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Benedetto Croce
Full name Benedetto Croce
Born February 25, 1866
(Pescasseroli, Italy)
Died November 20, 1952 (aged 86)
Naples, Italy
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Hegelianism, Idealism, Liberalism
Main interests History, Aesthetics, Politics
Notable ideas art is expression

Benedetto Croce (Italian pronunciation: [beneˈdetto ˈkroːtʃe]; February 25, 1866 – November 20, 1952) was an Italian critic, idealist philosopher, and occasionally also a politician. He wrote on numerous topics, including philosophy, history, methodology of history writing and aesthetics, and was a prominent liberal, although he opposed laissez-faire free trade. His influence on Antonio Gramsci is quite notable.



Croce was born in Pescasseroli in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He came from an influential and wealthy family, and was raised in a very strict Catholic environment. Around the age of 16, he turned away from Catholicism and developed a personal view of spiritual life, in which religion cannot be anything but an historical institution where the creative strength of mankind can be expressed. He kept this position for the rest of his life. In 1883, an earthquake hit the village of Casamicciola, Ischia, where he was on holiday with his family, destroying the home they lived in. His mother, father, and only sister were all killed, while he was buried for a very long time and barely survived. After the incident he inherited his family's fortune and much like Schopenhauer before him was able to live the rest of his life in relative leisure, enabling him to devote a great deal of time to philosophy as an independent intellectual writing from his palazzo in Naples. (Ryn, 2000:xi[1]). As his fame increased, many pushed him, against his wishes, to go into politics. He was made Minister of Public Education for a year, and later, in 1910, moved to the Italian Senate, a lifelong position. (Ryn, 2000:xi[1]). He was an open critic of Italy's participation in World War I, feeling that it was a suicidal trade war. Though this made him initially unpopular, his reputation was restored after the war and he became a well-loved public figure. He was also instrumental in the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III's move to the Palazzo Reale in 1923.

When the government that made him Minister of Public Education was ousted from power by Mussolini, he was replaced by Giovanni Gentile as the new Minister, with whom Croce had earlier cooperated in philosophical polemic against positivism. Though Benedetto Croce initially supported Benito Mussolini's Fascist government (1922-24)[2], eventually he openly opposed the Fascist Party[3], while he also distanced himself from his former philosophical partner, Gentile. Croce was seriously threatened by Mussolini's regime, and his home and library was raided by the fascist troopers. He managed to stay outside prison thanks to his status, but he was under surveillance and his academic work was kept in obscurity by the government, to the extent that no mainstream newspaper or academic publication ever referred to him. In 1944, when democracy was restored, Croce was again made minister of the new government. (Ryn, 2000:xi-xii[1]). He later left the government and remained president of the Liberal Party until 1947. (Ryn, 2000:xii[1]).

His most interesting philosophical ideas are divided into three works: Aesthetic (1902), Logic (1908), and Philosophy of the practical (1908), but his complete work is spread over 80 books and 40 years worth of publications in his own bimonthly literary magazine, La Critica. (Ryn, 2000:xi[1])

The Philosophy of Spirit

Heavily influenced by Hegel and other German Idealists, such as Fichte, Croce produced what was called, by him, the Philosophy of Spirit. His preferred designations were "Absolute Idealism" or "Absolute Historicism". Croce's work can be seen as a second attempt (contra Kant) to resolve the problems and conflicts between empiricism and rationalism (or transcendentalism and sensationalism, respectively). He calls his way immanentism, and concentrates on the lived human experience, as it happens in specific places and times. Since the root of reality is this immanent existence in concrete experience, Croce places aesthetics at the foundation of his philosophy.

The Domains of Mind

Croce's methodological approach to philosophy is expressed in his divisions of the spirit, or mind. He divides mental activity first into the theoretical, and then the practical. The theoretical division splits between aesthetic and logic. This theoretical aesthetic includes most importantly: intuitions and history. The logical includes concepts and relations. Practical spirit is concerned with economics and ethics. Economics is here to be understood as an exhaustive term for all utilitarian matters.

Each of these divisions have an underlying structure that colors, or dictates, the sort of thinking that goes on within them. The aesthetic is driven by beauty, logic is subject to truth, economics is concerned with what is useful, and the moral, or ethics, is bound to the good. This schema is descriptive in that it attempts to elucidate the logic of human thought; however, it is prescriptive as well, in that these ideas form the basis for epistemological claims and confidence.


Croce also held great esteem for Vico, and shared his view that history should be written by philosophers. Croce's On History sets forth the view of history as "philosophy in motion", that there is no greater "cosmic design" or ultimate plan in history, and that the "science of history" was a farce.


