Cattaneo, Carlo (1801–1869)

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Carlo Cattaneo is possibly the most interesting Italian philosopher of the nineteenth century, and was a distinguished scholar in history, economics, linguistics, and geography. Born in Milan, he received a law degree from the University of Pavia, where for some years afterward he taught Latin and the humanities. In 1839 he founded the journal Il Politecnico, which he described as "a monthly repertory of studies applied to culture and social prosperity." Cattaneo led the 1848 Milanese insurrection against Austrian rule, the story of which he related in a masterly booklet, L'insurrezione di Milano nel 1848 (in Scritti storici e geografici, Vol. IV, Florence, 1957; first published in French in Paris, 1848). When the first Italian war of independence ended in failure, in 1849, Cattaneo went into exile, first in Paris and then in Lugano, Switzerland, where for several years he taught philosophy in the local lyceum. Although he was appointed a deputy to the Italian parliament in 1860, he refused to enter the parliament house in order not to have to swear allegiance to the king. He continued to spend most of his time at Lugano, where he edited a new series of Il Politecnico from 1860 to 1863, the first series having been suspended in 1844.

The main influence on Cattaneo was the Lombard Enlightenment philosophy espoused by his teacher G. D. Romagnosi, which was interested in scientific inquiry as related to the well-being of society and concerned with progressive governmentfacets visible in the work of Alessandro Volta and Cesare Beccaria. Cattaneo blended this inheritance with reflection on his own research in fields other than philosophy but generally disregarded philosophical tradition. He developed an original though unsystematic body of ideas that can best be described as an empirical, scientifically minded phenomenology of history or a nonidealistic historicism. The contemporary reader may catch a Marxian ring or occasionally find a resemblance to such thinkers as Wilhelm Dilthey, G. H. Mead, and John Dewey.

For Cattaneo the philosopher's task consists in clarifying objective current historical problems rather than subjective difficulties. There is no single problem to be made the center of systematic speculation, nor any logical or genetic "first truth" on which the chain of deductive reasoning may be hung. There is instead a plurality, itself subject to change, of well-determined and interrelated problems. There are no final solutions to problems, but only a body of perfectible solutions, which are discovered not by absolute reason but by general human reasonableness. Logic is the theory of scientific research; in philosophy, too, the experimental method, which unites men, must supersede metaphysics, whose continuous veerings divided men.

We know in order to act. The aim of all intellectual endeavor is to change the face of Earth for the good of humankind: Both nature and society must be "transformed" by man-invented techniques. Insofar as he brings about a knowledge that is public and beneficial, the philosopher is "a craftsman" who works "for the common people""we are all workmen if we supply something useful to mankind." To such philosophy Cattaneo contrasted "the philosophy of the schools," whose "ontological hammer" generated "a hidden, priestly wisdom scorning the common people," drawing on "fantastic hypotheses and imaginary intuitions," and "consuming itself in the repetition of empty formulae"with the result of "throwing wide-open an immeasurable gap between doctrine and fact about man." In saying such things Cattaneo had in mind particularly Antonio Rosmini-Serbati, who was then trying to reconcile philosophical Catholicism with the subjectivism of modern philosophy.

For Cattaneo thought is social action, and it must be studied in the various human activities. There is no essence of thought to be reached directly. To become acquainted with his own nature, man must not recede into himself but rather must go out into the world to collect information. A complete science of thought amounts to knowledge of all that mankind has produced. By "mankind" Cattaneo meant empirical men in their finite world; while professing to be a follower of Giambattista Vico (who was at the time almost unknown), he was highly critical of Vico's oversimplified principles of interpretation, especially of the notion of historical cycles ("Su la Scienza nova del Vico," 1839; "Considerazioni sul principio della filosofia," 1844).

Cattaneo intended the phenomenology of history to overcome in a new way the traditional opposition of appearance and reality. What appears to us is what there isall the reality we can or must cope withand we cannot reach it outside the social development of humankind (see especially "Un invito alli amatori della filosofia," 1857). This must be construed methodologically, according to what Cattaneo labeled the "psychology of associated minds." The "solitude of the new-born in front of things " is a philosophical myth. "Even sensation is from the beginnings a social fact," and "whatever idea one comes to conceive is never the operation of a solitary mind but rather of several associated minds." (Psicologia delle menti associate, 18591863, unpublished; quotations taken from Scritti filosofici, Vol. II, p. 14; Vol. I, p. 448; Vol. II, p. 16). To help us understand the varieties of human history, a social psychology supported by scientific method must replace individual psychology as connected with that "lobby of theology" which was "[René] Descartes' solitude of consciousness."

