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Title: Benedetto Croce - An Introduction to his Philosophy
Author: Piccoli, Raffaello
Language: English
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This book is the account of the life and activity of one who is
living and acting. Herodotus tells us the Greeks had a proverb which
forbade them to pronounce any man happy before he is dead. We may
certainly take his warning to this extent,--that we should refrain
from attempting to fix a philosopher's thought so long as he continues
to think. Benedetto Croce has, it is true, presented his Philosophy
of Mind in such "questionable shape," that it gives the student the
impression of finality, the feeling that a doctrine which throughout
the history of philosophy has been struggling for expression has now
at last come to light. But this appearance of finality is due to a
certain artistic power which Croce possesses in an eminent degree, the
power of reliving the past and making history interpret life. Beneath
all his systematization there is the germ of a new life, a new life,
which, will take form in new problems. While then we may say that no
living philosopher has given so complete an appearance of finality to
his doctrine as Croce has done in his _Philosophy of Mind_ it is really
the reflection of a work of art which serves only to conceal the living

The publishers of this Introduction to the philosophy of Benedetto
Croce by Dr. Raffaello Piccoli have courteously invited me to write
this foreword inasmuch as I was the first to introduce this philosophy,
otherwise than by translations, to the attention of English students. I
do so very gladly. My own work was confined to the purely philosophical
writings, my interest in them having been first aroused by the striking
address on Æsthetic delivered by Croce to the International Congress of
Philosophy at Heidelberg in 1908. When I wrote my book, the _Philosophy
of Mind_ consisted of three volumes, the _Estetica_, the _Logica_,
and the _Pratica_, but before I had completed my account I read in
Croce's Journal Critica the announcement of the forthcoming publication
of the fourth volume on the _Theory and History of the Writing of
History_. Croce had, it seemed to me, closed his book on _Practice_
with the plain indication, not that he had solved every philosophical
problem, nor that philosophy was not an external problem, but that
he had given an exhaustive account of the stages or degrees in their
order as moments of the developing life of the mind, and that outside
these degrees there were no others. The new work did not, indeed,
either negative or qualify this conclusion, but it bore evidence of the
ceaseless activity of his mind. Are we then, because the philosophy of
Croce is still developing, to refrain from the attempt to interpret
it on the ground that any meaning we may find in it is indefinite and
insecure? Certainly not, for a philosopher's thinking unfolds and
develops like a living thing, it is not constructed like a building,
nor does it rest on foundations which may be unsound.

Dr. Raffaello Piccoli, a professor in the University of Pisa, and
the author of this book, was born in Naples, Croce's city, in 1886.
He himself as a young student came under the personal spell of the
philosopher he writes about, and grew up in the intellectual atmosphere
which his philosophy was creating. To this great advantage he has added
another, for first in Australia, and later in the Universities of
England and America he has acquired a perfect command of our language
and a thorough knowledge of our philosophy. He is specially qualified,
therefore, to give a first-hand account of Croce's literary and
philosophical activity, and the kind of influence it has had in forming
the mind of Modern Italy.

The author has not confined himself to an exposition of the philosophy
of Croce in its narrow and technical meaning, he has given us an
account of the whole of his literary and historical activity. He
has traced the origin of his philosophy in the circumstances of his
parentage, early life and education, and has followed biographically
the formation of his philosophical theories and the direction of his
philosophical interest. He has shown how his general trend of thought,
his literary tastes and historical studies without any professional
spur, by the very nature and force of the problems with which they
confronted him, led to philosophy as the dominant and culminating
interest of life.

Philosophers and philosophies have had in our generation to undergo the
trial of a fiery furnace. The Great War and the passions aroused by
it and the estrangement between nations nurtured in the same Western
culture have been a fierce test of principles. In regard to every
great leader we ask first how he reacted to the conflicting emotions
of the international struggle. Dr. Piccoli has dealt with this latest
and crucial period of Croce's activity in a very sympathetic spirit.
Croce's attitude at one time exposed him to an extreme unpopularity.
This was largely the result of misunderstanding. He has come through
the ordeal with enhanced reputation. This, at least, is the author's
judgment--the judgment of one who himself fought and suffered severely
in the War.

The two great achievements of Croce are in the domain of æsthetical and
ethical theory. Dr. Piccoli shows us each doctrine in its historical
origin and in its relation to contemporary philosophy. The first is
a reaction against the intellectualism of Hegel. In its affirmation
of intuition it is in rather striking agreement with the philosophy
of Bergson, although as Croce's approach is from the side of art
and literature, and not like Bergson's from the study of biological
science, it rather supplements than elucidates Bergson's theory.
The second is a reaction against the school of Karl Marx and its
materialistic interpretation of history.

At the present time Croce is directing his criticism on the new line of
development which his own friends and colleagues are taking in regard
to his own principles, in particular to the "actual idealism" of his
colleague Professor Giovanni Gentile. To Croce this new doctrine spells
mysticism, and of mysticism in all its forms he is the open enemy. On
this point we may, I think, detect an inclination on the part of Dr.
Piccoli to disagree with Croce. It will be seen, therefore, that we
have in this book a very full and a very welcome account, brought right
up to date, of one who is, as far as contemporaries can judge, forming
the mind of the present age.

H. Wildon Carr


When, about a year ago, I undertook to write this little book for its
present publishers, all that I had in my mind was a brief exposition
of the solutions given by Croce to a number of philosophical problems
of vital interest to the students of what were once called the Moral
Sciences. I thought at the time that it would be possible to abstract
such solutions and problems from the body of his Philosophy of Mind,
which is a coherent and austere theory of knowledge of a kind that in
the modern decadence of philosophical studies and of general culture
is rapidly becoming unintelligible even to the most highly cultivated.
I hoped that the specialized reader, for whom the larger aspects of
Croce's thought have no appeal, and therefore no meaning, would be able
to apply those particular solutions to the problems that confronted him
in his particular branch of studies, by translating them into terms of
his own naïve philosophy.

This plan had also a personal advantage, inasmuch as it did not compel
me to a conscious revision of my own position in regard to those
larger aspects of Croce's philosophy. But as soon as I began to think
consistently of this book, the history of my own reactions to Croce's
work came back to me so vividly that I found it impossible to set it
aside; and I discovered that this supposed advantage was a delusion,
towards which I had probably been drawn by a very human, very natural
desire of avoiding the most obvious difficulties of my task.

As a young man, in my student days in Italy, I was a fervid and
enthusiastic follower of Croce's ideas: one of the many who used to
swear, as we were wont to say, _in verba Crucis._ To the generation
who opened the eyes of their intellect in the dawn of the century,
he had revealed what seemed to be the only safe path between the two
precipices of a pseudo-scientific materialism on one hand, and of a
mysticism on the other, which in all its many forms (traditionalism,
modernism, pragmatism, intuitionism, æstheticism, super-humanism,
futurism) could not be anything less than an abdication of thought for
the sake of the emotions. And it should not be wondered at, if Croce's
books, appearing at short intervals between 1900 and 1910, and building
up what presented itself to us as a complete system of answers to
all, or practically all, our most pressing spiritual questions, were
received by us with deep gratitude but with very little constructive
criticism. They covered such an enormous space on the map of European
culture, that even for the most ambitious among us, they were very
often the first introduction to entirely new fields of studies, and all
we could do was to follow our guide in his voyages of rediscovery: to
repeat within ourselves the strenuous experience of which each of those
books was a report and a testimony.

Impatience with a master who was not of the kind we had been accustomed
to, who could not be easily digested, surpassed and disposed of, but
had as much energy and courage, as light a step and as curious a mind,
as the most gifted among his pupils, prompted a good deal of immature
and capricious criticism, which was but a means for an arbitrary
liberation. It was an amusing sight to see Croce assailed and, to the
satisfaction of his critics, destroyed, with weapons that nobody could
have provided but Croce himself, and a dwarf victoriously brandishing
against the giant a toothpick for a sword. But there is no epic of
thought without such comic interludes.

My own faith in Croce was not shaken until intercourse with one of the
greatest critical minds of our day, and the representative of a totally
different philosophical tradition, a mathematician and a philosopher,
showed me the weakness of the foundations not of Croce's, but of my own
idealism. And a long residence in England, where I became intimately
acquainted with certain logical habits utterly unlike our Latin ways of
thought, made me profoundly sceptical of the intellectual advantages of
whatever dogmatism might have been in me. Yet I continued for a long
time to keep as it were in separate compartments those that had seemed
to me to be established truths in Croce's system, and speculations of
a quite different order on problems which were forced upon me by my
own experience of life and by contact with a new moral and cultural

All this was in the happy days of peace. The war from its very
beginning appeared to me, then living in one of the most purely
intellectual centres of Europe, at one of the oldest Universities
of England, as the catastrophe of our whole intellectual life. From
the trials of the war I emerged with infinitely less faith in the
value of our intellectual possessions than I ever had had before, and
at the same time with the firm conviction that intelligence, more
intelligence, a deeper, purer, more active, charitable, courageous and
pervasive intelligence, is our only hope for the future.

It was with such a disposition that I took up this work, and read what
Croce had been writing during the war. Three things, in the course
of this new acquaintance with him, and while I was meditating and
lecturing on him during my American peregrinations, became very clear
to me. The first, that his thought is not a system in the ordinary
sense of the word, but a method; that therefore it is impossible
to sever parts of his philosophy from the main body, the truth of
particular propositions being dependent upon an understanding of the

The second, that in the last few years the progress of his thought has
been so considerable that an attempt at giving a general exposition of
his philosophy without any regard to the successive stages of growth,
at describing as a static structure what is a dynamic process, would
inevitably lead to the construction of a fanciful system, of an image
totally different from the original.

The third, that whatever our individual position may be in relation to
his ideas, his work before, during and after the war will remain as the
most solemn contemporary monument of that intellectual civilization
of Europe, of which we have seen so many false idols, so many white
sepulchres, go under during these seven years of passion.

The conclusion to be drawn from these considerations was obvious:
first, that I had to give up my former plan, and this with no regret,
as I ought to have remembered what Croce has taught again and again,
that to the naïve philosophy of the specialist his own solutions of his
particular problems, however childish they may appear from a higher
standpoint, are perfectly adequate, that ready-made, formal solutions
are no solutions at all, and the only truth is the one that we conquer
by our own effort, under the impulse of our own need. And second,
that, however conscious I was and am of my own limitations, I had to
take a first step in the direction of constructive criticism by trying
to retrace the history, the ideal biography, of the philosophy of
Croce. With the exception of a little book written by Croce himself,
there is very little help to be found for a work of this kind in the
vast literature that has grown in the last twenty years, in Europe
and in America, around his work. And I firmly believe that there
is not one man in Europe or in America who is qualified to do that
work of creative interpretation which ought to be at the same time a
history and a criticism of Croce's philosophical activity: least of
all, the professional philosopher, who has dealt all his life with
the conceptual residuum of the problems of life, and has no direct
experience of any of them. Croce, as this little book will try to show,
has always come to the concept from the concrete, particular problem,
and has occupied himself with such a variety of problems, going into
them so deeply and so thoroughly, that a complete valuation of his work
will never be possible to a single man, but will _take place,_ will
_happen,_ in the history of the various disciplines, and in the general
history of thought, for years and years to come. For the present, and
as long as he will be alive and thinking, the only creative interpreter
of Croce is Croce himself.

This book does not therefore intend to substitute itself, not even as
a summary and a short cut for lazy minds, to the works of Croce. It
is rather an introduction to those works, and at the same time the
confession of one individual experience of that philosophy. It is
an historical sketch, and implicitly a criticism, since our way of
understanding a thought is our judgment of that thought (when not a
judgment that that thought passes on us); a sketch which I think I can
honestly write because so much of that philosophy has been the daily
food of my intellectual life, my own history, for years. Before the
war I should probably have been able to write it with less difficulty,
with more complete adhesion; but the perspective of these few years
will make it perhaps less passionate and more reflective. An explicit
criticism of the whole philosophy of Croce it is not, and it does
not attempt to be: the reader may find traces of my doubts and of my
preoccupations in it, but I have humbly tried to give not more, and I
hope not less, than what he has a right to expect from the title.

I do not write this book for the professors of philosophy. Those among
them who know Croce will not need it; and those who either have not as
yet taken any notice of him, or from a casual acquaintance with one of
his books have proceeded to damn most vigorously what they have hardly
understood, are certainly beyond my power. I write it for the young,
from the heart of my own now fast receding youth, trying to raise
before their eyes, in the words of Dante to Brunetto Latini,

    _la cara e buona immagine paterna_
    _di voi, quando .... ad ora ad ora_
    _m'insegnavate come l'uom s'eterna._

I trust that they will find in it what they need not less than we of an
older generation needed it, and what I know they are thirsting for: an
example of intellectual energy and of moral strength converging into
a life of unremitting devotion to the service of that truth which is
light and love and joy,--our only light against the menace of darkness.

Raffaello Piccoli.

Northampton, Mass., June-October, 1931.



    I. The Beginnings
   II. Early Environment
  III. The Origins of his Thought


From Philology to Philosophy (1893-1899)

    I. History as Art
   II. On Literary Criticism
  III. History and Economics


The Philosophy of Mind (1900-1910)

    I. The Growth of the System
   II. Intuition and Expression
  III. The Concept of Art
   IV. Criticism and Technique
    V. The Pure Concept
   VI. The Forms of Knowledge
  VII. The Theory of Error
 VIII. The Practical Activity
   IX. Economics and Ethics
    X. The Laws


Philosophy as History (1911-1921)

    I. Works and Days
   II. The Theory of History
  III. Criticism and History
   IV. Veritas filta temporis

Bibliographical Note




Croce's family, and early education--His religion--Life in Rome in
the eighties--Labriola's influence--Meditations on ethics--Return
to Naples; life as a scholar--Travels; and the problem of history
--Philosophus fit--The intellectual conditions of Italy after the
Risorgimento--Contemporary European culture--American analogies
--Two leaders of Italian thought--Francesco de Sanctis--Giosuè
Carducci--Croce's approach to philosophy, and his method of work--His
relations to the philosophical practition--Vico and the philosophy of
the Renaissance--Bruno and Campanella--The humanism of Vico--Naturalism
and spiritualism--A philosophy of the human spirit.

I. The Beginnings

Benedetto Croce was born in 1866, in a small town in the Italian
province of Aquila, the only son of an old-fashioned, Catholic, and
conservative Neapolitan family. His grandfather had been a high
magistrate, untouched by the new liberal currents in his devotion to
the old régime and to the Bourbon dynasty then reigning in Naples. His
father followed the traditional maxim of the "good people" of Naples:
that an honest man must take care of his family and of his business,
and keep away from the intrigues of political life. His mother was
a woman of culture and taste, such as the old type of education
for women, which is now as completely forgotten as if it had never
existed, used to produce. Bertrando Spaventa, the philosopher, and
Silvio Spaventa, a statesman who had brought to his enthusiasm for the
national cause all the traditions of his Neapolitan conservatism, were
her brothers: both of them, however, estranged from Croce's family
because of their political ideas.

The child grew in this greyish, subdued atmosphere, in which the only
touches of colour were added by his own passion for books of history
and romance, and by the visits to the beautiful old churches to which
he accompanied his mother. To the circumstances of his childhood, Croce
attributes the relative delay in the development of his political
feelings and ideals, for a long time submerged by his interests in
literature and erudition. But because every fault brings with itself
some compensation, he also owed to them his critical attitude towards
partisan political legends, his impatience towards the rhetoric of
liberalism, his vehement dislike of great emphatic words, and of any
kind of pomp and ceremony, together with a power to appreciate what is
useful and effectual in the actions of men, wherever it may come from.

As a boy, he went to a Catholic "collegio" or boarding school, and
in this too his experience differed from that of the majority of his
contemporaries. The insistence on lay education imparted by the State,
and the preference for the day school, which allows the family to
supplement the work of the school, in fact, to take care of the moral
and social side of education, as distinct from the purely intellectual
one, are characteristics of the new Italian methods, obviously in
keeping with the general tendencies of the age. I remember that to
myself as a boy it was inexplicable why anybody should be sent to a
"collegio" unless he were an orphan or an unmanageable scamp. But Croce
seems to have enjoyed his experience, to which he was submitted merely
in accordance with the habits of his family; and even now he praises
the system for breeding in him those feelings of loyalty and honour,
which are the result of life in common with boys of one's own age, and
of the necessity of adapting oneself to a variety of dispositions and

Classical secondary education in Italy roughly corresponds in its
scope, even to-day, to that which is imparted in Anglo-Saxon countries
by secondary schools and liberal colleges. It is supposed to end the
"formative" phase of education, and to lead to the higher phase in the
Universities, which is, whether cultural or professional, of a highly
specialized and "informative" kind. It is the direct outcome of the
humanistic tradition, and rather more so in the clerical schools, like
the one which Croce attended, than in the public ones. By the time he
was ready for the University, he must have had a good knowledge of the
classics, as a general background to a mainly literary and historical
culture, in which the elements of scientific knowledge, and a good deal
of mathematics, had also their place.

The religion which played such an important part in his family and
school life was probably little more than a habit with him: a set
of answers to certain fundamental problems which, accepted on the
authority of parents and teachers, released his mind for the pursuit
of his favourite studies. And yet, there is no doubt that we can
find traces of this religious education in all his work: a personal
experience of the catholic catechism and of catholic morality brings
a spirit in contact with some of the great ideas and of the great
realities of life in a much more intimate and profound way than the
purely intellectual apprehensions of the same ideas and realities ever
will. It creates habits of mind and moral tastes which will still be
recognizable even after the individual mind to which they belong has
undergone the most radical changes. In a philosopher, in particular, it
forms a kind of personal background to thought, similar to that which
modern philosophy actually has in its own history: it reproduces in the
youth of one man that religious phase which corresponds to the youth of
a civilization, and is the source of the intellectual development of a
more conscious age. At intervals during his adolescence, Croce's faith
intensified itself into passing aspirations towards a life of devotion,
until it quietly vanished, so to speak, from his consciousness, through
no great dramatic crisis, but merely in consequence of a course
of lessons on the philosophy of religion, which were intended to
strengthen it and make it more resistant to criticism, during the last
years of his secondary education. At about the same time, having come
under the influence of both Carducci and De Sanctis, he began to write,
and contributed his first articles to a literary weekly, the _Fanfulla
della Domenica_, which represented the most vigorous and advanced
tendencies of the day.

In 1883, in the earthquake of Casamicciola, in the island of Ischia
near Naples, Croce lost both his parents and his only sister, he
himself remaining buried for several hours under the ruins, and broken
in several parts of his body. The years immediately following were
the "saddest and darkest" of his life, and he spent them in Rome in
the house of his uncle Silvio Spaventa, which was one of the most
conspicuous political and intellectual centres of the capital of
the new kingdom. Spaventa was one of the leaders of the Right, or
Conservative party, which had been thrown out of office by the Left, or
Liberal party, a few years before; by him and by his friends the young
Croce was strengthened in his mistrust of the prevailing ideas and
methods, which he heard bitterly and sarcastically criticised by men of
great culture and of profound political honesty. While his temperament
and the shadow of his grief kept him away from the brilliant social
life of the Roman _jeunesse dorée_ his relations with the men of a
party which had little hope of ever coming back to power prevented him
from taking any part in active political life, in sharp contrast with
the habits of the majority of Italian university students, to whom
politics are what the major sports are to Anglo-Saxon students. He
divided his time between the University and the great Roman libraries,
among which the one he loved best was the Casanatense, in those years
still served by Dominican monks, a typical old monastic library, its
benches provided with old-fashioned inkhorns, sandboxes with golden
sand, and goose-quills. Anyone seeing him there, buried among his
ancient and curious books, and not suspecting the deep perpetual
dissatisfaction and unhappiness which accompanied him in a work which
seemed to be but a work of love, would have prophesied for him the life
of one of those ascetics of erudition, intoxicated by the romantic dust
of the past, who still haunt the solemn halls and the dark corridors of
the libraries of the old world.

But the great event of his University life, the one which awakened
him from the torpor of mere erudition, and set before him a new goal
and a higher hope, was the lessons on moral philosophy which he heard
from Antonio Labriola. Croce himself has described this new, decisive
experience: "Those lessons came unexpectedly to meet my harrowing need
of rebuilding for myself in a rational form a faith in life, and in
the aims and duties of life; I had lost the guidance of a religious
doctrine, and at the same time I was feeling the obscure danger of
materialistic theories, whether sensistic or associationistic, about
which I had no illusions at all, as I clearly perceived in them the
substantial negation of morality itself, resolved into a more or less
disguised egotism. Herbart's ethics taught by Labriola restored in my
mind the majesty of the ideal, of _that which has to be_ as opposed
to _that which is,_ and mysterious in its opposition, but because of
this same mysteriousness, absolute and uncompromising."[1] Labriola's
influence on Croce was not limited to the classroom; the professor
and the student became friends, and Croce enjoyed the benefit of his
wonderful gifts as a conversationalist, on which even more than on
his academic activity, or on his published work, his fame rests. He
seems to have been an awakener of souls, an intellectual stimulant in
the fashion of the Greek philosophers, a breaker of new paths and a
spiritual guide such as a younger generation had in the mathematician

The mind of the young scholar is henceforth constantly occupied by
meditations on the concepts of pleasure and duty, of purity and
impurity, of actions prompted by the attraction of the pure, moral
idea, and of actions which result in apparent moral effects through
psychic associations, through habits, through the impulse of the
passions. It is easy to discover the dependence of such meditations on
the early religious education of Croce; they are the link, in fact,
between his religion and his philosophy, since we find them, at a
more mature and elaborate stage, reflected in the third volume of his
_Philosophy of Mind,_ which, to the eyes of its author, has still an
almost autobiographical aspect, entirely concealed from the reader by
its didascalic form.

The plan of life that he sketched for himself about this time, was a
distinctly disillusioned and pessimistic one: on one hand, he would
pursue his erudite and literary work, partly because of his natural
inclination towards it, and partly because one has anyhow to do
something in this world; and he would, on the other hand, fulfil his
moral duties to the best of his capacity, conceiving them to be above
all _duties of compassion._ In later years he criticised this view as a
purely selfish one, since "the true and high compassion is that which
one practices by setting the whole of one's self in harmony with the
ends of reality, and by compelling others too to move towards those
ends, and a kind heart makes itself truly and seriously kind only
through an ever broader and deeper understanding."[2]

After three years of residence in Rome, Croce returned to Naples, where
he lived in the society of curious and learned old men, librarians
and archivists, all absorbed in minute and painstaking historical
researches. The moderate fortune which he had inherited from his
parents gave him the independence he needed for his quiet, laborious
tastes, and allowed him gradually to collect in his own house a very
large and precious library. To it he owed also the possibility of
learning without teaching, and therefore of keeping his own work
entirely free from any academic taint: of subordinating his studies
rather to the necessities of the development of his own personality
than to those of professional specialization.

Practically all the production of the years between 1886 and 1892 is
concerned with one aspect or another of the history of Naples. Through
his researches on the Neapolitan theatres, on Neapolitan life in the
eighteenth century, and on the literature of the seventeenth century,
he acquired an intimate and exhaustive knowledge of the minutest
literary, political, social and archæological details of that life
of his own city, which was the immediate historical background of
his own life. Towards the end of this period, this complex activity
crystallized itself into two rather ambitious enterprises: the editing
of a _Biblioteca letteraria napoletana_, for the publication of texts
and documents of Neapolitan literature; and of a periodical, _Napoli
Nobilissima_, which in the fifteen years of its existence collected an
enormous amount of material for the history and archæology of Naples,
and to which Croce himself contributed the essays of his _Storie e
leggende napoletane_.

We have here a Croce, who, though not a professor, was yet truly a
specialist: one of that great host of local and municipal historians
which are to be met with in even the least important Italian towns.
And undoubtedly this kind of activity offered him, as he willingly
acknowledges, not only an outlet for his youthful imagination, in
the reconstruction of an adventurous and picturesque past, but a
formal discipline of precision and thoroughness in scientific work.
But it must be remembered that municipal or regional history in Italy
has in many cases the breadth and depth of national history in other
countries, because of the number and variety of divergent political,
literary and artistic traditions which are present in the life of each
Italian city or state. And Naples, though she never had as preponderant
a part in the formation of the national consciousness as either Rome
or Florence, was a world in herself, with her own art and poetry, with
her own philosophical and political tendencies, with her peculiar
relations to non-Italian states and cultures, such as France and Spain.
Croce's Neapolitan researches, however specialized and barren they
may appear at first sight, were therefore well fitted to give him,
in one particular instance, that direct and concrete experience of
historical reality, of a complex and variegated historical reality,
which is among the necessary premises of his philosophical thought.
They gave him also a clearer consciousness of the processes of thought
which were naturally connected with that particular experience, and
they thus helped him to penetrate the minds of his two great Neapolitan
predecessors, Vico and De Sanctis. And finally, especially through
his interest in the cultural relations between Naples and Spain, they
enlarged his horizon from the problems of local to those of general
European history.

He visited, always as a scholar, not only Spain, but France and
England and Germany, constantly widening the range of his excursions
in libraries and archives. But the more he acquired of the knowledge
of individual facts, the deeper he felt the futility and vacuity of
their purely material accumulation. There was no end, apparently, to
the labor of research and erudition, unless a guiding and limiting
principle should be found: by the mere piling up of historical
information, however minute and exact, it would be forever impossible
to decipher the secret of the past. No amount of erudition would ever
make history. It is no wonder that to a mind which already had been
preoccupied with religious and moral problems, the problem of its own
work should present itself with the same intensity and in the same
shape as a moral experience. He began to feel a satiety and distaste
for that which he had once thought would be the labour of his whole
life, and a yearning for a more satisfying, more _intimate_ form of
activity. He felt a vague attraction towards a new type of history,
moral history, in relation to which all his previous researches
appeared as a kind of amorphous and unconscious preparation. He planned
a book on the psychological and spiritual history of Italy from the
Renaissance to our own times, and he undertook a series of studies
on the relations between Spain and Italy, to be followed by similar
work in regard to the other nations of Europe, as necessary to a full
understanding of his main theme.

But his old methods and habits followed him in the new field: again
it seemed to him that there would be no end to his merely preparatory
work, once he had undertaken it in what was practically still his old
spirit. In fact he had sensed a spiritual need which had announced
itself by that peculiar feeling so closely resembling one of moral
dissatisfaction, but he had not been able as yet to formulate the terms
of his problem. It is probable that what kept him for quite a long time
from doing so was partly the character of his literary education, and
partly a kind of intellectual humility, which made him distrust his own
powers, on entering into a completely new form of mental activity.

The problem which he had to solve for himself was, indeed, not an
historical, or philological, or archæological one, but a purely
philosophical one: the problem of the nature of history and of science.
We know with what religious awe Croce regarded the professional
philosophers at the time; and certainly nothing could have been more
painful to the young and modest scholar than the thought of stepping
beyond the limits of his own specialty, and invading a ground so
powerfully occupied and defended. But Croce discovered through his
own experience that you cannot reject a problem, once it is forced
upon you by the facts of your own life, and that _philosophus fit_
with the same kind of necessity with which _poeta nascitur._ It is
from this point that we can observe the transformation of the young
scholar into a philosopher; his philosophical career will appear to
us as a continued effort towards the solution of that first problem,
and of all the problems which followed in its train. The last answer
to it is in Croce's theory of the identity of history and philosophy;
and the dependence of this theory on the first impulse from which the
whole of his philosophy arose is clearly visible in the desire which
he has again and again expressed and partly fulfilled in his latest
writings, of going back from abstract and formal philosophy to the
philosophy of particular facts or history: _storia pensata_; "since
this is the meaning of the identity of philosophy and history, that we
philosophize whenever we think, whatever may be the subject or form of
our thought."[3] The philosophy of Croce, which begins with the raw
material of history, presenting itself as a dense, impenetrable mass,
ends in a new conception of history, which is permeated in all its
parts by the vivifying breath of thought.

I may add here, since it will be very hard to interrupt the history
of his intellectual development with biographical details, that the
new direction of his thought did not alter Croce's external mode of
life; that the discipline acquired in his early work remained the norm
of all his later activity; that he accepted public offices in his
own town, and later as a senator (which in Italy is a life-office)
and as a Minister of Public Education in the last Giolitti Cabinet,
certainly more out of the consciousness of a moral obligation than
through his inclination or his ambition. His life on the whole has been
and is essentially that of the scholar and of the thinker: his work, a
political work only in the wide meaning which Plato gives to the word.

[Footnote 1: _Contributo,_ pp. 21, 22; and _passim_, pp. 1-30, for
practically the whole substance of this section.]

[Footnote 2: _Contributo_, p. 23.]

[Footnote 3: _Contributo_, p. 81.]

II. Early Environment

Benedetto Croce was thirty-four years old in nineteen hundred: his
education (if it is possible to set a term to the education of
a philosopher) is therefore the work of the last quarter of the
nineteenth century. A rapid examination of the intellectual conditions
of Italy during those years will help us to see that education in its
true light, that is, as a reaction to, rather than a fruit of, the

The Risorgimento, with its fifty years of wars and revolutions
coming close on the heels of the great Napoleonic upheaval, left
Italy materially and morally exhausted. After centuries of foreign
domination, of political and spiritual servitude, all the elements
of Italian culture had been gathered by the two generations of the
Risorgimento into a new culture, which was much more an instrument
of combat, for the conquest of unity and independence, considered as
the necessary premises of national life, than the best soil for the
spiritual growth of that life after the conquest. This new culture, in
the poets who had announced and formed it, Parini, Alfieri, Foscolo,
Leopardi, Manzoni, in its philosophers, Rosmini and Gioberti, and in
its prophet and apostle, Mazzini, had forms and spirits, the value and
meaning of which by far transcended the importance of its immediate
historical purpose; but through the difficulties and labors of the
practical effort, it reached the end of the period shorn of a good deal
of what was deepest, most beautiful, nearest to the universal, in it.
Italy in 1870 was very much like the sprinter who wins the race, but
collapses at the crossing of the line.

The culture of Italy had been for centuries oscillating between
the pursuit and discovery of certain universal values, which had
gradually become part of the common European culture (the Roman
idea, the Christian idea, the main principles, æsthetic and moral,
of the Renaissance), and the development of purely local, regional
characteristics. At the end of the Risorgimento, the links that had
kept Italian culture in constant contact with the rest of Europe were
broken, and on the other hand the local cultures found themselves,
as it were, lost and submerged in the new political readjustment,
threatened in their very existence by the new claim of loyalty advanced
by a literary and abstract national ideal. The duties of Italian
culture, clearer to us now than to the men who lived in the midst of
those events, were then, on one side, to re-establish the connection
between Italian and European culture, and this time more by learning
than by teaching--and on the other side to utilize the less particular
elements of the regional cultures as a foundation for a real and
concrete and diffused cultural life in the nation.

Thus Italy becomes, at the beginning of her new, unified existence,
little more than a province of European thought. She looks around
herself and she is compelled to take notice of what had happened beyond
her frontiers during the last two or three centuries. It is interesting
to compare the characteristics of the other great nations of Europe
as they appear to Italy during and after the Risorgimento. England,
who had been a symbol of political liberty, a source of political and
economic wisdom, reappears as a model of industrial development and
at the same time as the proclaimer of a new creed to the world, the
creed of evolution, which after having infused a fresh spirit in the
natural sciences with Darwin, seems to promise a new interpretation of
human life, a new organization of science and of social thought, with
Spencer. France, the mother of revolutions, the deliverer of the spirit
of man from the shackles of divine and earthly tyranny, remains, in
a vague and hazy fashion, through the many disappointments that her
policies give to her Italian lovers during all this period, the same
kind of inspiration that she has been ever since the Encyclopédie and
the Revolutions; but contributes to the new effort little more than her
veristic fiction, in which art itself is reduced to a handmaid of the
goddess of the hour, biological and social science.

Germany had saturated with the romantic atmosphere of her poetry the
passionate struggle of the times, and she had captured a little band
of thoughtful patriots, among whom we find Croce's uncle, Bertrando
Spaventa, with the fascination of her new metaphysics, in which they
found the fulfilment of all the promises of Italian thought in the
foregoing centuries; but after her victory over France, the same cause
that makes French influence less vigorous, makes also German influence
less deep and less inspiring. A Germany who has like Faust sold her
romantic and metaphysical soul, yields only a shadow of her great
historical and philosophical culture of the eighteenth and of the
first half of the nineteenth century, though a tremendously powerful
one, and such that for a long time it overawes the academic mind not
of Italy only, but of the whole continent. A narrow and materialistic
philology, under the name of historical method, becomes the heir to
the humanistic tradition, and substitutes itself for every native
impulse, even in fields in which Italian thought had been master for
centuries, as in that of law: where it mercilessly destroys, of the
ideologies of the Risorgimento, not only that which was arbitrary and
fanciful, and therefore destined to perish, but even that which through
the subsequent course of history was to prove vital and sound. The
Italian school of international law, the new conception of the Law of
Nations, for instance, which was the fruit of the Italian juridical
tradition during the experiences of the Risorgimento, and which is
the more or less consciously accepted foundation of all the doctrines
of international relations striving for realization in our times, in
no country and in no schools was so resolutely repudiated as in the
Italian universities. And it could not have been otherwise, since the
new philology was as static and deterministic a doctrine, only more
logically and rigorously so, as the evolutionary positivism which we
had learnt from England.

