Benedetto Croce : biography
Benedetto Croce ( 25 February 1866 – 20 November 1952) was an Italian idealist philosopher, and occasionally also politician. He wrote on numerous topics, including philosophy, history, methodology of history writing and aesthetics. He was a prominent liberal, although he opposed laissez-faire free trade, and had considerable influence on other prominent Italian intellectuals including both Marxist Antonio Gramsci and fascist Giovanni Gentile.
He was President of PEN International, the worldwide writer's association from 1949 until 1952.
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 sensationalism and transcendentalism, 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. While 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 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 on the island of Ischia near Naples, 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).
There, he graduated in law at the University of Naples, while reading extensively in historical materialism. His ideas were spread at the University of Rome towards the ends of the 1890s by Professor Antonio Labriola. Croce was well acquainted with and sympathetic to the developments in European socialist thought exemplified by Filippo Turati, Anna Kuliscioff, Wilhelm Liebknecht, August Bebel, Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky and Paul Lafargue.
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