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Del Vecchio, Giorgio (1878–1970)


Giorgio Del Vecchio, the Italian legal philosopher, was born in Bologna, the son of the economist Giulio Salvatore Del Vecchio. He studied in Italy and Germany and taught in Ferrara, Sassari, Messina, Bologna, and at Rome, where he was a professor from 1920, rector of the university from 1925 to 1927, and dean of the faculty of law from 1930 to 1938. He was dismissed by the fascists in 1938 because of his Jewish background. He resumed teaching in 1944 but was dismissed again in 1945, this time as a former fascist; he taught again from 1947 to 1953. He was named professor emeritus in 1955. Del Vecchio founded the Rivista internazionale di filosofia del diritto in 1921 and was its editor; he founded the Istituto di Filosofia del Diritto of the University of Rome in 1933 and the Società Italiana di Filosofia del Diritto in 1936.

Del Vecchio was influential in turning Italian legal thought from nineteenth-century positivism. His own position has been described as neo-Kantian idealism and as humanist ethical idealism. According to Del Vecchio, the thinking subject is necessarily conscious of the other, not merely as object, but as itself a subject. Hence, mutual recognition and respect are necessary, and it is possible to deduce for the mutual relations of subjects not merely a logical form but also an ideal content of justice based on respect for personality. Law is the objective coordination of possible actions between subjects according to an ethical principle, which in its highest expression is the principle of justice. Psychologically, the idea of justice is a necessary aspect of consciousness, found in rudimentary form even among animals. Historically, the idea has been realized with varying degrees of positivity in human societies, and continual effort is needed to realize it in the changing specific conditions of life. There are instances of "involution" (regression), but history on the whole shows a progressive evolution toward the understanding and realization of justice. These main ideas, stated in Del Vecchio's early writings, were developed with a wealth of historical learning in his Lezioni di filosofia del diritto and La giustizia ; in other writings he applied them to particular problems of legal and political philosophy.

Del Vecchio, like other veterans of World War I, joined the fascist movement when it arose because he saw it as a defense against Bolshevism, and it is unjust to consider him a representative of fascist philosophy. For a time he did hope, mistakenly, that the fascist "strong state" might realize the "ethical state" that, by harmonizing individual freedoms, would enhance individual personality. Throughout the fascist period, however, Del Vecchio's fundamental teaching was unchanged; and he continued to assert the validity of natural law and to defend individual freedom against the statolatry of official fascist doctrine.

See also Continental Philosophy; Idealism; Justice; Legal Positivism; Political Philosophy, History of; Positivism.


primary works

Presupposti, concetto e principio del diritto (The formal bases of law). Translated by John Lisle. New York: Macmillan, 1921.

La giustizia, 3rd ed. Rome: Editrice Studium, 1946.

Lezioni di filosofia del diritto, 6th ed. Milan: Giuffrè, 1948.

Sui principi generali del diritto (General principles of law). Translated by Felix Forte. Boston: Boston University Press, 1956.

Studi sullo stato. Milan, 1958.

Studi su la guerra e la pace. Milan, 1959.

Contributi alla storia del pensiero giuridico e filosofico. Milan: Giuffrè, 1963.

Humanité et unité de droit. Paris, 1963.

Man and Nature; Selected Essays. Edited by Ralph A. Newman; translated by A. H. Campbell. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969.

secondary works

Orecchia, Rinaldo. Bibliografia di Giorgio Del Vecchio, 2nd ed. Bologna, 1949.

Vela, Luis. El Derecho Natural en Giorgio Del Vecchio. Rome: Libreria editrice dell'Università Gregoriana, 1965.

Vidal, Enrico. La filosofia giuridica di Giorgio Del Vecchio. Milan: Giuffrè, 1951.

A. H. Campbell (1967)

Bibliography updated by Philip Reed (2005)

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