The faults of Italian culture during this period are therefore the
faults of the other European cultures which Italy had to assimilate:
at a time when Italy was most in need of cultural help from without,
she found that, for reasons infinitely complex and totally different
from those which had caused her own exhaustion, the other nations of
Europe were also spiritually exhausted. And yet it cannot be said that
from these very faults Italy did not draw some useful lessons. The
so-called historical method, which completely disregarded the great
forces of history, and made of the least significant historical datum
a _Ding an sich_ in which the mind of the scholar seemed to find its
ultimate object, proved in the end to be a salutary discipline as
against the facile and enthusiastic generalizations of the historians
of the Risorgimento. Positivism, however barbarous and uncouth in
itself, was a powerful weapon for the destruction of the last remnants
of a more or less mythological metaphysics, and in that sense it
afforded an example of intellectual honesty; and at the same time it
awakened the consciousness of the continuity of natural and spiritual
life, announcing, though in a hasty and imperfect synthesis, what
every philosophy of the future will have to be. And about the middle
of the period which we are now considering, the only real contribution
of Germany to European thought in the second half of the century
became known in Italy with the advent of Marxism, in which we found
a new conception of history, in so far adequate to the true spirit
and conditions of the times, as it afforded to blind social forces,
striving for political expression, an interpretation of their needs and
a rationalized programme of action.

The analogies between this general cultural atmosphere, and the present
conditions of the intellectual world in America, are, provided we
do not stress them too hard, so striking that I cannot refrain from
calling the attention of the reader to them. I believe this will help
him to apply a good many of Croce's criticisms and ideas to tendencies
and problems with which he is thoroughly familiar. The most recent
forms of American philosophy, pragmatism, instrumentalism, realism,
are indigenous elaborations of that same English positivism and
empiricism which was dominant in Italy a generation ago: the relations
between science and philosophy are seen in the same light in America
to-day as in Italy before the beginning of this century. And the two
most significant and far-reaching directions of research, social
psychology and psychoanalysis, branching out into every ramification
of social and moral and æsthetic thought, are based on assumptions,
and lead to results, very similar to those of the Spencerian sociology
and of the Lombrosian theory of insanity and genius. Even in fiction
America is to-day trying her hand at verism, and in poetry, apart
from a few marked exceptions, she is experimenting in the same spirit
in which we began to follow, about the end of the period, the most
recent fashions of Paris in verslibrism and decadentism. In academic
circles German philology has maintained its sway for a much longer
time than in Europe, and the war has brought about more an emotional
than an intellectual consciousness of the need of a vaster and deeper
understanding of history. Finally, certain aspirations towards ancient
and totally different systems of moral and æsthetic standards, embraced
with an enthusiasm that is akin to an act of faith--the hope to
discover a refuge and a consolation from the chaos of modernity in a
restoration of classical or mediæval ideals--are American varieties
of an attitude of mind which found its satisfaction in Italy in
patterns which we drew after the models of Ruskinism and of French

On the whole, Italian culture was suffering from the effects of the
same delusion which accounts for the straits in which American culture
is to-day: that European culture could be assimilated through its
representatives at one particular moment only, and as if it were at
the surface of time, rather than by the only legitimate and fruitful
method, which is that of delving beneath that surface for the truly
fundamental contributions that each nation has made to the common
mind. Not one of the nations of Europe was then, or is now, at one of
those turning points in the history of culture in which principles of
universal value are elaborated within the limits of a single national
group. The only possible exception was that of Russia, sending out to
an age-worn Europe a fresh message of human pity and Christian love in
a succession of epic masterpieces; but the quality of the message was
such as to affect the heart much more than the intellect, to produce a
new and deeper feeling rather than a sounder knowledge.

Two great individual figures, however, dominate the whole period, and
among so many contrasting currents of thought and feeling, among the
fluctuating fashions of the times, connect the new generations with
the traditional elements of Italian culture. That breadth of vision,
that sense of the perspective of history, which was totally lacking in
the prevailing cosmopolitan thought, was a conspicuous characteristic
of the work of a great critic, Francesco de Sanctis, and of a great
poet, Giosuè Carducci. And what made the secret of the strength of
the one as well as of the other, was their fidelity to the regional
traditions from which they were issued, coupled with a power to invest
them with a much broader significance than they had ever possessed.
With De Sanctis, the speculative trend of the Southern Italian mind,
with Carducci the humanism of Florence and Tuscany, for the first time
in history become real elements of a greater national consciousness.
Neither the one nor the other was, moreover, without a knowledge of,
and a taste for, foreign cultures; but what they gained from these
were elements of more permanent value than the ones which attracted
the attention of the crowds, and they both succeeded in grafting those
foreign elements on their native dispositions in such a way and with
so little violence that they seemed to belong rightfully to them. This
is true of what De Sanctis learnt from the idealistic philosophers
of Germany, and particularly from Hegel, as well as of what Carducci
acquired from the great poets and historians of the two previous
generations in France, in England, and in Germany. Nor should we marvel
at this, since by going deep enough or high enough into any of the
European cultures, it is always possible to find a level that is common
to all of them.

Francesco de Sanctis was not a philosopher in the strict meaning
of the word; yet, among all the European critics of the nineteenth
century, he is the only one from whose works it is possible to derive
a consistent line of æsthetical thought. His education had been partly
philosophical, of old Italian and modern German philosophy; and partly
grammatical and rhetorical, in those literary doctrines of the old
school which embodied a secular experience, and in comparison with
which the modern _science_ of literature is ineffably shallow and
puerile. It was through a philosophical elaboration of those doctrines,
and through a criticism of the intellectualistic æsthetics of Hegel
and his followers, for whom art was the sensuous clothing of the
concept, that De Sanctis, guided by an unerring taste and by a unique
power for discerning the essential and vital element in poetry, came
to his conception of form as not an _a priori,_ a thing by itself and
different from the content, but something that is generated by the
content itself when active in the mind of the artist. This is the
principle which he had constantly in mind in approaching the concrete
works of poetry, and which enabled him to analyze and reproduce the
terms of the spiritual experiences of which they are an expression.
Thus his _Essays_ and his _History of Italian Literature,_ though
in a sense the purest and most genuine kind of literary criticism,
are at the same time a complete spiritual history of a people, as it
reveals itself in its literary manifestations, such as no other country
possesses. The immediate influence of his work was not as great as it
ought to have been: the generation of philologists who immediately
followed him was unable to see in him more than a brilliant exponent of
what was then contemptuously called æsthetic criticism, and could never
forgive him for his apparent lack of method, due to the circumstances
of his life as an exile and a politician. It was only unwittingly, and
through the intermediary of a German disciple of De Sanctis, Gaspary,
who wrote a standard handbook of Italian literature, that they came to
accept the greatest part of his interpretations, and followed the main
directions of his thought in their own researches.

Giosuè Carducci was a disciple of Parini and Alfieri, of Foscolo
and Leopardi, and in a sense of all that lineage of Italian poets,
beginning with Dante and Petrarch, for whom poetry was not less an
arduous discipline for the attainment of a certain standard of formal
beauty, set down once and forever by the poets of the classical
tradition, than a moral and political function in the life of the
nation. As his predecessors had been, he was not only a poet, but
also a student and historian of literature, of literature as the
only field in which that life had truly realized itself. But though
his contributions to the study of Italian literature were many and
important, and the knowledge and taste which were the instruments of
his art made of him an exquisite critic of poetry, yet what even in
his historical and critical prose attracts us most is his lyrical
imagination, his poetry. And his poetry, on the other hand, is mainly
the poetry of the history and of the historical and poetical landscape
of Italy,--of an Italy which was to him not merely one among the
nations of Europe, but the heir of Greece and of Rome, the cradle of
western civilization; not a land and a community limited in space
and in time, or not that only, but an ideal of beauty, of freedom,
of right, of a full and harmonious life, which was Italian, as it
had been Greek and Roman, because it was universally human. In his
early works, the contrast between this ideal and the actual conditions
of Italy in his times found expression in a strain of invective
and satire, from which the poet lifted but rarely his soul to the
contemplation of the great deeds and thoughts of the past; of a past
which in some cases was very recent, as some of the men of the French
Revolution and of the Risorgimento were among his favourite heroes.
But later, and especially in his _Odi Barbare,_ for which he adapted a
new technique from the metres of ancient Greece, while he added many
personal notes to his lyre, his historical inspiration became higher
and deeper and purer, and Italy had in his poetry that which she had
lacked in all the course of her literature, a true _epos,_ though in a
lyrical form, of her secular life, from the fabulous kings and priests
of Etruria to that most legendary of all her heroes, Garibaldi.

The influence of Carducci, not a purely literary, but a moral and
political one, on the generation to which Croce belongs, can hardly be
overestimated; and Croce himself calls his own generation _carducciana_
And the two other great poets that Italy has produced after him,
D'Annunzio and Pascoli, were both disciples of Carducci at the
beginning of their careers. But the formation of their personalities,
so widely divergent in their later developments, is contemporaneous
with what we have called the education of Croce, and therefore outside
the scope of this rapid review of the circumstances under which that
education took place. The growth of the erotic-heroic poetry of
D'Annunzio and that of the idyllic-humanitarian poetry of Pascoli are
no longer among those circumstances but rather products of the same

III. The Origins of His Thought

There are philosophers for whom it is possible, and relatively easy,
to trace the roots of their speculations and of their systems in the
thought of one or a few predecessors. The research of what we might
call their sources, or more precisely of the terms in which certain
problems were handed down to them through the particular philosophical
tradition to which they belong, would probably not lead us very far in
space or very deep in time: it might be useful in such cases to preface
the history of their thought by a brief summary of these immediate
antecedents. But in the case of Benedetto Croce, such a summary ought
to extend, in relation to the problems in which he is or has been
interested, to the whole range of the history of human thought. This is
due partly to his peculiar approach to the problems of philosophy, and
partly to his method of work.

Philosophy is to him neither a special science nor a specialized
technique: not a discipline which requires a scholastic training, and
which you can definitely acquire after a given number of years of
study, but just what it was in the beginning: that love of wisdom
which prompts every man to the exercise of his thinking powers. The
problems of philosophy cannot be enumerated and defined, but that which
happens to you, or your own doings, in your life, in your conduct, in
your work, in your study, is the perpetually renewed material for your
meditation. Problems are not given to you from outside, as puzzles at
which you might try your skill or duties imposed by a pedagogue: they
are your experience, and your philosophy is your conscious logical
reaction to them.

This unprofessional and broadly human view of philosophy was not,
however, an obvious and spontaneous attitude of Croce's spirit, but a
laborious conquest. In the years of his erudite and unphilosophical
youth, at his first coming in contact with philosophy in the strict
and technical meaning of the word, with philosophical treatises and
dissertations, his attitude was one of profound respect for the
professors of philosophy, "as I was persuaded," (he tells us in his
autobiographical notes), "that they, as specialists, should possess
that abstruse science, of whose sacred curtain I had hardly lifted a
few folds, and I did not know that in a few years I should with wonder
and irritation discover that most of them did not possess anything, not
even that very little which I, merely by my good will to understand,
had succeeded in acquiring."[4] The fact is that these professors and
specialists could hardly be termed philosophers at all, while Croce had
already in himself that obscure and tormenting desire for intellectual
clarity, which is the beginning of philosophy.

But in this initial ignorance, in his coming as if unaware to the
gates of the temple, we shall find the reasons of Croce's method of
work. When a given problem presents itself to him, not as a subject of
learned controversy, but as a spiritual necessity, he becomes suddenly
conscious of the duty of following the history of that particular
problem through centuries of thought. The first impulse may come from
a mere attempt at understanding the terms under which the problem
presents itself to him: a clarification of words. His mental habits
are, in fact, those of the conscientious and painstaking philologist,
and he brings the method and discipline of the severest erudition into
the field of logic. There is no problem for him that is purely logical,
in an abstract and formal sense; still less, purely psychological. The
mere occasion for his speculation is sometimes offered, as we shall
see, by contemporary discussions, but he feels from the very beginning
that these discussions are merely concerned with the surface of things,
are taking place on a plane of thought, mechanical and dilettantesque,
on which all conclusions are equally legitimate and equally irrelevant.
Very soon, and long before any trace can be found in his writings of
his final identification of philosophy with history, he practically
identifies each problem with its own history, by retracing, generally
in an inversely chronological order, the original meanings of terms
and theories of which contemporary culture gave him only a pale and
distorted reflection.

But this intimate and vital contact with the past never leads him
to that attitude of reaction, which our forefathers typified in the
_laudator temporis acti,_ and which even to-day is so abundantly
exemplified by the scholar who, having laboriously climbed the
heights of the thought of one man or of one epoch, feels himself
in the possession of final truth, and smiles contemptuously on the
childishness of the moderns. He is as much on his guard against
the idols of the school as against the idols of the market place.
His relation to the great thinkers of the past is not one of blind
discipleship, but of critical collaboration. The favourite process of
his own thought might be defined as one of historical integration.

By emphasizing one aspect or another of Croce's philosophy, it is
possible, however, to connect him more particularly with one or another
philosopher. The name that is most frequently pronounced in this
connection is that of Hegel, probably because Hegel stands, in the mind
of the positivist and of the pragmatist, for a certain type of thought,
much more ancient than Hegel himself and practically coextensive with
the history of philosophy, rather than for what Hegelianism actually
is. The facile critic of Croce, who condemns and rejects him as a
Hegelian, would probably find it very hard to define the actual
points of contact between the two thinkers; but we know that the word
"Hegelian" is more a term of abuse, in such cases, than the expression
of a critical judgment. Croce himself has defined his attitude towards
Hegel, and generally towards the philosophers of the past, in the
conclusion of his examination of Hegel's thought: "I am, and I believe
one has to be, Hegelian; but in the same sense in which any man who
to-day has a philosophical mind and culture, is and feels himself, at
the same time, Eleatic, Heraclitean, Socratic, Platonic, Aristotelian,
Stoic, Sceptic, Neoplatonic, Christian, Buddhist, Cartesian, Spinozian,
Leibnitzian, Vichian, Kantian, and so on. That is, in the sense that
no thinker, and no historical movement of thought, can have passed
without fruit, without leaving behind an element of truth, which is an
either conscious or unconscious part of living and modern thought. A
Hegelian, in the meaning of a servile and bigoted follower, professing
to accept every word of the master, or of a religious sectarian, who
considers dissension as a sin, no sane person wants to be, and no more
I. Hegel has discovered, as others have done, one phase of truth; and
this phase one has to recognize and defend: this is all. If this shall
not take place now, it matters little. 'The Idea is not in haste,' as
Hegel was wont to say. To the same content of truth we shall come,
some day, through a different road, and, if we shall not have availed
ourselves of his direct help, looking back on the history of thought
we shall have to proclaim him, with many an expression of wonder, a

This last hypothesis describes what actually happened in the case of
another among the ancestors of Croce's Philosophy of Mind. For two
centuries either unknown or misunderstood, Vico came into his own only
a few years ago, and mainly through the efforts of Croce himself. In
Vico, that is in Italy at the beginning of the eighteenth century,
practically all the germs of the idealistic philosophy, and of the
historical and critical culture of the nineteenth century, were already
present, as a natural development of the philosophical and humanistic
Renaissance. And it is through what, in Vichian style, we may call the
discovery of the true Vico, that Croce inserts himself in the central
tradition of Italian, and European, culture, and is saved from the
dangers inherent in his catholic attitude towards the philosophers of
the past, that of a material, mosaic-like eclecticism on one side, and
that of a metaphysical syncretism, such as led Hegel to the dialectic
constructions of his Philosophy of History, on the other.

The philosophy of the Renaissance, in which the fundamental impulses
that are the soul of that movement find their clear and distinct
expression, had produced a new naturalism and a new spiritualism
with Giordano Bruno and Tomaso Campanella: that is, two widely
divergent views of reality, which however had sprung from a common
source, the opposition to that scholastic synthesis in which all
the transcendental elements of Greek and Roman philosophy had been
gathered to the support of mediæval theology, in direct relation with
the mediæval description of the cosmos. There has probably never been
made in the world, either before or after the Middle Ages, such a
resolute and comprehensive attempt at an intellectual understanding
of the moral and material universe, as the one that is the work of
mediæval philosophy: but that attempt had been made possible, and had
brought definite results, only through the acceptation of the limits
of revealed truth, which, however freely accepted, proved in the end
to be much more compelling than to the modern scientist are the freely
accepted limits of external reality. Revealed truth could not be a mere
object of thought, as it carried within itself, under the mythological
disguise, its own metaphysics and its own ethics: a new principle, in
fact, a more absolute and intimate spirituality than had been known
to either the Greeks or the Romans, which attracted to itself all the
kindred elements in ancient thought, and determined the essential
characteristics of mediæval speculation.

The discovery and establishment of this spiritual principle, as a
universal reality which transcends nature and the spirit of man,
and which to this natural and human world is as a law dictated from
outside and from above, is the message of the Middle Ages, not in
pure philosophy only, but in religion and ethics, in science and in
the life of society. The Renaissance is the beginning of our modern
world, inasmuch as it is, through the infinite variety of its artistic,
social, religious, scientific manifestations, an effort to see that
same spiritual principle no longer as a transcending reality, but as
the active, immanent, all-pervading soul of immediate reality, both
natural and human. The Ptolemaic cosmography, which is the visible form
of mediæval thought, a system of the finite universe, of which the
Earth is the centre, and which leaves an infinite space for the seat
of the only real, transcending existences, beyond the compass of the
heavenly spheres, and as if it were outside itself, loses its hold on
the imagination, and therefore on the conscience of men, long before
Copernicus and Galileo read in the skies a new system of an infinite
universe, within which, or nowhere, the divine principle must live and

The impulse towards the identification of the spirit with nature, on
one side, and with man on the other, had been at work in Italian life
and thought all through the Renaissance; but it is only at the end of
that miraculous spring of Western civilization, between the close of
the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, that it
expresses itself in the philosophies of Bruno and Campanella. Bruno
presents himself as an expounder and defender of Copernican astronomy,
and Campanella writes the apology of Galileo. And to each of them the
scientific discoveries are much more than mere helps and suggestions
for metaphysical speculation; they are the revelation, in one field of
human thought, of a new logic which has to be recognized, in one form
or another, as the fundamental principle of modern civilization.

Both in Bruno and Campanella, inert remnants of the ancient and
mediæval logic are still part of the structure in which their new
intuitions try to express themselves; but such remnants are to be met
with even in much later philosophers, and constantly reappear, as
blind spots in the active process of thought, in the whole history
of European philosophy down to our days. What is significant of each
thinker, what marks him as the legitimate interpreter of the deepest
spiritual life of his times, is not his system as a whole, but the
particular new intuition on which in each case the system is founded:
in Bruno, the conception of an infinite universe, and of the infinite
life of God in the universe; in Campanella, the affirmation of the
value of human experience and human consciousness, to which God is
present _per tactum intrinsecum,_ intrinsically, and in which knowing
and being coincide.

The two main directions of modern thought, or rather of all human
thought, are thus represented in the naturalism of Bruno and in the
spiritualism of Campanella, at the conclusion of the Renaissance,
respectively prefiguring the pantheism of Spinoza and the rationalism
of Descartes, that is, the two systems through which similar
conceptions became active and effective in all subsequent developments
of European philosophy. And it is useful to recall their names as
an introduction to the exposition of the ideas of a modern Italian
philosopher, because we are to-day only too prone to identify certain
forms of common European thought, originating from Greece and from
Italy, with what was only their last expression in the great idealistic
movement in Germany in the nineteenth century; where Bruno and Spinoza
reappear in Schelling, and Campanella and Descartes, through the
intermediary of the English thinkers of the eighteenth century, in Kant
and Hegel.

I am not trying to establish an Italian pedigree for the kind of
philosophy to which Croce belongs: nowhere are national distinctions so
futile as in the history of thought. But the Italy of the Renaissance
shares with India and with Greece the purely material privilege of
having given birth to a vision of the world and its problems, which is
national only in the sense that it was elaborated for a certain time at
least by minds belonging to a single nation. The value of that vision,
however, does not reside in any tribal or national characteristic, but
in those elements of universality, which made of the Italian culture
of the Renaissance, and of its inherent logic, the basis of all modern
European culture. What can still be recognized as peculiarly Italian,
or French, or English, or German in the thought of modern philosophers,
is not that phase of truth, which may be present in it, but the element
of prejudice, of crowd-mindedness, of spiritual inertia, which even the
greatest among them have in common with their weaker brothers.

In Bruno and Campanella we find an interest in certain problems of
thought, which we may call either religious or, more technically,
ontological: the problems of the relations of being and knowing. In
Vico, who is infinitely nearer to Croce in intellectual temper, the
centre of interest is shifted. Vico is apparently satisfied with
Catholicism as a religion; and he spends all his efforts in creating
a philosophy out of the purely humanistic and historical side of
Renaissance culture. And yet, long before Kant's _Prolegomena,_ he
foresees the necessity of the new metaphysics being the metaphysics,
as he says, of human ideas, and his theory of knowledge is founded on
a principle which bears an external resemblance to certain aspects of
pragmatism, but is in reality of a quite different, and much deeper,
character: that of the interchangeability of the _factum_ with the
_verum,_ of that which we make with that which we know. It was a
commonplace of the schools that perfect science is to be found in God
only who is the author of all things: Vico transfers this logical
formula from God to man, and applies it, in the first stage of his
thought, to mathematics, which appears to him as of man's own _making,_
in a narrow and abstract sense, and later to the whole world of history
and human thought and action, which, in a much truer and broader sense,
is _made_ by man.

Vico was brought to this second and final form of his theory of
knowledge by his studies on the history of law, of religion, of
language and poetry: his philosophy is essentially a philosophy of
the moral sciences, of philology in its widest meaning. And the whole
of his speculation, in his Scienza Nuova takes the shape of an enquiry
into the origins and development of human society: not essentially of
a sociology, an empirical and inductive science of man (though this
aspect is undoubtedly also present in his mind), but rather, through
"the unity of the human spirit that informs and gives life to this
world of nations," of an ideal and eternal history of mankind, a
philosophy of the human mind.

A contemporary and an antagonist of Descartes, Vico is one of the last
among European philosophers to embrace practically the whole range
of contemporary culture. But while Descartes lays the foundations
of his theory of knowledge on the certainty of mathematical method,
mistrusting the imperfection and vagueness of any other form of
science, Vico is enabled by his intimate contact with rhetoric
and history, with that _philology_ which had been the soul of the
intellectual life of the Renaissance, and which through the erudition
of his century was preparing the historical consciousness of the
following one, to anticipate the general principles of idealistic
philosophy and, on the theories of art, of language, of law, of
religion, as well as on a large number of particular historical
problems, the general development of subsequent European thought.

At a later stage in our exposition, we shall examine in greater detail
the indebtedness of Croce to Vico, especially as regards the theory
of art and language; but the similarities of circumstance and of
temperament between the two philosophers are already apparent. Both
Vico and Croce came to philosophy through erudition and philology; and
in Croce as well as in Vico, the fundamental philosophic attitude,
their theory of knowledge, their idealism (what in the case of Croce
has been called his Hegelism), is the intrinsic and necessary logic of
the same humanistic tradition, the natural outcome of the centering
of their intellectual interests on the history of the human spirit
rather than on the mathematical or natural sciences. It is only after
Descartes and Vico, and through the independent progress of scientific
thought in the last two centuries (during the Renaissance, science is
constantly in contact with philology, and there is no scientist who
is not also a humanist)--that the two divergent attitudes of mind
which we have seen exemplified in Bruno and Campanella, naturalism and
spiritualism, are finally divorced from each other, and respectively
linked with the scientific or with the historical aspect of modern
European culture. Rationalism, intellectualism, positivism, pragmatism,
on one side, are the more and more rarefied logics of science, in
its progressive estrangement from the humanities; and because of
the increasing prestige of scientific thought, we see them making
constant inroads even in the fields of the historical and philological
disciplines. Idealism, on the other side, represents in its many
forms the central tradition of European culture, and is heir to the
religious thought of the Middle Ages as well as to the humanism of
the Renaissance; but in many of its exponents, and to my mind, even
in some aspects of Croce's philosophy, it suffers from that same
condition of things which is the cause of the poverty and narrowness
of the so-called scientific philosophies: from that inability to
grasp both nature and the spirit of man, the world of science and
the world of history, which is a characteristic of our times. The
recurrence of the realistic position, after every great affirmation
of idealistic philosophy, is certainly not the mere recurrence of
error, the obstinate permanence of human folly after the pronouncements
of wisdom, but rather the restatement of a logical exigency which
cannot be entirely satisfied and disposed of by any of the idealistic
solutions of the problem of reality. Idealism and realism in modern
philosophy are two distinct and divergent elaborations of different
fields of modern culture: that unity of the intellectual vision, which
is perfect, within its accepted limitations, in mediæval philosophy,
and which is never entirely lost sight of in the thought of the
Renaissance, is the goal towards which both realism and idealism
continually tend, but which will not be reached by either, until the
_disiecta membra_ of our intellectual consciousness will be brought
together through a higher synthesis than the one from which they fell
apart at the end of the Renaissance.

We are now in a position to understand why it would be vain to look
in the work of Croce for either an organized synthesis of scientific
thought, understood as a means through which the mind of man grasps the
reality of nature, or a system of metaphysics attempting to explain
the facts of our human life by reference to an order of superhuman and
supernatural realities. These are two types of philosophy, a criticism
of which is implicit in every step of Croce's philosophical career,
as well as in the quality of his philosophical ancestry. But in their
place we shall find a series of meditations on the problems of the
human spirit in its actual historical development; on the distinctions
and inter-relations of the various forms of spiritual activity, not
as they appear, in a purely abstract and external consideration, to
the eye of the psychologist, but as they reveal themselves in the
intimacy of those spiritual and historical processes, in which man
creates at the same time his own being and his own truth. As we have
stated already, the philosophy of Croce is essentially a philosophy of
the humanistic tradition, of that Italian and European tradition the
consciousness of which seems to be fast disappearing even among those
who consider themselves as its exponents and defenders; and which in
his thought not only justifies and understands itself, but brings that
justification and that understanding to a greater depth, to a more
comprehensive clarity, than it ever reached during the many centuries
of its existence.

[Footnote 4: _Contributo_, p. 26.]

[Footnote 5: _Hegel,_ pp. 147-8.]





Croce's first philosophical essay--Is history an art or a science?--The
essence of art--History as the representation of reality, and
therefore, art--The distinction between art and science--A tentative
definition of history.

Croce's first philosophical essay is a short memoir, _La Storia ridotta
sotto il concetto generale dell' Arte_, which he read to the Accademia
Pontaniana of Naples in March, 1893. In his autobiographical notes,
Croce tells us that this memoir was sketched by him one evening in
February or March of the same year, "after a whole day of intense
meditation."[1] But the reader cannot help feeling that those few
pages are very far from being an improvisation; and this, not only
because of the ease with which the author finds his way among the
literature of his subject, but especially because one realizes that
only a discipline so constant and so severe as to become a kind of
second nature could give him that sure grasp of the essentials of his
problem, which he shows from the very beginning of his speculation.
The majority of historians and philologists, when they turn their
attention to what Croce calls the logic of their discipline, are apt to
trust themselves exclusively to their immediate experience of their
work, and to disregard the very obvious fact that an inquiry into the
general principles of a certain branch of knowledge is, and cannot
be anything but, philosophy: they are therefore either unwilling or
unable to follow the implications of that logic on to their ultimate
consequences, as this operation would inevitably lead them away from
their own safe and solid ground into a discussion of unfamiliar
concepts and ideas. They seem to perceive but dimly that the problems
of that logic have been intimately connected with the whole development
of philosophical thought from the Sophists to our day; and therefore
even when they go back to philosophical authorities in their treatment
of these problems, when they quote Plato or Aristotle, or Leibnitz or
Hegel, they are content with mere fragments, arbitrarily understood,
unconnected with the general body of thought from which they derive
their meaning. The result is, at best, a futile rediscovery of truths
and truisms which have their place in the history of thought, but are
meaningless in their modern context. An examination of the greatest
part of the methodological literature of the last fifty years, both in
Europe and in America, would easily bear out this contention: that it
is hard to find a more shallow and imcompetent philosophy than that of
the average historian and critic.

What saved Croce from the academic weakness which seems to be
congenital to this kind of lucubrations was, besides the native temper
of his mind, an instinctive realization of the true philosophical
import of the problems involved. The question, whether History is an
art or a science, had been a favourite one with the generation to which
Croce's masters belonged; and it was really threatening to become an
endless, insoluble one, since no attempt was ever made to solve it
by the only method which could give positive results, that is, by
an accurate definition of the concepts of both art and science. The
most common answer to it, and the one that most clearly proved the
confused state of mind of those who formulated it, was that history
was at the same time a science and an art. The traditional humanistic
view, which considered history as one of the arts, and to which the
inclusion of Clio in the college of the Muses bears witness, found but
little favour in a time which was entirely under the domination of the
pseudo-scientific philosophy of Herbert Spencer, and could therefore
hardly admit of any form of knowledge which was not scientific
knowledge. The third solution, history as a science, was in fact
the most usually accepted one, being but one aspect of that general
tendency of the age, superficial and uncritical, through which all
forms of knowledge were striving hard to assimilate themselves to the
mathematical and natural sciences. This tendency which was present
in all fields of philology, manifested itself in history either in
the attempt to transform history into sociology, and to substitute a
system of institutional schemes or of so-called general laws for the
actual historical processes, or in the raising of the usual canons and
criteria of historical method, that is, of a collection of maxims and
precepts for the proper handling of sources, documents, and monuments,
to the dignity of a supposititious science. It is characteristic of
Croce, that he did not directly attack the English and French and
Italian sociologism which was so popular in his day: to a mind which
had received its first logical training at the hands of a Thomistic
schoolmaster, and had been introduced to modern philosophy through
Labriola's Herbartism, the logic of the average sociologist was so
abhorrent in its barbarity, that it did not even afford him a starting
point for his own criticism. The fallacy of sociologism is made evident
in the course of the discussion, but rather by implication than through
a direct animadversion. He chose his own adversary among the exponents
of the other form of the same error, among the German critics, whose
ideas were more clearly defined and logically more consistent.

Their main position can be stated in a few words: history is a science
and not an art, because its aim is not to give æsthetic pleasure, but
knowledge. The premises of this formula are a hedonistic conception of
art, and the identification of all forms of knowledge with science:
that is, a too narrow definition of art, and a too broad definition of
science. Croce's demonstration takes the form of a rigorous syllogism:
he defines the concept of art and the concept of science, the two
definitions forming so to speak the two horns of a dilemma; history is
shown by its own definition to be included in the definition of art,
and the only remaining question is that of the distinction, within the
same concept, between art in the strict sense and history.

The most important part of this demonstration is that which concerns
art. Croce's object was to discover the nature of history, but his real
achievement in his first essay was that of stating the æsthetic problem
in its true terms. His opinions about history and about science were
destined to undergo many changes in the further development of his
thought; but his whole theory of æsthetics is already virtually present
in these few pages about art and the Beautiful.

