Romagnosi, Gian Domenico (1761–1835)

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Gian Domenico Romagnosi was born in Salsomaggiore, near Parma, and studied at the Collegio Alberoni in Piacenza. Through the teaching of Giovanni Antonio Comi, a follower of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff, Romagnosi became acquainted with the doctrines of Étienne Bonnot de Condillac and with the writings of Charles Bonnet, which had a decisive influence on him. After his graduation in 1786, he conceived his best-known work, Genesi del diritto penale (Genesis of Penal Law; completed in 1789 and published in Pavia in 1791), in which he claimed that the fundamental right to punish belongs to society. Society alone, and not the individual, can mete out "that amount of evil that is necessary to preserve the well-being of our fellow men" and can oppose the "criminal impulse" with a "moral counterimpulse."

Named mayor of Trent in 1791, Romagnosi remained in that office for ten years, during the period of the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. During this time he published, among other works, his Cosa è l'eguaglianza (What Is Equality?; Trent, 1792) and Cosa è libertà (What Is Freedom?; Trent, 1793). After a brilliant political career under the Napoleonic government, he became professor of natural and public law at Parma (1802), but after the restoration he was dismissed from his position and was arrested. The Austrian government also prevented him from accepting a post at the Ionian University at Corfu offered to him by Frederick North, Lord Guilford. Regarded as a master by Italian patriots, Romagnosi died, after a sad but active old age, in Milan. His major works, in addition to the Genesi, are considered to be the Introduzione allo studio del diritto pubblico universale (Introduction to the Study of Universal Public Law; Parma, 1805), the Assunto primo della scienza del diritto naturale (A First Thesis on the Science of Natural Law; Milan, 1820), and a series of essays on incivilimento (civilizing, or the process of civilization) in 1832.

Although he was influenced by the Enlightenment, Romagnosi remained attached to the historicism of Giambattista Vico and followed a "positive" method of research, advocating the activity of the human spirit rather than sensationalism and substituting for the abstractness of the isolated human individual the concreteness of the nation as the subject of the historical action. In epistemology he refused to reduce all cognitions to "transformed sensations," but at the same time he denied that intelligence is independent of sensitivity: In reality, "discernment" is already present in "feeling." The mind acts by means of its own "rational signs." These cannot be regarded as preexisting ideas but, rather, as manifestations of mental activity, which, along with the sensory datum, gives form to experience. By contrast, the correspondence of our prior judgments with the actual signs of things, that is, with experience, constitutes the criterion of the truth of our knowledge, which is sought and found pragmatically.

Romagnosi's civil philosophy is the most interesting part of his work: Man is real only in a historically determined societythe "collective person of the society"which is in a state of constant civilizing progress and whose characteristic traits, elements, and laws Romagnosi sought to define. Romagnosi's doctrine of incivilimento constituted a philosophy of history faithful to the concrete development of real events, in contrast with that of G. W. F. Hegel, which Romagnosi opposed as "ultrametaphysical." Society develops through the synthesis of national character (tradition) with stimulationspontaneous, free, and renewingaccording to a law of convenience, with all parts of the nation tending toward an equilibrium of force and utility through the balance of interests and powers. This dialectic of civilization is a work of art, even the highest work of art of a humanity striving for perfection.

See also Bonnet, Charles; Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de; Enlightenment; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Historicism; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Punishment; Vico, Giambattista; Wolff, Christian.


Editions of Romagnosi's works are Opere, 19 vols. in 24 (Florence, 18321837), and Opere, 8 vols. in 16 (Milan: Perelli e Mariani, 18411848; actually 18411852), both edited by Alessandro de Giorgi; Opere scelte, 3 vols. (Rome: Reale accademia d'Italia, 19361937); and Opere di G. D. Romagnosi, C. Cattaneo, G. Ferrari, edited by Enrico Sestan (Milan: Ricciardi, 1957).

Works on Romagnosi are L. G. Confalerione, G. D. Romagnosi. Notizie storiche e biografiche. Bibliografia e documenti (Carate Brianza, 1928); Achille Norsa, Il pensiero filosofico di G. D. Romagnosi (Milan, 1930); G. A. Belloni, Romagnosi, profilo storico (Milan, 1935); E. di Carlo, Bibliografia Romagnosiana (Palermo, 1936); Francesco Orestano, Giandomenico Romagnosi (Rome, 1935); Giacomo Perticone, La filosofia "civile" di G. D. Romagnosi (Florence, 1935); Alessandro Levi, Romagnosi (Rome, 1935); Lorenzo Caboara, La filosofia politica di Romagnosi (Rome: Istituto di filosofia del diritto, 1936); and Loris Ricci Garotti, "G. D. Romagnosi nella critica recente," in Società 14 (1959): 109140.

Eugenio Garin (1967)

Translated by Robert M. Connolly