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Giovanni Gentile
Full name Giovanni Gentile
Born May 30, 1875
Castelvetrano, Italy
Died April 15, 1944
Florence, Italy)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophers
School Idealism, Metaphysics
Main interests Immanentism, Dialectic, Pedagogy
Notable ideas Actual Idealism, Fascism

Giovanni Gentile (Italian pronunciation: [dʒoˈvanni dʒenˈtiːle]; May 30, 1875– April 15, 1944) was an Italian neo-Hegelian Idealist philosopher, a peer of Benedetto Croce. He described himself as 'the philosopher of Fascism', and ghostwrote A Doctrine of Fascism (1932) for Benito Mussolini. He also devised his own system of philosophy, Actual Idealism.

Contents

Life and thought

Giovanni Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily. He was inspired by Italian intellectuals such as Mazzini, Rosmini, Gioberti, and Spaventa from whom he borrowed the idea of autoctisi, “self-construction”, but also was strongly influenced by the German idealist and materialist schools of thought — namely Karl Marx, Hegel, and Fichte with whom he shared the ideal of creating a Wissenschaftslehre, theory for a structure of knowledge that makes no assumptions. Friedrich Nietzsche, too, influenced him, as seen in an analogy between Nietzsche's Übermensch and Gentile's Uomo Fascista.

Gentile was the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Palermo University (1907–14), and later at Pisa. In 1923, he was the Minister of Public Education for the government of Benito Mussolini, as which he effected the “Riforma Gentile” — a great and deep reformation of the secondary school system, that had a long-lasting influence upon Italian education.[1][2] He formulated the important works The Theory of Mind as Pure Act (1916) and Logic as Theory of Knowledge (1917), with which he devised Actual Idealism, a unified metaphysical system reinforcing his sentiments that philosophy isolated from life, and life isolated from philosophy, are but two identical modes of backward cultural bankruptcy. For Gentile, that theory realised how philosophy could directly influence, mould, and penetrate life: philosophy could govern life.

His philosophic system viewed thought as all-embracing: no-one could actually leave his or her sphere of thought, nor exceed his or her thought. Reality was unthinkable, except in relation to the activity by means of which it becomes thinkable, positing that as a unity — held in the active subject and the discrete abstract phenomena that reality comprehends — wherein each phenomenon, when truly realised, was centered within that unity; therefore, it was innately spiritual, transcendent, and immanent, to all possible things in contact with the unity. Gentile used that philosophic frame to systematize every item of interest that now was subject to the rule of absolute self-identification — thus rendering as correct every consequence of the hypothesis. The resultant philosophy can be interpreted as an idealist foundation for Legal Naturalism.

Giovanni Gentile was described by Mussolini, and by himself, as 'the philosopher of Fascism'; moreover, he was the ghostwriter of the essay A Doctrine of Fascism (1932), by Benito Mussolini. It was first published in 1932, in the Italian Encyclopedia, (edited by Gentile), wherein he described the traits characteristic of Italian Fascism at the time: compulsory state corporatism, Philosopher Kings, the abolition of the parliamentary system, and autarky. He also wrote the Manifesto of the Italian Fascist Intellectuals, signed by many writers and intellectuals, including Luigi Pirandello.

Besides being minister of education, later, he was integral to the Fascist Grand Council of the Italian Fascist régime, and remained loyal to Mussolini after the establishment of the Republic of Salò, and accepted a government appointment. In 1944, a group of anti-fascist partisans, led by Bruno Fanciullacci, killed ‘the philospher of Fascism’ as he returned from the Prefecture in Florence, where he had argued for the release of anti-fascist intellectuals. [3]

In the event, Giovanni Gentile had so firmly believed that the philosophic concreteness of Fascism possessed a dialectical intelligence that surpassed intellectual scrutiny, that he presumed that intellectual opposition would only reinforce, and thus give credence to, the truth of the superiority of Fascism as a superior, liberally-thinking polity.

Phases of his thought

There are a number of developments within his thought and career which defined his philosophy.

  • The discovery of Actual Idealism in his work Theory of the Pure Act (1903)
  • The political favour he felt for the invasion of Libya (1911) and the entry of Italy into World War I (1915)
  • The dispute with Benedetto Croce over the historic inevitability of Fascism.
  • His role as education minister (1923)
  • His belief that Fascism could be made to be subservient to his thought and the gathering of influence through the work of such students as Ugo Spirito.

Philosophy

Benedetto Croce wrote that Gentile "...holds the honor of having been the most rigorous neo–Hegelian in the entire history of Western philosophy and the dishonor of having been the official philosopher of Fascism in Italy."[4] His philosophical basis for fascism was rooted in his understanding of ontology and epistemology, in which he found vindication for the rejection of individualism, acceptance of collectivism, with the state as the ultimate location of authority and loyalty to which the individual found in the conception of individuality no meaning outside of the state (which in turn justified totalitarianism).