"Art is an _activity_ aiming at the production of the Beautiful."[2]
A purely psychological doctrine of æsthetics, which considers not art
as an activity, but the objects of art as a collection of stimuli, a
doctrine of æsthetic appreciation rather than of æsthetic creation, of
the land that has flourished in Germany and in England during the last
twenty years, especially in the field of the graphic and plastic arts,
will therefore be incapable of even grasping that which is the specific
subject of æsthetics. But Croce does not lose his time in attacking
the psychologists. The error of their ways has its philosophical
expression in Sensualism and in Formalism, which he summarily dismisses
together with Rationalism or Abstract Idealism: the Beautiful as
pleasure, the Beautiful as a system of formal relations, the Beautiful
as abstractly one with the Good and the True. The fourth solution of
the problem of the Beautiful, which he accepts, is that of the Concrete
Idealism of Hegel and Hartmann: the Beautiful as _expression,_ as the
sensuous manifestation of the ideal. But Croce was guided by his Latin
moderation (and probably also helped by his, at the time, insufficient
understanding of German Idealism) to give to this formula not the
intellectualistic interpretation which rightly belongs to it, but the
very simple meaning of an adequate and efficacious representation of
reality. The difference between this conception of Art--as an activity
aiming at the representation of reality--and the one that we shall find
in Croce's later elaborations of his æsthetic theory, does not lie in
the conception itself, but in its context of general thought. Here he
is still working under the common-sense assumption of a double reality,
of being and of thought, and this explains why he still speaks of form
and content, and why he still admits of a category of Beauty of nature
side by side with artistic Beauty. Later, the relation between form
and content will transform itself into that of the æsthetic activity
with the other forms of spiritual activity; but even such a momentous
change in the foundations of his theory does but slightly impair the
substantial truth of the words in which he first expressed it: "An
object is either beautiful or ugly according to the category through
which we perceive it. Art is a category of apperception, and in art,
the whole of natural and human reality--which is either beautiful or
ugly according to its various aspects--becomes beautiful because it is
perceived as reality in general, which we want to see fully expressed.
Every character, or action, or object, entering into the world of art,
loses, artistically speaking, the qualifications it has in real life,
and is judged only inasmuch as art represents it with more or less
perfection. Caliban is a monster in reality, but no longer a monster
as an artistic creation."[3] As to natural Beauty, Croce observes
that it is not inanimate, as Hegel and his followers would have it,
but animated by the spirit of the beholder, and its contemplation is
therefore a kind of artistic creation:[4] but this observation, in
which the later doctrine is present in germ, is set forth timidly in
a note, and remains for the moment sterile and as if incapable able
of yielding its obvious logical results. If it were admitted that
history is a representation of reality, its inclusion in the concept
of art would be obvious. But the adverse contention is that history is
a scientific study of reality, or to use Bernheim's definition, the
science of the development of men in their activity as social beings.
Croce's answer is that history is not a science, because history is
constantly concerned with the exposition of particular facts, and not
with the formation of concepts, which is the proper sphere of science.
There may be a science or philosophy of history, investigating the
philosophical problems connected with the facts of history, but such
a science or philosophy, which cannot be distinguished as a separate
organism from the philosophy of reality as a whole, is not history.
History does not elaborate concepts, but reproduces reality in its
concreteness: it is therefore not science but art.

Sociology, on the other hand, which renounces the concreteness of
history in the quest for the general laws of human development,
is neither art nor science. When compared with the concepts or
laws of science, the laws of sociology appear as vague and empty
generalizations, and sometimes as mere pseudo-scientific enunciations
of contemporary social and political ideologies. The sociology which
Croce had in mind in his criticism was, in substance, because of the
fallacy of its logical premises, either inferior science or poor
philosophy; but because of the uncertainty of his own idea of the
relations between science and philosophy, it was easier for him to
reject it than to define it. His reaction was the instinctive one of
a sound logical organism against a mental hybrid. He was certain that
sociology, whatever else it might have been, was not history.

This part of Croce's argument is undoubtedly the weakest. His
conception of science was inadequate, and his discussion of the
relations of history with science suffered from this inadequacy: the
problem which he had attacked could not be solved at this stage of
his speculation. While his æsthetics was contained in germ in his
conception of art, his logic was not even adumbrated in his conception
of science. In fact, the only real function of the latter was to mark
the limits of the former: "In the presence of an object, human mind can
perform but two operations of knowledge. It can ask itself: what is
it?, and it can represent to itself that object in its concreteness.
It can wish to understand it, or merely to contemplate it. It can
submit it to a scientific elaboration, or to what we are wont to call
an artistic elaboration." "Either we make science, or we make art.
Whenever we assume the particular under the general, we make science;
whenever we represent the particular as such, we make art."[5]

This distinction is the old Platonic one between _logos_ and _mythos_;
a distinction that appears in one form or another in practically
every system of philosophy, but the true import of which has never
been completely grasped before Vico. From Vico Croce quotes in this
connection the following passage: "Metaphysics abstracts the mind from
the senses, the poetical faculty must submerge the whole mind in the
senses; metaphysics lifts itself above the universal, the poetical
faculty must plunge itself in the particulars."[6] This quotation
shows how decisive was Vico's influence in the determination of the
main theses of Croce's æsthetics: of which we already find here the
three fundamental ones, that is, the recognition of art, or the
æsthetic activity, as one of the fundamental forms of knowledge; the
distinction of the æsthetic activity from, and its opposition to, the
logical activity; and, finally, the exclusion of any other form of
knowledge besides the æsthetic and the logical, which exhausts the
whole of man's theoretical activity.

The rest of this particular discussion is not as fruitful or as
interesting. Having included history in the concept of art, Croce
proceeds to draw a distinction between art in the strict sense, which
is a representation of imaginary or merely possible reality, and
history, which represents that portion of reality which has actually
happened. His final definition of history is: "That kind of artistic
production the object of which is to represent that which has really
happened."[7] The value of this definition is what we might call a
value of reaction against the pseudo-scientific sociology of his day:
it consists in the emphasis laid on the concreteness and individuality
of historical processes, against the void schematism of general laws.
But by introducing the distinction between the possible and the real,
Croce had in fact recognized the presence of a conceptual element in
history--a conceptual element totally different from the concepts
of the sciences, which were all that he could then see outside the
æsthetic activity in human knowledge. In a preface to a reprint of his
early philosophical essays, written twenty-five years later, Croce
explained the conditions which prevented him from perceiving the new
problem at once, in a page of admirable self-criticism: "Why did I not
perceive it? Because I was full of the first truth which I had found,
and for the moment I did not feel any other need: I had violently
rejected the weight of sensism and sociologism, and I could breathe.
And in my culture at that time the impulses towards that other need
were lacking; because neither my scholastic logic nor Labriola's
Herbartism opened my mind to a distinction between the concepts of the
sciences and the speculative concept; and De Sanctis, entirely given
to the criticism of poetry, gave little attention to logical problems.
The authority of my first masters of philosophy induced me, in regard
to the problems which I had not experienced in myself, to content
myself with temporary formulas and solutions, which attracted me
through some aspects of truth, and to be satisfied with an imagination
of the Ideal above the real, and of the world of Concepts above the
world of representations. By this separation, by this collocation in
the Empyrean, it seemed to me that I could better attest my reverence
for concepts and ideals, which positivists and evolutionists were
dragging in the mud, or lowering to the status of superstitions and
hallucinations. Now, running again through my pages, it is not
possible for me to think those transcendental doctrines again, not
because I thought them in the past, and what is past is past, but, on
the contrary, because I did not truly think them even then, but only
received them or imagined them, so that what I can think now is only
the way in which, then, I was brought to imagine them, and to believe
that I thought them."[8]

[Footnote 1: _Contributo_, p. 32.]

[Footnote 2: _Primi Saggi,_ p. 8.]

[Footnote 3: _Primi Saggi,_ p. 14.]

[Footnote 4: _Primi Saggi,_ p. 140.]

[Footnote 5: _Primi Saggi_, p. 23.]

[Footnote 6: _Primi Saggi_, p. 230.]

[Footnote 7: _Primi Saggi_, p. 36.]

[Footnote 8: _Primi Saggi_, pp. XI-XII.]


The problem of literary criticism--The three phases: exposition,
valuation, history--Æsthetic judgment and history of art: the exigency
of a new Æsthetics--The place of Æsthetics in Croce's thought--Moral
and logical preoccupations--Croce and Spaventa.

At the end of the following year (1894), Croce interrupted again the
steady flow of his erudite production with the publication of a little
book, _La Critica Letteraria: questioni teoriche,_ which was the
outcome of a discussion he had had during the summer with a friend, a
professor of philosophy. As the net result of his first philosophical
effort had been the conquest of a clearer conception of art, it was
natural that he should proceed to investigate the relations between
history and the subject-matter of history in that field in which he
felt he had already been able to find some light. The general problem
of the nature of history, of which he had seen but one aspect, was set
aside for the moment, giving way to a close examination of the methods
of historical thought in the study of literature.

Only a few of the conclusions of this particular research were destined
to have any kind of permanency in Croce's theories; but it is useful
to recall them, not only as a step in the development of his thought,
but as representing a marked progress in that conception of literary
criticism which is still predominant wherever the influence of that
thought has not yet been felt. Croce submitted that conception to a
process similar to what a French critic calls a disassociation of
ideas, trying to establish which can be said to be the essential
operations of literary criticism, and the relations between these and
the various kinds of possible works on literary material. Given this
method, which is that of abstract classification, and having approached
his problem through criticism itself instead of starting from the other
end and deducing the concept of criticism from the concept of art
and literature, he was bound to reach a number of abstract concepts,
apparently irreducible to each other, and the fundamental unity of
which he could only later affirm through the general progress of his
theory of æsthetics.

Literary criticism, which until fifty or sixty years ago, stood only
for the judgment and valuation of literary works, to-day usually
includes, beside the æsthetic valuation, the study of the historical
development, the edition and comment of the text, the biography of
the author, the exposition of the work itself, the æsthetic theory
of literature, and so on; in fact, every kind of conceivable work
on literature. The danger of this extension of meaning lies in the
facility with which we are led to believe that many things, when called
with one name, are really one thing: we think of literary criticism as
of the synthesis of all the above-mentioned operations--a synthesis
which, as Croce observes, when it exists cannot be due to anybody but
the printer. Or, again, we may consider that one or another of those
operations is the true aim of literary criticism--and to that one we
subordinate all the others, as merely subservient to the particular
aim we have in sight. This is the origin of the various _schools_ of
criticism--æsthetic, historical, psychological--each of which believes
itself to be in possession of the only legitimate method. But if we
subordinate the history of a work to its æsthetic valuation, we deny
the independence and intrinsic importance of history; if we subordinate
the æsthetic valuation to the historical consideration, we make of
the former a useless accessory of the latter; if we subordinate the
biography of the author to the historical explanation of the work,
we destroy the importance of biography, which, though useful in a
certain sense to the explanation of the work, is in itself "nothing
but the history of the development of a moral personality."[1] In
fact, the unity of literary criticism lies not in its aim, but in
its subject-matter: what we mean by literary criticism is "a series
of particular operations having independent aims, without any other
connection than that of the material employed in each of them."[2]
Croce does not deny the possibility of using the results of one of
these operations for the purposes of another, but this does not change
the nature of either: "the spirit of man is not divided into small
compartments: all our experience helps us in whatever work we are
doing. To understand Petrarch's poetry, it is useful either to be or
to have been in love; but it doesn't follow that to make love and to
understand that poetry are one and the same thing."[3]

The study of the principles of literature does not belong to literary
criticism, but to Æsthetics; or, to use Vico's distinction, not to
Philology but to Philosophy. Textual criticism, and interpretative
comment, are preliminaries of literary criticism, which begins only
with the contemplation or æsthetic enjoyment of literature: that is,
with that operation of reading which is made possible through the
establishment of a correct text, and by the help, when needed, of a
convenient commentary. In literary criticism proper Croce distinguishes
three successive phases, or moments, answering respectively to the
questions: What have I read? What is the value of that which I have
read? Which is the genesis and fortune of this particular work? The
first is the exposition or description--which in itself is a work
of art of which another work of art is the subject; the second, the
valuation or æsthetic judgment; the third, the history of the work
under consideration. Outside these three moments or phases, Croce does
not admit of any other independent critical operation: the research
of the sources of a work is only part of the history of that work;
comparative criticism is an instrument of historical criticism;
philology in the strict sense of the word can in turn be used as a
help to each of the three main operations, but when it is exclusively
concerned with the general history of a language, it is no longer a
literary discipline; bibliography is a mere external element of the
history of the work; the study of the content is a literary study only
if it is pursued in relation with either the exposition, valuation
or history of the work, that is, when the work itself is viewed as
literature, and not as a document for the purposes of another science
or discipline; the biography of the author is an element of the genesis
of the work, and therefore of its history, but its main interest is
moral and not literary.

It is easy to see that, however fruitful as a reaction to the
prevailing confusion, this abstract partition was still very
artificial; but it was impossible for Croce to go beyond it, with
the help of the mechanical and unhistoric logic which was his only
instrument at that time. He still divided a fact from its genesis,
and the fact and genesis from the judgment, and therefore it was
impossible for him to see that the internal history of a work _is_ its
true exposition or characterization, and that such characterization
is one with the valuation. In regard to the valuation itself, he
considered it to be purely subjective and relative, as he was unable
to accept either Kant's theory of the objectivity of taste, because of
its intellectualism, or the psychologists' childish delusion of the
possibility of drawing a normal or standard taste from the average
of the æsthetic likings and judgments of different communities and
different ages; and on the other hand he was still very far from
discovering that identity of the æsthetic judgment with the æsthetic
activity, which was to be the foundation of his later doctrine.

The discussion that follows, on the relations between the æsthetic
judgment and the history of a work of art, obviously suffers from the
impossibility of drawing useful consequences from a distinction of
purely abstract concepts; from the fact that that which was Croce's
only real discovery at the time, his conception of art, had not yet
been thought out by him in the fulness of its relations with the other
activities of the human spirit. As regards history, this little book is
a step forward because it is a valid criticism of a confused and naïve
state of mind, in which these abstract concepts could help to introduce
some sort of order and method; but, on the whole, though it clarifies
the terms of the general problem, it does not bring it appreciably
nearer to a solution.

Croce was, however, more or less consciously aware of this deficiency.
In a long _excursus_ on De Sanctis, whose work he upheld as a model
of perfect literary criticism, he insisted on the importance of a
sound theory of art, such as De Sanctis undoubtedly possessed, as an
essential part of the mental equipment of a literary critic; and the
chief reproach that he addressed to his contemporaries in the field of
literary studies in Italy, was that of neglecting those theoretical
problems to which very little attention had been paid in our country
after the work of Vico. He pointed to the great development of æsthetic
studies in Germany during the nineteenth century, and affirmed the
necessity of "dismissing every spirit of impatience and false pride,
and of submitting oneself to the hard labour of extracting the essence
of the abundant literature created by the philosophic activity of
the Germans around those problems."[4] His final words contained at
the same time an appeal and a programme of work: "There is a good
deal to be expected from a work especially directed towards these
two points: to banish a series of concepts which have introduced
themselves in æsthetics, and which are entirely foreign to it, and
with their presence maintain an invincible confusion; and to free the
concept of art and of the Beautiful from the limits within which it has
been circumscribed by linguistic habits, acknowledging the intimate
connection between the so-called æsthetic and artistic facts and other
facts of the life of the spirit."[5] That his attitude towards the
later German æsthetics was, from the very beginning, a critical one, is
clearly shown by what immediately follows: "Working in this direction,
I believe that we shall find ourselves, with a new consciousness and
with a wealth of observations gathered in the course of a century,
to the point from which modern Æsthetics started, to the school of
Leibnitz and Wolff, and to Baumgarten's conception,"[6]--that is, to
Baumgarten's _Meditations_ of 1735, which the word _Æsthetica_ appears
for the first time as the name of an independent philosophical cal
discipline, contrasted to Logic in the same sense in which the Greeks
used to contrast _aisthēta_ to _noēta,_ the facts of sensuous knowledge
to the facts of mental knowledge. Which means that Croce believed the
science of Æsthetics to be still in its infancy, and to require a great
creative effort which was well worth making, both for the sake of the
general philosophical problems involved, and for the effects that a
deeper view of those problems could not but have on the practical work
of the literary critic and of the historian.

Through these first discussions, which at the time appeared to him
more as acts of personal liberation than as the beginning of a
philosophical career, Croce had really discovered his vocation. From
De Sanctis he had learnt that "art is neither the work of reflection
and logic, nor the product of craft, but a pure and spontaneous _forma
fantastica_":[7] through his own experience of dry erudition, and
through his meditations on the relations between history and criticism,
he had verified the validity and usefulness of De Sanctis' conception,
and had been made aware of the necessity of doing what De Sanctis had
not been either willing or capable of doing: "of creating a philosophy
where he had given nothing but critical essays and delineations of
literary history, and a new criticism, a new historiography, as a
consequence of the philosophic deepening and systematization of his

But from Croce's published work at this time it would be easy to
gather the fallacious impression that his interest was an exclusively
literary one: that he proceeded to create a philosophy of literature
and art, and that only through the necessities of the system he was
led to the consideration of logical, economic and ethical facts.
If that were true, with the exception of his theory of æsthetics,
practically the whole of his philosophy would be opened to the
reproach that he levelled against the greatest part of the German
æsthetic theories of the nineteenth century: "of not being derived
from spontaneous and direct researches, but rather from the need of
filling a compartment in a philosophical system."[9] A good many among
Croce's critics have been the victims of such a misconception of the
actual genesis of his thought; and have discounted the importance of
any but his æsthetic theories, considering all the rest as a kind of
philosophical by-product, with the result that they have not been
able properly to understand even that part of his work in which they
were interested. The typical example is given by those moralistic
critics of his æsthetics, who would have been spared many mistakes and
inanities, if they had thought Croce's ethics and logic worth a little
consideration. They would then have realized that their criticisms had
been anticipated and criticized long before they had been uttered. But
perhaps it is asking too much of the average student of literature,
once he has made the effort to think about the problems of art, that
he should also try to turn the light of his reason on the obscure
promptings of his moral consciousness; a suggestion which in many cases
would be violently rejected as the height of immorality.

We shall soon see from which source Croce derived his interest in
economic problems and in the history of the practical activities of
man. Of the permanence of those moral preoccupations which had been
his constant companions since his adolescence, we find the traces in
his autobiographical notes. In De Sanctis, whose _History of Italian
Literature_ is as much a moral as an æsthetic history of the Italian
people, he had the model of "a sound and simple morality, austere
without exaggerations, and high without fanaticisms."[10] But the same
difficulties which prevented him from fully understanding De Sanctis'
æsthetic principles, and from using them as a vivifying element in his
literary work, made him also for a long time accept an inferior moral
conception, that of Herbart's realism, "in which the moral ideal was
energetically asserted, but as a thing of another world, as having
man under itself as brute matter, on which its stamp, more or less
marked, might or might not be impressed." That is, he saw the moral
ideal in relation to the actual life of man, in a position similar
to that which concepts and ideals had for him in relation to reality
as a whole: his moral abstractism and rigorism was the counterpart of
his logic. "But that rigorism and abstractism was the way that I had
necessarily to follow in order to understand the moral concreteness,
and to lift it to the plane of a philosophical theory." "And that
rigorism, which was at the same time a love for sharp distinctions,
while it saved me from associationism and positivism and evolutionism,
put me on my guard against, and hindered me from falling into the
errors of that now naturalistic, now mystic, Hegelianism, which through
a hasty and often mythological dialectic, obliterated or weakened the
distinctions which are the life of the dialectic process."[11] What
Croce lacked, in ethics as well as in æsthetics, was a new logic or
theory of knowledge, which would allow him to grasp the concept or
the ideal, that is the universal, in the concrete spiritual activity,
that is in the particular and individual. Meanwhile, his own dealing
with abstract concepts, with purely formal universals, was to be, in
relation to the further developments of his logic, what his early
literary work, of a purely erudite character, had been in relation
to his meditations on art and history: that personal experience, of
difficulties and errors, without which no truth can ever be reached.

On the whole, Croce's position at that time was, as he himself defined
it many years later, a Platonic-Scholastic-Herbartian one; one that,
in the moral held, had at least the advantage of being "invulnerable
to the subtle menace of sensualism and decadentism,"[12] in the
European life and thought of the nineties, the acme of spiritual
distinction--an illusory reaction to and escape from the prevailing
positivism and determinism, of which in reality they were but thinly
disguised variations. Croce "never lost, even for an instant, the power
of discerning sensual refinement from spiritual finesse, erotic flights
from moral elevation, false heroism from sheer duty."[13] Here lies the
fundamental difference, "of spiritual race," between him and his most
illustrious contemporary, Gabriele d'Annunzio, with whom he has more
than once been coupled by superficial critics. The character of their
respective influence on the younger Italian generations, of D'Annunzio
between 1890 and 1900, and of Croce between 1900 and 1910, is more than
sufficient evidence on this point.

It is something of a surprise to find that he had learnt practically
nothing from his uncle Bertrando Spaventa, who had been the most
powerful representative of the Hegelian tradition in Italy. The central
problem of Spaventa's speculation had been that of the relations
between knowing and being, of transcendence and immanence; and although
it was only through a solution of this problem that Croce could hope
for progress in any of his particular philosophical researches, yet
he could take no interest in it when its discussion was earned on
independently of those problems of art, of moral life, of law and
history, towards which his attention was naturally drawn. Croce
himself explains this lack of interest as due to his "unconscious
immanentism": "as I met with no difficulty in conceiving the relation
between thinking and being; if I had any difficulty, it was rather in
conceiving a being severed from thought, or a thought severed from
being."[14] But in this case he is probably seeing himself in the
light of his later experience: that difficulty did exist, and is the
fundamental difficulty of his early speculation. Only, he could not
solve it by Spaventa's methods, which were those of a rigorous and
formal logician, of a philosopher with a theological background, but
only through the elaboration of the materials of his own particular
moral and intellectual experience. At a later stage, and when he had
already independently arrived at a position much more similar to
that of Spaventa, than he would ever have thought possible for him,
the influence, if not of Spaventa himself, at least of that attitude
towards philosophy which had been his, came back to him through his
friend Giovanni Gentile, whose mental temperament was much more akin
to that of the old Neapolitan thinker, than Croce's ever was. Croce's
idealism (or Hegelianism) was at this time limited to what he had
unconsciously absorbed through De Sanctis' conception of art; but his
theory of knowledge, not yet logically unfolded, was still oscillating
between intellectualism and naturalism. He was decidedly anti-Hegelian,
on the other hand, in his theory of history and in his general
conception of the world.

[Footnote 1: _Primi Saggi,_ pp. 79-80.]

[Footnote 2: _Primi Saggi,_ p. 80.]

[Footnote 3: _Primi Saggi_, p. 82.]

[Footnote 4: _Primi Saggi,_ p. 163.]

[Footnote 5: _Primi Saggi,_ p. 164.]

[Footnote 6: _Primi Saggi, ib._]

[Footnote 7: _Contributo,_ p. 54.]

[Footnote 8: _Contributo_, pp. 55-56.]

[Footnote 9: _Primi Saggi,_ p. 163.]

[Footnote 10: _Contributo,_ p. 58.]

[Footnote 11: _Contributo,_ p. 59-60.]

[Footnote 12: _Contributo,_ p. 60.]

[Footnote 13: _Contributo,_ p. 61.]

[Footnote 14: _Contributo,_ p. 63.]


A new interest: Marxism--Historical materialism--Criticism and
interpretation: a new historical canon--Marxian economics as an
application of the hypothetic method--The concepts of science and the
economic principle--Science and practice--Marxism and morality.

In April, 1895, his old professor at the University of Rome, Antonio
Labriola, sent to Croce an essay on the _Communist Manifesto,_ in which
he submitted to a critical examination the materialistic conception of
history elaborated during the fifty preceding years by Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels. Labriola had been probably the first professor in a
European University to take Historical Materialism as a subject
for his academic lectures, his first course on Marxism having been
delivered in 1889. But Croce, who had given all his thoughts first to
his literary work, and then to his meditations on art and criticism,
had not been as yet able to perceive the bearing of the new problems
discussed by his master on that problem of the nature of history which
had been the subject of his first philosophical essay, and was to be
the centre of his later speculations. Labriola's little book came to
him at a moment when he had reached an impasse in the course of his
research, and it opened to him an entirely new field of investigations,
it afforded him an escape towards studies and meditations, at
first apparently unrelated to his former ones, but the results of
which were destined to react vigorously on them. He plunged with
youthful enthusiasm into the literature not of Marxism and historical
materialism only, but of Economics in general. In the five following
years, while he continued with unremitting energy his literary labours,
now more clearly directed towards an understanding of the historical
problems of Æsthetics, and a clarification of the concepts of a
philosophical science of Æsthetics, he published a series of critical
essays on _Materialismo storico ed economia marxistica,_ intended at
the same time as a defence and a rectification of Marx's doctrines.

We shall consider this phase of Croce's work from two distinct points
of view--as a new individual experience, and as a stage in the
development of his philosophy. For the first of them, we shall again
leave the word to Croce himself: "That intercourse with the literature
of Marxism, and the eagerness with which for some time I followed the
socialistic press of Germany and Italy, stirred my whole being, and
for the first time awakened in me a feeling of political enthusiasm,
yielding a strange taste of newness to me: I was like a man who having
fallen in love for the first time when no longer young, should observe
in himself the mysterious process of the new passion. At that fire
I burnt also my abstract moralism, and I learnt that the course of
history has a right to drag and to crush the individual. As I had not
been disposed in my family circle to any fanaticism, and not even to a
liking for the current and conventional liberalism of Italian politics
... it seemed to me to breathe faith and hope in the vision of the
rebirth of mankind redeemed by labour and in labour."[1] This political
enthusiasm did not last very long: it disappeared when that which
was Croce's true nature, not practical but essentially theoretical,
reasserted itself, by reducing this new experience into new conceptual
forms; but without it, the whole of his philosophy of the practical
activity would forever have been like a theory of vision in the mind of
a blind man, or a theory of love in that of a keeper of the harem. Art,
thought, mortality, had already appeared to him as aspects of his own
life; to these, a new element was added now, not as a mere object of
thought, but as a passionate and concrete experience.

The interpretation of the doctrine of historical materialism presented
a number of difficulties deriving partly from the form in which the
doctrine itself had originally appeared--not as a coherent theory,
but as a series of pronouncements and observations scattered in a
variety of writings, composed at a distance of years, and the aim of
which was rather political and polemical than scientific; and partly
from its association with remnants of old metaphysics, both in its
originators and in their followers. In Marx and Engels, as well as
practically in the whole literature of Marxism, the emphasis being
laid on the substantive rather than on the adjective, historical
materialism implied the adhesion to that metaphysical materialism which
was one of the children of Hegelian metaphysics. What had been the
Idea for Hegel, was the Economy of the new metaphysicians: the only
reality, working beneath the surface of human consciousness, as an
under-structure beneath a merely apparent and illusory superstructure.
Given this conception, it is easy to understand why historical
materialism appealed so strongly to positivists and evolutionists,
who concealed a similar kind of metaphysics under their proclaimed
contempt for philosophy. The old philosophies of history had attempted
to reduce the sequence of history to a scheme of concepts, starting
with God, or Providence, or the Hegelian Idea: the new unconscious
metaphysicians substituted for the old concepts that of Economy,
or of Matter, or of Development and Evolution, from which all the
particular historical determinations could be deduced with not less
certainty than from the old metaphysical entities. And from their
predecessors they also borrowed those teleological tendencies which
are implicit in all metaphysics, attributing a will and an end to
their new God, be it called Progress or Matter, and trying to deduce
the future course of history from the dialectic of the past. Hence the
growth of a vast literature inquiring into the development of abstract
sociological schemes or of economic forms reduced to characteristics
of economic epochs, forcing the concrete materials of history into
rigid conceptual frames; hence the naïve faith in the deduction of
social predeterminations, of which the most striking was the asserted
necessity of the advent of socialism as the only logical outcome of
capitalist society.

Croce, pursuing the analysis initiated by Labriola, began by
dissociating what seemed to him to be the vital element in historical
materialism, from any intrusion of either Hegelian or positivistic
metaphysics. His criticism of historical materialism as a philosophy
of history and, generally, of the possibility of constructing
any philosophy of history, is the first resolute step towards an
anti-metaphysical conception of philosophy. Whether by metaphysics
is meant the knowledge of another world of real essences, of things
in themselves, beyond the objects of our immediate experience,
or the creation of abstract concepts duplicating and falsifying
the complex world of life, the whole trend of Croce's thought
will henceforward oppose any claim on the part of these spurious
philosophies, mythological or pseudo-scientific, to furnish an adequate
interpretation of reality. Vico's metaphysics of human ideas, which
is no metaphysics at all, because it does not postulate the existence
of any reality beyond that of the spirit of man, will more and more
become the model of Croce's own philosophy. That immanentism which
he considers as one of the spontaneous attitudes of his mind slowly
extricates itself from the ruins of his own transcendental logic,
and shows itself impervious to the allurements of both Platonism and
Positivism, of the ancient and the new myth.

Purged of its unessential philosophical associations, historical
materialism (or, more precisely, the economic interpretation of
history) appeared to Croce as nothing more than a new canon or
criterion of historical interpretation, fixing the attention of the
historian on a mass of new data, the importance of which had not been
recognized before. It was neither a new philosophy nor a new method:
it could not be legitimately employed to draw conclusions on the
relations between economic facts and the other facts of history, nor
to reduce history itself to the operation of a few abstract laws. It
was a tendency of historical thought, coinciding with the manifestation
of certain objective conditions of society (the industrial revolution)
and their reflexes in political thought, by which the economic element
in social facts acquired a stronger relief than it had ever had in the
consciousness of man. And it seemed to point, both for the historian
and for the philosopher, towards the existence of a fundamental
principle or form of human activity--economic activity, about the
nature of which, and its relation with æsthetic, logic, and moral
activity, very little had been thought and written, besides what is
contained in the introductions to all classical manuals of political
economy. While still insisting that history is art, that is, the
representation of individual happenings, Croce was thus implicitly
brought to admit of the importance of philosophy, that is, of the study
of the fundamental forms or categories of human activity, for the
historian. His conception of history was undergoing a transformation in
a direction similar to that towards which his conception of philosophy
was moving.

When he passed from the consideration of the general theory to the
examination of more technical aspects of Marx's doctrines, the first
difficulty which presented itself to him was that of the relations
between Marxian economics and pure economics, or general economic
science. The society whose economic life Marx had studied in _Das
Kapital,_ was neither human society in general, nor any particular
historical society, but a purely ideal and formal society deduced from
a proposition assumed outside the fields of pure economics: that of
the equivalence of value and labour. Starting from this postulate,
Marx had proceeded to inquire into those processes of differentiation
between the assumed standard and the actual prices of commodities in a
capitalist society, by which labour itself acquires a price and becomes
a commodity. It was a method of scientific analysis consisting in
regarding a phenomenon not as it actually exists, but as it would be
if one of its factors were altered, and in comparing the hypothetical
with the real phenomenon, conceiving of the first as diverging from
the second which is postulated as fundamental, or the second as
diverging from the first, which is postulated in the same manner.
It is only when the whole of Marxian economics is considered as the
application of such a method, that the concepts of labour-value and of
surplus-value acquire a definite and precise meaning: the description
of economic society as a pure working society (producing no goods which
cannot be increased by labour) must then be interpreted as a concept
of difference, or an instrument of elliptical comparison, as against
the descriptions of actual economic society given by pure economics.
Its positive value, not as an abstract hypothesis, but as a means
of knowledge, depends on the fact that such a society does actually
coincide with certain aspects of historical capitalist society; that
the equivalence of labour and value is not a purely imaginary fact, but
a fact among other facts, empirically opposed, limited, and distorted
by other facts. Having assumed this equivalence as a test for the study
of the social problem of labour, Marx's object was to show the special
way in which this problem is solved in a capitalist society. And this
was the real justification for his employment of the hypothetical

It is clear that Croce was infinitely more interested in what Marx
had actually accomplished, than in what he had intended to do. In
Marx's own mind, the analysis of the conditions of capitalist society
led inevitably to the conclusion that a passage from capitalism to
socialism was predetermined by the structure of capitalist society
itself. It is well known that the prevision assumed what claimed to be
a strictly scientific character in the formulation of the law of the
fall in the rate of profits: the gradual decrease of surplus-values
accompanying the increase in technical improvements, and automatically
re-establishing the equivalence of labour and value. Croce offered
a very convincing criticism of this law on Marx's own grounds, by
showing that it rested on a confusion between technical and economic
facts, thus affording a remarkable example of Marx's uncertainty of his
own method. It was clear that in this particular case Marx had been
carried away by his desire to reduce the metaphysical implications of
his economic sociology to the status of an historical law. And Croce's
criticism was evidently intended both to deprive Marx's historical
determinism of one of its most powerful instruments, and to confirm
his own view of the method which gave validity and importance to such
economic speculations as Marx's were.

Marxian economics stood thus interpreted as comparative sociological
economics, and by the definition Croce also defined the scope of
sociological science, and the nature of the logical processes which
it could legitimately employ. It was a considerable advance in the
study of scientific concepts, as distinct from purely speculative
concepts. But he still believed at the time, misled by the economists'
discussions on the nature of the economic principle, that pure
economics and the philosophy of economics practically coincided; and
as he had maintained the legitimacy of Marx's method against the
criticisms of the pure, or scientific, economists, he defended pure
economics against Marx and his school, as the general science of the
economic datum. But he was soon to understand that his own point
of view and that of the pure economists were widely divergent, and
that the methods of pure economics are in fact scientific and not
philosophical. In later years, when he came to regard the science of
economics as an empirical and mathematical science, Marxian economics
appeared to him merely as a special branch of economic casuistry,
employing methods fundamentally identical with those of pure economics:
a relationship which could be illustrated by a comparison with the
parallel of non-Euclidean and classical geometry. Although he did
not reach this final position at the time, there is no doubt that
his experience of the actual scientific processes of economics freed
him from his allegiance to Herbartian logic, in which science and
philosophy were still formally undifferentiated, and led him gradually
to the distinction between the scientific and the speculative concept,
of which the relation established between Marxian and pure economics is
a tentative prefiguration.