Croce's work Breviario di estetica (The Essence of Aesthetic) appears in the form of four lessons (quattro lezioni), as he was asked to write and deliver them at the inauguration of Rice University in 1912. He declined the invitation to attend the event; however, he wrote the lessons and submitted them for translation, so that they could be read in his absence. In this brief, but dense, work, Croce sets forth his theory of art. He claimed that art is more important than science or metaphysics, since only the former edifies us. He felt that all we know can be reduced to logical and imaginative knowledge. Art springs from the latter, making it at its heart, pure imagery. All thought is based in part on this, and it precedes all other thought. The task of an artist is then to put forth the perfect image that they can produce for their viewer, since this is what beauty fundamentally is - the formation of inward, mental images in their ideal state. Our intuition is the basis of forming these concepts within us. This theory was later heavily debated by such contemporary Italian thinkers as Umberto Eco, who locates the aesthetic within a semiotic construction.[4]

Contributions to liberal political theory

Croce's liberalism is unique when compared to the standard Angloamerican definitions of liberal politics: while Croce theorises that the individual is the centre of society, he rejects social atomism, and while Croce accepts limited government, he refuses that the government should have fixed legitimate powers. Croce disagrees with John Locke in the nature of liberty, in the sense that he believes that liberty is not a natural right but an earned right that arises out of continuing historical struggle for its maintenance. Croce defined civilization as the "continual vigilance" against barbarism, and liberty fit into his ideal for civilization as it allows one to experience the full potential of life. Croce also rejects egalitarianism as absurd. In short, his variety of liberalism is aristocratic, as he views society being led by the few who can create the goodness of truth, civilization, and beauty, with the great mass of citizens simply benefiting from them but unable to fully comprehend their creations. (Ryn, 2000:xii[1]).

Selected quotations

All history is contemporary.

Selected bibliography

  • Materialismo storico ed economia marxistica (1900)
  • L'Estetica come scienza dell'espressione e linguistica generale (1902), commonly referred to as Aesthetic in English.
  • Logica come scienza del concetto puro (1909)
  • Breviario di estetica (1912)
  • Saggio sul Hegel (1912)
  • Teoria e storia della storiografia (1916)
  • Racconto degli racconti (first translation into Italian from Neapolitan of Giambattista Basile's Lo cunto de li cunti, 1925)
  • "Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals" (1 May 1925 in La Critica)
  • Ultimi saggi (1935)
  • La poesia (1936)
  • La storia come pensiero e come azione (meaning History as thought and as action[1]) (1938), translated in English by Sylvia Sprigge as History as the story of liberty in 1941 in London by George Allen & Unwin and in USA by W.W. Norton. The most recent edited translation based on that of Sprigge is Liberty Fund Inc. in 2000. The 1941 English translation is accessible online through Questia.
  • Il carattere della filosofia moderna (1941)
  • Filosofia e storiografia (1949)

Further reading

  • Parente, Alfredo. Il pensiero politico di Benedetto Croce e il nuovo liberalismo (1944).
  • Myra Moss, Benedetto Croce reconsidered,(1987).
  • Ernesto Paolozzi, Science and Philosophy in Benedetto Croce, in "Rivista di Studi Italiani", University of Toronto, 2002.
  • Janos Keleman, A Paradoxical Truth. Croce's Thesis of Contemporary History, in "Rivista di Studi Italiani, University of Toronto, 2002.
  • Giuseppe Gembillo, Croce and the Theorists of Complexity, in "Rivista di Studi Italiani, University of Toronto, 2002.
  • Fabio Fernando Rizi, Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism, University of Toronto Press, 2003.
  • Ernesto Paolozzi, Benedetto Croce, Cassitto, Naples, 1998 (tanslated by M. Verdicchio (2008)
  • Matteo Veronesi, Il critico come artista dall'estetismo agli ermetici. D'Annunzio, Croce, Serra, Luzi e altri, Bologna, Azeta Fastpress, 2006, ISBN 8889982055

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g History as the story of liberty: English translation of Croce's 1938 collection of essays originally in Italian; translation published by Libety Fund Inc. in the USA in 2000 with a foreword by Claes G. Ryn. ISBN 0-86597-268-0 (hardback).
  2. ^ Denis Mack Smith, "Benedetto Croce: History and Politics", Journal of Contemporary History Vol 8(1) Jan 1973 pg 47.
  3. ^ He coined the term onagrocracy (literally "government by braying asses") to describe the style of rule by the Italian fascist movement and its leader Benito Mussolini's type of government. It is a disdainful term for misgovernment, a late and satirical addition to Aristotle's famous three: tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy.
  4. ^ Umberto Eco, "A Theory of Semiotics" (Indiana University Press. 1976)

