Croce, Benedetto

views updated May 17 2018

Croce, Benedetto



Benedetto Croce (1866–1952) was a writer with an unusually wide-ranging mind who dominated Italian intellectual life from the eve of World War i to the middle of the twentieth century. His more than sixty volumes embrace history, literary criticism, political polemic, and formal philosophy, particularly ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of history. It is in this last capacity that he is of concern to social scientists. As a philosopher of history, Croce, while continuing the idealist tradition of Droysen and Dilthey, eliminated a number of the problems that perplexed his German predecessors and contemporaries: he made a radical separation between science (including social science) on the one hand—dismissing it as arbitrary and “practical” in its aim—and the realm of history and philosophy on the other. But rather than impose philosophy on history, as Hegel had done, Croce included philosophy within history, as the methodology of history. He asserted that this philosophical type of history is supreme among intellectual disciplines and that the “truth” of history lies in the logic applied by the historian himself and in his skill in reconstituting in his own mind the thoughts and actions of past generations.

Born of Neapolitan parents, Croce chose to spend virtually his entire life in Naples. His substantial independent means freed him from the necessity of a university career, and he remained a private scholar, largely self-taught and supremely confident in his chosen role as the thinker who would “de-provincialize” Italian intellectual life and bring it into the mainstream of European thought. The most urgent task, he believed, was to combat the vulgarized positivism which pervaded Italian writing and teaching in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and to re-establish the concept of the “spirit” in human affairs. Starting his career as an antiquarian-scholar of his beloved Naples, Croce naturally encountered the writings of his fellow Neapolitan Giovanni Battista Vico, who became his most influential intellectual guide (but as the founder of history philosophically understood, rather than as a schematizer of the past—something with which Croce had little patience). After a brief encounter with Marxism at the turn of the century, and after a more sustained interest in Hegel (although he never became more than a qualified Hegelian), Croce, just before World War i, put together the four systematic volumes of his Filosofia come scienza dello spirito (1902–1917; “Philosophy of the Spirit”), on which his reputation primarily rests. These volumes deal respectively with aesthetics, logic, economics and ethics, and historiography.

The latter part of Croce’s life brought him into closer touch with public events and partisan politics. Appointed a senator of the realm in 1910 and having served from 1920 to 1921 as minister of public instruction, Croce ranked from the mid-19208 onward as the chief intellectual opponent of Mussolini’s fascist regime. Concomitantly, in his writings he began to concern himself with the question of value judgments, which he had earlier neglected, most notably in four substantial volumes of history published between 1925 and 1932 and in his last major philosophical work, History as the Story of Liberty (1938). In these books he argued that the vita morale (”ethical life”) is the central thread of history and that, consequently, history, as “the story of liberty,” is necessarily liberal in character. With the fall of Mussolini in 1943 Croce emerged as Italy’s leading citizen. Too old, however, to give a clear direction to the course of events, he was able to participate only in the first postfascist governments, retiring from active politics shortly after the end of World War ii.

Croce’s influence on subsequent generations of historians and philosophers of history has been widely ramifying, although his reputation in the English-speaking world has suffered from the fact that his chief interpreter, R. G. Collingwood, pushed his teaching to extreme conclusions. Certainly Croce ranks as the single most important member of the twentieth-century idealist school. Some of the difficulties his theory presents are characteristic of most idealist argumentation—a tendency to denigrate science, both natural and social, and to give no clear account of the processes the historian follows in arriving at historical understanding. (In this connection, it is important to note that Croce was largely ignorant of the twentieth-century philosophy of science and that he paid only scant attention to the work of such leading contemporaries as Freud and Max Weber.)

Other difficulties are peculiarly Croce’s. His most celebrated dictum that “every true history is contemporary history” has proved most illuminating in showing how contemporary relevance lifts historical writing above mere antiquarianism. But his approach has raised two crucial problems. First, Croce’s concern with values and with what he called ethico-political history led him, in the later part of his life, to stress the abstractions of “reason” and “liberty” as against that understanding of the past in its own terms which had been central to traditional idealist historiography. Nor did Croce ever satisfactorily explain whether he considered these values absolute or relative. Second, although Croce’s work was more consistently rationalistic than that of most idealists (with the significant exception of Hegel), he offered no more than a metaphorical validation (for example, a “lightning-flash” of understanding) for the truth of a given historical interpretation. The paradoxical result is that what started as a rationalist theory terminated in an “act of faith.”