But the most essential gain of his economic studies was in the
direction of the affirmation of the merely practical, or economic,
principle, as one of the irreducible forms of human activity, raising
the concept of the Useful to the same level (logically speaking) at
which those of the Beautiful, the True, and the Good had been kept by
the whole European philosophical tradition since Plato. He was here
actually elaborating not a scientific, but a speculative concept,
though his approach to it was always by means of the discussion
of particular problems, the solution of which implied a definite
view of the relations between the economic principle on one side,
and respectively on the other side, the intellectual and the moral

As regards the possibility of inferring practical programmes from
scientific principles, he objected that neither the desirable nor
the practicable are science. Science may be a legitimate means of
simplifying problems, making it possible to distinguish in them what
can be scientifically ascertained from what can only be partially
known; in the case of the Marxian law of the fall in the rate of
profits, for instance, if such a law were proved to be scientifically
correct, it could be said, under certain conditions that the end
of capitalist society was a scientific certainty, though it would
remain doubtful what would follow it. But logic is not life, and the
appraisement of social programmes is a matter of empirical observations
and of practical convictions. The unconquerable indetermination of
social facts brings forth that element of dating in the actions of
practical men, which is to will what inspiration is to expression,
insight to intellect, in the poet and in the scientist.

Socialism could not be called a scientific programme, except in a
limited and metaphorical sense, which was not a criticism of socialism
itself, but of the bad logic of certain Socialists: the Marxian
programme as such, Croce recognized as one of the noblest and boldest,
and also one of those which obtain the greatest support from the
objective conditions of existing society. Having already denied the
dependence of intellectual truth on economic fact, by criticising
the metaphysics of historical materialism, he thus asserted now the
autonomy of the economic from the logical principle.

On the other hand, he destroyed the legend of the intrinsic immorality
of Marxism, which was due to Marx's repeated assertions that the social
question is not a moral question, and to his sharp criticisms of class
ideals and hypocrisies. He pointed to the moral interest which had
guided Marx's political activity, and which could even be said to have
prompted the choice of the fundamental hypotheses of his economics.
What Marx had called the impotence of morality was the futile attempt
at apportioning praise or blame for the natural conditions of the
social order. It is only when such conditions are no longer conceived
as necessary for the social order in general, but only for a stage
in its history, and when new conditions appear that make it possible
to destroy them, that moral condemnation is justified and effective:
to use another of Marx's phrases, morality condemns what history has
already condemned. This is as much as saying that the only real
moral problems, as all other problems of human life, are those that
present themselves under given historical circumstances, at a given
time; concrete, not abstract; and that moral judgments apply not to
facts or conditions, but to actions. The passage from such a concrete,
or historical, view of morality, to a doctrine of moral relativity
is a very easy one, but Marx's own views on this point, which he
never deliberately expounded, are irrelevant to the substance of his
doctrine. For his own part, Croce reasserted the value of Kantian
ethics, and the absoluteness of the moral ideal, as an ideal which
is not above and outside the spirit of man, but rather one of its
intrinsic forms or categories. And Marx's conclusions in regard to the
function of morality in the social movement, and to the method for the
education of the proletariat, though clashing with current prejudices,
contain no contradiction of general ethical principles. But Marx's
interest was not essentially an ethical one: the moralistic criticisms
of Marx were similar to the puritanic criticisms of Machiavelli, and
resolved themselves into a charge that neither the one nor the other
had treated problems totally different from those which they had
actually attempted to clarify. While vindicating the importance of
Machiavelli in the history of the study of the economic activity of
man, Croce called Marx himself the Machiavelli of the labour movement,
implicitly suggesting a similarity of both object and method between
_Il Principe_ and _Das Kapital,_ which is singularly illuminating.

The last essays of the book on _Materialismo Storico_ are two letters
to Professor Pareto "On the Economic Principle," written in 1900; but
with these we reach a time when Croce's thought was already organizing
itself in the system of the philosophy of mind. In them we find a
sketch of the system in the form in which it appeared in the first
edition of the _Estetica_: that is, we already decidedly enter into the
maturer phase of Croce's thought. We must here pause on the threshold,
and looking back on the years of Croce's special interest in economic
problems, sum up the new elements that the study of these problems adds
to his intellectual physiognomy: a more deliberately anti-metaphysical
attitude, a growing consciousness of the complexity of history and of
the concreteness of moral life, a realization of the function of the
economic activity, a progress in the analysis of scientific concepts,
and therefore in the foundations of his logic--but, most important of
all, a continued practice of philosophical thought under the shape of
historical methodology. Apart from their interest as documents of the
growth of his philosophy, Croce's studies have also a place in the
history of social and economic thought, side by side with those of
Labriola and of Georges Sorel, as a significant episode in that Latin
crisis of Marxism, the ultimate outcome of which are the theories of
French and Italian Syndicalism.

[Footnote 1: _Contributo,_ p. 36-37.]




The unity of thought--The writing of the Estetica--The method of
philosophy--A philosophy of mind--The _Filosofia della Spirito_ and the
_Critica_--Other activities.

The salient feature of Croce's mind, fully displaying itself in the
maturity of his work, is a power to follow different lines of thought
and research, without either confusing the issues or losing sight of
the deep underlying connections. For the average scholar, an incursion
into alien ground will generally mark the abandonment of his former
interests; or, in the best hypothesis, the creation of a new mental
personality coexisting with the original one, but neither reacting on
it nor being influenced by it. The reason is obvious: the substance
of each personality is a cross-section of the body of one discipline,
which in its actual history, in its methods, associations and sphere
of interest, touches the other one at very few points only, if at any
at all. The establishment of new relations between the two requires
a new personal elaboration, a complete individual mastery of the
materials and methods of each discipline. We are hardly aware of the
independence gained by even very closely related fields of research
through the specialists treatment of the last century: how each of
them has developed, so to speak, a language of its own, which has its
foundation in the peculiar, and inevitable, terminology, but extends
far beyond it into the logical structure of the specialist mind. We
have more or less consciously built up a world (that is, an implicit
conception of the world, a naïve philosophy) for the economist, one
for the biologist, one for the mathematician, one for the student of
literature, and so on. The scholar with the dual personality lives
alternatively in separate and self-contained worlds; but to melt the
two images into a single one, is far beyond his power. In other cases,
he will relate all the experiences legitimately belonging to one
special world, to another one, probably to the one with which he was
first acquainted; but then we have those awkward hybrids, the economics
of the literary man, or the literature of the biologist, or the biology
of the economist; and the confusion is so apparent that it generally
reflects itself in the very quality of the terminology employed.

It was against this kind of confusion, against the transference of the
concepts of one science into another, which was the favourite device
of positivism, that Croce continually reacted in his criticism of
contemporary thought. He instinctively knew the value of distinctions,
and also the value of unity; but he would never pay for unity at the
expense of the fine, precise, necessary distinctions. This explains
why for a certain number of years he may have appeared as a man
occupied in the pursuit of two quite different and unconnected lines of
research: his literary friends used to look on his economic studies
with wonder and distrust, as on a strange whim and a total waste of
time, while the economists more or less resented the intrusion of the
outsider. But it explains also why, when he finally attempted to give
shape to the conclusions he had reached in regard to one particular
group of problems, his grasp of the essential unity and his power to
build an inclusive and unspecialized conception of reality, were made
visible at once. There was no special problem of thought which could be
treated apart from an either implicit or explicit view of the whole of
reality: there was no solution of any particular problem which would
not affect, and in turn be affected by, the solution of every other
problem. Or, to say the same thing in different words, philosophy was
a system, not in the sense that a rigid logical scheme could once
and forever fit the ever moving stream of reality, but because it is
impossible to think the distinctions without the unity, or the unity
without the distinctions. That which appears to us, psychologically,
as the main characteristic of Croce's mind, transforms itself into the
intrinsic logic of his system, in which the principles of unity and of
distinction are, as we shall see, fundamental.

In the year 1899 Croce had been compelled to spend a good part of
his time in a more or less practical activity in connection with the
Centenary of the Neapolitan Republic of 1799, and it was only towards
the end of that year that he could dedicate himself entirely to
the work he had constantly had in mind since the publication of his
essays on literary criticism: the exposition of his concept of art
in the fulness of its relations and determinations. It will be well
to let Croce himself give us an account of that decisive moment, of
the ripening and gathering of his various speculations into their
first coherent and systematic expression. "When I started my work,
and began to collect my scattered thoughts, I found myself extremely
ignorant: the gaps multiplied themselves in my sight; those same things
that I thought I held well in my grasp wavered and became confused;
unsuspected questions came forward asking for an answer; and during
five months I read almost nothing, walked for hours and hours, spent
half days and whole days lying on a couch, searching assiduously within
myself, and putting down on paper notes and thoughts, each of which
was a criticism of the other. This torment grew much worse, when in
November I tried to set forth in a concise memoir the fundamental
theses of Æsthetics, because, ten times at least, having carried my
work up to a certain point, I became aware of the necessity of taking
a step which was not justified logically, and I started all over again
in order to discover in the beginnings the obscurity or error which had
brought me to that quandary; and, having rectified the error, again
went my way, and a little further I again stumbled into a similar
difficulty. Only after six or seven more months was I able to send
to the press that memoir in the form in which it has been printed
under the title _Tesi fondamentali di un' Estetica come scienza dell'
espressione e linguistica generale_; arid and abstruse, but from
which, once I had finished it, I came out not only quite oriented in
regard to the problems of the mind, but also with an awakened and
sure understanding of almost all the principal problems about which
classical philosophers have toiled: an understanding which cannot be
acquired by merely reading their books, but only by repeating within
oneself, under the stimulus of life, their mental drama."[1] We are
so used to see the intellectual worker surrounded and propped up by
libraries, laboratories, files, and statistics, that the sight of a
man abandoning his books, giving himself up to what by all material
standards must be classed as a state of idleness, in order to withdraw
into the intimacy of his own consciousness, there to find an answer
to the problems of reality, cannot but strike us as incongruous and
anachronistic. If we were frank about ourselves, we should confess that
our unbounded confidence in the purely material helps is merely a mask
for our deep-rooted scepticism, for our absolute lack of confidence
in the power of reason. What we cannot hope to attain through our
individual effort, we expect as the product of a great machine of
thought, in which man enters as a little wheel, accomplishing a
given function, as mechanical and impersonal as the rest of the
machine. We strive for objectivity, and believe in the automatic
fabrication of truth. Through a false analogy with the methods of the
natural sciences, imperfectly understood, and assimilated to those of
industrial production, we call this process scientific, and we pretend
to despise what we fear, the testimony of our consciousness and the
hardships of personal thought. Reason, the human reason, the ultimate
source of all knowledge, we pay lip homage to, but really put in the
same category as the obscure intuition of the mystic. Outside our
mechanical objectivity, we seem unable to see anything but an arbitrary
subjectivism, a capricious and empirical individuality.

But however incongruous and anachronistic it may appear to us, there
is little doubt that this method is the only philosophical method, the
method of philosophy in all times. Croce's originality consists merely
in having reasserted its validity in such sharp contrast to all the
tendencies of the age, and to have shown that true objectivity belongs
only to the truth we discover within ourselves, when the eye of our
mind is not turned on the transient spectacle of our superficial life,
but is reaching under it for that universal consciousness which is
the foundation of the individual one. There is no scholar who is as
exacting and punctilious as Croce in the choice and elaboration of his
material--as conscious of the need of thoroughness and precision--as
impatient of any form of improvisation; but he never forgets that
the end of all his labours is merely that of _knowing himself,_ in
the spirit of the ancient oracle, by acquiring a direct, intimate
experience of the processes through which a mind of to-day has come to
be what is truly is; of making his own individual consciousness partake
more and more of that universality which alone is true consciousness,
by liberating itself from all casual determinations, and becoming
historically acquainted with itself. It is easy to see how in such a
general attitude the road to philosophy is also the road to history;
and how both in philosophy and in history the final test must be not
that of the dead material, but of the living spirit.

The employment of such a method leads to two consequences: the first,
that a philosophy thus conceived will be a philosophy of the human
spirit--_Filosofia dello Spirito_--or, as we, following the habits of
English-speaking philosophers, shall tentatively call it, a philosophy
of mind; the second, that the universality which the individual spirit
discovers within itself, not being a static, immovable universality,
but merely the form of its ever-changing, historical actuality,
philosophy itself will be a continuous progress, and at no particular
moment will it be possible to define the thought of the philosopher as
a completed system. As we cannot, however, in the small compass of this
book, minutely follow all the successive modifications and accretions
of Croce's thought, we shall speak of the ten years between 1900 and
1910 as of the period in which the system of the philosophy of mind
was developed and determined, and we shall attempt in the following
chapters to give a general view of the system itself as it might have
appeared in 1910 to a conscientious student of all the works of Croce
published during that interval of time.

The _Tesi_ contained already the substance of the _Estetica come
scienza dell' espressione e linguistica generale_ which was completed
in 1901 and published in 1902, and with which Croce definitely took
his place in modern philosophy. The book is divided in two parts, the
exposition of the theory and the history of the doctrine. But the two
parts are very closely related to each other, as the exposition already
criticises all the possible aspects of æsthetic theory, and the history
merely disposes the same criticisms in a chronological order, and
labels each of them with a name. This plan, with slight alterations, is
that of the successive volumes of the _Filosofia dello Spirito_: to the
reader who is already acquainted with the history of philosophy, the
historical character of the purely theoretical exposition is readily

Soon after the publication of the _Estetica,_ Croce began to consider
his book merely as a programme and a sketch which needed filling in
with further developments,--with the investigation of the other forms
of human activity, which had been merely postulated in the study of
the æsthetic activity; and with a wide cultural work, to be carried
on especially by means of a review, through which his ideas should
be tested in immediate and constant relation with the problems of
contemporary Italian and European thought. The enormous activity of the
following years falls easily into this rough division. On one hand we
have the completion of the _Filosofia dello Spirito,_ with the _Logica
come scienza del concetto puro,_ the first edition of which appeared
in 1905 (_Lineamenti di una Logica,_ etc.), and the second, deeply
modified by his meditations on the practical activity, in 1909, with
the _Filosofia della Pratica: Economica ed Etica,_ written in 1908,
but of which some parts had already been given in 1907 in the memoir
_Riduzione della filosofia del diritto alla filosofia dell' economia_;
and with the new and fuller formulation of his Æsthetics in a paper
read to the International Congress of Philosophy in Heidelberg in 1908,
on _L'intuizione pura e il carattere lirico dell' arte_. To these must
be added the two monographs on Hegel (1906) and Vico (1910), which are
at the same time an exposition of their philosophies and a restatement
of Croce's own main positions, in so far as they coincided with those
elements of truth which he still recognized as living in their thought.

On the other hand we have the publication of a bi-monthly review, _La
Critica,_ the first number of which appeared in January, 1903, and
which is still being published. _La Critica_ announced itself as a
review of literature, history and philosophy, but it differed from
all other publications in the same fields in two main features: the
first, that the number of its contributors was practically limited to
two, Croce himself, and his friend Giovanni Gentile, with whom he had
first been brought in contact through their common interest in Marxian
studies, and who followed for some years at least a line of thought
which touched his own at many points; the second, that it imposed upon
itself a very definite programme of work, each number containing an
essay, or part of an essay, by Croce on some Italian writer of the
preceding half-century, and one by Gentile on the Italian philosophers
of the same period, besides a number of reviews of new Italian and
foreign books, and notes and comments on contemporary questions of
culture and moral life. In his own main work for the _Critica,_
Croce was at the same time aiming at giving concrete examples of the
application of æsthetic theory in the domain of literary criticism, and
at clearing the ground for the work of the new generation, through an
appraisement of the literary values of the preceding one. The general
temper of the review is clearly expressed in the following words
from the already so often quoted autobiographical notes: "The ideal
which I cherished was drawn not from my own personality, but from my
varied experience, because, having lived sufficiently in the academic
world to know both its virtues and its faults, and having at the same
time preserved a feeling of real life, and of literature and science
as being born from it and renovating themselves in it, I addressed
my censures and my polemics on one hand against dilettanti and
unmethodical workers, on the other against the academicians resting in
their prejudices and idling with the externals of art and science."[2]

The greatest part of the writings contributed by Croce to the _Critica_
during these years were later collected in volumes, of which however
only the _Problemi d'Estetica_ (1910), containing, besides the
Heidelberg lecture, a large number of essays both on the theory and
history of Æsthetics, appeared before the end of the period we are now
considering. To intensify the action of both his books and his review,
he initiated in 1906, in connection with the publisher Laterza of Bari,
the publication of a series of _Classici della filosofia moderna_, in
which he published his own translation of Hegel's Encyclopedia; and
in 1909, of the collection _Scrittori d' Italia_, which is in the way
to becoming the standard corpus of Italian Literature. He took also
a leading part in the editing of the same publisher's _Biblioteca di
cultura moderna_, which was enriched through his care and advice with
reprints of rare works of southern Italian writers of the Risorgimento
and of the early years of the Unity, and with translations of books
representative of foreign contemporary thought.

If we add to all this, a number of scattered essays and monographs,
editions of texts and documents, and bibliographies, and the generous
cooperation, extending from the friendly discussion of plans and ideas
to the humble reading of proofs, with a host of friends and disciples,
we have a fairly complete idea of the significance of Croce in the
cultural life of young Italy. He very rapidly became something like an
institution; he was hailed as the master and spiritual guide of the
new generation. His work and his example, the clarity of his thought
and the rhythm of his steady, harmonious, powerful activity, were an
element not of the limited life of the intellectual laboratory only,
but of the spiritual life of the nation.

[Footnote 1: _Contributo_, pp. 40-41.]

[Footnote 2: _Contributo_, p. 48.]


The four grades of spiritual activity--Intuition and conceptual
knowledge--The intuitive consciousness--The limits of intuitive
knowledge--Identifications of intuition and expression--Art as
expression: content and form--Language as expression; the reality of
words--Croce's use of the word intuition--The lyrical character of the
pure intuition.

The whole cycle of the philosophy of mind exhausts itself in the
study of the four fundamental forms of human activity, the concepts
of which we have seen slowly developing through the mazes of Croce's
early speculations: the æsthetic, the logic, the economic and the
ethic; of the distinction and the unity of æsthetic and logic in the
theoretical activity, or knowledge, and of economic and ethic in the
practical activity, or action; and finally of the relations between
the theoretical and the practical, or knowledge and action. This may
be said to be the positive aspect of Croce's philosophy: the negative
aspect consists in the criticism and exclusion of any other form of
activity from the system of the human spirit, and of that which is not
the spirit, or nature, from the system of reality.

To the four forms or grades of spiritual activity, correspond four
philosophical sciences: Æsthetics, Logic, Economics, and Ethics.
Each of them can be said to be the _organum_ of the particular form
of activity which it studies; the affirmation of that sphere of
consciousness which is proper to it, and of its relations to the other
forms. Each of them is therefore related to the others in the same
way as the various forms of activity are related to each other. They
might be defined as the projection on the plane of logic of the whole
system of human activity, that is, of the whole of reality. They derive
their intrinsic validity from this perfect coincidence of their several
objects with the only conceivable aspects of reality.

We shall in this and in the following chapters attempt to fill in with
the strictly necessary detail this very ample frame. But we can already
point to the idealistic character of such a philosophy resulting from
its method, which is that of the testimony of consciousness, as opposed
to the naturalistic or psychologic method of indirect observation; from
its object, which is the human spirit or mind in the fulness of its
determinations; and from the exclusion of any aspect of reality which
is not immanent in consciousness, that is, both of the naturally and
the supernaturally transcendent. As against another kind of idealism,
of which the typical example is Platonic transcendentalism, Croce's
idealism is realistic and immanentistic: the task of the philosophy of
mind is to discover the immanent logic of reality. But against current
realism, which considers mind as the mere spectator and observer of
external or natural reality, it asserts the identity of reality and
consciousness, which is the basic position of all idealism.

There are two forms of knowledge: intuitive (or æsthetic) and
conceptual (or logical). Intuition is the knowledge of the individual
or particular; the concept is the knowledge of the universal. This
distinction, as we have already seen, corresponds roughly to the old
classical distinction of _mythos_ and _logos_, to Vico's definitions
of poetry and metaphysics, and to the new meaning given by Baumgarten
to the old antithesis of _aisthēta_ and _noēta_. Let us quote Vico
again: "Men first feel without perceiving, then they perceive and are
perturbed and moved; finally they reflect with pure mind." Here we have
three successive grades, of which the first is mere sensation, the
lower limit of mental activity; the second is intuition; the third,
concept. For Vico, the second grade is identical with Poetry, and the
science of this form of knowledge, which we call Æsthetics, he called
Poetic Logic, the science of poetry as "the first operation of the
human mind." Vico's discovery consists in this definition of Poetry
(and Art), not as a casual, capricious, lateral form of spiritual
activity, but as the first and necessary grade of knowledge, as an
essential function of the mind. But Vico's thought was clothed in what
we might well call a mythological form: the various grades of spiritual
activity were presented by him as successive stages or epochs in the
history of mankind; and the inter-relation of the various grades, as
the actual law of the development of human society. Croce unravelled
Vico's philosophy, or ideal history, history of the mind, from Vico's
concrete, sociological history, and the result was this new Æsthetics
which is at the same time a science of the first grade of knowledge,
and of art and language.

Of the reality of intuitive, as distinct from reflected knowledge, we
have constant evidence in our immediate experience. If I examine my
own consciousness, at any particular moment, I find it crowded with
_things I know_, as, now, this room in which I am writing, the piano
that is open before me, the flowers in a little basket, blue fragments
of sky and green branches washed by the recent rain swaying in the
clear sunlight, the shrill voice of a child from the road, the light
steps of a girl moving about the house. I am not conscious of all
these intuitions at once: I write, and I distinctly _know_ this white
paper only, and the black signs I am tracing, the pen guided by my
hand, and the edges of a few books on my table: all the rest has faded
away into a blurred, fused intuition, the intuition of an atmosphere,
composed of mere shreds and shadows of the colours and sounds of which
I was so distinctly conscious but one minute ago. But now I put down
my pen again, and I look at the piano; and I let my mind wander away,
from what I see to what I remember or imagine: the fair-headed figure
playing this morning Franck's Prelude, Choral and Fugue, the rapid and
sure movements of the fingers on the white and black keys, a vague
image of the solemn and passionate music, memories of distant days,
a sudden rush of obscure fantasies, evoked by the actual playing,
and still lingering in the recesses of my mind, returning now with
a fragment of a melody, with a succession of triumphant chords. And
again, I look beyond the window, and the little square of green and
blue expands itself into the vast valley beyond, screened from my view
by these few trees clustering around the house, and yet mysteriously
present to my inner eye: I see a little company of riders cantering
along a shaded lane, coming out in an open meadow surrounded by low,
thick-wooded hills; the sun sets in a pale purple sky, and I hear the
tramping of the slow, heavy hoofs, as the horses find their way back
through the woods, through a darkness much more opaque and solid than
that of the remote twilight, still visible above the highest branches,
animated by the first faint glittering of a star. And the woods are
full of a myriad small breathing and stirring noises, of the sense of
the deep surging inhuman life of trees and shrubs, of the penetrating
scent of the rich damp earth, of decaying wood, of fallen leaves.

And now, I suddenly shut myself out of this world of perceptions and
imaginations, or rather I keep them all before me, but not because
of the immediate, individual interest I have in each of them. I try
to extract the common, the universal element of which I suspect the
existence not beyond but within them. I renounce all particular
intuitions for the concept of intuition. I am no longer an image-making
mind, no longer engaged in this elementary or "first" operation of
the human mind, but I have passed on to a different, and manifestly a
"secondary" plane of mental activity, since it would be impossible for
me to root my thinking anywhere but on the soil of my intuitions.

What, then, is intuition? Clearly it is not the mere sensation, the
formless matter which the mind cannot grasp in itself, as mere matter,
but possesses only by imposing its form on it. Without matter no human
knowledge or activity is possible, but matter is, within ourselves, the
animal element, that which is brutal and impulsive, not the spiritual
domain, which is humanity. Matter conquered by form gives place to
the concrete form. Matter, or content, is what differentiates one
intuition from another; the form is constant, and the form is the
spiritual activity. In this way we set the lower limit of intuitive
knowledge, and we recognize its characters of awareness and activity:
an intuition is not that which presents itself to me, but that which
I make my own, by giving form to it. It may be an actual perception,
but the distinction between that which is real and that which is
imaginary is not an intuitive, but a logical or intellectual one;
the knowledge of things which I do not perceive, but only remember,
or even only create with my imagination belongs to the same class,
partakes of the same formal character. Space and time, which have more
than once been considered as intuitions, are in reality categories
of an intellectual order: they may be found in intuitions, as other
intellectual elements are found, but as ingredients and not as
necessary elements, _materialiter_ and not _formaliter_. In relation to
the usual psychological concepts of association and representation, it
can be said that an intuition is an association, when by that word we
mean an active mental synthesis, and not a mechanical juxtaposition of
abstract sensations; and that it is a representation, not as a complex
sensation, but as a spiritual elaboration of the sensation.

The upper limit of intuitive knowledge is given by reflected, or
intellectual, or logical knowledge, or whatever we may call that
which is no longer knowledge of the individual, of things, but of the
universal, of relations among things, of concepts. Intuitive knowledge
is independent of intellectual knowledge, as it is possible to form
intuitions without forming concepts; in the examples which I have
given in the preceding paragraph, practically all the intuitions are
pure intuitions, in the sense that they do not contain any logical
ingredients. But even when such are found, they appear as mere
intuitions, and not as concepts: as, for instance, Hamlet's philosophy,
which I do not read as a help towards the understanding of metaphysical
problems, but as a characterization of an imaginery individual. On the
other hand, logical knowledge is founded on intuitions, presupposes
the world of intuitions as its matter or content. The relation between
æsthetic and logical knowledge is one of grade or development: the
former stands by itself, rests directly on that which is not yet spirit
or form, is the first grade of spiritual or human activity; the latter
gives a further spiritual elaboration to the intuitive material.
This relationship, to which we shall return later, is the typical
process of Croce's own logic, the logic of spiritual or mental grades,
which he substitutes throughout his system for the naturalistic or
transcendental logic of his early masters.

A further step in the deduction of the concept of intuitive or æsthetic
knowledge, is made by identifying intuition with expression. Given the
active and conscious character of intuition, we are already prepared to
admit that every true intuition is at the same time an expression; that
which cannot objectify itself into an expression is nothing but mere
sensation. The mind does not actually intuit except by doing, forming,
and expressing. We must not think only of verbal expressions: there
are intuitions which cannot be expressed by words, but only by sounds
or lines or colours. But in any case the two words are interchangeable:
what really exists in our spirit is only what we can express. It is
only when we can express ourselves, that we are conscious of actually
possessing, that is, of having actually formed, our intuitions. It is
impossible to distinguish the expression from the intuition because
they are not two but one.

This identification runs counter to a number of very common and very
dear delusions: we constantly imagine that the difference between
ourselves and a great painter or a great poet does not consist in the
power of seeing and feeling, but in a supposed gift of merely external
expression; and again, we credit ourselves with a number of thoughts
and images, which we might express if we only wished to. The easiest
way to free ourselves of such delusions is to try to express whatever
it seems to us that we possess: it becomes then apparent that our
pictorial or poetical intuitions are really mere fragments, or echoes,
of intuitions; are, in fact, not more than that which we succeed in
expressing. It must however be borne in mind that we give here to the
word expression a purely mental or spiritual significance: we mean by
it the image that we form in our mind, and of which the painting or the
poem, as objects, are the material extrinsications. It requires but
little reflection to realize that there is no painting or poem--there
is no word that we utter--unless it be a mere _flatus vocis_, which
has not been preceded in our mind by an internal image, which is the
true expression.

The reader will have remarked that, in order to give examples of
intuitive knowledge, we have now had recourse to poetry and to
painting. The fact is that there is no difference between intuitive
knowledge, or expression, and art, except a purely extensive and
empirical one: that is, we call a poet or an artist a man who possesses
this expressive power in a higher degree than the rest of mankind;
we call a poem or a work of art an expression which is fuller, more
complex, more elaborate, than those which are the product of our
common intuitive activity, mere waves of the continuous stream of
spiritual life, in which they are constantly interrupted by and mixed
with reflections and volitions, with logical and practical facts. The
difference between the genius and the common man, in the æsthetic as
well as in the other spheres of human activity, is a quantitative,
not a qualitative one. Art is not a peculiar spiritual function, and
therefore a closed circle to which none but the elect are admitted: the
artist appeals to the intuitive man in each of us, in a language of
which every human mind finds the key within itself.

The definition of art as expression emphasizes the creative and formal
character of art; and its immediate consequence is the identification
of form and content, that is, the solution of one of the oldest and
most confused of æsthetic problems. Art is form, not in the technical
or formalistic sense, but in the meaning which we have given to the
word when discussing the relation between sensation and intuition; and
the content of a particular work of art cannot be abstracted from the
work itself as something that existed before it, and to which a form
has been added from outside. There is no content, in art, which is not
the content of a particular form, that is, that which has ceased to
exist as a possible content, and has transformed itself into a definite
form. This conception of the relations of form and content implies
also either a new interpretation, or the repudiation, of the theory
of art as the imitation of nature, meaningless in a mechanical sense,
true, and synonymous with the theory of intuition, in a creative and
formative sense. Through the same critical process, all discussions of
the relations between art and the senses appear as being founded on a
confusion between that which is still beyond the limit of spiritual
activity, the sensation or impression, and the actual æsthetic
elaboration, which begins only when the mind becomes aware of the
impression that has reached it through the channel of the senses.

We have mentioned, in connection with the identification of intuition
and expression, the fact that every word that we utter is constantly
preceded by an internal image; which is as much as saying that
language is a perpetual spiritual creation, on the same plane as all
our other expressions, and as art. We are accustomed to seeing dead
words and syllables in grammars and dictionaries, and we consider
them as something external, as a kind of instrument that we use and
accommodate to this and that purpose. But words that grammarians
study, through a naturalistic process, as independent elements of
the linguistic organism, are really alive and full of their meaning
only in the active context of speech. The reality of words is only in
the individual spirit that speaks, and every word is new every time
that it is employed because it expresses that particular, individual
moment of spiritual activity, which cannot be the same as any other
one. Philologists have been divided on the question of the origin of
language for centuries, some finding it in the logical activity, others
in a system of mechanical symbols and conventions, a few admitting the
conception of language as a pure æsthetic creation only for a mythic,
primitive period, which is succeeded in the history of every language
by a period of development by convention and association. But, as in
all other branches of spiritual activity, it is here impossible to draw
a distinction between the problem of the origins and the problem of
the nature of language: linguistic expressions have fixed themselves
in the course of centuries and stand before us as a body of language,
as a reality independent of the individual activity that produces the
particular expressions; this is what prevents us from recognizing in
the actual linguistic facts the same creative energy that formed the
first words uttered by man.

In this reduction of the philosophy of language to æsthetics, Croce
again follows Vico, who professed to have found the true origins
of languages in the principles of poetry, who first asserted the
functional identity of language and poetry. This theory, however,
seems to clash with the existence of what we might call the implicit
conceptuality of language, of which we are constantly made aware by our
grammatical categories. The fact is that the relation between language
and concept is the same as between intuition and concept: that is, on
one side, language is the material of our reflected thought, and it
would be impossible for the reflection to begin without or before the
language; but, on the other hand, the concepts appear in language not
as forms but as matter. In other words, to speak it is not necessary
to think logically, but it is impossible to think logically without
speaking. The grammatical categories are not real elements of language,
but products of abstraction, of a purely practical character, of the
kind that we shall soon have to examine in the rhetoric of the arts.

What may help us, in thus conceiving of the active and intuitive
character of language, is a comparison with other classes of expressive
facts. When we speak of musical or pictorial language, we are aware
that we are using mere metaphors for the purpose of collecting certain
general characteristics which are common to some of these facts. The
various musical grammars, the rules of harmony or of orchestration, are
nothing but summaries of abstractions: in the presence of a certain
music, or of a certain picture, we cannot forget the principle that no
expression can give birth to a new expression without first undergoing
a new creative process. And this is as true of the highest forms of
artistic expression as of the words which we use in our daily life.

A number of objections to Croce's æsthetics have been prompted by his
use of the word intuition. To the reader who has followed our argument,
it is not necessary to explain that Croce's intuition has nothing in
common either with the mystic intuition of the Neoplatonists or of
the ultra-romantics, or with the intuition which Bergson substitutes
for the intellect as the proper organ of absolute knowledge. It is
not a mysterious instrument of the mind, by which man can either come
in contact with supernatural realities, or, renouncing that which is
distinctively human in him, enter into the actual movement and life
of nature. The fact that Croce has spent so much time and thought
in trying to understand this first, naïve, elementary grade of the
theoretical activity, does not justify his critics in putting him in
the same class either with romantic metaphysicians or with romantic
naturalists. That such a confusion has ever been possible is only a
further proof of the immaturity and superficiality of a large part of
our most solemn contemporary thought. It shows how it has been given to
grown-up and apparently educated men, to read a book without knowing
what its subject was, and without even being able to shield themselves
behind the saving grace of silence.

