Ferri, Luigi (1826–1895)

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Luigi Ferri, the Italian epistemologist and historian of philosophy, was born in Bologna. He studied at Paris and was professor of the history of philosophy at Florence and at Rome. A self-styled disciple of Terenzio Mamiani, Ferri contributed to Mamiani's journal, La filosofia delle scuole italiana, and continued editing the journal, under the title Rivista italiana di filosofia, from the death of Mamiani in 1885 until his own death in Rome in 1895.

Ferri's philosophizing moved within the framework of Italian ontologism, which saw in man the capacity for a direct and "intuitive" relationship with the Absolute (Being or God), but his interest focused principally on the psychological conditions in which this relationship takes shape. His investigations, therefore, had as their object man's interior experience, the "inner (or intimate) sense" of which Maine de Biran spoke. To the latter Ferri owed his basic inspirations. Reproving associationist psychology for reducing the spirit, or self, to an associative mechanism that takes no account of the activity of consciousness, Ferri tried to bring to light the function of this activity. He saw this activity as a kind of force or energy that "by making itself its own object, determines its modes according to rules proper to itself, proposes goals, directs and oversees its own work, and frees itself finally from the influence of sensation and emotive impressions so as to find truth with the intellect and to reproduce in itself, with ideas and the evidence of experience, the world of phenomena."

Ferri used the term dynamism to refer to the conception that the substance of both the physical and the spiritual worlds is energy and that in both of these worlds energy is regulated by the same laws of conservation. Thus there is a "permanence in the quantity, quality, and relationships of the spiritual world" just as there is a permanence in the amount of matter and energy. Ferri also held that only the energy regulating the spiritual world is known or immediately given to man in the act of consciousness; the actions of energy operating in the external world are known to man only indirectly, that is, by the effects they have upon this act through sense perception. The unity of the universal energy is, however, the sole theme of metaphysics.

See also Absolute, The; Energy; History and Historiography of Philosophy; Italian Philosophy; Maine de Biran; Ontology.


works by ferri

Essai sur l'histoire de la philosophie en Italie au dix-neuvième siècle, 2 vols. Paris, 1869. Traces the development of Italian philosophy from the sensationalism of the eighteenth century to the ontologism or idealism of the nineteenth, represented by Rosmini, Gioberti, and Mamiani.

La psicologia di Pietro Pomponazzi. Rome, 1877. Contains a previously unpublished commentary by Pomponazzi on Aristotle's De Anima.

La psychologie de l'association depuis Hobbes jusqu'à nos jours, histoire et critique. Paris, 1883.

In the Atti dell'Academia dei Lincei, of which Ferri was a member: Analisi del concetto di sostanza e sue relazione con i concetti di essenza, di causa, e di forza; contributo al dinamismo filosofico (1885); Il fenomeno sensibile e la percezione esteriore ossia i fondamenti del realismo (1886); Dell'idea del vero e sue relazione con l'idea dell'essere (1887); Dell'idea dell'essere (1888).

works on ferri

Barzellotti, G. "Luigi Ferri." Nuova Antologia (1895).

Gentile, G. Le origini della filosofia contemporanea in Italia, Vol. 1, pp. 215233. Messina, 1917.

Nicola Abbagnano (1967)

Translated by Nino Langiulli