H. Stuart Hughes

[For the context of Croce’s work, seeHistory, article onthe philosophy of history; and the biographies ofDilthey; Hegel; Vico.]


(1902–1917) 1954–1958 Filosofia come scienza dello spirito. 4 vols. Bari (Italy): Laterza. → Volume 1: Estetica come scienza dell’ espressione e linguistica generale, (1902) 1958. Volume 2: Logica come scienza del concetto puro, (1905) 1958. Volume 3: Filosofia delta practica: Economica ed etica, (1908) 1957. Volume 4: Teoria e storia della storiografia, (1917) 1954.

(1905) 1917 Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept. London: Macmillan. → A translation of Volume 2 of Croce 1902–1917.

(1917) 1960 History: Its Theory and Practice. New York: Russell. → A translation of Volume 4 of Croce 1902–1917.

(1938) 1962 History as the Story of Liberty. London: Allen & Unwin.→ First published as La storia come pensiero e come azione.


Caponigri, A. Robert 1955 History and Liberty: The Historical Writings of Benedetto Croce. London: Routledge.

Corsi, Mario 1951 Le origini del pensiero di Benedetto Croce. Florence (Italy): La Nuova Italia.

Flora, Francesco (editor) 1953 Benedetto Croce. Milan (Italy): Malfasi.

Hughes, H. Stuart 1958 Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890–1930. New York: Knopf.

Nicolini, Fausto 1962 Benedetto Croce. Turin (Italy): Unione Tipografico.

Croce, Benedetto

views updated May 29 2018


CROCE, BENEDETTO (1866–1952), Italian historian, philosopher, critic.

Benedetto Croce was the central figure in a distinctive intellectual tradition, based on a radical recasting of historicism and philosophical idealism, that emerged around 1900 and came to dominate Italian intellectual life for almost half a century thereafter. First with Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944) as his junior partner, Croce sought to show how Western culture might overcome the hesitations and confusions that seemed to accompany the erosion of its longstanding religious and philosophical foundations. By pushing through to conceive the world without transcendence, or in terms of radical immanence, he thought it possible to give new meaning to morality and truth, freedom and creativity, and thereby to enable us to proceed responsibly, heading off irrationalism, skepticism, and relativism.

In seeking to conceive the human situation without transcendence, Croce learned especially from Giambattista Vico (1668–1744), whose thinking seemed to suggest that the human world is forever built up in some particular way as human beings respond creatively, in language, to a succession of novel situations. Engagement with Vico, but also with German Romanticism, informed Croce's Estetica come scienza dell' espressione e linguistica generale (1902; Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic), which brought him to international attention. While treating imagination, expression, and cognition, this work offered a conception of creativity in language with grandiose implications for the place of the human being in an ever-new world.

By 1903 Croce had developed the confidence to launch his own bimonthly review La Critica, which would appear regularly until the mid-1940s. Independently wealthy, unencumbered by teaching duties, he continued to develop his cultural program from his base in Naples for almost a half century thereafter. Although he made numerous enemies, by 1914 he had become Italy's most influential intellectual, and he was becoming one of the best known in the world.

His early encounters led Croce to a life-long engagement with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), whom he first treated systematically in an essay published in 1907. As Croce saw it, Hegel had been on the right track in conceiving the world as historical, and even as a totality. But he had confused distincts with opposites and thus had assumed that art, for example, might be overcome dialectically in philosophy, or absolute knowledge. In presupposing an a priori frame and telos, with spirit becoming aware of its own freedom, Hegel was positing too much as given a priori, to be discovered, or to come to human consciousness, through historical experience. For Croce, the future is more radically open to creative human response.

Encounter with Hegel helped Croce build from the Aesthetic to a quasi-systematic philosophy, especially in the twin works of 1908–1909, Logica come scienza del concetto puro (Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept), on the cognitive or theoretical side of human activity, and Filosofia della pratica: Economia ed etica (Philosophy of the Practical: Economic and Ethic) on the practical side, which encompassed both the ethical and the useful. Partly to establish the irreducibility of truth and morality in the face of utilitarianism, pragmatism, and Marxism, Croce insisted on distinctions among the basic modes of human activity. But though the autonomy of each was essential, so was the circular relationship among them. Most basically, knowing serves action, which then creates a new moment, even a new world to be known.