See also Beccaria, Cesare Bonesana; Descartes, René; Dewey, John; Dilthey, Wilhelm; Historicism; Mead, George Herbert; Romagnosi, Gian Domenico; Vico, Giambattista.


additional works by cattaneo

In addition to the essays mentioned in the article, Cattaneo's main philosophical work consists of studies on Romagnosi, Tommaso Campanella, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and others, the forewords to the annual volumes of Il Politecnico, and the lectures (Lezioni ) delivered at the Lugano Lyceum on cosmology, psychology, ideology (see the pages on categories and language), logic, and law and morals. Students of Cattaneo's philosophy, however, should take into account also many of his writings in other fields.

There are several anthologies of Cattaneo's papers, especially the philosophical ones, the best being those edited by Gaetano Salvemini (Milan, 1922) and Franco Alessio (Florence, 1957). A complete edition of Cattaneo's works, divided into five sections according to subject matter, appeared in 1956 in Florence; the philosophical section, edited by N. Bobbio, comprises three volumes.

works on cattaneo

On Cattaneo's life, see the Salvemini introduction. On his historical position, see Mario Fubini, Il romanticismo italiano (Bari: Laterza, 1953), passim. On his thought, see the introductions by Alessio and Bobbio, and also Bruno Brunello, Cattaneo (Turin, 1925); Alessandro Levi, Il positivismo politico di Carlo Cattaneo (Bari: G. Laterza & figli, 1928); and Luigi Ambrosoli, La formazione di Carlo Cattaneo (Milan: R. Ricciardi, 1959).

other recommended works

Scritti filosofici. Edited by Afredo Saloni. Bari: Editori Laterza, 1965.

I problemi dello Stato italiano. Milano: Mondadori, 1966.

Tutte le opere. Edited by Luigi Ambrosoli. Milan: A. Mondadori, 1967.

Scritti letterari, artistici, linguistici e vari. Edited by Agostino Bertani. Firenze, Le Monnier, 1968.

Scritti scientifici e tecnini. Edited by Carlo G. Lacaita. Firenze: Giunti, G. Barbèra, 1969.

Carlo Cattaneo nel primo centenario della morte. Edited by Adriano Soldini. Bellinzona: Dipartimento della pubblica educazione, 1970.

Carlo Cattaneo. (Studio. Con un'appendice di scritti inediti o dimenticati di C. Cattaneo.) Edited by Biancamaria Frabotta. Lugano: Fondazione Ticino nostro, 1971.

Una filosofia militante. Studi su Carlo Cattaneo. Edited by Norberto Bobbio. Torino: G. Einaudi, 1971.

Opere scelte. Edited by Delia Castelnuovo Frigessi. Torino: G. Einaudi, 1972.

L'uomo e la storia. Storiografia, filosofia della storia, antropologia. Edited by Ferruccio Focher. Milano: Mursia, 1973.

L'opera e l'eredità di Carlo Cattaneo. Edited by Carlo G. Lacaita. Bologna: Il mulino, 19751976.

Introduzione a Cattaneo. Edited by Umberto Puccio. Torino: G. Einaudi, 1977.

Antologia degli scritti politici. Edited by Giuseppe Galasso. Bologna: Il mulino, 1978.

Elementi di teoria della propagazione ondosa. Edited by S. Pluchino. Bologna: Pitagora, 1981.

Indice dell'edizione nazionale delle opere di Carlo Cattaneo. Edited by Pietro Esposito. Firenze: Le Monnier, 1995.

Filosofia civile e federalismo nel pensiero di Carlo Cattaneo. Scandicci (Firenze): Nuova Italia, 1996.

La linea lombarda del federalismo. Roma: Gangemi: Fondazione nuovo millennio, 1999.

Del pensiero come principio d'economia publica = Intelligence as principle of public economy. Milano: Libri Scheiwiller, 2001.

Carteggi di Carlo Cattaneo. Serie I, Lettere di Cattaneo. Firenze: Felice Le Monnier; Bellinzona: Edizioni Casagrande, 2001.

Carteggi di Carlo Cattaneo. Serie II, Lettere dei corrispondenti. Firenze: Felice Le Monnier; Bellinzona: Edizioni Casagrande, 2001.

La scienza nuova dell'umanità: scritti vichiani 18361861. Edited by Giuseppe Cospito. Genova, 2002.

Ferruccio Rossi-Landi (1967)

Bibliography updated by Michael J. Farmer (2005)