An objection of a quite different order was raised by Croce himself,
who found its solution in the elaboration of his philosophy of
the practical, or of will. It can be said of the theory of art as
intuition, that it reduces art to a form of knowledge, to a theoretical
function, while what we look for in works of art is life and movement,
and the feeling and personality of the artist, that is, something
that is not theoretical but practical. The answer might be that the
feeling is content and the intuition form; but such a dualistic point
of view would in reality destroy not only Croce's æsthetics, but the
foundations of his whole philosophy of mind. And we would be back at a
position which we thought we had already criticised and surpassed. The
truth is that intuition, and the personality, or lyrical character,
of a work of art, are only different aspects of the same spiritual
process, that where one is, the other too will have to be found. What
we can abstract as the psychic content of intuition, since we have
already excluded abstractions and concepts, is only what we call
appetition, tendency, feeling, will--the various facts which constitute
the practical form of the human spirit. Pure intuition cannot
represent anything but the will in its manifestations, that is, nothing
but states of mind. And the states of mind are that passion, feeling,
and personality which we find in art, and which determine its lyrical

In order properly to understand this new point of view, it must be
borne in mind that the lyrical character of the poetry does not
however coincide with the practical passion of the poet: the relation
between the emotion and the intuition is not a deterministic one, as
of cause and effect, but a creative one, as of matter and form. The
poetical vibration is different in kind from the practical one. If I
grasp Croce's meaning correctly, the feeling and movement which we
find in art is something that belongs intrinsically to the intuitive
activity--it is the dynamic of the creative process itself. And
in fact, what we look for in the works of art is not the empirical
personality of the artist, but the tonality of his individual æsthetic
activity, which is always new and always unmistakably his own,--not
the rhythm of his passion but that of his vision or contemplation,
of his intuition of the passion. Any other way of considering this
relation would inevitably lead us back to the conventional distinction
of form and content, to the attribution of æsthetic characters to
the emotions themselves, and to a definition of intuition not as a
simple and primitive fact, but as a combination of the practical and
the theoretical, of will and knowledge. I consider this deduction of
the lyrical character of intuition as one of the points of Croce's
æsthetics which opens the way to new problems and stand in need of
further elaboration; but what is important in it, and already firmly
established, is the recognition of this character, through which the
whole doctrine of intuition gains a deeper and richer meaning, and
becomes more apt to deal with the concrete facts of our æsthetic

[Footnote 1: This chapter and the following two are founded especially
on the _Estetica_, pp. 1-171; the essay on _L'intuizione pura e
il carattere lirico dell' arte_, in _Problemi_, pp. 1-30; and the
_Breviario_, in _Nuovi Saggi_, pp. 1-91.]


Further determinations of the concept of art--Theoretical and practical
activity--The progress of æsthetic theories--An American instance:
morality and art--The typical--The ends of art--The process of æsthetic
production--Relations of the æsthetic with the practical activity--The
delusion of objective beauty--Æsthetic hedonism--The æsthetic value.

The determination of the concept of art as pure intuition would be
little more than a verbal variation of older doctrines, if its validity
and importance could not be proved in the actual practice of thought on
æsthetic problems, in the study of the relations of the æsthetic fact
with the other facts of human activity, and in the criticism of errors
which have invaded the field of æsthetic thought through a confusion of
the æsthetic with the intellectual or the practical. We shall therefore
not be able to grasp the new concept in the fulness of its meaning
until we have surveyed the whole ground of the philosophy of mind: the
æsthetic concept cannot be said to be fully determined until we have
a clear conception of the other fundamental grades or forms of the
spirit. For the purposes of our exposition, we may however anticipate a
summary or scheme of the essential relations, which will be more fully
developed in the following chapters.

We have already seen how the logical activity springs from the soil
of the pure intuition; how the knowledge of the universal follows the
knowledge of the individual. The æsthetic and the logic grade, of which
the second implies the first, exhaust the whole of knowledge, the
whole theoretical life of man. A third grade or form does not exist:
not in history, which Croce still considered, in the first years of
this period, as reducible to the concept of art, and differentiated
from it only by its employment of the predicate of existence, of the
distinction between reality and imagination; and not in the natural and
mathematical sciences, which elaborate the data of intuition through
fictions, hypotheses, and conventions, which are practical and not
theoretical processes.

The relation between the theoretical and the practical activity is
of the same kind as that between the two grades of the theoretical
activity: that is, the first is the basis of the second. We can think
of a knowing which is independent from the will, but not of a will
which is independent of knowledge: it is impossible to will without
historical intuitions and a knowledge of relations. Within the
practical activity, we can further distinguish two grades corresponding
to the two grades of the theoretical activity: the economic, which
is the will of the individual, of a particular end, and the ethic,
which is the will of the universal, of the rational end. The relation
between the economic and the ethic activity is again the same
grade-relation as between the æsthetic and the logic, the theoretical
and the practical. The concrete life of the human spirit consists in
the perpetually recurring cycle of the four grades of its activity,
which is the law of its unity and development. The concept rises from
the intuition, and action from knowledge; ethical activity is not
conceivable without a theoretical foundation, and the concreteness of
a particular end. At the close of the cycle, the spiritual life itself
becomes the object of a new intuition, from which a new concept and a
new action are reproduced _ad infinitum_. In the history of æsthetics,
the errors deriving from the confusion of that which is distinctively
æsthetic with other forms of theoretical or practical activity,
present themselves as a series of doctrines, which can be considered
as gradual approximations to the definition of art as intuition. It
is not necessarily, or not only, a chronological series, but rather a
succession of actual moments in the deduction of the concept of art.
Empirical æsthetics recognises the existence of a class of æsthetic
or artistic facts, without attempting to reduce them under a single
concept; practical (hedonistic or moralistic) æsthetics makes a first
attempt at interpreting them by putting them in relation with one
of the categories of spiritual activity; intellectualiste æsthetics
denies that they belong to the practical sphere, though failing to
discover their precise theoretical character; agnostic æsthetics
criticises all the preceding moments, and is satisfied with a purely
negative definition; mystic æsthetics, conscious of the difference of
æsthetic from logical facts, makes a new spiritual category of them,
affirms their autonomy and independence, but mistakes the nature of
their relation with conceptual knowledge. We are all more or less
familiar with the various aspects of these doctrines, and it can be
said that none of them (with the exception of the first, which is now
represented by psychologic æsthetics) is now being held consistently
by any responsible thinker. The truth of the intuitive theory, which
we find adumbrated already in classical antiquity in the Aristotelian
theory of _mimesis_, and of which artists and critics have always had a
kind of obscure presentiment, is now implicitly recognised by all who
have an intimate contact with and a sincere feeling for art and poetry.
The literary and artistic development of the end of the eighteenth and
of the nineteenth century has been accompanied by such a wealth of
critical thought, that a conscious understanding of the nature of art
is now much more frequent than in former ages. The forces that were
at work liberating logical and moral thought from the shackles of the
past, reacted vigorously on æsthetic thought, and helped to make it
more and more independent from both intellectualistic and moralistic
errors. It would be possible to extract aphorisms and meditations from
the writings of the greatest poets, artists, and musicians of the
period, to show how common among them was and is the knowledge of the
spiritual autonomy and of the intuitive character of art. But because
the task of the artist is not that of elaborating a philosophy of art,
and a good many critics and æstheticians, on the other hand, have very
little experience of the actual æsthetic processes, we find that though
the other doctrines are discredited, yet a number of prejudices which
have their roots in them are still current,--the artists themselves
rejecting them, as it were, by instinct and not by reasoning, and the
critics and æstheticians clinging to them because they help them to
gain a fictitious possession of that artistic reality which escapes
them in its purity and actuality. An intellectualiste or moralistic
critic can easily mask his lack of æsthetic taste, his fundamental
ignorance of art, by talking at length and with great solemnity about
unessentials. Artists and poets, on the other hand, are apt to react
to these prejudices by falling into the errors of æstheticism, that
is by attributing to their empirical selves the freedom that belongs
to their function, and by denying in the name of art the autonomy
and dignity of intellectual and moral values. In both cases, what is
manifestly lacking is a proper understanding of the meaning of logical,
or ideal distinctions, for which the artists, I suppose, ought to be
more readily forgiven than the critics, though æstheticism may be as
dangerous to art as moralism or intellectualism are to thought.

A recent literary polemic in America offered some striking examples of
these prejudices. A critic of the older school, in a discussion of the
moral tendencies of the age, introduced a criticism of the proposition
that art is not concerned either with truth or morality, by affirming
that this negative proposition could legitimately be converted into
the positive one: the object of art is to deny that which truth and
morality affirm. The sophism of this conversion is based on a confusion
between the two logical concepts of distinction and opposition. The
critic was not deducing a logical consequence of the first proposition,
any more than if he were interpreting my saying that I am not
interested as a student of literature in the law of gravitation, as
implying a disbelief in the law of gravitation: he was merely stating
his own conception of art as a conceptual and moral function, and of
the value of art as an intellectual and moral value; which is the error
of intellectualism and moralism. In his reply to the older critic, a
writer of the younger generation contended that æsthetic values are
higher than either logical or moral values, and in some mysterious way
transcend and comprehend them both. The younger writer was evidently
using the same kind of logic as his adversary, and affirming on his own
account the error of a variety of æstheticism.

What the original proposition actually implies is that judgments
regarding the logical truth or the historical verity, the moral merit
or demerit of a work of art, do not treat art as art, but dissolve the
work itself into its abstract elements, and deal with these elements in
an entirely different context. If I discuss the theology and philosophy
of Dante, I shall find a number of propositions which to my mind are
untrue; but the beauty of Dante's poetry is incommensurable with the
truth or falsehood of his logical thought. The beauty of Francesca's
episode is not impaired by the quite reasonable suspicion that the
poetical idealization of a guilty passion might have a dangerous
influence on weak and sentimental souls.

The imperfect distinction between art and logical or scientific truth
is responsible for the critical prejudice of art as expressive of
the typical. The typical is a product of abstract thought, of the
kind that is employed in the natural sciences. The expressions of
art are essentially individual and particular, and when we consider
them as typical, we merely use them as the starting point for our
own abstractions, that is, for the purposes of a quite different
mental process. Similar to the concept of the typical are those of
the allegory and symbol, which are mechanical constructions of the
intellect, and which art is unable to represent unless it reduces them
to the particular and concrete.

The confusion between art and morality, being ultimately founded on
the supposition that art is not a theoretical function, but an act of
the will, gives rise to the theories of the ends of art, and of the
so-called choice of the subject. But the end of art is art itself,
expression or beauty, or whatever other name we shall give to the
æsthetic value, just as the end of science is truth and the end of
morality is goodness; that is, the concept of end coincides in every
case with the concept of value. And the artist cannot choose his
subject, since there is no abstract subject present to his mind, but
only the world of his own already formed intuitions and expressions;
which he can neither will nor not will. This is the truth contained in
the old idea of poetical inspiration, which was merely another word for
the spontaneity and unreflectiveness of art. A choice of the subject
according to ends other than æsthetic is a certain cause of failure.
The only conceivable meaning that advice as to the choice of a subject
may have, is a kind of artistic _know thyself_, a warning to the artist
to be true to himself, to follow his inspiration, and that which is
deepest and most genuine in it. It is, however, a tautological meaning,
and the reverse of the one which is given to it by the moralistic

If it is impossible for us either to will or not will our æsthetic
vision, the internal image which is the true "work of art," it is clear
that an element of will enters into the production of the physical
or external image, made of sounds or lines or colours or shapes,
which we call works of art in a naturalistic or empirical sense. The
complete process of æsthetic production is symbolized by Croce in
the four following stages: _a_, the impression; _b_ the expression or
æsthetic spiritual synthesis; _c_, the feeling of pleasure or pain
which accompanies the æsthetic as well as any other form of spiritual
activity; d, the translation of the æsthetic fact into physical
phenomena. The only true æsthetic moment of the whole process is in
b, which alone is real expression, while _d_ is expression in the
naturalistic and abstract sense of the word. Such a conception clashes
against a number of deep-rooted fallacies, which in their turn are the
source of innumerable æsthetic prejudices. It is clear, however, that
what we call a printed poem is no poem at all, but only a collection of
conventional black signs on a white page, which suggest to me a number
of movements of my vocal organs destined to the production of certain
sounds; and again, that these sounds are not the poem in itself, apart
from my understanding of their meaning, from my re-creation of the
internal image which prompted their original production now recorded in
the pages of a book. Physically, a painting is constituted by colours
on a wall, or board, or canvas: here, the first stage of reproduction
which is required for the written poem is not necessary: the material
(visual, as it was auditive for the poem) on which the original image
fixed itself is directly present to me; and yet, again, that material
object is not the æsthetic vision, but a mere stimulus for its
reproduction. Starting from the material object, Croce symbolized the
inverse process of æsthetic reproduction in the following series: _e_,
the physical stimulus; _d-b_, the perception of physical facts (sound,
colours, etc.), which is at the same time the æsthetic synthesis
previously produced; _c_, the æsthetic pleasure or pain. Here, again,
the only moment of true æsthetic activity is in _b_ where, at least in
the hypothesis of a perfect understanding, my vision coincides with the
orignal creation.

It must be understood, however, that these successive stages are not
real, but abstract or symbolical distinctions. We cannot re-create
an æsthetic vision except through the sounds or colours in which it
originally expressed itself; and those sounds or colours coincide with
the original expression. The words and rhythm of a poem are to it what
the body is to the soul, and once you have dissolved that form, there
is nothing left. Hence the theoretical impossibility of a translation,
which can only exist as a new creation. But when we consider those
words or that rhythm not within the expressive synthesis, in which
their reality is spiritual and not physical, but outside it, as words,
as rhythm, we build up by abstraction a category of physical facts,
to which we attribute a reality not inferior to that of the spiritual
activity. _B_ and _d_, in the preceding analysis, are not different
realities, but different elaborations, the first, ideal, the second,
naturalistic, of the same fact.

We have now established a relation between the æsthetic and the
practical activity: the physical expression is an act of the will,
and as such it falls legitimately in the domain of both economic and
ethical judgments. We may buy or sell the physical stimuli, books,
statues, and paintings, though no amount of wealth can give the
æsthetic vision: the possession of the objects of art is of another
order than the possession of the spiritual creation. We may consider
that the communication of a certain intuition is in certain cases
morally undesirable, and censure the artist for having willed it,
or try to prevent him from accomplishing it. The principle of the
spiritual autonomy of art, necessary to establish the nature of
æsthetic value, cannot be understood to imply the absolute practical
freedom of the artist from the laws that bind all other men. But even
from this point of view, there is no doubt that art is more likely to
suffer from excessive constraint than from excessive freedom; and that
the fanatics of morality in art are only too often inclined to mistake
a set of arbitrary rulings for morality, and to overlook the intention
of the artist. It is a significant fact, and one which deserves more
attention than it seems to have ever received, that the so-called moral
condemnation of a true work of art has never outlasted one or two
generations, and their prejudices and weaknesses.

The existence of the physical stimuli or material helps for the
æsthetic reproduction, fosters the illusion of beauty as an intrinsic
attribute of physical objects, first as artistic, and then as natural
beauty. It is hardly necessary to criticise this illusion at this
point of our discussion: beauty is not an objective attribute, but
a spiritual value. In the same way as there is no intrinsic beauty,
independent dent of our either creative or re-creative activity, in
words or notes or lines or colours, there is also no category of
natural beauty. What we call beauty of nature is either that which
in nature is merely pleasureable from a practical and sensuous
standpoint, or the presence of certain stimuli for the reproduction of
a preëxistent æsthetic vision. We recognise the obvious truth of this
fact, when we remark that the beauty of a certain landscape is not
visible to everybody, but only to him who looks at it with an artist's
eye. And it would be possible to write a history of the progressive
development of beauty in nature, which would practically coincide
with, or follow at a short distance of time, the various stages of the
history of poetry and painting.

Closely related with the confusion between the physical attributes
of the objects of art, and the true æsthetic value, are all the
theories of æsthetics which consider that the end of art is pleasure,
or æsthetic hedonism in its various forms. Of these the most ancient
is the one that considers beautiful that which gives pleasure to the
higher senses, he hearing and the sight; and other forms of it can
still be found, if not among artists and critics, at least among
psychologists. Two of the most recent interpretations of æsthetic
facts, the theory of empathy or _Einfühlung_ and the theory of tactile
values, are merely modern scientific variations of the old prejudice.
But no hedonistic theory can ever give a consistent account of
æsthetic facts, as it is impossible to draw a distinction, on a purely
psychological plane, between those pleasures of the senses which may
precede or accompany the æsthetic fact, and those that are purely
sensuous; and the inevitable result is a complete reduction of the
æsthetic to the sensual. In such theories, the real æsthetic problem
does not even reach the stage of being formulated.

The truth that the hedonist obscurely foresees is that every
spiritual activity is constantly accompanied by the practical reflex
of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, pleasure and pain, value and
dis-value. Value is every activity that unfolds itself freely,
dis-value is the contrasted, hindered, impeded unfolding of the same
activity. If we call beauty the æsthetic value, then beauty is but the
successful expression, or better, the expression, since an unsuccessful
expression is not an expression at all. And it is not necessary to
repeat that by expression we distinctly mean not the physical stimulus,
but the spiritual synthesis.

With this definition of æsthetic value we reach one of the most
important points of Croce's thought: the solution of what he calls
the dualism of values, or ideals, to the concrete realities. As the
beautiful expression is simply expression, the true thought is simply
thought, and so on, so the ugly expression or the false thought are
non-expression and non-thought, the non-being which has no reality
outside the moment of its opposition and criticism.


Art and technique--Errors deriving from the common conception of
technique--The theories of the particular arts--The literary genres
--The rhetorical categories--The categories of language--Genius and
taste--The æsthetic judgment--The idolatry of standards--The æsthetic
standard: the true objectivity--Criticism and history.

The relation between the æsthetic activity and the practical moment of
the production of the physical objects of art may be regarded under the
aspect of the relation between art and technique. The only legitimate
meaning of the word technique is that of a body of naturalistic
knowledge in the service of the practical activity of the artist. In
this sense we can conceive of a great artist who is a poor technician,
as in the case of a painter who should use Colours subject to rapid
change and deterioration, a musician who should be a bad singer or
pianist, a poet who should not be able to recite his own poetry. But
in the common language of critics, we mean by technique something
quite different--in painting what we call drawing or composition, in
music, harmony or orchestration, in poetry, metre and construction.
Now it is quite clear that we cannot conceive of a great painter who
could not draw, a great musician unable to harmonize or to orchestrate,
a great poet whose lines are defective. What we here isolate as
the technical handling of an artistic subject is but the process of
æsthetic creation itself, the succession and progression of intuitions
in the artist's mind; using the naturalistic or psychological method,
we abstract certain moments of the creative process, and we attribute
a reality to such abstractions. We talk of the technique of a poem
or of a painting as being something that has been superadded to the
original intuition; we see the poet or the artist engaged in learning
the technique of his art; we see him correcting or modifying his
original expression according to certain technical standards. But what
we call the technique of a poem or of a painting is that particular
poem or painting in its concreteness; and no poet or artist can learn
a technique except by re-creating in his own spirit the work of the
great masters, his technical education being but one with his æsthetic
education; and finally, the process of correction or modification is
merely a stage of the expressive process itself: no poet can correct a
line in his poem, no painter change a line or a shade in his picture,
if the internal image has not first spontaneously undergone such
corrections and changes in his mind.

The consequences of the common conception of technique in criticism
are more dangerous, because more subtle and affecting a more intimate
knowledge of art, than those of any other æsthetic error. The talk
of the connoisseur and of the average musical or dramatic critic is
full of such fallacies as the technical errors of great painters, the
harmonic or orchestral wonders of poor music, the faulty construction
of a great play; fallacies which may sometimes have originated
from some real character of the æsthetic fact, but which are mere
contradictions in terms. And the literary critic will speak of the
_fine frenzy_ and the _quiet eye_, meaning by the one, the abstract
inspiration, and by the other the abstract production, and so miss the
true æsthetic moment which is neither the one nor the other, but the
synthesis of the two. Or he will oppose romanticism to classicism, in
a similar sense, without realizing that all art is at the same time
romantic and classic, truly inspired, and because truly inspired, able
to express itself.

Mere variations of the naturalistic or psychological conception of
technique, as an actual moment of the æsthetic creation, are a series
of theories which Croce has extensively criticised, and of which we can
give but a cursory account.

The theories of the particular arts and of their limits originate from
the manuals of practical precepts useful to architects, sculptors,
painters or musicians, and are founded on the assumed possibility of
finding a field of the æsthetic activity corresponding to the physical
means employed by each category of artists. But we have already seen
that in the æsthetic fact there is no distinction between means and
end: we can speak of the various arts in a purely empirical sense, as
an external classification of the objects of art, but not as classes of
æsthetic activity.

A similar kind of classification is the one which gives rise to
the literary genre, and to similar abstractions in the other arts:
legitimate instruments of work as long as we do not forget that there
does not exist anything like the idea of a tragedy or sonata apart from
all concrete tragedies or sonatas, and as long as we do not condemn
a new tragedy or a new sonata simply because it is not like the old
ones, that is, as long as we do not transform an abstract type into a
law. Every new æsthetic creation, far from being bound to obey external
laws, establishes new laws, or rather is its own law. It must, and
will, answer only for itself, and the only claim that we can put upon
it is that of internal coherence. Both the theories of the arts and the
theories of the genres, when we try to treat them as true and rigorous,
and not as mere practical expedients, manifest the absurdity of their
task through their incapacity to give precise and absolute definitions.
Every work of art expresses a state of mind, and every state of mind
is irreducibly individual and new: a complete classification would
therefore be only that in which every class has under itself a single

Another form of the technical prejudice is the creation of rhetorical
categories, which are also abstract classes of expressions tending to
transform themselves into precepts. The main prejudice of rhetoric, in
literature as well as in all other arts, is that of the distinction
between the simple and the ornate, which is founded on a conception
of beauty not as the value of the expression, but as something that
can be added, so to speak, mechanically, to the expression. Because of
its preceptive character, rhetoric has done more harm in the history
of poetry and art, than any of the other classifications of the same
order; and though it is generally discredited among artists and critics
to-day, in its pure original form, yet rhetorical prejudices, both in
the creation and judgment of art, are still endowed with an obstinately
vigorous life.

These naturalistic classifications in art have their counterpart in the
study of language, in the creation of grammatical genres or categories
or parts of speech, and in the attempts to reduce the empirical
grammars to preceptive or normative grammars: that is, a practical
or pedagogic expedient, to a rhetoric or technique of language. But
the individuality and indivisibility of expression is in the nature
of language as well as of art, and language obeys not the abstract
precepts of grammarians, but the law of the æsthetic spirit which makes
us find a new expression for every new intuition. Even phonetic laws,
the modern scientific instruments of grammar, are mere descriptive
summaries of observed facts, of physical moments abstracted from their
spiritual reality, and therefore abstract or naturalistic laws, and
never actually represent the concrete, individually determined facts
of language.

A coherent theory of æsthetic (literary and artistic) criticism can
be deduced from the concept of art as intuition, and we have already
anticipated its main theses in the discussion of the concept itself. We
have seen that in the process of reproduction of an æsthetic process,
the actual moment in which the original image, through the medium of
what we have abstracted as the physical stimulus, reproduces itself in
a mind other than that of the creator (or, in what we might consider as
a particular case, in the mind of the creator himself at a time other
than that of the original creation), is a moment of æsthetic activity
identical with that of creation. Given an identity of circumstances,
that which takes place within my mind is the same æsthetic process
which took place originally in the mind of the artist. If we call
genius the creative, and taste the reproductive activity, the corollary
of these considerations is that of the identity of genius and taste:
in the act of contemplating and judging a work of art, our spirit
becomes one with the spirit of the artist. Though in practice this
identity may never be attained (because of variations in the material
conditions of the physical stimulus, or in the spiritual attitude of
the contemplator), yet if we deny it, and establish a difference in
kind between these two aspects of æsthetic activity, we find ourselves
inevitably led to exclude the possibility not of the æsthetic judgment
only, but of all forms of æsthetic communication. There is a sense
in which we can speak of the relativity of taste, and which accounts
for the actual variety of judgments, not in relation to art only, but
to all forms of human activity: every judgment is relative to our
knowledge, at a particular moment, of the actual conditions in which
the work of art was originally produced. But this is the intrinsic
relativity of all the particular determinations of reality, not a
relativity peculiar to æsthetic values, which are as real, though of a
different order, as those of logic or morality.

But the æsthetic judgment itself is not the mere intuitive reproduction
of the work of art, made possible by what we call historical criticism
in the narrow sense of the word, that is, by interpretation and
comment. These are the antecedent of the æsthetic judgment, which
consists in a logical proposition of the form: "A is art," or "A is not
art," "A is art in a b c, A is not art in d e f"; or again: "There is a
fact, A, which is a work of art," "There is a fact, A, which is falsely
believed to be a work of art." The æsthetic judgment, like all other
judgments, establishes a relation between a particular, concrete fact,
and a universal category, which is that of art. And, like all other
judgments, it is at the same time a judgment of value and an historical
judgment, which is the obvious consequence of Croce's identification of
value and fact. Æsthetic criticism therefore coincides with the history
of the æsthetic activity, with the history of poetry or art.

A frequent reaction to Croce's æsthetics, and to its implications
in the theory of criticism, especially among literary critics, is a
sense of irritation caused by the loss of the so-called standards of
judgment. It would be interesting to analyze these supposed standards,
which generally are not explicitly enunciated (probably because their
clear enunciation would manifest their true nature, and annul them
as standards of æsthetic judgment), but only more or less obscurely
referred to with a mixture of pride and reverence. They would then show
themselves to be the critical duplicates of the various æsthetic errors
which we have already discussed.

If the standards of which the critics speak are, as is often the case,
moral or intellectual ideals, it is clear that Croce's æsthetics does
not question their validity, but only their application. There is a
large number of literary critics, who are such only in name, and whose
real interests are intellectual or moral, critics of thought and of
the ethical life, and not of art. They use works of art as documents
and undoubtedly works of art are, in the unity of the human spirit,
documents of intellectual and moral life; but their error begins when
they confuse the issues, and censure or praise the art of the past,
or try to influence the art of the future, with criteria which are no
longer intellectual or moral, but, because they have been transposed
outside their legitimate sphere, intellectualistic and moralistic.

All other so-called standards are derived from the abstract ideas of
literary genres and of rhetorical categories. It is easy to judge of
a new tragedy if you know what a tragedy ought to be, if you have a
catalogue of purely external characteristics which you may either find,
or not find, in the new work that comes before you. This is, of course,
the crudest form of rhetorical criticism; there is another which is
not less frequent, but more subtle. The critic builds up an ideal of
what art ought to be, not with abstract categories, and classifications
transformed into arbitrary æsthetic precepts or standards, but through
his predilection for one particular author, or for one particular
epoch, the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, the Classics or the
Romantics: every work of art which is different either in spirit or in
form from those that have been chosen is condemned in proportion to its
variation from the ideal. This form of criticism is often also vitiated
by the intrusion of intellectualistic and moralistic errors, since an
ideal which is a mere particular determination of the past assumed as a
universal value is likely to be mere rhetoric of thought and morality
as well as of art.

The only legitimate standard in æsthetic criticism is the æsthetic
standard, that of beauty or expression, as against ugliness or
non-expression. Our critical judgment is the reaction of our æsthetic
personality in the presence of a work of art, as the moral judgment is
the reaction of our moral personality in the presence of an action. Our
knowledge of a work of art, of a concrete and individual intuition,
as our knowledge of an action, approaches more or less to the ideal
limit, according to the breadth of our experience and the depth of our
understanding; but there exist no external criteria on which we can
rest our judgment, no mechanical props which will support it. This
theory of criticism, far from justifying a capricious and arbitrary
subjectivism, requires from the critic a constant vigilance against
that which is narrowly personal, capricious, and arbitrary in himself;
a patient, unceasing effort in the labor of recapturing and recreating
the material and spiritual circumstances from which the work of art
originally sprang; and the quick sensitivity of the artist coupled with
the wide understanding of the historian and the philosopher.

When æsthetic criticism is raised to this plane on which it coincides
with the history of poetry, or of art, it transforms itself necessarily
into a general criticism of life. What to the æsthetic consciousness
appears as ugly or non-expressive, since in the world of history there
are no negative facts, will not, when historically considered, appear
as a negative value, but as a value of another order, as an intrusion
of the logical or of the practical spirit in the work of the poet or
of the artist. What in the Divine Comedy is not poetry is the outcome
of philosophical or moral preoccupations which have not become art,
have not fused themselves into a new, coherent intuition, and must be
apprehended not as art, but as philosophy and morality. The allegory
of the _Færie Queene_ is not art, but it is an expression of certain
aspects of the Protestant spirit in the England of Elizabeth. In a poet
like Byron, the presence of practical motives is felt all through his
poetical production; and the critic cannot limit his work to tracting
the gems, and to saying of all the rest: this is not poetry. He must
tell us what it is, and only by telling what it is, he criticises it
completely as poetry. It is impossible, in fact, to give to art its
place, without assigning its place to all the other activities of life.
The great æsthetic critic will also be a critic of philosophy, of
morality, of politics; but, as Croce says of De Sanctis, the strength
of his purely æsthetic consideration of art will also be the strength
of his purely moral consideration of morality, of his purely logical
consideration of philosophy, and so on. The forms or grades of the
spirit, which the critic employs as categories for his judgment, are
ideally distinct in the unity of the spirit, but cannot materially be
separated from each other or from that unity without losing all their
vitality. The distinction of æsthetic criticism from the other forms
of criticism, of the history of poetry and the arts from the other
kinds of history, is but an empirical one, pointing to the fact that
the attention of the critic or historian is turned towards one aspect
rather than another of the same indivisible reality.


The function of logic in the system--The concept--Logical concepts and
conceptual fictions--The pure concept as the unity of distinctions--
Singularity, particularity and universality--The dialectic process
in Hegel and in Croce--Opposition, distinction and value--The
expressiveness of the concept--Definition and individual judgment:
their identity--Classification and numeration--The _a priori_ synthesis.

We have summarily examined in the three preceding chapters the theory
of æsthetic, or intuitive, or individual, as distinct from logical, or
conceptual, or universal, knowledge. We must now leave the æsthetic
activity in the background as the mere antecedent of the logical one,
and proceed to investigate the latter.

In a sense it may be said that the key to every system of philosophy
is to be found in the either implicit or explicit solution given to
certain logical problems and that only by understanding the logic of a
philosopher can we be sure to give its true meaning and value to his
thought. The reverse is, as a general rule, also true: any solution of
a particular problem, any particular elaboration of the concept, when
fully understood, will lead us back to the philosopher's logic, to his
concept of the concept. The main points of Croce's logic could easily
be deduced from his æsthetics; but an untrained mind might unwittingly
transpose the whole æsthetic theory on a purely psychological plane,
and involve it again in the errors and contradictions of which it
aims at being a conclusive refutation. A study of Croce's logic will
render such a shifting of the perspective impossible. It will show
that a discussion of Croce's æsthetics has no meaning except on the
logical plane on which Croce has put it, and that therefore any serious
objection to it ought necessarily to imply either a revision of the
logical premises, or a demonstration that the actual logical processes
are not rigorously in accord with these premises. What is here said
of Croce's æsthetics is valid also for Croce's economics or ethics,
and the reason is obvious. Croce's _Logica_ is not a manual of logic,
in a scholastic and formalistic sense: it is the exposition of his
conception of the logical activity, and therefore the philosophy of his

This method of approach to the logical problems, although unusual in
our times, and antagonistic to the general tendencies of our culture,
is not only, as its opponents assume, that of Kant and Hegel, but that
of the whole tradition of European philosophy, beginning with Socrates,
Plato, and Aristotle. It was only in epochs of philosophical decadence
that logic reduced itself to a mere formalism or instrumentalism,
ism, to a doctrine of the means of thought, as opposed to its proper
function, which is that of inquiring into the nature of thought, and
therefore, since there is no way by which we can reach reality except
through thought, into the nature of reality itself. To Croce, as
before him to Hegel, the philosophical tradition is not a capricious
sequel of unrelated speculations, but a series of connected efforts
through which the human mind becomes progressively conscious of its
own functions and structure. Nothing is more alien from him than that
type of philosophical criticism, which exhausts itself in an attempt
at reducing under a common denominator apparently similar solutions of
problems, which in fact are profoundly different in their historical
determination: but this consciousness of the historical factor in
philosophy, far from breeding in him a sense of scepticism and of the
relativity of truth, impels him to consider every effective thought as
a necessary moment of truth, and to represent therefore the succession
of effective thoughts, critically separated from what in the various
concrete philosophies is merely postulated or imagined, as a perpetual
integration of truth. This attitude explains why the immediate
foundations of Croce's logic should be Kant's a priori synthesis and
Hegel's dialectic, that is, the highest stages of the development of
European thought before the positivistic anti-metaphysical reaction
which swept away for a time, not the last traces of transcendental
metaphysics only, but philosophy and logic itself; and why also, among
all the recent critics of Kant and Hegel, Croce should be one of the
keenest and sharpest. His sure grasp of fundamentals made it easy
for him to demolish all that is artificial and unessential in their
systems; as is particularly evident in the case of Hegel, who emerged
from Croce's criticism as the discoverer of one great principle and
at the same time the creator, through the misapplication of the same
principle, of many a false science.