Croce was seeking not to confine reality in a closed system but just the opposite—to establish openness, the endless provisionality of the world. Because there can be no dialectical overcoming, there is no telos, no goal or end. Art is not resolved into philosophy but continues to well up as human beings respond to an ever-new world, thereby helping to make it new yet again. Although the world continues without a goal, a particular history results because of free, creative human response along the way.

To show what truth and knowing mean in a world of radical immanence, Croce sought to address the uses and limits of both philosophy and science, for it was partly overblown claims on behalf of each that bred skepticism, irrationalism, and mysticism. His most immediate target was positivism, bound up with what seemed the over-selling of science by the beginning of the twentieth century. In a flattened-out, purely historical world, genuine knowledge stems from "individual judgment," grasping the place of this or that individual instance not in terms of some stable scientific class, category, or law, but in the becoming of our particular world through history. Useful, even essential though they are, the law-like generalizations of science are merely convenient tools, not genuine knowledge. Only the illusion of some transcendent sphere leads us to take the abstractions from particular instances as "higher," truer.

In treating philosophy, too, Croce insisted on the primacy of history, and thus the historicity of any genuine philosophy, which always emerges from concrete practical problems. Because the world, through history, is constantly changing, we must periodically redo our philosophical categories in order to come to terms with the novel circumstances that history generates. Croce claimed that he himself had offered not some definitive, systematic philosophy but simply the ad hoc clarifications necessary to enable us to get on with the ongoing work of the world, writing poetry or history, responding morally, acting politically.

Having taken the measure of what seemed the best ideas from abroad, Croce came to believe, by the eve of World War I, that the new Italian current had moved to the forefront of modern thought. But by this point he and Gentile had began to diverge, as certain philosophical differences became public in 1913, adumbrating the dramatic split that ensued after World War I. Gentile was on his way to the explicitly totalitarian vision he offered as a fascist; Croce, in contrast, was articulating the sense of limits, the need for humility and pluralism, that would make him a bitter enemy of totalitarian pretenses—and arguably the world's most notable antifascist. Although the seeds of Croce's later thinking were surely evident by 1914, the meaning and import of his intellectual program would come into focus only gradually thereafter.

See alsoHegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; History; Marx, Karl; Positivism.


D'Amico, Jack, Dain A. Trafton, and Massimo Verdicchio, eds. The Legacy of Benedetto Croce: Contemporary Critical Views. Toronto, 1999.

Moss, M. E. Benedetto Croce Reconsidered: Truth and Error in Theories of Art, Literature, and History. Hanover, N.H., 1987.

Roberts, David D. Benedetto Croce and the Uses of Historicism. Berkeley, Calif., 1987.

David D. Roberts

Croce, Benedetto

views updated Jun 27 2018


Italian idealist philosopher, statesman, historian, and literary critic; b. Pescasseroli, Feb. 25, 1866; d. Naples, Nov. 20, 1952. In 1902 he founded the journal La Critica, through which, for 50 years, he wielded a wide cultural influence in Italy and throughout Europe. A most effective critic of the paraconstitutionalism of fascism, after World War II he dominated the constituent assembly from which the Italian Republic eventually emerged.

Eschewing systematic philosophy, Croce yet achieved an articulated position, absolute historicism, which effectively shaped his activity as historian, critic, and statesman. For him, the controlling principle of absolute historicism is immanence, excluding all transcen dence. Immanence is the concrete inwardness of spirit to its own processes. Spirit is immanent to human presence, temporally diffused through individual existents but transcendentally synthesized in "expression." Expression as first isolated in the aesthetic moment, art, is intuitive, lyrical, and cosmic. Extended to all its momentslogical, economic and ethicalexpression becomes the transcendental principle of spirit itself. Fullness of expression and the concrete reality of spirit are achieved in the dialectical movement of history, wherein these moments are concretely synthesized in a "unity of distincts." History, concrete expressive unity in diversity, is the supreme mode of presence of spirit; all significant discourse is constructed and interpreted on historical canons. Historical presence is the eternal present, the contemporaneity of all history, and completes the absolute immanence of spirit. Past and present are projective interpolations within the eternal present and are immanent to it.