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

"BENEDETTO CROCE (1866-), Italian philosopher and statesman, was born at Pescasseroli, in the province of Aquila, Italy, Feb. 25 1866. He came of a family that counted among its members several jurists and magistrates. Born in the part of Italy formerly known as Greater Greece, it may be said of him without paradox that the development of his mind and character represented a modern incarnation of all that was subtle and profound in the Hellenic genius, linked with the best and wisest tradition of Roman civilization and of the Christianity that came to take its place. From the remote township of his birth, however, the branch of the family to which the philosopher belonged transferred itself soon afterwards to Naples, so that, like his predecessor Vico, Benedetto Croce may be correctly described as a Neapolitan. He studied at Rome and in Naples, afterwards adopting the life of an independent student and occupying himself especially with literary and with Neapolitan history. Much of his work that bears upon that period of youth is to be found in the volumes: La Rivoluzione Napoletana del 1799; Saggi sulla letteratura italiana del Seicento; La Spagna nella vita italiana durante la rinascenza; Storie e leggende napoletane. But Croce did not altogether neglect philosophy at this period. Towards his thirtieth year the study of philosophy and of history together occupied most of his attention. His principal works are contained in four volumes comprised under the general title Filosofia dello spirito: (1) Estetica come scienza dell' espressione e linguistica generale, (2) Logica come scienza del concetto puro, (3) Filosofia della practica: economia ed etica and (4) Teoria e storia della storiografia. These were published between 1902 and 1913. With these may be mentioned certain volumes of essays, among which are to be noted those upon Historical Materialism and Marxist Economy (1896-1900); upon Hegel (1905); upon Vico (1910); and the New Essays upon Aesthetic (1920), which complete and carry further the first Aesthetic. Croce only took part in the administrative work of Naples upon rare occasions and in moments of crisis. During the World War he developed a polemic directed against democratichumanitarian conceptions and particularly those of President Wilson, whose influence on the peace settlement was regarded by him as injurious to Italy. His writings on this subject have been collected in a volume entitled Pagine sulla guerra (Naples, 1919). In June 1920, when the Giolitti Government was formed with the programme of a reconstitution of the Italian State and of radical reforms, Croce (who had been a senator of the Kingdom of Italy since 1920) was asked to accept the office of Minister of Public Instruction. He agreed conditionally upon his programme being carried out. This programme was based upon the idea of a liberal reconstruction: he aimed at the reduction and simplification of the State schools combined with a more rigorous method of teaching, and at affording all facilities to, and indeed inviting the competition of, private instruction, fearless of the confessional school, which in his view would be compelled to modernize itself in order to maintain competition with the State school. In 1921 he retired from office on the resignation of the Giolitti Ministry.

It may be said of the philosophy of Benedetto Croce that it has formulated the truth of the unity of the spirit in the form most acceptable to the Western world. Its fundamental motive is the serious consideration, in a continuous and concrete manner, of that union of philosophy and history which had been glimpsed by earlier thinkers, but had hitherto been pursued in a manner more or less capricious. For Croce, the only knowledge is knowledge of the history, in its widest sense, both of men and of what is called nature, or the history of the spirit. This knowledge, however, is by no means positivistic or empirical, but on the contrary it is dialectical and a priori synthetic, brought about by the spiritual categories; and from it there constantly arise new problems, an ever new position of the fundamental categories. The treatment and solution of these problems is what is called " philosophy " in the strict sense of the word, which for that reason coincides with methodology speculatively understood. In the treatment of the spiritual categories, Croce laid special stress upon those which had been least elaborated and least studied.

A vivid new light is shed by him upon certain problems, such for instance as those of the imagination or intuition, the source of Art and the theme of the Aesthetic, upon pure will, the source of Economic of Rights and of Politics, treated by Economic. The more precise determination and configuration of the categories and their mode of acting, by means of which is negated and solved the concept of an external reality and of nature placed outside the spirit and opposed to it, led Croce to an absolute spiritualism, widely different from the pan-logicism of Hegel and his school, which only seemed to solve the dualism of spirit and nature and really opened the door to the notion of a transcendental God, as became clear in the development of Hegel's theory at the hands of the right wing of his school. In the Philosophy of the Practical, but more especially in the work entitled What is living and what is dead of the Philosophy of Hegel Croce criticizes the erroneous treatment of the opposites, and shows that on the contrary every opposition has at bottom a distinction from which it arises, and that therefore the true unity is unity-distinction, which is development and, as such, opposition that is continuously surpassed and continually re-appearing to be again surpassed. Another important conception connected with the preceding is the infinity of philosophy, which arises out of history and is as it were a reflection from history, varying at every moment and always solving a problem by placing alongside its solution the premise of a new history and therefore of a new problem and a new philosophy. Croce's substitutes for the old formula " system " the new formula " systematization." He thus admits that to philosophize is to systematize, but holds that every systematization is narrowly circumscribed, and is therefore to be solved and completed with ever new systematization. Thus scepticism and relativism are superseded by a historical philosophy, and the absoluteness of truth is affirmed, but the notion of a definite truth is at the same time both negated and satirized.