This return to the philosophical tradition, which between the end
of the last and the beginning of this century, was not limited to
Croce and to Italy only, was accompanied and indirectly favoured by
the researches of pure scientists on the method of exact and natural
sciences. The economic theory of the scientific concept, such as it
appears especially in the works of Mach and Avenarius, and to an
understanding of which Croce had been prepared by his own studies on
Marxism, was probably the most efficient instrument in destroying
from within the pseudo-scientific constructions of positivism. The
scientists themselves, by defining the limits of scientific thought,
proved the impossibility of building a philosophy which should be at
the same time a synthesis of all particular sciences and a system of
reality. The conclusions of this new scientific methodology are on the
whole accepted by Croce, and the fact that they naturally fall into
their proper place in his logic is the most valid justification of his
method, to which the distinction between the concept of philosophy and
the concepts of the sciences is essential.

We need not point to the object of logic, or concept, as we did in a
former chapter to the object of æsthetics, or intuition. The writing
of this book implies a belief in its existence, and we could take
practically any page of it as an example of what we mean by concept,
or logical knowledge. We shall not therefore pause to confute logical
scepticism, except by repeating the old argument that it is impossible
to deny the existence of the concept except through the formulation of
a concept. Such affirmations as that there is no other knowledge than
the æsthetic one, or the one which is given by the ineffable intuition
of the mystic, or by practical fictions, are in their turn neither
æsthetic knowledge nor mystical intuitions, nor practical fictions, but
affirmations, however contradictory in themselves, of a universal value
and of an absolute character, that is, concepts. Through them, it is
possible immediately to distinguish the logical form of knowledge, as
represented by such affirmations, from the æsthetic or representative
one, from the sentimental or practical state of mind of the mystic, and
from those concepts which are mere empirical fictions. It is evident,
in this last instance, that the theory of the fiction cannot be a
new fiction, but must belong to an activity of a different kind, the
logical activity, whose value is truth.

Of those three forms of logical scepticism, æstheticism, mysticism,
and empiricism, the third one leads us to the distinction between the
logical concept and the scientific concepts, or fictions. The logical
or pure concept is beyond all individual representations, and must
therefore not contain any particular representative element; but, on
the other hand, being the universal as opposed to the individuality of
representations, it must refer to all and each of them. If we think,
for instance, of the concepts of beauty, truth, quality, development,
and such like, it will be impossible for us to represent or imagine a
sufficiently large fragment of reality that will exhaust them, or such
an infinitesimal one as will not admit them. This is what is meant by
saying that the concept is at the same time universal and concrete,
or, in other words, that it is transcendent in respect to every single
representation, and yet immanent in all of them. A third characteristic
of the pure concept, besides those of universality and concreteness,
is that of expressivity: being a product of knowledge, it must be
expressed and spoken, and cannot be a dumb act of the mind, such as
practical acts are.

The conceptual fictions, or, as Croce called them on account of
their non-theoretical character, the pseudo-concepts differ from the
pure concept in being either concrete and representative but not
universal, or universal without any possible reference to individual
representations, that is, without concreteness. The first class is
that of empirical concepts, which contain some objects or fragments
of reality, but not the whole of reality: such as the concepts of
house, cat, rose. The second is that of abstract concepts, which
contain no object or fragment of reality: such as those of triangle
in geometry or of free movement in physics. The first are real, but
not rigorous, the second rigorous, but unreal. Neither the ones nor
the others can be considered as mistaken concepts or errors, since
after having criticised them from a logical point of view, we still
continue to use them for what they are; nor as imperfect concepts, and
preparatory to the perfect ones, since their formation presupposes the
existence of the perfect and rigorous ones: it would be impossible to
conceive the house, the rose, the triangle, before conceiving quantity,
quality, existence, and other pure concepts. It is true that in the
actual development of thought, conceptual fictions have again and
again given birth to true concepts; but in that case they have lost
their intrinsic nature, and have assumed the characters of the genuine
logical activity. In order to understand the proper function or nature
of the conceptual fictions, it is necessary to fix our attention on the
moment of their formation, which is practical and not logical. Their
justification lies in their practical end and in their usefulness: they
are instruments by the help of which we can recall with a single word
vast groups of representations, or which indicate in a single word what
kind of operation is required in order to find certain representations.
The act of forming intellectual fictions is neither an act of knowledge
nor of not-knowledge; logically, it is neither rational nor irrational
(true or untrue); its rationality is of another order, practical and
not logical. The activity which produces pure concepts, and that which
produces empirical or abstract concepts, have been called respectively
Reason and Abstract Intellect, or Intuition and Intellect; to which
terminology Croce objects that the word intellect is certainly
inappropriate to a non-theoretical activity. Croce himself is in no
need of a new name for it, since he considers it one with the general
practical activity, will or action.

The definition that we have given of the pure concept seems to clash
against an insuperable difficulty arising from the multiplicity of
concepts. If the concept is an elaboration of reality as a universal,
how can we admit the existence of more than one concept? Beauty
and truth are both concrete universals, and yet they are not the
same universal: they have the same logical form, but they denote
different aspects of reality. If this variety of the concepts, that
is, of the aspects of reality, were insuperable, we should fall from
the irreducible multiplicity of representations into a not less
irreductible multiplicity of concepts, which would in the end justify
a new logical scepticism and take us back to a mystical solution of
the problem of the unity of reality. The passage from the multiple
universals to the true universal would be logically impossible, and to
be performed only by the help of some sort of mystical intuition.

The solution of this difficulty has already been hinted at in the
discussion of the relations between intuition and concept, and between
knowledge and will. The theory of the successive grades of reality,
in their progressive implication, is the true form of the concept.
Croce affirms the unity of reality, as a consequence of the unity of
the concept, of the form through which only reality is known. But if
we suppress the distinction, the unity that we reach is an empty and
ineffable one: a whole is a whole only inasmuch as it has parts, as
it _is_ parts; a unity can be thought only through its distinctions.
Therefore the unity and the distinctions are both necessary to the
concept: the distinctions are not something outside the concept, but
the concept itself, which is a unity of distinctions. The mind or
spirit is one, but it is impossible to think of it as a pure and simple
unity, outside of the forms in which it realizes itself, and of these
forms in their necessary relations. Which is but a more comprehensive
way of saying what we have already said speaking of one of those forms
in particular, the æsthetic one, that it is impossible to conceive any
of them except by determining its relations with the others.

It is necessary, however, not to convert these distinctions of the
concept into abstractions: by approximation, and for a practical
purpose, we can speak of a given action as a theoretical or practical
one, an economic or moral one. In fact, in every fragment of reality
we find the universal, and therefore all the forms of the universal.
But on the other hand it is impossible to think any concrete datum,
and to recognize it as an affirmation of the spirit as a whole, unless
we distinguish each of its aspects in the most rigorous fashion. We
shall then have a criticism of art and poetry, from the æsthetic point
of view; or of philosophy, from the logical one; and a moral judgment
which takes into account only the individual moral initiative. The
distinctions of the concept are then used as directing principles of
thought, but not, in the way empirical concepts are used, as criteria
for a classification of objects; nor, again, as characteristics of
epochs of actual historical development, which in the end reduce
themselves to types of material classification.

Croce's theory of the unity and distinctions of the concept coincides
with the old division of concepts into universal, particular, and
singular ones. The true logical definition is reached only by
determining the singularity of a distinction in relation with the other
distinctions (particularity), and with the whole (universality). For
instance, the concept of beauty is intuition (singularity), knowledge
(particularity), and finally spirit or mind (universality). The
symbol corresponding to this peculiar relation is not that of a fine
or succession, but of a circle: there is not a first and a last term
of the series, a beginning and an end, but a perpetual revolution,
in which every distinction in turn may appear as the beginning and
the end of the series. Art or philosophy, knowledge or action, may be
postulated with equal reason as the end of the spirit: the true end,
however, is not any of the particular forms, but only the spirit or
mind or reality as a whole.

Readers who are familiar with Hegelian logic will at once perceive
the difference between Croce's and Hegel's treatment of logical
distinctions. There is no attempt on the part of Croce to apply to them
the dialectic process, which pervades the whole of Hegel's philosophy,
and which is retained by Croce only in its legitimate sphere which is
not that of distinctions but of oppositions. The dialectic process, of
which the remote ancestor is Plato, and the more immediate forbears
those Renaissance philosophers, Cusanus and Bruno, who more or less
obscurely affirmed the _principium coincidentiæ oppositorum_, only
with Hegel reaches its rigorous logical expression. The most famous
instance of its application is to be found in Hegel's formula of the
opposition of being and non-being, and of their unity in the becoming:
the pure being is identical with the pure non-being, or, to say the
same thing in different words, we cannot think the one without the
other, and we do actually think the one and the other when we think the
actual reality, which is neither being nor non-being, but becoming.
Being and non-being are a true couple of opposites, as ideal and real,
positive and negative, value and non-value, activity and passivity,
and so on. By the application of the dialectic process, all these
couples are shown to be not couples of concepts, but single concepts,
each couple containing the affirmation and the negation of a single
concept. Croce's criticism of Hegel is founded on an interpretation of
the dialectic process as logically valid for such couples only, and
inapplicable to the distinctions of the concept, or to empirical and
abstract concepts; and this criticism, while emphasizing the importance
of Hegel's main contribution to philosophical thought, sweeps away at
one stroke all that in his philosophy has generally been considered as
most distinctly Hegelian both by his followers and by his adversaries.

Croce's interest in such couples of opposites as those that we have
mentioned is very far from being as keen as Hegel's. Their dialectic
solution into single concepts is implicit in every phase of Croce's
philosophy. This can best be seen in the constant interchange of such
words as spirit and reality; each of them, when taken by itself, a
pure, formal spirit, and a pure, material reality, are meaningless,
while, once they have been correlated, both indicate the same concept,
the spirit perpetually realizing itself in the concreteness of life:
a formula which contains the whole of Croce's immanentism. But within
the distinctions of the concept, the dialectic process is constantly
applied by Croce to such oppositions as those of good and evil, true
and false, beautiful and ugly, which are nothing but the double
aspect, affirmative and negative, respectively, of the concepts of
goodness, and truth, and beauty. We need only recall what we have said
of Croce's conception of æsthetic value, and of value in general.
The dialectic process is the logical structure of Croce's concept of
value. The positive element of each concept is the only real one, and
a negative judgment of value is not a purely logical judgment, but
a statement to which is added the expression of a desire or of an
exigency. If we say: A is immoral, we mean: A follows his own immediate
pleasure (a logical statement), and also: A ought to follow a higher
end (the expression of a desire). A positive judgment of value, on the
other hand, coincides entirely with a logical judgment, or a statement
of fact. The opposition of value to fact is of the same kind as that
of spirit to reality; verbal and apparent and not logical and real.
The underlying reality of the opposition can be grasped only through
the distinction; what in the opposition is a negative and therefore a
mere abstraction can never be anything but a positive value of another
order, a distinct form of activity. The action that we have judged
as morally evil, if it is an action at all, belongs to the economic
order, is economically rational, directed towards a particular end
which confers on it its particular value; and the same applies to
all the other categories of reality, in which error and evil cannot
be introduced except by the substitution of one form for the other.
It is impossible to distinguish a concept from its opposite as two
concepts; but when a distinction is introduced, the opposition loses
its negative character, and identifies itself with a distinct but
positive value. Error and evil as such are never present except in the
act that transcends them, in the conscience that, realizing itself in a
higher sphere, turns against them and condemns them. It is superfluous
to point to the importance that this process lends to the distinctions
themselves, which are now seen at last not as mere logical instruments,
but as the actual differentiations of reality, the necessary conditions
of all life and progress.

The concept does not exist outside its verbal expression, but the
relation between logical thought and language, because of the purely
æsthetic or intuitive nature of language, is not of the rigorous
character which is postulated by the Aristotelian logician, and, in
more recent times, by the student of symbolic logic, who both assume
language to be an essentially logical function. It would be impossible
for Croce to fall into that extreme of idealism which is the common
vice of the verbal realist, for whom propositions, judgments, or
syllogisms have a kind of absolute reality of their own, independent
of the mind that thinks them. It may seem paradoxical to assert that
nowhere is Croce's realism more apparent than in his treatment of the
verbal forms of the concept; and yet his criticism of the old logical
principles and forms, running parallel to that of the rhetorical
categories and genres in the field of æsthetics, allows him to reach
the actual workings of the logical activity with much greater intimacy
than is possible through any kind of formalistic logic.

The logical judgment, or concept, appears in two main forms: the
definition, and the individual judgment. In the definition, the
subject is one with the predicate, both being universal; in the
individual judgment, the subject is an individual, the predicate a
universal. "The intuition is the æsthetic form of the spirit," is a
definition; "The _Divine Comedy_ is poetry," is an individual judgment.
The individual judgment is one with the perception, or perceptive
judgment, with the historical judgment, and, for the reason given
before, with the positive judgment of value; it is the last and most
perfect form of knowledge. But the distinction between the definition
and the individual judgment is not an ultimate and irreducible one.
The concrete logical act is always an individual judgment, that is,
the affirmation of the unity of the individual and the universal in
relation to a particular subject; and every definition is an individual
judgment inasmuch as it cannot be but the solution of a particular
problem, individually and historically determined. The particular
problem, the group of facts, from which a particular definition
arises, is the individual subject of which the definition predicates
the concept. This identification of the definition and the individual
judgment disposes of the familiar distinctions of formal and material
truths, of truths of reason and of fact, and of analytical and
synthetical judgments; which all are reduced to mere abstractions,
partial aspects of the only logical act, consisting in the thinking of
the pure concept, as a concrete universal.

The practical imitations of the concept, or pseudo-concepts, also may
appear in the double form of definitions and individual judgments.
From the empirical concepts we can form empirical judgments, which
consist in the inclusion of an individual subject within a class or
type, and therefore can also be called classificatory judgments. From
the abstract concepts, the passage to the individual subject cannot be
effected without the intervention of an empirical concept, that is,
without a previous reduction of the individual subjects to classes and
types: this reduction enables us to form empirico-abstract judgments,
or judgments of numeration and mensuration. The function of these
judgments is, as that of the concepts with which they are related, not
theoretical, but practical: to classify or to enumerate is not the same
as to understand, though they are both essential operations of the
human mind. The corresponding judgments are therefore called by Croce
pseudo-judgments, or practical imitations of the individual judgment.

The reduction of the pure concept to the individual judgment is the
fundamental innovation of Croce's logic. It entirely disposes of any
form of transcendental thought, of an Absolute or a Universal as
some beyond and above reality, and therefore of the last remnants
of metaphysics in philosophy. It means, translated into terms of
common language, that there is no thought outside the thinking of
individual minds, individually, that is, historically determined; and,
conversely, that there is no reality outside the reality of thought,
since the postulation of an external reality is nothing but one more
act of thought. In the light of this doctrine, the relation between
the intuition and the concept, between æsthetic and logical knowledge,
can be restated by saying that while the intuition is the autonomous,
creative mental act, by which the individual is known as individual,
the concept is the autonomous, creative mental act, by which the
individual is known as universal, that is, not simply known, but
understood. Since Kant, an autonomous creative act of the human mind
has received in modern philosophy the name of _a priori_ synthesis, a
synthesis which cannot be resolved into its components, or material
elements, because its form, and therefore its true being, cannot be
traced in them, but is imposed on them by the mind. Croce's intuition
is an æsthetic _a priori_ synthesis, through which the obscure psychic
material rises to the light of consciousness; his concept, a logical
_a priori_ synthesis, in which the intuition is no longer form, but
matter, subject to a new form which is judgment and reason. The _a
priori_ synthesis is thus employed by Croce as the peculiar dialectic
process of the distinctions of the concept, the rigorous logical form
of the double-grade relation between the individual and the universal,
between intuition and concept, between knowledge and action, and, as we
shall see in his philosophy of the practical, between the economic and
the ethical will. It is, however, not a mere logical form, or rather,
it is a logical form, because it is the actual process of the spirit,
which cannot either know or act except by forming a priori syntheses
(æsthetic or logical, economic or ethical), that is, by constantly
re-creating itself and its own reality and values.

[Footnote 1: See _Logica_, part i, "Il concetto puro," etc., pp.


The elementary forms of knowledge--Philosophy as the pure concept--
Development of Croce's theory of history--The identity of history and
philosophy--Subjectivity and objectivity--Distinctions and divisions
of history--The historical determination of philosophy--The economic
theory of science--The natural sciences--History and science--The
naturalistic method and the concept of nature--Mathematical processes.

The result of Croce's inquiry into the forms of man's theoretical
activity can be summed up by saying that there are two pure theoretical
forms, the intuition and the concept, of which the second can be
subdivided for convenience' sake into the definition and the individual
judgment; and two modes of the practical elaboration of knowledge, the
empirical concept and the abstract concept, from which are derived
the classificatory judgment and the judgment of numeration. Already
in æsthetics we have found no rigorous criterion of distinction
between the general intuitive activity of man, as it manifests itself
in language, and those empirically constituted bodies of particular
intuitions, which we call Poetry and the Arts: every man is a poet
and an artist, though we reserve these names only for those among
ourselves in whom the æsthetic activity manifests itself in a
higher degree, dominates the whole life of the individual spirit.
The concept and the pseudo-concepts are also elementary, fundamental
forms of knowledge, of which all men partake: every man, as he is
a poet, is also a philosopher and an historian, a scientist and a
mathematician: but, again, we reserve these names only for the most
conspicuous manifestations of those common spiritual activities, and
form the empirical concepts of Philosophy and History, of Science and
Mathematics. We may speak of vulgar knowledge and of pure or scientific
knowledge, but only by approximation and without forgetting that the
only claim to rationality and intelligibility on the part of pure
knowledge lies in its relationship with the elementary forms, in the
same way as Poetry owes its power and beauty to the language in which
it spreads its roots. A particular treatment of these higher degrees
of knowledge is not, therefore, logically justified; the problems
that they present are the same that have been met with in the general
discussion of the theoretical activity, and all they will have to offer
will be but a confirmation, and in some points a clarification, of what
has already been said.

As Art is intuition, so Philosophy is the pure concept: it is easy to
see that all the formal definitions of Philosophy that have ever been
given, as science of the first principles, of the ultimate causes, of
the origins of things, of norms, of values, of categories, are mere
verbal variants of the pure concept. Even the most materialistic and
realistic philosophies, since matter itself or nature or reality are
assumed by them as principles of universal validity, as concepts or
ideas, fall within the limits of this definition. In this sense there
is no philosophy which is not idealistic: the differences between one
philosophy and another are nothing but differences in the elaboration
of the pure concept. What follows from this identification cation of
philosophy with the pure concept is that all philosophies are, of
necessity, systematic, inasmuch as it is impossible to think the pure
concept as a singular or particular one, outside its relations with
the whole. This systematic character belongs to every philosophical
proposition, and not only to the actual systems of philosophy: the
solution of every particular philosophical problem implies a vision
of that problem in its universality, that is, in the system. We are
constantly reminded of this exigency by the fact that a new and
original elaboration of particular problems does actually react on the
whole of our thought; and that we are often compelled to revise our
fundamental opinions by the discovery of a difficulty which at first
presents itself in one sphere of thought only.

Of such a process, the whole of Croce's philosophy is a continuous
exemplification, but nowhere so clearly apparent as in the progress
of his conception of history. His first step had been that of
reducing history to the general concept of art, thereby emphasizing
the concreteness and individuality of history, as opposed to the
abstractness of the natural sciences, the concepts of which, in that
early stage, he could not yet distinguish from those of philosophy. In
the _Estetica_ the conception is still practically the same, history
resulting from the intersection of art and philosophy through the
application of the predicate of existence to the intuitive material.
In his first _Lineamenti di Logica_, history appears as the ultimate
product of the theoretical spirit, "the sea to which the river of art
flowed, swollen by the waters of the river of philosophy." But in the
same _Lineamenti_ he had not yet arrived at the identification of the
definition and the individual judgment, which in his second _Logica_
constitutes the final form of the pure concept, Croce's original
interpretation of Kant's _a priori_ synthesis. Between the first
and the second _Logica_, Croce wrote his _Filosofia della pratica_,
in which he denied the duality of intention and action, as in the
_Estetica_ he had denied the duality of intuition and expression: an
intention which was not also an action appeared to him, as we shall
see, inconceivable. It was by analogy with his treatment of this
duality, that he solved the duality between the concept (in the sense
of definition) and the individual judgment, which was also a duality
of philosophy as antecedent and history as consequent, as he perceived
that a concept which is not at the same time a judgment of the
particular is as unreal as an intention which is not at the same time
an action.

These are the successive steps by which Croce reached his doctrine of
the identity of history and philosophy, one of the most discussed and
of the least understood among his theories. We shall come back to it
later. But a few more hints on its meaning can already be given here.
It is clear that by introducing the predicate of existence as essential
to history Croce had already abandoned the conception of history as
pure, that is, non-logical, non-intellectualized intuition: but the
predicate of existence is insufficient to form a judgment, without
the addition of the other predicates, that is, of the whole concept.
The predicate of existence can only tell us that something exists,
but not what it is, that exists: the determination of the singular,
in its relations with the particular and the universal, is implicit
in the historical judgment, even when it is not openly enunciated.
Such judgments as: This thing is, or has been, seem to present the
proper form of the historical judgment; no other predicates than that
of existence are here visible, but my talking of _this thing_ implies
that I know what _this thing_ is; the other predicates are concealed
in the subject. Every historical statement is, therefore, a perfect
individual judgment. Its concrete and individual character, which Croce
had asserted in his early theory, is here maintained by the presence of
the subject, though the subject itself, in history, is seen not in its
intuitive purity, as in poetry, but as a concrete determination of the
concept. The identification of philosophy and history is not so much
the effect of a more intellectualized view of the historical processes,
as of the progressive consciousness acquired by Croce of the inherent
concreteness and individuality of the universal--of that realistic
view of the concept as expressed by his elaboration of the logical _a
priori_ synthesis.

The old distinction between a subjective and an objective treatment of
history receives a new light from the foregoing considerations. It is
impossible to make history without judgment, and, therefore, history
is in a sense irreducibly subjective. But the subjectivity of history
is not the arbitrary and capricious subjectivity of the individual
historian, who introduces his own passions and tendencies into the
historical narrative: it is the subjectivity of thought, of the earnest
and dispassionate research of truth, which coincides with the only
conceivable objectivity. What we call objective truth is not reached by
renouncing thought, but only by making our thought deeper and truer.
The historian who permeates with his thought his recreation of the
past (and if he did not, he would be recreating the past as poetry,
and imagination, not as history) needs not add a judgment of value to
his statements of fact: the identity of value and fact presents itself
once more to us in the intrinsic structure of the historical judgment.
Whatever the aspect of reality to which we turn our attention, true
history and true criticism coincide.

A consequence of this identification of history and philosophy is that
the only legitimate divisions of history are those that correspond to
the distinctions of the concept,--history of knowledge and of action,
of art, of thought, of the practical activity of man; and that the
relation among the different branches of history is similar to that of
the distinctions of the concept within the concept itself: that is,
the history of one particular form of human activity is nothing but
the history of the whole spirit of man as it realizes itself under
one of its aspects, a statement that we have already illustrated when
speaking of the history of art and poetry. Other divisions of history
are possible and useful, deduced from empirical concepts (such as the
state, the church, the drama, the novel, society, religion, etc.), but
they are divisions of practical convenience, mnemonic and didascalie
expedients, and not rigorous distinctions. Empirical concepts are,
in fact, in constant use in history, but as instruments, not as
constituents of historical thought. History is of the individual
_sub specie universalis_, and not of the practical generalizations.
This peculiar function of the empirical concept in history marks
the distinction between history and the natural sciences, the final
irreducibility of history to sociology.

As history is reduced to philosophy through the identification
of the historical with the individual judgment, so philosophy is
reduced to history through the identification of the definition with
the individual judgment. Since every philosophical proposition is
an answer to a given question, and every question or problem is
individually and historically determined, the whole course of the
history of philosophy is in constant function of the general course of
history. This is the truth contained in Hegel's formula of the identity
of philosophy and history of philosophy, which had been revived in
Italy, when Croce was meditating on these problems, by his friend
Gentile: a formula which he finally accepted and transformed into that
of the identity of history and philosophy, in accordance with his view
of philosophy as a moment or grade of the spirit of man. The _a priori_
synthesis which constitutes the reality both of the definition and
of the individual judgment is, at the same time, the reality of both
philosophy and history. The distinction between the two is a purely
didactic one: in the first the emphasis is laid on the definition and
the system, in the second on the individual judgment and the narrative.
But because the narrative includes the concept, every narrative
clarifies and solves philosophical problems, and, on the other hand,
every system of concepts throws light on the facts which are present
to the mind. The confirmation of the soundness of the system is in the
power it displays to interpret and narrate history; the touchstone of
philosophy is history. The concept, in affirming itself, conquers the
whole of reality, which becomes one with it.

We shall deal more briefly with Croce's treatment of the organization
of the empirical and abstract concepts in the natural and mathematical
sciences because his views coincide in their general lines with the
economic theory of science, which is the view of scientific method
elaborated by the scientists themselves in the last decades, and differ
from it only in so far as they are comprehended in a vaster system of
thought. Croce's polemic against pseudo-scientific philosophy, which
was amply justified at the beginning of his career, has now lost a
good deal of its actuality, since the ambitious attempts to organize
the concepts of science into a system of ultimate truth have finally
collapsed under the blows inflicted on their authors by science itself,
and are now relegated into a few academic and journalistic backwaters.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that his discussion of scientific
methods, though sufficient for his purposes, is far from being as
exhaustive as his discussion of either art or philosophy.

The natural sciences are systems of empirical concepts, that is, of
practical elaborations of knowledge, and, therefore, they do not belong
to the sphere of theoretical, but to that of practical activity. This
proposition must not be understood as referring to the practical
ends, or applications, of science: action requires a knowledge of the
individual fact with which we are to deal, and, therefore, the true
antecedent of action is not science, but an individual (or historical)
judgment. The natural sciences are not subservient to action, but
they are actions in the service of knowledge. Because of the empirical
and pragmatic character of their concepts, it is impossible either
to unify them in a single concept, or to divide them according to
rigorous distinctions. The natural laws which they evolve are the same
empirical concepts, which give rise to the creation of classes and
types, expressed in a different form; their empirical character is
confirmed by what Boutroux called their contingency, which is nothing
but the reflex of their arbitrary formation. Even the most general of
those laws, that of the constancy and uniformity of nature, assumed as
the foundation of so much pseudo-scientific thought in the nineteenth
century, is a mere postulate of practical opportunity, without which
it would be hardly possible to construct any science: it is the first
economic principle of scientific method, not an attribute of objective

The truth of the natural sciences, that truth of which they and their
empirical concepts are an abbreviated transcription, is the historical
datum, the knowledge of actual individual happenings. History is the
hot and fluid mass which the naturalist solidifies in the schematic
moulds of classes and types. The naturalistic discoverer is, therefore,
an historical discoverer and the revolutions of the natural sciences
are steps in the progress of historical knowledge. The difference in
method between history and the natural sciences is not due to the
supposed difference between a higher and a lower reality (spirit and
nature), or to the fact that nature has no history; nature is perpetual
activity and change, that is, history, as much as the spirit, but the
progress of nature is less clearly perceptible and less interesting
to us than that of the human reality, and, therefore, an abbreviated
transcription is more apt to satisfy our needs in relation to the
knowledge of what we call nature than to that of the spirit. The
nature that has no history, and which is opposed in dualistic systems
of philosophy to the spirit of man, is not the actual, historical
reality of nature, but the empirical concepts of the natural sciences,
their classes, types and laws, conceived as an objective reality and
substituted for that reality. In this sense, nature is not a special
object, but only a method of treatment, as is proved by the fact
that that same method, applied to the so-called higher and spiritual
reality, by such sciences as psychology, sociology, or comparative
philology, creates the same kind of naturalistic categories in the
domain of the spirit. It is of nature in this sense that the idealist
denies the real existence, since the time when Bishop Berkeley
repudiated matter as a mere abstraction. And here again, the scientist
comes to the support of the idealist with his keen awareness of
the pragmatic character of his hypotheses on the ultimate physical
constituents of reality.

It is through this theory of the natural sciences that Croce succeeded
in eliminating naturalistic transcendence from his thought, and,
singularly enough, his first impulse in this direction came to him
from his æsthetic studies, through his criticism of literary genres,
of grammars, of the particular arts and of rhetorical forms. He saw
how through them "nature" introduces itself, as a construction of the
human spirit, in the pure spiritual world of art; and having denied
its reality in art, he proceeded to discover it everywhere not as
reality, but as an product of abstracting processes. This must not be
interpreted as meaning that the naturalistic method is an illegitimate
hybrid: it has its uses in its proper place, and not less in the
study of mind than in the study of nature. It is only by mistaking
its constructions or fictions for realities, that we can be tempted
to deduce from the natural sciences a philosophy of nature, or from
the applications of the naturalistic method to art and to the history
of man, an æsthetics or a philosophy of history. But the natural
sciences themselves are not responsible for the errors of philosophical
naturalism. That such errors should not be limited exclusively to
philosophers, but very often appear within the body of sciences like
biology or psychology or sociology, is easily explained by the fact
that no scientist is a pure scientist: but poor philosophy does not
become science simply because it finds place in scientific books.
The quarrel between vitalists and mechanicists, for one instance,
is a philosophical (or historical), not a scientific dispute: and
it reveals itself, ultimately, as the opposition not of conceivable
realities, but merely of different methods in the elaboration of the
historical datum. The coherent and clear-minded biologist is to-day
a mechanicist, not because mechanism is the essence of reality, but
because it is the postulate of his research. The vitalist, on the other
hand, is inevitably brought by the trend of his thought to abandon
science and to become more or less deliberately a philosopher. It is
enough to mention in this connection such names as Driesch or Bergson.

The fictitious or conventional character of mathematics is still
more apparent than that of the natural sciences; and we shall not
add anything to what we have said in the preceding chapter about the
abstract concept, the non-concrete universal, which is the distinctive
process of mathematical thought. The application of the mathematical
processes, through the empirical concepts, to the historical datum,
gives origin to what we have called the judgment of numeration (and
mensuration), and to the mathematical sciences of nature. All that has
been observed of the natural sciences in general is valid for these
also. Their truth is still only the truth of the intuitive, historical
datum of which the empirical concepts are practical elaborations; the
addition of a further practical elaboration, the abstract concept,
can add to their mnemonic or, as it is more often called, technical
efficiency, but not to the value of their original content. This
process, as the purely naturalistic one, can be applied to the human as
well as to the natural reality, but it is evident that its usefulness
decreases in the passage from the one to the other, following the same
standards that apply to the natural sciences in general, those of the
relative perceptibility and importance of the individual happening.
It is at its highest in physics or astronomy, less notable in biology
or economics; practically inexistent in psychology or sociology, the
two sciences that suffer not less from the delusions of misapplied
statistics than from the invasions of cheap philosophy. Croce's theory
of science, as we have already remarked, differs from the generally
accepted methodology of modern science only in its context, which
is usually agnostic in, the pure scientist, while, in Croce, it
consists in the affirmation of the pure concept, or of the autonomy of
philosophy: a proposition with which the scientist qua scientist has no
reason to quarrel. In both cases, the autonomy of scientific thought
is only relative, and the difference of context is a difference in
the determination of its limits. In both cases, scientific thought is
recognised as thoroughly legitimate only within limits. The cry of the
bankruptcy of science, of which we heard so much a few years ago, is as
meaningless for Croce as for the pure scientist; science cannot become
bankrupt except by over-stepping its logical limits, that is, by first
ceasing to be science and becoming the ape of philosophy.

[Footnote 1: See _Logica_, part ii, La filosofia, la storia, etc., pp.


The practical origin of theoretical error--Confirmations of
this doctrine--The forms of error--Æstheticism and empiricism;
mathematicism--Philosophism: the philosophy of history and the
philosophy of nature--Mythologism: philosophy and religion--Dualism,
scepticism, mysticism--The conversion to truth--The function of error.

One of the most original developments of Croce's thought--a doctrine
that does not owe its validity only to its connection with the system,
since we can find it adumbrated already in such widely divergent
philosophies as those of Socrates and Thomas Aquinas, of Descartes
and Rosmini, but which in Croce's system acquires a new and wider
meaning--is the theory of the practical origin of theoretical error,
which we shall briefly discuss in this chapter.

