Genovesi, Antonio (1713–1769)

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The Italian philosopher and economist Antonio Genovesi (the name was originally Genovese), was born in Castiglione, Salerno. After studying literature and rhetoric and then philosophy, he attended the lectures of the aged Giambattista Vico. In 1741 he began to teach metaphysics at the University of Naples as extraordinary professor. In 1743 he published the first volume of his Elementa Metaphysicae Mathematicum in Modum Adornata (5 vols., Naples, 17431745), for which he was accused of rationalism and atheism. In 1745 he began to teach ethics. In that year he published his Elementa Artis Logico-criticae and an important historical introduction to the Neapolitan edition of Pieter van Musschenbroek's Elementa Physicae. In the same year his Universae Christianae Theologiae Elementa was accused of heterodoxy; it was not published until after his death (Venice, 1771). Discouraged, Genovesi turned to other, less philosophical studies. He was offered the new chair of civil economy (economics), the first in Europe, by the University of Naples and began his lectures in 1754 (Delle lezioni di commercio ossia di economia civile, Naples, 17651767). The problems of practical philosophy which occupied his final years are discussed in Diceosina o sia filosofia del giusto e dell'onesto (2 vols., Naples, 17661777).

In Genovesi's judgment, modern philosophy began when Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei freed Europe from abstract and sterile inquiry. "Dialectics and metaphysics," he proclaimed, "are the Don Quixote of the Republic of Letters." According to him, it is impossible to know true reality, substance, that which "underlies" the phenomena that we can observe. (He asked, "Who lifts the skirt of nature to see that which πρχει [underlies]?") Although his thought had some similarities to George Berkeley's idealism and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's monadism, as time went on his interest turned from logic and metaphysics and was oriented toward the moral disciplines, particularly toward economics, which he considered as affecting "our present comfort and tranquility." He sought to determine in a rational system "the primary, simple, and universal laws" of economics. He arranged in a similar framework the Discorso sopra il vero fine delle lettere e delle scienze (Naples, 1753), in which he argued against all inquiries "that remain exclusively in the shadow of the school, and never transgress into the acquisition of something useful for mankind."


works by genovesi

Opere scelte. Milan, 1824.

Illuministi italiani. Vol. V: Riformatori napoletani, edited by Franco Venturi, 1330. Naples and Milan, 1962. Contains an important introduction and bibliography on Genovesi's influence in Italy.

Autobiografia, lettere e altri scritti, edited by Gennaro Savarese. Milan: Feltrinelli, 1962.

works on genovesi

Bruni, Luigino, and Robert Sugden. "Moral Canals: Trust and Social Capital in the Work of Hume, Smith and Genovesi." Economics and Philosophy 16 (1) (2000): 2145.

Garin, Eugenio. La filosofia italiana, Vol. II. 392402. Milan, 1947.

Gentile, Giovanni. Storia della filosofia italiana, Vol. I: Dal Genovesi al Galluppi, 2nd ed., 123. Milan: Fratelli Treves, 1930.

Robertson, John. "Antonio Genovesi: The Neapolitan Enlightenment and Political Economy." History of Political Thought 8 (1987): 336344.

Villari, Lucio. Il pensiero economico di Antonio Genovesi. Florence, 1959. Contains an excellent bibliography.

Zambelli, Paola. "Antonio Genovesi and Eighteenth-Century Empiricism in Italy." Journal of the History of Philosophy 16 (1978): 195208.

Eugenio Garin (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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Antonio Genovesi

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