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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Croce, Benedetto

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CROCE, BENEDETTO (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 democratic-humanitarian 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 bgen 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 delta 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 critica 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, storia 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.)