The philosophers from whom Croce learned most are Vico, the author of the Scienza nuova, and Hegel, but the thought of all other thinkers flows in his writings, in conformity with its historical character, and for this reason may, for instance, be found in it traces of some of Hegel's most active opponents, such as Herbart.

But the origin of the philosophy of Croce is the need, so keenly felt in our time, of a philosophy that shall be both realistic and idealistic, in which the fact will not drive out thought and thought will not go beyond the fact: in short, of a philosophy of immanence. The religious feature of this philosophy, against which has often been brought the accusation of excluding religion, resides in the consciousness of the unity of all and of the perpetual creation of the world by the spirit, as though it were a poem that the spirit is eternally composing, to which each individual contributes his strophe, or it may be only his line or his word: this poem has its end in itself and in its rhythm has beauty and joy, as well as labour and sorrow. This conception sets us free from the antithesis of optimism and pessimism.

Croce has elaborated the various philosophic sciences in treating of the various theories to which they give rise, and he has completed the doctrines with their history, either, as in the case of the Aesthetic, with a masterly historical survey of previous speculation on the subject, or in a more modest form in appendices. It is only possible to allude briefly here to the different conclusions that he has attained in treating the various problems, as for example in Aesthetic, the unity of art and language, of intuition and expression, the negation of particular arts, the refutation of literary and artistic classes, the criticism of rhetoric, of grammar and so forth; and in the Philosophy of the Practical or of Practice, the conciliation of the antitheses of utilitarianism and moralism, the critique of precepts, of laws and of casuistry, the new conception of judgments of value, the constitution of a philosophic economy side by side with the science of Economy, the resolution of the Philosophy of rights in the Philosophy of economic, and so forth. It is important to note that in conceiving philosophic studies to be all one with historical studies and attaining to this unity in himself, he cultivated historical studies to an equal extent with purely theoretical and speculative studies, concentrating especially upon the history of thought and poetry. Among his principal works upon these subjects may be noted the four volumes of Letteratura della nuova Italia (1860-1910); his essays upon Goethe, Ariosto, Shakespeare, Corneille, and the Poetry of Dante; his two volumes Storia della storiografia italiana del secolo XIX. and the collection of essays entitled Una famiglia di patrioti. Croce, occupied with such studies as those mentioned, also found time to edit numerous texts and miscellaneous collections and composed many bibliographies, in addition to editing the Critica, in many respects the profoundest and widest in scope of all the European literary and philosophical reviews. In the work of this review his chief collaborator was Giovanni Gentile, but Croce contributed most of the literary and much of the philosophic criticisms.

The works of Croce have been translated into many languages. Douglas Ainslie was the first in Great Britain to draw attention to his importance as one of the leaders of European thought, and made him known in many articles and lectures both in Great Britain and in America. He also translated and published the complete Philosophy of the Spirit in four volumes (the Aesthetic, the Logic, the Practical, with Macmillan; the Theory and History of Historiography, with Harrap). The work on Vico has been translated by R. G. Collingwood, and that on Historical Materialism and Marxism by C. M. Meredith, the What is living and what is dead of the Philosophy of Hegel (Macmillan), and the Breviary of Aesthetic (Rice Institute, Texas), the volume Shakespeare, Ariosto and Corneille (Henry Holt & Co., New York), and the Poetry of Dante by Douglas Ainslie.

Among the numerous studies of Croce may be mentioned Dr.

H. Wildon Carr's work The Philosophy of Benedetto Croce (Macmillan), and the further development of the same in his essay Time and History, where will be found a parallel and a distinction between Croce and Bergson (Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. viii.); and the very full and complete bibliography by G. Castellano, Introduzione allo studio delle opere di B. Croce: Note bibliografiche e critiche (Bari, Laterza, 1920).

Croce has himself composed a mental autobiography: Contributo alla entice di me stesso (Naples, 1918, limited to one hundred numbered copies for private circulation), and also a brief history of his native place and of his family (Montenerodomo, stone di un comune e di due famiglie, Bari, 1919), and another opuscule upon the house in which he lives: Un angolo di Napoli (Naples, 1912).

(D. A.; G. C.)

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