Ultimately, Gentile foresaw a social order wherein opposites of all kinds weren't to be given sanction as existing independently from each other; that 'publicness' and 'privateness' as broad interpretations were currently false as imposed by all former kinds of Government; capitalism, communism, and that only the reciprocal totalitarian state of Corporative Syndicalism, a Fascist state, could defeat these problems made from reifying as an external that which is in fact to Gentile only a thinking reality. Whereas it was common in the philosophy of the time to see conditional subject as abstract and object as concrete, Gentile postulated the opposite, that subject was the concrete and objectification was abstraction (or rather; that what was conventionally dubbed "subject" was in fact only conditional object, and that true subject was the 'act of' being or essence above any object).

Gentile was a notable philosophical theorist of his time throughout Europe, since having developed his 'Actual Idealism' system of Idealism, sometimes called 'Actualism.' It was especially in which his ideas put subject to the position of a transcending truth above positivism that garnered attention; by way that all senses about the world only take the form of ideas within one's mind in any real sense; to Gentile even the analogy between the function & location of the physical brain with the functions of the physical body were a consistent creation of the mind (and not brain; which was a creation of the mind and not the other way around). An example of Actual Idealism in Theology is the idea that although man may have invented the concept of God, it does not make God any less real in any sense possible as far as it is not presupposed to exist as abstraction and except in case qualities about what existence actually entails (i.e. being invented apart from the thinking making it) are presupposed. Benedetto Croce objected that Gentile's "pure act" is nothing other than Schopenhauer's will. [5]

Therefore Gentile proposed a form of what he called 'absolute Immanentism' in which the divine was the present conception of reality in the totality of one's individual thinking as an evolving, growing and dynamic process. Many times accused of Solipsism, Gentile maintained his philosophy to be a Humanism that sensed the possibility of nothing beyond what was contingent; the self's human thinking, in order to communicate as immanence is to be human like oneself, made a cohesive empathy of the self-same, without an external division, and therefore not modeled as objects to one's own thinking.

Gentile's immanentist philosophy was divergent from others in that while he put the center of existence and all spirituality in the individual, he perceived the consequence of this to mean complete selfless immersion and relegation to the social plane in action as being the truest vanguard of the will of an individual so understood, when rightly and purely expressed. This is because to Gentile social reality was not exterior to the individual, but was a qualified extension of the individual by the fact that it was the individual who recognized social reality and all its implications and qualifications through no means beyond the mind of himself. Though he may imagine he does so through his senses, which are again only external in so far as the mind internally apprehends them to be. This act constituting the full extent of what represents external character, continues to be for Gentile a product solely within the apprehension that transcends exterior being. Doing so by virtue that such immanent apprehension is what exclusively must be referred to when maintaining the basis of what seems external to the individual.

Gentile maintained the need for an intelligent opposition to the intellectualizing of systems into being, divorced from practice, which he would classify 'abstract' and for that reason unwieldy if not unworkable. Though this stand is cited by his terminology as "anti-intellectualism" he attributes to it still the factor of intelligence. Meaning 'intelligence' is as it penetrates, and not as it is object, i.e. not as it is when in the "intellectual" tense of the word. In the common meaning of this term outside of Gentiles highly analytic interpretation of it to his philosophy, Gentiles philosophy in fact contains all of the criteria in regard to comporting a favorable position toward having "intellectual" pursuits.

Gentile took the stand against psychology and psycho-analysis that one cannot abstract (i.e. make object out of) the source that creates its own surrounding reality, as one does by his own philosophy, and that any empirical observations of behavioral anthropology appear true because empiricalism always adheres to its own laws, being a closed system it is true within its own considered vacuum. Rather than look to the external for the source of ones mentality, Gentile held that any colourations on what the external first manifests as are initially created within the self, and therefore the external is a product of one's psychology and not the other way around.

Gentile's theory may be considered an extreme form of Occam's Razor, though it can appear to common sense to defy Occam's Razor outright by the complex thinking involved to relate with his theory. Gentile however deduced that common sense in considering material reality was to him not philosophical because it was not self-critical of its sensory presuppositions. To Gentile, making a thought category of his theory itself defied it by turning it into object, as any such idea of the philosophy that was not kept in subject or truly 'actual' could not be Actual Idealism.

One of his most important works is Genesi e Struttura della Società in which he argues that the individual is an abstraction originating from analysis of society. One of the consequences he draws is that the state and the individual are one and the same and that their division is an example of formal abstraction. The work was written after Mussolini had been deposed by the Fascist Grand Council but before the proclamation of the armistice between Italy and the Allies on September 8, 1943 and the Republic of Salò on September 14, 1943.

Gentile's definition of and vision for Fascism

Gentile sought to make his philosophy become the basis of Fascism in much the same manner Marx had developed his philosophy as the basis of Communism. However, with Gentile & with Fascism, the 'problem of the party' existed, and existed by the fact that the Fascist party came to be organically rather than from a tract or pre-made doctrine of thought. This complicated the matter for Gentile as it left no consensus to any way of thinking among Fascists, but ironically this aspect was to Gentile's view of how a state or party doctrine should live out its existence: with natural organic growth and dialectical opposition intact. The fact that Mussolini gave credence to Gentile's view points via Gentile's authorship helped with an official consideration, even though the 'problem of the party' continued to exist for Mussolini himself as well.

