Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile

Italian idealism, born from interest in the German movement and particularly in Hegelian doctrine, developed in Italy starting from the spiritualism of the nineteenth-century Risorgimento tradition, and culminated in the first half of the twentieth century in its two greatest exponents: Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile.

Risorgimento Hegelianism

In the age of Romanticism, Italian patriots' philosophical circles, especially in Naples, found in Hegelian idealism the way to give a spiritual and cultural imprint to the historical path towards national unification.[1]

The interest in the Hegelian doctrine in Italy spread especially for the works of Augusto Vera (1813–1885) and Bertrando Spaventa (1817–1883), without omitting also the importance of the studies on Hegel "Aesthetic" by Francesco De Sanctis (1817–1883), author of the Storia della letteratura italiana.

De Sanctis's concept of art and of literary history, inspired by Hegel, will stimulate the genesis of Crocian idealism.[2]

Augusto Vera, author of writings and commentaries about Hegel, was a famous philosopher in Europe, who interpreted the Hegelian Absolute in a religious and transcendent sense.[3]

An opposite interpretation was formulated by Bertrand Spaventa, for whom the Spirit was immanent in the history of philosophy.

Reconstructing the development of Italian philosophy, Spaventa argued that Italian Renaissance thought of Bruno and Campanella had been at the origin of modern philosophy, but had stopped due to the Counter-Reformation. Its task now was to catch up with European philosophy, linking up with Vico's mind philosophy, which along with those of Galluppi, Rosmini, and Gioberti, had anticipated themes of Kantism and German idealism.

Spaventa reformulated the Hegelian dialectic, reinterpreting it from the perspective of Kantian and Fichtian conscientialism or subjectivism. He considered the act of thinking prevalent with respect to the phases of objectification and synthesis. That is, he supported the need to «mentalise» Hegel, because the Mind is the protagonist of every original production. The synthesis of the actual thinking of the Spirit was then placed by Spaventa, as the only reality, not only after the hegelian moments of Idea and of Nature, but so as to permeate them also from the beginning.[5]

Gentile and Croce

See also: Actual idealism

After a parenthesis characterized by positivism, in 1913 Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944) with the publication of The reform of Hegelian dialectics resumed Spaventa's interpretation of the Hegelian Idea, seeing in Hegelian Spirit the category of becoming as coinciding with the pure act of thought in which the whole reality of nature, history and spirit was transfused.[6] Every thing exists only in the mental act of thinking it: there are no single empirical entities separated from the trascendental consciousness; even the past lives only in the actual, present moment of memory. To Gentile, who considered himself the "philosopher of Fascism",[7] actual idealism was the sole remedy to philosophically preserving free agency, by making the act of thinking self-creative, and, therefore, without any contingency and not in the potency of any other fact.[6]

Gentile reproached Hegel for having built his dialectic with elements proper to "thought", that is to say that of determined thought and of the sciences. For Gentile, instead, only in "thinking in action" is dialectical self-consciousness that includes everything.

Gentile made a pivotal distinction to factors concerning Idealism's own criteria for reality, which have stood since Berkeley's adage «esse est percipi» by distinguishing between the concrete real «act of thinking» (pensiero pensante), and the abstract «static thought» (pensiero pensato).[6]

To his actual vision was opposed since 1913 Benedetto Croce (1866–1952, cousin of Bertrando Spaventa) who in his Essay on Hegel interpreted Hegelian thought as immanentist historicism: he also understood the Hegelian dialectic of the opposites in a different way, integrating it with that of the «distincts».[6] According to Croce, in fact, the life of the Spirit also consists of autonomous moments that are not opposed, but rather distinct, that is:

Referring to Giambattista Vico, Croce identified philosophy with history, understood not as a capricious sequence of events, but the implementation of Reason, in the light of which it becomes possible the historical understanding of the genesis of facts, and their simultaneous justification with her own unfolding.

Historian's task is therefore to overcome every form of emotionality towards the studied matter, and to present it in form of knowledge, without referring to good or evil.[6]

After having characterized Italian philosophical culture for over forty years, after the Second World War the neo-idealism entered a crisis, replaced by existentialism, neo-positivism, phenomenology and marxism.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Guido Oldrini, Gli Hegeliani di Napoli, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1964.
  2. ^ Garin 2008, pp. 974–976.
  3. ^ Garin 2008, pp. 961–964.
  4. ^ a b Bertrando Spaventa, La filosofia italiana nelle sue relazioni con la filosofia europea, Giovanni Gentile ed., Bari: G. Laterza & f., 1908 (translated by Eugenio Garin, History of Italian Philosophy, Giorgio A. Pinton ed., vol. 1, page XLV, Rodopi, 2008).
  5. ^ Garin 2008, pp. 964–974.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Garin 2008, pp. 995–1066.
  7. ^ M. E. Moss (2004), Mussolini's Fascist Philosopher: Giovanni Gentile Reconsidered. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 9780820468389.
  8. ^ a b Giovanni Gentile, The Theory of Mind as Pure Act [1916], chapter XVII, § 1, pp. 253-254, translated by Herbert Wildon Carr, London, Macmillan, 1922.
  9. ^ a b Benedetto Croce, Theory and history of historiography [1917], p. 89, translated by Douglas Ainslie, London, Harrap, 1921.