Absolute historicism holds the clue to Croce's activity as a historian, pursued at two mutually immanent levels, the theoretical and the practical. The theoretical problem of history is to determine the transcendental principles of historical presence and discourse. Historiography is the interpretation of human documents on the basis of transcendental principles projected in narration. These transcendental principles cannot be fixed a priori but must emerge from the documents. Philosophy and

history are concretely united in the activity of the historian; yet the transcendental principles thus determined are not ontological but methodological. History thus is the self-constituting act of human presence in its pure generation. The supreme transcendental principle of history and of the unity of thought and action in human presence is the canon of "history as the history of freedom." The freedom here intended is not an empirical fact, but a transcendental principle in the sense that on its basis alone the human documents can be significantly construed and the rational unification of thought and action achieved. History constitutes a unique transcendentally constructed system of discourse. This conception of history is the key to the reading of Croce's own historical works. They all attest to the transcendental principle of history as the history of freedom. They extend this principle in an everwidening circle of concern from the Rivoluzione napoletana del' 99 (3d ed. 1912) to the now-classic Storia d'Europa nel secolo XIX (1932), properly construed as the primary document of the historiography of ethical liberalism.

Croce thought of himself primarily as a literary critic. The vast body of his critical writings, touching all the important literatures of Europe as well as the classics, contains an inexhaustible wealth of special insights. Its greatest interest, however, lies in the manner in which it

illustrates Croce's philosophical principles. Two concerns permeate this criticism: just evaluation of the particular work and the discovery of the transcendental principle of artistic expression, i.e., the principle that would render the work universally significant. Croce first formulated the theory of expression as pure intuition. While establishing the work of art as an autonomous moment of the human spirit, this principle left it in isolation from the universal consciousness of spirit. Croce then moved on to the conception of the lyricity of art. This constituted a step toward the recognition of the transcendentality of art, because the notion of lyricity already contains the notion of human universality. The final step is taken in the notion of the cosmicity of art. Cosmicity is the pure principle of the transcendentality of art and the guarantee of its human significance. With its discovery Croce achieves the complete unification of his critical and his philosophical efforts. This movement toward the discovery of the transcendental principle of art, philosophical in its nature, is richly documented by the critical works from which it emerges. These are highlighted by the great studies of Dante, Shakespeare, Carducci, and Manzoni, but richly textured with perceptive studies of minor figures.

See Also: idealism; history, philosophy of; hegelianism.

Bibliography: A comprehensive edition of Croce's works, ed. f. nicolini (Bari; in prep.). istitutio di studia filosofici, Bibliografia filosofica Italiana, 4 v. (Rome 195056) 1:314334. e. chiocchetti, La filosofia di Benedetto Croce (3d ed. Milan 1924). u. spirito et al., Benedetto Croce (Rome 1929). d. faucci, Storicismo e metafisica nel pensiero crociano (Florence 1950). c. carbonara, Sviluppo e problemi dell'estetica crociana (Naples 1947). a. caracciolo, L'estetica di Benedetto Croce nel suo svolgimento e nel suoi limiti (Turin 1948). a. mautino, La formazione della filosofia politica di Benedetto Croce, ed. n. bobbio (3d ed. Bari 1953). a. r. caponigri, History and Liberty: The Historical Writings of Benedetto Croce (London 1955). g. n. orsini, Benedetto Croce, Philosopher of Art and Literary Critic (Carbondale, Ill.1961). v. mathieu, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:135664. istituto italiano per gli studi storici, L'Opera di Benedetto Croce: Bibliografia, ed. s. borsari (Naples 1964).

[a. r. caponigri]

Benedetto Croce

views updated May 11 2018

Benedetto Croce

The Italian philosopher, critic, and educator Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) dominated Italian intellectual life in the first half of the 20th century. His many critical and philosophical writings brought Italian letters well into the mainstream of European thought.