From a strictly logical standpoint, every error is mere privation or
negativity, the opposite of the logical value which is truth, and
therefore inexistent outside the moment of opposition. As there are
not two values in æsthetics, the beautiful and the ugly, but one only,
beauty or expression, of which ugliness or non-expression is merely the
negative aspect, so in logic also there is but one value, thought or
truth, and error is non-thought, that which logically has no being or
reality. There is no thought which is not a thinking of truth.

Let us pause for one instant to consider this last proposition, which
at first sight undoubtedly has a somewhat paradoxical air. And yet it
is impossible not to accept it, unless we are willing to fall into the
most radical scepticism, which would imply a renunciation not only of
every form of thought, but even, since there is no action which is not
founded on knowledge, of every kind of action. If we believed that
it were possible for our thought to think that which is not true, no
external criterion or standard of truth could even be substituted for
that which thought intrinsically would lack, since the apprehension
of such external standards would in itself be an act of thought, and
therefore suffer from the indetermination and uncertainty of thought
itself. This belief in the validity of human thought is in fact,
however disguised or even openly denied, present in every thinking
and acting being: every thought, every action of man is an implicit
declaration of this faith. And once we have consciously acquired it,
as an inalienable, intrinsic characteristic of our whole spiritual
activity, it is evident that it leaves no place for faith as such, for
an obscure, independent faculty, a mystical intuition, different from
and superior to our human thought, and which could mysteriously endow
thought itself with the gratuitous gift of truth.

And yet, after we have denied the logical existence of error, we are
still confronted with the mass of positive errors which we can more
or less easily identify in the course of history and in our daily
experience. Positive errors, that is, affirmations of knowing that
which we do not know, are real products of our activity: but since the
theoretical value, truth, is absent from them, they cannot be products
of the theoretical activity. They must therefore be products of the
only other form of spiritual activity, the practical. Ignorance or
obscurity or doubt are not errors; they are the inexhaustible matter to
which the spirit of man is perpetually giving form and reality. To be
aware of one's ignorance is in fact the first stage in the research of
truth, the _initìum sapientæ_. Thought and truth are affirmation; the
positive error is an affirmation also, which simulates truth. We cannot
think an error, but we can pass from thought to action, by making a
false affirmation, a purely practical affirmation, which consists in
the act of producing sounds to which no thought corresponds, or, which
amounts to the same, only a thought without value, without coherence,
without truth. What we have qualified in its negative aspect as a
theoretical error manifests itself in its positive aspect as an act of
will, directed to a certain end, a practical act, and, as such, having
its own rationality, which is neither logical, nor moral, but purely
economic, consisting in the adequacy of that particular affirmation
to the individual purpose by which it has been prompted. Morality
requires that the thinking spirit should realize itself as truth; and
therefore the economic act which is error, though logically unreal,
though economically useful, finds inevitably its ultimate sanction in a
moral condemnation.

Though this doctrine may appear unfamiliar to the logician, yet we all
constantly depend on it in our analysis of error. We know that error is
due to the passions or interests of men, which cloud the intellect, and
the more an error is foreign to our own ways of thinking, the easier it
is for us to discover the practical motives which help us to explain
it away. That category of errors which goes under the name of national
prejudices, for instance, is transparent in its origins to every man
belonging to a nation other than the one in which a particular set
of such prejudices is commonly accepted. And other categories of
errors, social, professional, religious, and so on, are of the same
kind, affecting only certain classes of men, because of the passions
or interests or traditions which belong to them by reason of their
peculiar practical associations. In the field of politics, or in any
kind of heated discussion, this research of the practical motive is
even pushed to the extreme, and the bad faith of the adversary becomes
an obvious axiom. In such cases, the same passions being active on
both sides, the research of the practical motive is evidently not pure
and disinterested, but is itself moved by a practical motive, and
therefore likely to produce a new error, rather than a clear judgment.
Therefore, though rigorously speaking there is no difference between
the error which is a deliberate lie and that which is due to a more
or less justifiable weakness, and there is no error which is not in
bad faith, which is not due to a deliberate act of will, yet, from
an empirical standpoint we may distinguish between errors in bad and
in good faith, and recommend tolerance and indulgence for the latter
kind. But tolerance is not indifference. Croce went so far, in drawing
the consequences of his doctrine, as to justify the Holy Inquisition;
and in fact all our modern advocates of religious and political
tolerance have really shaken our faith in its methods, but not in its
principle, which is that of the moral responsibility of error. The Holy
Inquisition moreover was bound to clash with the freedom, which is not
the freedom of error but the freedom of truth, because it placed its
faith in a static, extrahuman truth, as against the veritas _filia
temporis_, the truth which is engendered and conditioned by history, by
the peculiar problems and intellectual climate of the age, and which is
the object of our modern faith; and therefore defeated its own end by
striking at the roots of the value for the upholding of which it had
been established.

Passing from the problem of the nature of error to that of the forms
actually assumed by philosophic error, Croce accepts Vico's definition
of error, as an improper combination of ideas, and therefore defines
such forms, by deducing the number of possible improper combinations
from his own conception of the legitimate forms of theoretical
activity. This phenomenology of error is one of the main tasks of
logic, while the refutation of particular philosophical errors is the
task of philosophy as a whole. We shall rapidly survey these general
forms, in which it will be easy for the reader to recognize the logical
(or illogical) structure of many particular errors criticised in the
preceding chapters.

The pure concept can be improperly combined with, or exchanged for,
the pure intuition (art), or the empirical and abstract concept (the
natural and mathematical sciences); or it can be improperly split
in its unity of intuition and concept (_a priori_ synthesis), and
arbitrarily put together again, either as a concept which simulates an
intuition or as an intuition which simulates a concept. Hence the five
fundamental forms of error: æstheticism, empiricism, mathematicism,
philosophism, and historicism or mythologism. To these must be added
other forms originated from combinations of the preceding ones:
dualism, scepticism, and mysticism.

We have dealt elsewhere with both æstheticism and empiricism. Of
the first, the most recent form is that which pretends to build a
philosophy of pure intuition or of pure experience, that is, of an
experience which, not being touched by any intellectual category,
is also pure intuition. Empiricism is practically all the current
philosophy of our times, from the positivism of Comte and Spencer
to the more modern types of the so-called philosophic elaboration of
scientific knowledge. Mathematicism is a rarer and more aristocratic
form of error: it does not consist in the application of the
mathematical method to the exposition of philosophical concepts,
which is a mere didactic expedient, more or less convenient, but
insufficient to characterize the quality of the concepts themselves;
its true exponents are those philosophers or mathematicians who
take mathematical fictions, such as the dimensions of space, for
realities, and proceed to speculate on such a foundation. The near
future seems to promise a great extension of this kind of philosophy,
through the prevailing interest in the theory of relativity, which
is fondly supposed to contain the germs of a revolution in thought.
Both empiricism and mathematicism lead to a dualistic conception of
reality, by opposing either the facts of scientific and historical
knowledge, that is, a collection of facts limited in space and time,
to an infinite reality beyond that knowledge, or our actual world of
space and time, to worlds, spaces and times mathematically conceivable,
but of which we have no experience. The passage from this dualism to
spiritualism and other kinds of superstition, which in our times seem
to be so closely associated with certain forms of pseudo-scientific
thought, is of the easiest. The naturalistic experiments by which
we attempt to peer into the mystery of the so-called unknown or
unknowable, hoping to detect the spirit itself as matter, however
subtle or light, and such theories as that of the identity of the
spiritual world with the four-dimensional space, are evidences of this
immediate connection between superstition and science, for which,
obviously, not science is responsible, and not ignorance even, but
a chain of more or less deliberate errors in each case reducible to
definite practical motives. From the point of view of the ethics of
intellect, there is no difference between the frank impostor who is
moved to speculate on other people's feelings only by greed, and the
scientist who makes his science minister to his own private feelings,
and is hardly, if at all, conscious of his fraud.

Of the other two forms of philosophic error, philosophism, consisting
in the abuse of the purely logical element, and therefore in an
usurpation on the part of philosophy against either history or science,
tending to the formation of a philosophy of history and of a philosophy
of nature, is less common now than in times of more active and original
speculation. The most conspicuous examples are to be met with among
Germany's classical thinkers; and we have already hinted at the
connection between one particular logical error, the undue extension
of the dialectic process to the distinctions of the concept, and to
the empirical concept, which is the basis of Hegel's philosophies of
history and nature. Both these sciences attempt an _a priori_ deduction
of the individual and of the empirical, a process which is in itself
absurd and contradictory. They duplicate history and science with a
series of concepts, which, unless they are the same which constitute
history and science (in which case we have history and we have science,
and not a philosophy of history or of nature), are necessarily empty
of any concrete determinations. But though Croce points to philosophy
of history and philosophy of nature as to the two typical instances
of philosophism, yet he is ready to acknowledge that a good deal
of thought that has gone under those names in the past has had a
large influence in moulding many of our historical and philosophical
conceptions, and, in the case of the second one, in helping us to
realize the unity and spirituality of nature, and to recognize in the
history of nature the same principles operating in the history of man.
Croce's idealism, in fact, does not divide nature from the spirit
except in the logical sense which has been made clear in the preceding
chapter; it does not relegate nature in an unknowable sphere beyond
the reach of human minds. It unifies spirit and nature, but _a parte
subjecti_, and not _a parte objecti_, and reduces nature to the spirit,
rather than the spirit to nature; which is the only process that makes
such a unification intelligible and significant.

The last of the five fundamental forms of philosophic error consists
in the arbitrary separation of the subject from its predicate, of
history from philosophy, and in the consequent position of the subject
as predicate, that is, of a mere representation as a concept. This
may sound rather abstruse, but can immediately be made clear by adding
that what Croce has in mind in this definition is the production of
myths. This error he therefore calls either historicism (from the
logical process by which it is produced), or mythologism (from the
form which it commonly assumes). A myth is to him not a mere poetic
or æsthetic imagination, but necessarily includes an affirmation or
logical judgment. It differs also from allegory, in which the relation
established between a poetic fiction and a concept is always more
or less openly declared to be arbitrary, and the two terms are not
confused with each other. In a myth, on the contrary, the poetic
fiction assumes the actual function of the concept, transforming both
philosophy and history into a fable or legend. Errors of this class
are frequent in every system of philosophy, when the thinker, either
consciously and deliberately, as in the case of Plato, or unwittingly,
as in Kant's _Ding an sich_ or in Schopenhauer's _Will_, fills the
gaps of his real speculation with a mere image. But mythologism is
more generally the form of religious error, since there is no religion
without a logical affirmation embodied in a myth. If myth and religion
coincide, as the distinction between myth and philosophy is that of
error and truth, of a false and a true philosophy, we must conclude
that religion as truth is one with philosophy, or, as Croce expresses
it, that the true religion is philosophy; and this appears to Croce to
be the conclusion of all ancient and modern thought in regard to the
history of religions. Philosophies have sprung up in all times from
the soil of religious thought, and more or less completely resolved in
themselves, and logically clarified, the obscure substance of myth.
This is Croce's clear-cut, unequivocal solution of the problem of the
relations between philosophy and religion: there is no place reserved
anywhere in his system for an either internal or external revelation
other than that perpetual revelation of truth, which is at the same
time history and philosophy.

From the possible combinations of these five fundamental forms
of error, three more complex ones are derived: dualism, when two
contradictory methods, one logically legitimate and the other
illegitimate, or both equally false, are brought together, and
considered to be both philosophically valid; scepticism, when the
mind, in the presence of confusion and error, asserts the mystery of
reality, which is the problem itself, but denies its own power to
deal with it; and finally, mysticism, when even that last semblance
of thought, by which the sceptic affirms that there is a mystery, is
abandoned, and the immediate actuality of life is regarded to be the
only truth. Dualism leads inevitably to the conception of a double
reality, and we have already seen how the whole of Croce's speculation
continually tends towards the logical unification of dualities, as with
spirit and nature, value and fact. Every philosophical problem seems
to present itself to his mind as involved in a dualistic difficulty;
every solution becomes satisfactory to him only when the last shreds
of dualism are eliminated from it. While scepticism is a logical error
(the affirmation of a purely negative position), it contains within
itself one of the essential moments of every progress in thought, the
scepsis, or philosophical doubt, which is the negation of an error,
and therefore the germ of every true affirmation. As for mysticism,
we have dealt with it elsewhere as being one of the untenable aspects
of logical scepticism; we may add that, if it ever obeyed the laws of
internal coherence, we should not even be able to discuss it, since its
only conceivable expression would be an ecstatic silence.

The same character of necessity that invests these forms of the logical
error is present also in the false solutions of other philosophical
problems, and we need only refer the reader to our discussion of
æsthetic theories. In both cases, not only the number, but also the
logical succession, of the necessary forms of error, depends on the
number of possible arbitrary combinations of the spiritual forms,
or concepts of reality. But infinite, on the other hand, are the
individual forms of error, as infinite are the individual forms of
truth: the problems are always historically conditioned and variable,
and so are also the solutions and the false solutions, determined by
feelings, passions, and interests.

From error to truth, there is no gradual ascent. The passage is
described by Croce as a kind of spiritual conversion: the erring
spirit, fleeing from the light, must convert itself in a researching
spirit, eager for light; pride must yield to humility; the narrow love
for one's abstract individuality, widen and lift itself to an austere
love, to an utter devotion to that which is above the individual,
becoming Bruno's _eroico furore_, Spinoza's _amor Dei intellectualis_.
In this act of love and enthusiasm, the spirit becomes pure thought and
attains the truth, or, rather, transforms itself into truth. And the
possession of truth is at the same time possession of its contrary, of
error transformed into truth; to possess a concept is to possess it in
the fulness of its relations, and therefore to possess, in the same
act, all the ways in which that concept, for instance, of the æsthetic
activity, is at the same time the concept of hedonism, intellectualism,
empiricism, and so on. The two kinds of knowledge, that of truth and
of its contrary, are inseparable: the concept is at the same time
affirmation and negation.

From this absolute possession of truth, we may distinguish a stage
of research, which is not yet thought, but only the operation of the
practical will creating certain conditions for thought. Seen in the
light of this process, the series of errors through which a mind goes,
when guided by a will to gather its materials and prepare itself to
think, transforms itself into a series of attempts or hypotheses. An
error is an error when there is a will to err; the hypothesis, however,
into which the error is transmuted by the new will is not yet truth,
and becomes truth only in the act of its verification; but it is no
longer an error, because it does not affirm itself as truth, but only
as a means or help for the conquest of truth.

From this double consideration of the nature of error, first, as error
which is conquered and comprehended by truth, and then as attempt or
hypotheses in the service of truth, Croce derives the identification of
the history of error with the history of truth, or philosophy. But not
in the sense in which Hegel had considered the successive apparition of
the various philosophical categories and of the various forms of error,
seeing in them a kind of gradual revelation of his own philosophy. To
Croce such a conception of the progress of philosophy is unacceptable.
Philosophy as an abstract category, as one of the forms of the
spiritual activity, has no origin in time, is not limited to the men we
call philosophers, but acts in every moment of the life of the spirit
on the material offered by history, which it contributes to create, and
does not, therefore, progress any more than the categories of art or of
morality. But it progresses in its concreteness, as art and the whole
of life do; because life is development, and development is progress.
Every affirmation of reality is conditioned by reality and conditions
a new reality, which in its turn is, in its progress, the condition of
a new thought and a new philosophy. In this perpetual cycle, though
individual errors are conquered, no form of error can be definitely
abolished; but they constantly reappear, because of the intrinsic
necessity of their structure, and when they reappear not as wilful
errors, but as attempts and hypotheses, they have their appointed
function in the progress of truth and reality. To this constancy of
error corresponds a constancy of truth: truth is not attained once and
for ever, but is true in the act of its affirmation, and in proportion
to its adequacy to the particular problem, to the individual conditions
of fact, which necessarily include, at every given moment, the whole
history of the past. Thus, from a different angle, Croce's theory of
error reaches the same conclusion as his general theory of logic,
the identity of philosophy and history; and philosophy appears as a
perpetual development, a history that never can repeat itself, since
every affirmation of the truth transforms itself into a new element of
reality, into one of the conditions determining every new problem and
every new solution.

[Footnote 1: See _Logica_, part iii, "Le forme degli errori," etc., pp.


Philosophical introspection--Affirmation of the practical activity--The
category of feeling--The theoretical activity as the antecedent of the
practical--Identity of intention and volition--Identity of volition and
action--The practical judgment: philosophy and psychology --The problem
of free will: liberty and necessity--Croce's solution in the context of
his philosophy--The practical value: good and evil--The unreality of
evil, and the function of ideals--The sanction of evil--The volition
and the passions--The empirical individuality--Development and progress.

The reality of the practical activity as distinct from the theoretical
activity, of will as distinct from knowledge, can never be proved
through the naturalistic method of psychology, by merely pointing
to a class of facts--actions--different from another class of
facts--thoughts. The so-called action manifests itself, at a closer
analysis, as infinitely complex and rich in purely theoretical
elements; the so-called thought, as partly at least a work of the
human will. The concrete life of the spirit is always both practical
and theoretical, and the distinction we are looking for is an ideal
distinction, to be ascertained by the method of philosophical, not
psychological, introspection; by the direct witness of consciousness,
and by the deduction of its function in the concept of the spirit,
or of reality, as a whole. The complete affirmation of a form, or
grade, of spiritual activity is the philosophy of that form, and of
its relations with the others; in this case, the philosophy of the
practical, or of will. It is hardly necessary, at this stage of our
exposition, to observe that the philosophy of the practical will not
be practical philosophy, a collection of rules for the attainment of
the useful and the good, any more than the philosophy of art is a
collection of æsthetic precepts: it will be a purely formal science, a
universal concept, the content of which is the infinite wealth of the
individual determinations of the will, the history of the practical

In the following chapter we shall deal more particularly with the two
forms of the practical activity, economic and ethic, corresponding
to the two forms of the theoretical, æsthetic and logic. Here we
shall consider the undifferentiated practical activity, first, in its
relations, and then, in its internal dialectic. The contents of this
chapter are, therefore, intended as applying both to economics and
ethics, to the useful and to the good.

There are two typical forms of scepticism regarding the practical
activity. The first denies that it is a spiritual activity, by
denying that man is conscious of his will, in the process of willing;
consciousness comes only after, and is not consciousness of the will,
but of our representation of the will. Therefore, the will is nature,
and consciousness, or spiritual activity, is only our thought. The
second does not exclude the will from consciousness, but affirms that
there is no real distinction between will and thought. The first
doctrine is evidently founded on a confusion between reflected and
intrinsic consciousness; and maintains something that is always true
of reflected consciousness, not in relation to the will only, but to
every form of spiritual activity; carried to its extreme consequences,
it would banish consciousness from the whole life of human mind, since
every act of consciousness would always be consciousness of something
else, and never of itself. Against this view, Croce insists on the
concept of an intrinsic consciousness, which accompanies every act of
the spirit: the consciousness of the creative artist, for instance,
which is certainly other than that of the critic, but not less real.
The will may be regarded as nature, only when apprehended by the
theoretical activity; as every other act of the spirit becomes nature,
outside its immediate actuality, when consciously reflected upon. The
second form of sceptism, identifying thought and will, cannot maintain
itself in its purity, because of the difficulties involved by the
denial of what seems to be the immediate evidence of consciousness; it,
therefore, qualifies itself by recognizing that the will is thought,
but of a particular kind, thought impressing itself on nature, or
realizing itself in action: which is but an indirect way of admitting
the autonomy of the practical activity.

But do the theoretical and the practical activity exhaust the whole of
the spirit of man? There is at least one more psychological category
which clamours for admission within the precincts of philosophy, that
of feeling or sentiment. For Croce, feeling as a form of spiritual
activity does not exist: the corresponding psychological class covers
a number of heterogeneous facts, which cannot be reduced to a single
concept. Its function in philosophy has always been that of serving
as a temporary term for that which philosophy had not yet hilly
determined and understood; in æsthetics, for the intuitive character
of art, against the fallacies of hedonism and intellectualism; in the
theory of history for the individual and concrete element of history,
or even for the subjective historical judgment, against positivism
and sociologism; in logic, for the pure concept against the empirical
and abstract. Its function in the philosophy of the practical is of
the same order: feeling or sentiment are among the names by which the
peculiarity of the practical activity first began to be recognized,
being labels for classes of psychological facts in which the moment of
will is more important than that of reason, practice more essential
than theory. But the psychological facts thus classified resolve
themselves ultimately either into acts of knowledge or of will; and
the witness of direct consciousness does not find feeling or sentiment
within itself as a distinct form of spiritual activity. Obviously,
this exclusion does not imply that Croce denies the existence of the
empirical groups of facts gathered in those classes; it means only
that he has reduced those facts to the immediate data of consciousness
of which they consist, and divested them of that mysterious halo, the
halo of ignorance or of deliberate error, with which an appeal to
sentimental reasons is sure to be accompanied when introduced into a
philosophical discussion. When we hear, for instance, that philosophy
and science belong to the sphere of reason, and religion to that of
sentiment, since there is no sentiment which is not either reason or
will, we at once understand that what is meant is that the speaker is
willing to believe, for practical motives, what his reason tells him
to be untrue; and we know also that this error contains, sometimes at
least, an element of truth, which is the affirmation of a truer reason
than the one employed by a certain type of philosophy, by a rationalism
which treats the human spirit as a thing of abstract logic. The error
consists in the putting of one's will in the place of one's reason;
the germinal truth, in the attempt to make one's reason wider, more
comprehensive. It is, therefore, one of those positions in which it is
a sin against the spirit to acquiesce, but which are the beginning of
wisdom in the man of good faith.

The practical activity presupposes the theoretical activity: no
will is conceivable without knowledge, and our will is such as our
knowledge is. But this presupposition is of an ideal and not of a
temporal order: the mind in its concreteness, at every moment of its
life, is both practical and theoretical. The a particular kind of
knowledge which conditions our will is neither the purely intuitive
nor the abstractly logical one, but the historical or perceptive, or
concretely logical knowledge, which is at the same time a knowledge
of things and of the relations of things, constantly changing with
the perpetual development of the world around us, and, therefore,
constantly re-creating and renovating itself as the antecedent of
every particular volition. No other theoretical fact precedes the act
of will: the so-called practical judgments or practical concepts,
which some thinkers consider as a necessary intermediate step between
the historical judgment and the volition, are nothing but classes
of historical judgments relating to volitions in the past, mental
formations similar to the rhetorical categories in the domain of art,
and, therefore, do not really precede but follow the actual volitions.
In the process of willing, the recognition of a certain action as good
or useful, that is, as belonging to one of the practical categories,
and, therefore, desirable, is not an act that precedes the volition,
but is the volition itself. The qualification of an action as useful
or good is not distinguishable from the volition except when it comes
after the action, and is then a reflection on the act itself, not
different in kind from any other historical judgment.

The conclusion to be drawn from these premises is that, in relation to
every particular situation, intention and volition coincide; or, that
what we call intention, the abstract volition, the imaginary volition,
opposed to the concrete and real one, is not a moment of the will
at all, and the only volition is the one that is determined by the
concrete situation, the real and concrete volition. The distinction
between intention and volition has in all times been the fertile
ground for the growth of all kinds of hypocrisy, as it is easy to
connect in one's mind a certain concrete volition, which is evil, with
an imaginary intention of good; and the doctrine that justifies the
means for the sake of the end is but a variety of this process. The
identification of intention and volition is, therefore, not merely a
matter of good logic; it is the necessary foundation of a realistic
doctrine of the will, which cannot will anything but itself, and can
never be abstracted from its real basis, from the actual determinations
of the moment of reality by which it is conditioned.

Once the concrete character of volition has been recognized, there
remains no difficulty in the way of further identifying volition and
action. The relation between the two is analogous to the relation
between intuition and expression in æsthetics: there is no volition
which is not also an action, and vice versa. Volition and action are
not two distinct phases of one process, but two different ways of
looking at the same reality: the same fact which is, from the point
of view of the spirit, a volition, is, naturalistically speaking, an
action: we are in the presence of one more aspect of the old dualism
of spirit and nature. And here again the duality vanishes when we
observe that there is not a single act of will which does not manifest
itself in a physical movement, however imperceptible, and that on
the other hand there is no physical action, not even the so-called
instinctive or habitual ones, which are not either direct or indirect
products of the will. A That which is independent of the will is not
the action itself, but the success of the action,--what Croce calls a
happening. The volition coincides with the action, which is the work of
the individual, and not with the happening, which is collaboration or
contrast of wills, the work not of the individual, but of the whole. No
action ever realizes itself entirely in the happening, and no action,
however hindered in its realization, is ever entirely without influence
on the happening. The measure of the adequacy of the historical
judgment preceding the action to the particular situation is given in
some degree by the relation between the action and the happening; but
it is impossible, and it is in fact never done, though we may affirm
our inclination to do it, to derive the value of an action, of the
actual, concrete volition, from its success. When we praise a practical
hero for his success, we imply that his success was not accidental,
not a mere happening, but entirely due to acts of his will; if the
praise is misplaced, the error is not in the theory, on which we all
implicitly agree, but in our knowledge and judgment of the facts of his
life. And when we rise from the consideration of purely economical to
that of ethical values, the importance of success gradually diminishes,
because we fix our attention more to the spiritual reality, to the
quality of the individual soul, and less to the material concomitants.
The great majority of mankind's moral heroes would be utter failures
from the standpoint of success, granted that it should be possible to
speak of such a contradiction in terms as moral success, a phrase in
which a true spiritual value, morality, is applied to a mere material

The practical judgment, which is, as we have already seen, nothing
but a particular kind of historical judgment, is a reflection on the
action and not on the happening; and we shall not repeat here what
has been said elsewhere of the relation between fact and value: the
practical value is the action itself, and cannot be deduced or derived
from standards, principles, ideals, which are but combinations of
preëxistent judgments. The practical judgment, economic or moral, is
a philosophical judgment in the sense in which every other judgment
is also philosophical. A philosophy of the practical activity, not
in the technical sense in which we speak of treatises and schools
of philosophy, but in that universal sense in which every man is a
philosopher, as he is a poet, is therefore the necessary condition of
the practical judgment. But this philosophy is fundamentally distinct
from the psychological or naturalistic elaboration of the facts of
the will, though at times it may have been materially connected with
it. A psychologically descriptive science of the practical activity
is, however, as legitimate in its own field as all other natural
sciences; it constitutes a practical rhetoric which has as glorious a
tradition as the rhetoric of literature, from Theophrastus to Spinoza
and Descartes. It creates its classes or types of actions, the value
of which is similar to that of all other empirical concepts, and by
giving them a categorical form, it transforms them into maxims, rules,
and precepts. As long as these types and precepts are taken for what
they are, no harm can come from them; we all make similar formations
as helps to our individual conduct, and find them more than helpful,
necessary. But when they are taken as philosophy, then we have the
usual results of this kind of logical confusion: either the empirical
concepts, under a rigorous analysis, lose their consistency, and types
or rules which were useful instruments for the treatment of particular
problems are discarded for philosophical concepts, which are immaterial
to the discussion, or they are treated as philosophical concepts, and
invested with the character of universality and necessity which belongs
to the latter. Of the first process, we shall give as an example the
man who maintains that war is necessary and eternal; which is true, if
by war we mean the perpetual conflict and struggle which is the life of
reality (a philosophical concept), but which is at least a gratuitous
assertion, when it is said of that particular kind of war which is
waged between state and state, with arms and armies. Of the second, the
moralist who identifies morality with a particular system or set of
precepts, or the philosopher who turns his philosophy into a special
pleading for his cause or party. Turning now from the discussion of
the relations between the practical and the theoretical activity, to
consider the intrinsic problems of the will, and the most complex and
difficult of all, that of the freedom of the will, we shall find that
Croce's solution, though reached by a totally different method, is
very similar to the one offered by Bergson. Both Croce and Bergson
refuse to take sides in the quarrel between free-will and determinism,
but transfer it to a higher or deeper ground where the contrasting
terms acquire more significant, and no longer opposite, meanings.
Bergson accomplishes his abolition of the dilemma through a masterful
psychological analysis of the immediate data of consciousness, Croce
comes to the same result by applying to this problem his logic of the
distinctions of the concept, which we have already seen so often at
work. Every act of the will is determined, in the sense that it is
conditioned by a given situation, and varies with the varying of the
situation; it is free, inasmuch as it is something new and different,
which was not given in the situation, and without which there would
be no change, no growth, no development. Necessity and freedom, which
so often appear as antagonistic views of the same fact, are both
present, though distinct, in the volition, which is the unity of the
two, being at once determined and free. The volition is thus regarded
as a practical _a priori_ synthesis, the autonomous creative act of
the practical mind, as the intuition is the æsthetic, and the concept
the logical _a priori_ synthesis; the spirit never realizes itself
except by acting, and it never acts except under given conditions of
place and time. But as these conditions are nothing but what we have
called happenings, which in their turn are complex results of single
volitions, the concept of the freedom of the spirit coincides with that
of its activity.

This solution is the one that we were obviously led to expect from
the whole context of Croce's philosophy, a solution in keeping
with his logic and with his general theory of knowledge. A similar
parallelism we can observe in respect to the other solutions of the
problem of the will: determinism is connected with a mechanistic
materialism, as indeterminism with one form or other of mythicism.
The doctrine of the double causality, which admits of a double series
of facts, some subject to a mechanical necessity, others free and
creative--a solution which is probably the most commonly accepted
to-day--corresponds to the logical dualism of nature and spirit. This
last one can be considered as an approximation to the abolition of the
dilemma, as proposed by both Croce and Bergson, when we contrast it
with the strictly deterministic position, though it still preserves
the opposition of fact and value, of experience and philosophy, of
reality and spirit. In the new conception of the will, necessity and
freedom stand in the same relation as all these other dualities in
Croce's system; and the emphasis is laid, as usual, on the second term,
through which only we can understand the first. The agreement between
Croce and Bergson in this particular instance points to a closer
similarity between their respective philosophies than is apparent to
a casual observer. That external reality which seems to confront the
spirit as a separate existence, and which Bergson considers as the
product of a purely mechanical, practical intellect, corresponds to
what Croce defines as the naturalistic, not theoretical, but practical,
elaboration of reality; and in Bergson's intuition and _élan vital_,
Croce's concept of reality as spiritual activity is mythically

If activity is freedom, then freedom coincides with the value of
activity. If we use the words good and evil, not with any special
ethical connotation, but as the general terms of practical value and
non-value, good and evil are activity and non-activity, freedom and
absence of freedom. Evil, like all other purely negative values, is
unreal. This does not mean that the actions that we call evil have no
real existence, any more than the unreality of ugliness or falsehood
imply the non-existence of bad poetry or of logical errors; bad poetry
and logical errors have no æsthetic or logical reality, but they are
products of the practical spirit, directed towards the satisfaction of
practical ends; and every real action, inasmuch as it is an action,
considered in itself as adequate to its particular end, is good. It
is only by substituting to that end another end, that the first end
may appear as evil, and the second as good; but if this substitution
takes place before the action, then the action is inevitably directed
towards the second end, and therefore again, it is not evil, but good.
It is through a psychological delusion that we imagine ourselves in
a position in which we see the good, and yet do the evil: what we do
is that which appears to us as the most desirable end, and therefore
as good. The intention, outside the actual volition, is, as we have
seen, unreal; if it were real, it would realize itself as an action,
and be one with it. The negative practical judgments, whether economic
or ethic, are judgments which affirm the reality of a certain action,
and therefore its value, at the same time comparing that value with a
different one, which has not been realized in that particular instance.
The negative moral judgment usually consists in the affirmation of a
purely economic value contrasted with an ethical value which is absent
from the action which is the subject of the judgment.

The doctrine of the unreality of evil has always been regarded with
deep mistrust by the practical moralist; but that mistrust is utterly
unjustified by the doctrine itself. For practical purposes it may be
convenient to consider life as intrinsically evil, and to oppose to
it a set of ideals, or abstract moral values to which we must strive
to conform our actions; in fact, every one of us is constantly doing
something of the kind, and finding in those ideals a help and an
inspiration. But shall our ideals lose their value when we understand
that they have no separate, transcendent reality? That every action
carries its own value within itself, and that therefore unless we
constantly realize those ideals in our concrete and individual
actions, in every one of our actions, the ideals themselves will be
but empty shadows? Every ideal, however high and comprehensive, is
but an empirical concept derived from a class of actions in which we
have recognised a moral value; moral standards have the same character
as æsthetic standards, and are useful and active only as long as
we understand their nature. But the creation of moral values is a
constantly renovated, spontaneous, original activity, in the same sense
in which art and poetry are. We can be directed, both in our activity
and in our judgment, by standards and ideals; that is, standards
and ideals may help us to put ourselves in a position practically
favourable to the creation or judgment of æsthetic or moral values.
But the actual creation, as the actual judgment, takes place, both
in art and morality, so to speak, at the risk of our whole life: it
is a new activity, in a situation which cannot be identical with any
previous situation, and to which no rule will ever give us the key.