Gentile placed himself in the Marxist tradition in many respects, but he believed that Marx's conception of the dialectic to be the fundamental flaw of his application to system making. To Gentile, Marx made the dialectic into external object, and therefore abstracted it by making it part of some process that theoretically exists of outward matter & material. The dialectic to Gentile could only be something of human precepts, something that is an active part of human thinking. Dialectic was to Gentile concrete subject and not abstract object. This Gentile expounded by how humans think in forms wherein one side of a dual opposite could not be thought of without its complement.

"Upward" wouldn't be known without "downward" and "heat" couldn't be known without "cold", while each are opposites they are co-dependent for either one's realization: these were creations that existed as dialectic only in human thinking and couldn't be confirmed outside of which, and especially could not be said to exist in a condition external to human thought like independent matter & a world outside of personal subjectivity or as an empirical reality when not conceived in unity and from the standpoint of the human mind.

To Gentile, Marx externalizing the dialectic was essentially a fetishistic mysticism. Though when viewed externally thus, it followed that Marx could then make claims to the effect of what state or condition the dialectic objectively existed in history, a posteriori of where any individuals opinion was while comporting oneself to the totalized whole of society. i.e. people themselves could by such a view be ideologically 'backwards' and left behind from the current state of the dialectic and not themselves be part of what is actively creating the dialectic as-it-is.

Gentile thought this was absurd, and that there was no 'positive' independently existing dialectical object. Rather, the dialectic was natural to the state, as-it-is. Meaning that the interests composing the state are composing the dialectic by their living organic process of holding oppositional views within that state, and unified therein. It being the mean condition of those interests as ever they exist. Even criminality, is unified as a necessarily dialectic to be subsumed into the state and a creation and natural outlet of the dialectic of the positive state as ever it is.

This view justified the corporative system, wherein the individualized and particular interests of all divergent groups were to be personably incorporated into the state, each to be considered a bureaucratic branch of the state itself and given official leverage. Gentile, rather than believing the private to be swallowed synthetically within the public as Marx would have it in his objective dialectic, believed that public & private were a priori identified with each other in an active & subjective dialectic: one could not be subsumed fully into the other as they already are beforehand the same. In such a manner each is the other after their own fashion & from their respective, relative, and reciprocal, position. Yet both constitute the state itself and neither are free from it, nothing ever being truly free from it, the state existing as an eternal condition and not an objective, abstract collection of atomistic values and facts of the particulars about what is positively governing the people at any given time.

Works

Works about Giovanni Gentile in English

  • A. James Gregor, Giovanni Gentile: Philosopher of Fascism (Transaction Publishers, 2001). ISBN 0-7658-0072-1
  • A. James Gregor, Origins and Doctrine of Fascism: With Selections from Other Works by Giovanni Gentile (Transaction Publishers, 2004). ISBN 0-7658-0577-4
  • M. E. Moss, Mussolini's Fascist Philosopher, Giovanni Gentile Reconsidered (Lang, 2004). ISBN 0-8204-6838-X
  • William A. Smith, Giovanni Gentile on the existence of God (Beatrice-Naewolaerts, 1970)

Works about Giovanni Gentile in Italian

  • Giovanni Gentile (Augusto del Noce, Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990)
  • Giovanni Gentile filosofo europeo (Salvatore Natoli, Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1989)
  • Giovanni Gentile (Antimo Negri, Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1975)
  • Faremo una grande università: Girolamo Palazzina-Giovanni Gentile; Un epistolario (1930-1938), a cura di Marzio Achille Romano (Milano: Edizioni Giuridiche Economiche Aziendali dell'Università Bocconi e Giuffré editori S.p.A., 1999)
  • Parlato, Giuseppe. "Giovanni Gentile: From the Risorgimento to Fascism." Trans. Stefano Maranzana. TELOS 133 (Winter 2005): pp. 75–94.

Notes

  1. ^ Richard J. Wolff, Catholicism, Fascism and Italian Education from the Riforma Gentile to the Carta Della Scuola 1922-1939, History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1980, pp. 3-26.
  2. ^ |Riforma Gentile on Italian Wikipedia.
  3. ^ Bruno Fanciullacci on Italian Wikipedia. The surname Fanciullacci translates as “Bad kids” in English, while Gentile's actualism proposed the identity of philosophy, political action, and paedagogy (see, Gentile's Sommario di pedagogia come scienza filosofica).
  4. ^ Benedetto Croce, Guide to Aesthetics, Translated by Patrick Romanell, "Translator's Introduction," The Library of Liberal Arts, The Bobbs–Merrill Co., Inc., 1965
  5. ^ Runes, Dagobert, editor, Treasure of Philosophy, "Gentile, Giovanni"

Bibliography

  • Treasure of Philosophy, edited by Dagobert D. Runes, Philosophical Library, New York, 1955.

See also

External links








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