Gentile, Giovanni

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Italian idealist philosopher, educator, and statesman; b. Castelvetrano, Sicily, May 30, 1875; d. Florence, April 15, 1944. He was a student of the Hegelians D. Jaja and B. Spaventa and was a collaborator with B. croce on La Critica. As minister of public instruction (192224) he wrought an extensive transformation in the Italian educational system, inspired by the principles of his own philosophyto which he gave the name actual idealism. Gentile consciously related his philosophical position to his interpretation of the history of Western philosophy; thus actual idealism can best be understood as Gentile's response to the basic quest of Western thought, the establishment of the immanent rationality of concrete existence. Actualism draws its profoundest inspiration from the insight of G. vico: verum factum convertuntur; the immanent rationality of concrete existence can be grasped only through the principle of its becoming. Gentile develops this insight into the proposition that reality is a process of "autoctisi" involving position, distinction, and unification, by which all immediacy, dualisms, and transcendence are overcome. Relying on the critique of Spaventa, Gentile concluded that Hegel had misconceived the dialectic through his faulty notion of becoming. The clues to a rectification of this error are to be found in a purified form of the Kantian synthesis a priori and in Spaventa's conception of the dialectic of actual thought.

This correction of Hegel gives rise to Gentile's theory of the spirit as "pure act": reality that "is" insofar as "it is not yet," but "becomes," or "makes itself"; this reality is the "I," the individual that becomes by the process of universalizing itself. This "I" is the only concrete reality; it is not a subject that "is" as an object, a "fact," but an "act." Gentile develops the notion of "I" and of "pure act" in two directions: the existential and moral, which terminates in his theory of education, and the abstract, which is expounded in the Sistema di Logica (191723). The Logica distinguishes the "logic of what is thought" from the "logic of the act of thinking"; since "what is thought" has its whole being from the act of thinking, the logic of the latter is more basic and the ground of the former. The former is the realm of the concept and is governed by the principle of identity; the latter is pure becoming and is governed by the dialectic. These are united in the concrete existence of the "I." The self-generation of the "I" is not an abstract process; it is concrete, and as such is the fulfillment of a duty or project, which is identical with the self; the "I" is a moral reality, a value and a generator of values. The process by which the "I" realizes itself in its own universalization is education. As a consequence, pedagogy is the highest reach of philosophy and paideia the purest form of concrete existence under its rational aspect.

See Also: hegelianism and neo-hegelianism; idealism.

Bibliography: Works. Opere complete, 60 v. (Florence 1957) Literature. Istituto di Studi Filosofici, Bibliografia filosofica italiana dal 19001950, 4 v. (Rome 195056) 2:111133. v. a. bellezza, Bibliografia degli scritti di G. Gentile (Florence 1950); Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 2:631643; L'esistenzialismo postivo di G. Gentile (Florence 1954). Giovanni Gentile: La vita e il pensiero, 8 v. (Florence 194857). e. chiocchetti, La filosofia di G. Gentile (Milan 1922). u. spirito, Note sul pensiero di G. Gentile (Florence 1954). m. m. thompson, The Educational Philosophy of G. Gentile (Los Angeles 1934). h. s. harris, The Social Philosophy of G. Gentile (Urbana 1960). r. w. holmes, The Idealism of G. Gentile (New York 1937).

[a. r. caponigri]

Giovanni Gentile

views updated Jun 08 2018

Giovanni Gentile

The Italian philosopher and politician Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944) was influential in reviving Hegelian idealism in Italy. He made significant contributions to the Italian educational system and participated in the formation of the Fascist corporate state.

On May 30, 1875, Giovanni Gentile was born at Castelvetrano, Sicily. He earned a scholarship to the University of Pisa in 1893. There his interests were turned from literature to philosophy by the influence of Donato Jaja. Enthusiastically responding to this new stimulation, Gentile determined to revive the idealist doctrine of the autonomy of the mind.

After 5 years of teaching in secondary schools, Gentile began his university career in Naples with an inaugural lecture entitled "The Rebirth of Idealism" (1903). Subsequently he taught at Palermo and, after Jaja's death, inherited the chair at Pisa in 1914. The next few years were filled with intense work, culminating in three major volumes: The Theory of Spirit as Pure Act (1916), Foundations of the Philosophy of Law (1916), and the first volume of his Logic (1917). During the years 1903-1922 Gentile and Benedetto Croce collaborated in editing a periodical, La critica.

After the Italian defeat at Caporetto, Gentile became increasingly involved in public life. Together with a group of friends he founded a review, the New Liberal Politics, in order to promote political and educational reforms. After Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922, Gentile became minister of public instruction, with full powers to reform the school system. He now had the authority to begin the second part of his life's dream: the rejuvenation of Italian culture. After the enactment of his plan, Gentile's political influence lessened, although he received appointments to several political positions and cultural organizations. His duties as president of the National Fascist Institute of Culture and director of the new Enciclopedia italiana took most of his energies during the next 15 years, but Gentile continued to teach, now at the University of Rome, and published a major work, The Philosophy of Art.

Gentile supported Mussolini's Ethiopian adventure but became increasingly disaffected with the party after Mussolini allied Italy with Germany in 1940. However, he saw Mussolini as the only man who could rescue Italy from civil war and from the warring foreign armies on Italian soil.

In spite of the turmoil and the constant dangers of his last years, Gentile managed to finish the final aspect of his idealist philosophy: The Genesis and Structure of Society. On April 15, 1944, after interceding on behalf of some students whose loyalty was suspect, Giovanni Gentile was shot by a band of partisans.

Further Reading

The definitive study of Gentile is by H. S. Harris, The Social Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile (1960), a sympathetic account which also provides all the necessary background information. Harris also translated Genesis and Structure of Society (1960), which contains a biographical essay and an exhaustive bibliography of Gentile studies in English. See also Roger W. Holmes, The Idealism of Giovanni Gentile (1937), and Pasquale Romanelli, Gentile: The Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile (1938).

Additional Sources

Romanell, Patrick, Croce versus Gentil, New York: AMS Press, 1982. □

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