of grand laboratory in which people seek, through conflict, to attain more harmonious forms of life.

The success of the experiment, according to Aliotta, consists in the elimination of conflict and in the realization of a certain degree of harmony. "The quest for truth," he says in Relativismo e idealismo, "is the quest for a superior harmony of active human and non-human forces, operating in the universe of our experience." Obviously, the presupposition is that experience is not a single and continuous process, but is composed of a plurality of individual centers that meet and limit each other by stages and, through conflicts, try to realize a growing coordination. Common sense, science, and philosophy are the steps, or phases, of this coordination. The "thing" of common sense makes possible a certain degree of coordination between individual intuitions. The syntheses of science represent a superior degree of coordination, since they eliminate the disparity between the perspectives of common sense; and philosophical inquiry seeks to collect the remaining dissident elements, to correct the restricted vision of the particular sciences, and to achieve a more comprehensive view. The concept limit toward which this process tends is the coordination of all activities and their convergence to a single end, which is, in other terms, the Leibnizian monad of monads, or God.

Aliotta insists, however, on the social character, in Mead's sense, of all degrees of knowledge. He denies the absoluteness of truth and defends philosophical relativism, of which he sees implicit proof in the physics of Albert Einstein; and he holds that the measure of truth is in every case determined by the degree of coordination that is experimentally realized between the intuitions, the perspectives, and the individual points of view that constitute the rough fabric of experience.

In later writings, for example, Il sacrificio come significato del mondo (1943), Aliotta sought to extend this point of view to ethics with an inquiry into what he calls "the fundamental postulates of action." The indeterminacy of the world and its relative uniformity, the value of the human person and the transcendence of reality, and the plurality of persons and their tendency toward unity are among these postulates, but the fundamental postulate is that of the "perennial character of human-values" and of the existence of God, which guarantees this character. The spiritualistic and fideistic aspect prevails over the pragmatic and methodological aspect in this final phase of Aliotta's thought.

See also Croce, Benedetto; Gentile, Giovanni; Hegelianism; Idealism; James, William; Mead, George Herbert; Philosophy of Science, History of; Pragmatism; Realism.


works by aliotta

La misura in psicologia sperimentale. Florence, 1905.

La reazione idealistica contro la scienza. Palermo, 1912. Translated by Agnes McCaskill as The Idealistic Reaction against Science. London: Macmillan, 1914.

La guerra eterna e il dramma dell'esistenza. Naples, 1917.

Relativismo e idealismo. Naples: Perrella, 1922.

La teoria di Einstein. Palermo, 1922.

L'esperimento nella scienza, nella filosofia, e nella religione. Naples, 1936.

Opere complete (Complete works). 7 vols. Rome, 19421954.

Il sacrificio come significato del mondo. Rome, 1947.

Evoluzionismo e spiritualismo. Naples: Libreria Scientifica, 1948.

Le origini dell'irrazionalismo contemporaneo. Naples, 1950.

Pensatori tedeschi della fine dell'800. Naples: Libreria Scientifica, 1950.

works on aliotta

Carbonara, Cleto et al. Lo sperimentalismo di Antonio Aliotta. Naples, 1951. Essays on the occasion of Aliotta's 80th birthday.

Sciacca, M. F. Il secolo XX, 2nd ed., Vol. 1, 470490. Milan, 1947.

Nicola Abbagnano (1967)
Translated by Nino Langiulli