Born to a prosperous middle-class family, at the age of 9 Benedetto Croce began a rigorous Catholic education in Naples. When his parents and sister were killed in an earthquake in 1883, Croce went to Rome. While he never completed his law degree at the University of Rome, he reacted enthusiastically to the lectures on moral philosophy by Professor Antonio Labriola. Returning to Naples in 1886, Croce began a period of dedicated research, enriched by journeys to Spain, England, Germany, and France. Although his early works were largely historical, Croce transcended Positivistic scholarship and soon began inquiry into the nature of art and history and their relationship. He pursued this path relentlessly after his close study of G. W. F. Hegel and Giambattista Vico. With Labriola's encouragement, Croce briefly (1895-1899) cultivated Marxism but refuted this doctrine in Historical Materialism and Marxist Economics (1900).

A long and fruitful collaboration with the philosopher Giovanni Gentile began in 1896. Working with Gentile, Croce edited Classics of World Philosophy, Writers of Italy, and The Library of Modern Culture. In 1903 Croce founded the bimonthly La critica, an international cultural review. For his contributions to Italian letters, in 1910 Croce was made a life member of the Italian Senate. Later, as minister of education (1920-1921), he conceived educational reforms implemented by Gentile, who subsequently occupied that office.

Croce's opposition to fascism, however, severed his association with Gentile. Through his "Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals" (1925), his denunciation of the Lateran Pact (1929), and his open criticism of Mussolini, Croce became the symbol of Italian intellectual freedom. After the fall of fascist Italy, he was a liaison between the Allies and the Italian monarchy but declined public office. In 1947 Croce established the Italian Institute for Historical Studies, to which he donated a large part of his house and extensive library.

His Thought

The essence of Croce's thought may be found in his four-part Filosofia dello spirito (1902-1917; Philosophy of the Spirit), amplified and clarified in many subsequent writings. For Croce, philosophy is the science of the mind, or spirit, wherein all reality resides. The mind's activity takes two distinct, interrelated but not opposite forms, the theoretical and the practical (or cognition and volition). The former perceives and understands reality, the latter creates and changes it. Within the sphere of theory, Croce distinguishes between intuition and logical thought. Similarly, in the realm of the practical, he separates the particular (utilitarian or economic) from the universal (ethical). These four interrelated divisions, none of which has primacy over the others, give rise to man's spiritual activities, which Croce treats in the four volumes of the Filosofia: Aesthetics, Logic, Philosophy of Conduct (Economics and Ethics), and Theory and History of Historiography.

In Aesthetics Croce declared that art is intuition. Realizing that intuition requires communication through language, he later spoke of "lyrical intuition" as creatively expressed impression. Still pursuing the theme in La poesia (1936), Croce distinguished between poetry ("achieved expression") and literature (which bears an external resemblance to poetry but fulfills another function).

As spokesman for an antimystical and antiutopian humanism which maintains that the goal of philosophy is an understanding of the course of human events, Croce has been criticized for not accepting an all-embracing belief, such as Catholicism or communism. He held, however, that there exists no final system or any eternally valid philosophy. Instead, Croce espoused "Historicism," a term by which he characterized the inherently evolutionary nature of his thought.

Further Reading

In general, the most reliable translations of Croce's work are by Arthur Livingston and R. G. Collingwood. For a capsule portrait of Croce see Cecil J. S. Sprigge, Benedetto Croce: Man and Thinker (1952). A more complete study is Gian N. G. Orsini, Benedetto Croce: Philosopher of Art and Literary Critic (1961). There is a chapter on Croce in William Kurtz Wimsatt, Jr., and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History (1957). Henry Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890-1930 (1958), includes a discussion of Croce.

Additional Sources

Caserta, Ernesto G., Studi crociani negli Stati Uniti: bibliografia critica (1964-1984), Napoli: Loffredo, 1988.

Croce, Benedetto, Carteggio, s.l.: Bibliopolis, 1976.

Ocone, Corrado, Bibliografia ragionata degli scritti su Benedetto Croce, Napoli: Edizioni scientifiche italiane, 1993. □

Croce, Benedetto

views updated May 29 2018

Croce, Benedetto (1866–1952) Italian idealist philosopher and politician. He was a senator (1910–20) and minister of education (1920–21). When Mussolini came to power, Croce retired from politics in protest against fascism, and wrote the idealistic Philosophy of the Spirit (1902–17). He re-entered politics following the fall of Mussolini in 1943. As leader of the Liberal Party, he played a prominent role in resurrecting Italy's democratic institutions.

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