While on one hand our sense of responsibility is rather heightened
than diminished by Croce's conception of value, if we look at the
same doctrine from another angle, it tells us that there is no evil
where there is no consciousness of evil; that evil becomes something
positive, acquires an independent existence, only when it is reflected
in a higher plane of consciousness. The only conceivable sanction of
the evil that we have willed is in the will that, tending towards a
better end, apprehends its former volition as inadequate and therefore
evil; but until that light has shown itself to the spirit, all other
sanctions are meaningless. This is the foundation of the Christian
doctrine of repentance, of the uses of remorse, or grace; and the
individual intimate quality of moral values was first proclaimed by the
voice that said: _nolite iudicare_. If the Kingdom of Heaven is not
within you, it is not to be found anywhere else.

We can consider the actual volition as intrinsically good, if we also
approach it from the point of view of the multiplicity of possible
volitions--impulses, passions, desires--striving to realize themselves
at every moment of our life. Every single volition is the result of
a struggle from which it emerges after having conquered all the other
possible volitions. When, in this struggle, the single volition does
not assert itself fully, we become the prey of that multiplicity,
willing a volition which is not the one that we ought to will, and that
in a way we feel we will; hence a will that is divided against itself,
an action which is not positive but negative, not a true action, but
a kind of passivity. When the single volition conquers the passions,
when one impulse or desire becomes the will, all the other possible
volitions lose their actual value, multiplicity gives way to unity,
passivity to action, evil to good, death to life.

The passions can be empirically regarded as habits of the will, as
inclinations towards one or another category of actions; by a further
empirical elaboration, we can divide them into the various classes of
virtues and vices, virtues being the passions or habits of rational
actions, and vices the contrary ones. Individuality or personality,
as an empirical concept, is nothing but a complex of more or less
lasting habits, some natural and some acquired, or, more rigorously,
the historical situation of the universal spirit in every instant of
time, and therefore that complex of habits which historical conditions
have produced. These habits are the material out of which we mould our
life, and the first duty of every individual consists in exploring
his own dispositions, in establishing what attitudes the progress of
reality has deposited in him, at the moment of his birth and in the
course of his individual life--to acquire a consciousness of what in
religious terms we might call his vocation or mission; it is impossible
for anyone to act except on the basis of his preëxisting personal
habits of will. But temperament, or the empirical individuality, is
not yet character, or virtue; and the respect that we owe to it, as
the necessary condition of our action, must not be confused with the
ultra-modern tendency which expresses itself in the cry for the rights
of the individual temperament and for the free development of the
passions. The individual has the duty of seeking his own self, but
also that of cultivating himself in the light of reason; his empirical
individuality is a mere datum, and his life is his own work. An
education aiming only at the expression of individual idiosyncrasies
(as so much of our modern education, at least in theory, is) is no
education at all. The ideal is rather to be sought in such a perfect
fulfilment of one's individual mission, however humble, that it should
at the same time fulfil the universal mission of man.

The law of life is in the unity that conquers the multiplicity, in the
will asserting itself above the passions. The reality is perpetual
development, an infinite possibility transforming itself into an
infinite actuality, gathering itself at every instant from the multiple
into the one, only to disrupt itself again and produce a new unity.
Multiplicity, contradiction, evil, non-being, on one side, and unity,
coherence, good, being, on the other, are unthinkable outside the
synthesis of life, which is activity, becoming, evolution. This concept
of becoming or evolution is the one that modern thought has substituted
for that of an immobile reality and of a transcendent divinity. And in
Croce it becomes wide enough to embrace Hegel's speculative dialectic
on one side, and the naturalistic evolutionism of the scientist on
the other. The dialectic of will is the dialectic of reality, both
spiritual and natural--or rather only and always spiritual, since
nature cannot be distinguished from the spirit as a concrete reality of
another order, but only as an abstraction of the practical intellect.
What we call life in nature is consciousness in the spirit, and the
history of nature is not qualitatively different from the history of
man. The whole course of history cannot be regarded otherwise than as
a continuous progress, a perpetual triumph of life over death; and its
rationality, which we call Fate or Providence, is not the work of a
transcendent Intelligence, but is a Providence realizing itself in die
individual, working not outside or above, but within history itself.
The mystery of which we are all conscious is not a part of reality, but
only the presentment of future realizations, the infinity of evolution.
The God transcendent, the empirical immortality, are mere figures and
myths for the God living in nature and in the spirit of man, for the
spirit of man, for the spiritual activity, which is life and death in

[Footnote 1: See _Filosofia della Pratica_, part i, "L'attività pratica
in generale," pp. 1-209.]


The distinctions of the practical activity--The autonomy of ethics:
utilitarianism--The autonomy of the economic form: abstract
moralism--Relations of the ethical to the economic form--Pleasure
and duty, happiness and virtue--Importance of the economic
principle--Philosophy and the science of economics--The ethical
principle; material ethics--Ethical formalism; the universality of the
principle--The object of the ethical will--Croce as a moralist.

The preceding chapter deals with the practical activity in general,
with the general concept of will or action. We must now introduce in
that concept a distinction analogous to that by which the theoretical
activity has appeared to us first as the knowledge of die individual or
intuition, then as the knowledge of the universal or concept. But here,
again, we shall not employ the merely descriptive and psychological
method, nor yet attempt to deduce this distinction from the analogy
between the theoretical and the practical activity; we shall appeal
once more to the immediate test of consciousness, which in fact reveals
two distinct forms of the will, the economic and the ethic. Economic
activity is the one that wills and realizes only that which relates to
the conditions of fact in which the individual finds himself; ethical
activity, the one that wills and realizes that which, though related to
those conditions, at the same time in some way transcends them. To one
correspond individual, to the other, universal ends; on one is based
the judgment on the coherence of the action in itself, on its adequacy
to its individual end; on the other, the judgment on its adequacy to
universal ends, which transcend the individual. If we recognise only
the ethical form, we perceive very soon that it implies the other
one, which we intended to exclude, since our action, though universal
in its meaning, must always be something concrete and individually
determined. We do not realize morality in the universal, but always a
given moral volition, not the abstract virtues, but the concrete works.
Although a moral action is not only our individual pleasure, yet it
must be that, too, or we should never be able to realize it. On the
other hand, the mere economic action, the satisfaction of our immediate
pleasure, though it satisfies us in relation to our individual end, yet
it leaves constantly unsatisfied that which we are beside and beyond
our individual determinations, our deepest and truest being. And this
dissatisfaction will last until we succeed in lifting ourselves above
the infinite succession of individual ends, and in inserting in them a
universal value. This passage or conversion from the purely economic to
the ethic, from pleasure to duty, is designed by Croce as the conquest
of that peace which is not of a fabulous future, but of the present
and real; in every instant is eternity, to him who knows how to reach
it. Our actions will be always new, because always new problems are put
before us by the course of reality; but in them, if we accomplish them
with a pure heart, seeking in them what lifts them above themselves,
we shall each time possess the Whole. Such is the character of the
moral action; which satisfies us not as individuals but as men, and
as individuals only because the individual is a man, and as men only
through the medium of individual satisfaction.

The denial of the autonomy of the ethical form, the attempt to reduce
the ethic to the economic, the morally good to the individually
useful, is the substance of the many theories that go under the name
of utilitarianism. But this reduction of the practical activity to
a single principle clashes in every instant of our life against the
distinction between mere pleasure and duty, between the useful and the
honest action, between the things that have a price and those that
have none, between actions which have a moral motive and those that
have only a utilitarian one. The utilitarians themselves, unable to
pass over the distinction, have tried to explain it away as a purely
quantitative one, defining morality as the utility of the greater
number or as the interest or egotism of the race; but it is clear that
these so-called quantitative distinctions are really qualitative ones:
the utility of the greater number is no longer individual utility or
immediate pleasure, the egotism of the race is no longer egotism, but
a value which transcends the individual. A further attempt in the same
direction consists in considering morality as born from the association
between certain acts which are means to a pleasure, and that pleasure
itself: a savage fights to defend his personal liberty or his life, a
civilized man, forgetting that the tribe, or the city, or the state,
are but means to preserve his life and his property, defends them for
themselves, and allows himself to be deprived of both his property and
his life for love of his country. But only through stupidity is it
possible to mistake the means for the end, and, therefore, this theory
actually reduces morality to what is practically irrational, a product
of confusion and illusion; that is, to the contrary of the practical
activity, which is, in its own sphere, rationality and wisdom. The mere
enunciation of this theory, if true, ought to produce the dissolution
of those false associations, and, therefore, the destruction of
morality; if morality subsists, this is due to its rational character,
which associationism has not succeeded in disproving. The last refuge
of utilitarianism is in theology and mystery: the utility of moral
actions is not of this world, but derived from the conception of
another world in which God punishes or rewards us for our conduct on
earth. But this kind of utilitarianism puts itself outside the field
of philosophy, by emptying the symbols of religion of their moral
content, which is their only logical justification.

The converse form of error, which consists in eliminating the economic
moment from the concept of practical activity, is criticised by Croce
as abstract moralism. The economic moment has been regarded as purely
technical, that is, as the theoretical moment that precedes action,
action itself being always and only ethical; but some sort of knowledge
precedes every action, and the distinction between the useful and
the good cannot be reduced to that between knowledge and will; we
can consider the useful as the means and the good as the end, only
by forgetting that there is as much difference between knowing the
useful and willing the useful, as between knowing the good and willing
the good. The useful has also been identified with the egotistic and
immoral; but the merely useful is amoral, and not immoral, in the same
sense in which the pure intuition is alogical, and not either logical
or illogical. The imagination of the poet cannot be submitted to the
logical judgment, any more than the immediate pleasure of the child,
or any action which precedes the awakening of the moral consciousness.
And besides, the useful is so far from being immoral, that there is no
moral action which is not also useful, as there is no logical truth
which can express itself except through language. Finally, the useful
has been defined as an inferior form of practical consciousness; but
what this definition actually accomplishes is to recognise, though
imperfectly, the true distinction, which is a relation of higher and
lower only in the metaphorical sense in which these adjectives can be
employed for the relation between the intuition and the concept.

Economics and ethics are the double grade of the practical activity:
it is possible to conceive of actions having no moral value, and yet
economically effective, but not of moral actions which should not
at the same time be useful, or economic. Morality lives concretely
in utility, as the universal in the individual, the eternal in the
contingent. But we can never sufficiently emphasize the true character
of the distinction, which, taken as a purely abstract and psychological
one, might justify the persistence of morally indifferent actions
within the moral consciousness. The moral consciousness, once it
is awakened, invests the whole life of the practical mind, as the
logical consciousness does for the theoretical mind, and it abolishes
that condition of innocence, in which the purely economic is not
yet subject to the moral judgment, in the same way as perception
and reflection destroy our naïve belief in the reality of purely
poetical imaginations. On the other hand, there are no actions which
are economically ally indifferent, or, as they are generally called,
disinterested; morality requires that the individual should transform
a universal interest into his individual one, make of morality itself
his personal utility, but it cannot ask for the abolition of all
interests, which would mean the abolition of morality as well. The
value of a moral action is in direct proportion with the passion
and fervour with which we identify our individual ends with ends
transcending our empirical individuality.

In the light of this distinction, the old oppositions of pleasure and
duty, of happiness and virtue, lose a good deal of their rigour and
sharpness. Pleasure as the positive economic activity or feeling can
never be in real contrast with duty as the positive moral activity:
a moral action brings with itself its own satisfaction or pleasure,
and if it brings pain also, either the good action was not entirely
good, not willed with all our heart, or it was accompanied by a new
practical problem, which has yet to be solved. Similarly, happiness is
not necessarily virtue, but there is no virtue which is not happiness;
the sorrows of the virtuous are not intrinsic to morality, being but
the limits of human activity, which the good share with the wicked.
We all can transform our limits into sorrows, by our restlessness
and unreasonableness; or, through resignation, our sorrows in limits
and conditions of activity. Asceticism, which regards pleasure and
happiness as essentially immoral, is the extreme form of moral
abstractism; by destroying the economic category, it deprives morality
of its reality and concreteness. It is, in fact, in the practical
sphere, the counterpart of mysticism in the theoretical, which makes
thought impossible by dissociating it from expression.

The recognition of the autonomy of the economic moment as one of the
fundamental forms of spiritual activity, and the study of its relations
with morality, appears to me as Croce's most important contribution to
modern thought. We have seen what light the problems of the ethical
will receive, when they are seen in their unity and distinction with
the facts of the economic, or individual, will. We shall see in the
next chapter what a vast field of human activity, comprising the
whole political life of mankind, reveals a new rationality, once it
is regarded as a legitimate product of the human mind, to be judged
according to its own standards and values, and not to standards and
values belonging to a different order of facts. Croce's discovery of
the will of the individual as the first grade, the elementary form of
the practical spirit, is analogous to Vico's discovery of the purely
intuitive activity as the first grade of knowledge; and it establishes
between economics and ethics, between politics and morality, the same
relation as between æsthetic and logical values. The æsthetically true
is the adequately expressive, as the economically good is the useful;
but in both cases, we can never repeat it sufficiently, once the
logical and the moral consciousness are awakened, neither the æsthetic
can be apprehended otherwise than as logically true or untrue, nor the
economic otherwise than as morally good or bad. The standards which
are illegitimate when applied to art as art, to politics as politics,
become rational again in the all pervading light of truth and morality.
The predecessors of Croce in this line of his speculation are, on
one side, the political writers who, from Aristotle to Machiavelli,
attempted to define the relations between politics and morality; on the
other side, the economists, who, by isolating a type of value, which
was not an æsthetic, intellectual, or ethical value, and which could
not be identified with the reverse of the ethical value, or egotism,
had prepared the ground for the establishment of a philosophy of
economics. As a matter of actual, historical derivation, it was from
his study of Marxism, from his meditations on contemporary economic
science, that Croce drew, as we saw in one of the first chapters of
this book, his conception of economic value as one of the universal

After what has been said of the general relationship between philosophy
and science, it will not be difficult to determine the place that
_economic science_ occupies in Croce's thought, in relation to his
_philosophy of economics_. Economics as a philosophical science
is that branch of philosophy, the object of which is the economic
activity in its universality, the determination of the concept of
volition or action as the volition or action of the individual, that
is, as the predicate of the economic judgment or judgment of utility.
The economic judgment, in its turn, is but a form of historical
judgment, and, therefore, the concrete form of the philosophy of
economics is economic history, the history of the spirit of man as it
realizes itself in the individual action or volition. Between that
philosophy and that history, there is no place, as we know, for any
intermediate form of knowledge, but only for the practical (empirical
or abstract) elaboration, of the economic datum. This is what the
science of economics actually is: an applied mathematical science,
founded on empirical concepts. The postulates and types of economic
science are among the most perfect examples of conscious fictions,
beginning with the fundamental one of the _homo œconomicus_: they
are empirical concepts by which the economic reality is simplified to
such an extent that it becomes possible to submit it to mathematical
calculation, and thereby to recognise promptly its necessary aspects
and consequences. Economic science partakes, therefore, of the rigour
and absoluteness of mathematics, which is obtained, as we know,
only by sacrificing the concreteness of its object. Its laws are
arbitrary and tautological, consisting, like all scientific laws, in
the definition of those characteristics of reality which have been
abstracted to form its postulates or empirical concepts; but it is
only through the acceptance of such definitions that it succeeds
in dominating, ordering, describing, and classifying the mass and
variety of economic facts and, most important of all, in treating them
quantitively. It has, in fact, the same structure as another science
with which it has been frequently compared, and which is here assumed
as typical of the proceedings of applied mathematics--mechanics. I
believe that very few economists would quarrel to-day with Croce's
characterization of economic science, since its mathematical character
is now universally recognised; but Croce proves conclusively that even
in its non-mathematical phases, economics has always been a purely
quantitative science. Volition and action are assumed in it in their
indistinction; and moral facts being volitions and actions as well as
the economic facts, they can also be included in the economic calculus,
because from a merely abstract point of view there is no way of
differentiating them from the latter.

Between the philosophy and the science of economics there is
neither agreement nor disagreement, but a total heterogeneity, and,
therefore, a reciprocal tolerance. It is only when one invades the
field, or adopts the methods, of the other, that conflict and error
arise. Economics as a science may then deny the legitimacy of the
philosophical study of the economic moment; or it may attribute a
universal value to its empirical concepts (as it has happened again
and again in the disputes between free-traders and protectionists, or
as it constantly happens when economic laws are referred to as endowed
with a character of absolute necessity); or, finally it may transform
its fictions into realities, attributing for instance to the concrete
human being, and to the exclusion of any other quality, the qualities
it has abstracted for the creation of its homo œconomicus. But, in
all such cases, though we may meet these errors among the economists,
they are not scientific errors but logical errors; or rather, they are
poor science only because they are bad philosophy. The true function of
the abstract economic schemes is that of an instrument in the hands of
the historical and sociological observer, who needs many other similar
instruments, if he wants to gain a concrete and direct knowledge of
actual historical and social conditions.

It is now time for us to return, from this discussion of the two
different elaborations of the economic datum, to a closer consideration
of the second form of the practical activity, or of the ethical
principle. In the same way as the empirical concepts of economic
science are insufficient to exhaust the infinite wealth of the economic
principle, no single action or group of single actions can define the
ethical principle, which is universal, and therefore merely formal. By
identifying the principle with a series, however vast, of particular
determinations, that is, by substituting a material ethics for a formal
one, we fall back inevitably into utilitarianism, since the volition of
a single object or class of objects is not a volition of the universal
but of the particular, not an ethical but an economic act. Even the
highest forms of moral ideals, such as benevolence, love, altruism,
humanitarianism, etc., once they are apprehended materially, and not
as mere verbal approximations to the formal ethical principle, acquire
a contingent and utilitarian character, and are apt to come in actual
conflict with the truly moral will. The same criticism applies, and
with greater force, to institutionalized ideals, such as the family,
the state, the social organism, the interest of the race, etc.;
none of them can be the object of the moral will without exceptions
and restrictions, that is, without losing in the act of the will
its institutional character, and appearing as one of the particular
conditions under which the particular moral volition takes place.
The religious principles themselves are subject to this reduction
from the ethical to the economic, when, as in the case of theological
utilitarianism, they are taken as empirical limitations, as particular
objects, of the ethical will. The material ethical principles are in
fact analogous to those material æsthetic principles which we have
criticised as rhetorical; they constitute a rhetoric of the virtues not
less deadly to the creative moral will than the rhetoric of the arts is
to the creative intuition.

The ethical principle must be formal, but not formalistic, and
therefore Croce is not satisfied with any of the so-called universal
laws or categorical imperatives, or with any of the many formulas
which attempt to define the moral actions through one constant
determination which ought to be present in each of them. Such formulas
are mere symbols or metaphors, and can be used as the equivalents of
the ethical principle, as some of the categories of material ethics
can be used; but their danger consists in giving the illusion of
possessing the true principle, while what we are given is an empty
and tautological one, which will again give way to purely empirical
determinations and therefore to utilitarianism. This empty formalism,
or absolute indetermination, of the ethical principle, corresponds to
two conceptions of philosophy, which Croce respectively calls partial
and discontinuous. According to the first, man may know a portion of
reality, but never reality as a whole; as regards morality, he may hear
the voice of his own conscience, but never grasp with his intellect
the content of the moral law. According to the second, he may know the
reason of morality, but not within the sphere of ethics, whose task
consists only in establishing the moral law and deducing the moral
precepts; the problem of the essence of morality belongs to another
science, metaphysics. The reader who has followed us to this point
knows that Croce's philosophy is neither partial nor discontinuous;
that he does not admit of any limits to human thought, nor of any
division in the body of philosophy. The whole of philosophy is already
included for him in the first philosophical proposition, and though it
may didactically be useful to divide the problems of philosophy in
groups, or even to deal separately with the particular philosophical
science on one hand, and with general philosophy or metaphysics on the
other, yet truth does not belong to the distinctions outside their
unity, to the parts outside the whole, to the segments outside the
circle. It is this totality and continuity of Croce's philosophy that
makes Croce's ethical principle a form, but not an empty one; a form
which is full in a philosophical and universal sense, which is at the
same time content, and universal as content not less than as form. He
has defined the ethical principle, not, tautologically, as a universal
form, but as the volition of the universal: a definition which is
at the same time the distinction of the ethical from the economical
form, or volition of the individual. We may here recall, to test once
more the coherence of Croce's thought, and to make this definition
clearer, his definition of the concept as knowledge of the universal;
by it the concept is distinguished from the intuition, or knowledge of
the individual, and the logical principle is seen as unidentifiable
either with an abstract logical form or with any particular system
of philosophy. The concept is real only in the infinite individual
determinations of actual thought, as the ethical principle in the
infinite concrete volitions of the human spirit sub specie universalis.

The universal which is the object of the ethical volition is not
something that we shall need to define at this point of our exposition,
since the whole of Croce's philosophy is nothing but a definition of
the universal. The universal is mind or the spirit; it is reality, as
unity of will and thought; it is life grasped in its depth as that
same unity; it is freedom, since a reality thus conceived is perpetual
development, creation, progress. Man, in willing the universal, turns
from his individuality to that which transcends it, to the spirit,
or reality, or life, or freedom, not as abstract ideals, but as they
realize themselves in his individual action. The volition of the
individual, of one's individual existence, is necessarily the first
step; there is no man, however deeply moral, who does not begin by
affirming his own individual life; without this affirmation, he would
never be able to transcend it and to deny it. But he who should limit
himself to this affirmation, and accept as a place of rest what is only
the beginning of his development, would find himself in contradiction
with his real, intimate self. He must will not only his individual
self, but that self also, which being the same in all selves is their
common Father. It is thus that he promotes the realization of reality,
lives the full life, and makes his heart beat with the heart of the
universe: _Cor cordium_. The moral individual is conscious that he
is working for the Whole. Every action which is in accord with the
ethical duty is in accord with Life, and would be contrary to duty and
immoral, if instead of promoting life, it should depress and mortify
it. The most humble moral action resolves itself into this volition
of the spirit in its universality. The soul of a simple and ignorant
man wholly devoted to his modest duty is in perfect unison with that of
the philosopher whose mind receives within itself the universal spirit.
What one does, the other thinks; and both reach by different roads
their full satisfaction in an act of life, in a fecund embrace with

It is in pages like the ones from which we have extracted this
enthusiastic definition of morality, that the true quality of Croce's
philosophy is best perceived. But what is here affirmed as a principle
lives as an ever present spirit in innumerable able discussions of
particular moral problems in his _Filosofia della Pratica_, in his
moral essays, in his literary criticism (there is no living literary
critic who has a keener perception of moral values than this implacable
enemy of moralism), in the whole of his work. It is this moral
enthusiasm, together with his capacity to see clear and deep, his
catholic tolerance for all forms of beauty and truth and goodness,
however distant from his tastes and inclinations, and his courageous,
outspoken intolerance for all hypocrisies, compromises, half-truths,
wilful errors, that has given Croce, in the last twenty years, in
Italy, a right to moral as well as intellectual leadership. He is the
true heir of an infinitely complex moral tradition, and placed high
enough to do justice to all its elements, though apparently contrasting
with each other. But when recognizing the symbolical and practical
value of the various positive ethical systems that appear to him as
gradual approximations to the full concreteness and universality of the
ethical principle, he emphasizes the connection of his own ethics with
one of those elements in preference to every other, with the religious
and Christian element, for which morality is already what it is for
the philosopher, the love and will of the universal spirit. There is
no truth of ethics which for him cannot be expressed in the words that
we have learned as children from our traditional religion. Between the
religious man and the philosopher, between religion and philosophy,
there is no enmity, but continuity and development; in the affirmation
of the ethical principle, which is the crucial test of every philosophy
as of every religion, the substantial identity of religion and
philosophy is finally established.

[Footnote 1: _See Filosofia della Pratica_, part ii, "L'attività
pratica nelle tue forme speciali," pp. 211-319.]


Economic society as an empirical concept--The philosophical concept
of society--Sociology, philosophy of law and political science--The
definition of law--Laws and customs--The laws, the natural laws and the
practical principles--Mutability of the laws: the _jus naturale_--The
function of the laws--Legalism: the Jesuit and the Puritan--The
legislative activity as a generically economic activity--The juridical
activity--Law and language.

One of the fundamental empirical concepts of the science of economics
is that of economic society, which is formed by abstracting certain
classes of economic relationships from the mass of relationships of
all kinds among which the life of the individual realizes itself. Any
treatise of economics can be considered as a definition of economic
society; and we know how those definitions are apt to vary according
to the choice of the groups of facts studied, and the method employed,
by different schools of economists. The economic society of the
Marxian is not the economic society of the classical economist; the
Catholic economist, differing from both, will include in his treatment
the consideration of certain ethical relations which give a greater
complexity to his scheme. It would be possible to study the economics
of the individual in perfect isolation from all other human beings,
limiting the elements of this particular form of society to one man,
and that portion of nature from which he draws his food, his clothing,
his shelter; on the other hand, the whole of mankind and the whole of
nature may enter into a single, all-including, economic body. We may
even study animal species, in their relations within themselves, or
with man, or with other animal species, or with nature at large, from
an economic standpoint (symbiosis and parasitism are facts bearing a
close resemblance with human economy)--and thus form an infinite number
of new economic societies. Each of these empirical concepts can be
varied _ad infinitum_, by the mere inclusion or exclusion of certain
classes of relationships.

The empirical, non-rigorous character of the concept of economic
society is self-evident; and it can therefore be usefully employed to
prove by analogy the similar character of the concept of society as
manufactured by jurists, sociologists, and political scientists. It
is against such fictions that philosophy reacts by building a concept
of the isolated individual, that is, of the individual isolated from
the particular classes of relationships which enter into the formation
of particular empirical concepts of society; but it does this only to
plunge the individual again in the midst of that infinite multiplicity,
which is one aspect, and an essential one, of reality, Society as a
philosophical concept cannot be identified with any form of economic
or political society; of such, as mere abstractions, no philosophical
treatment is possible. Society is that real multiplicity, without which
we should have neither knowledge nor action, neither art nor thought,
neither utility nor morality; and from society in this sense, the
individual cannot be isolated, without reducing him, in his turn, to a
merely abstract concept.

The sociologist, the jurist, the political scientist use their
concepts of society for their purposes, which are, in the sense which
is now familiar to our reader, scientific purposes. But very often
they lose sight of the character of these concepts, and treat these
instruments of classification and description as substitutes for
the actual reality which they are, by reason of their abstractness,
utterly unable to reproduce. The sociologist talks of the collective
mind, and of collective representations, as if they had a reality
outside the thought and action of the individual; the jurist builds a
philosophy of law, in which society is opposed to the individual as
a being to another being, and law, as a product of society, at every
point transcends the individual will. The political scientist deals
with the community, or the association, or the State, as with concepts
of which it were possible to give a philosophical definition, valid
for all times, and from which the rules of perfect government could be
rigorously deduced. Of these types of philosophical degenerations of
legitimate scientific thought, it can be roughly said that, because of
the peculiar cultural development of the various nations of Europe, the
first belongs more particularly to England and France, the second to
Italy and Germany; though they are all more or less common in European
culture as a whole. As an Italian, Croce was particularly interested in
the second, the philosophical degeneration of juridical thought, and
therefore his particular treatment of the economic facts underlying
the problems of political society naturally took the shape of an
inquiry into the nature of law. But it ought not to be difficult for
the English or American reader, for whom these problems are not part
of a practically inexistent philosophy of law, but of a long tradition
of political science and theory of government, to translate Croce's
thought into terms of his own cultural experience.

A law is an act of will, whose content is a series or class of actions.
This definition excludes from the concept of law any empirical
social determination; it includes within it all laws which are
merely individual, the laws that the individual lays down to and for
himself, the rules of conduct and programs of life and action, which
the individual follows of his own accord. It may be objected that
individual laws differ from social and political laws, because the
latter are coercive and constrictive, while the former are not. There
is no law, however, that is truly coercive; the individual is always
free either to observe or not to observe the law. What a law does is to
offer a choice or alternative, and this is as true of individual as of
social laws. We may disregard our own rules of conduct or programs of
action, and suffer from doing so, and inflict a punishment on ourselves
for having done so; or we may alter our individual laws as social laws
are altered when they no longer respond to the need of a community,
and are either violently overthrown by rebellion or quietly allowed to
fall into desuetude through non-observance, or modified by the proper
organs of legislation. But the importance of the concept of individual
laws lies in the fact that the so-called social laws have no reality
outside the individual: in order to observe a law it is necessary to
make it one's own, and to rebel against a law is to expel it from one's
personality, of which it was, or tried to become, a part. The only real
laws are, therefore, individual laws.

If the criterion of sanction or coercion is insufficient to draw a
distinction between individual and social laws, we can still less
use it to divide the social laws into customs or unwritten laws, and
political and juridical laws. Both customs and laws carry with them
sanctions, though of a different order, or, to put it in more precise
terms, both offer a choice between probable consequences to the free
individual will. This distinction, like every other subdivision of the
laws (civil, penal, national, international, laws and by-laws, etc.),
is a purely empirical one. But the concept of law comprehends these and
many more in which the jurists have no interest, such as the literary
or artistic laws (that a tragedy should have five acts, or, as at one
time in England, that a novel should fill three volumes), or the rules
of religious life, or the precepts of chivalry, down to the statutes
of a criminal gang and to Balzac's _droit parisien_. In fact, the
empirical distinctions of the laws are coextensive with the empirical
concepts of society, and partake of the same characteristics: to the
preceding examples of laws correspond respectively the republic of
letters, a monastery, the order of knighthood, a band of robbers, and
_le beau monde_. But the only reality, both of the society and of the
law, is the individual assent.

The laws have one point in common with the so-called natural laws;
both are concerned with empirical concepts, or classes. But while the
natural laws are mere indicative statements of fact, the laws can
always be translated from the indicative to the imperative; that is,
they contain a volitive element which is absent from the natural laws.
The volitive element is present, on the other hand, in the practical
principles which have some time received the names of moral or economic
laws, and which can be converted into such imperatives as Will the
universal, or, in particular, Will the good, the useful, the true, the
beautiful. But these principles are concerned with the universal, that
is, with the spirit of man in the necessary forms of its activity, not
with a particular product of the spirit, a class or type of actions, as
do laws in the strict meaning of the word. This distinction between the
practical principles and the laws opens the way to the recognition of a
very important character of the laws: while the practical principles,
because of their universality, have no limits and no exceptions
(and we have already seen that a morally indifferent action is a
contradiction in terms), the laws can never exhaust the universal, and
therefore will always leave outside themselves a margin of actions,
not included in any of the classes to which they refer, and therefore
legally indifferent. In more technical language, we may express the
same idea by saying that all laws, whether imperative or prohibitive
or permissive (a law, according to the ancient formula, _aut iubet aut
vetat aut permittit_), can be reduced to permissive laws: an order is
always at the same time a prohibition, and both orders and prohibitions
implicitly permit all actions which are not contemplated by the law.

Moreover, while the practical principles are immutable, always capable
of giving form to the most varied historical material, the laws are in
perpetual flux and change. The particular modes of change, whether by
evolution or revolution, do not concern the philosopher, for whom all
can be reduced to a angle one: the free will producing a new law under
new conditions. Against the perpetual mutability of the laws, due to
the contingent and historical character of their content, clashes the
concept of an Eternal Code, or Law of Nature (_jus naturale_), which
presumes to determine the content and form of the laws, according to
abstract reason, once and forever. This conception is due to an error
with which we are now familiar, consisting in the transformation of
empirical concepts into principals of universal validity. But from
this particular error, as from all errors, we must distinguish certain
elements of actual and concrete thought which have been historically
associated with it. In the attempts to establish a Law of Nature, we
shall then recognise either new concrete legislative programs, the
new laws appearing as natural and rational by contrast with the old
ones, or an attempt to deduce from, and through, juridical concepts,
the principles of a philosophy of the practical. The principle of
nationality, fighting for realization against the old dynastic law,
appears to its defenders as a typical natural right; and Rousseau,
when deducing the principles of the _jus naturale_, warns us that
he is not dealing with historical truths, but with hypothetical and
conventional reasonings, that is, with principles which transcend every
particular determination and have not a positive, but an ideal value.
We no longer speak of a Law of Nature, but the error which gave rise
to that conception is still vigorous in current social and political
discussions; every attempt to change legal conditions is always
advocated or resisted by an appeal either to natural rights, which are
but arbitrary rationalizations of historical contingencies, or to
abstract reasons, principles, or ideas, of which the particular laws
or institutions are assumed to be the final and necessary expression.
But rationality, morality, and naturality, in the sense in which
these qualities are predicated of one or another type of laws and
institutions, do not belong to any particular historical determination
more than to another; they belong only to the spirit of man and to the
concrete values that it realizes among the ever-changing conditions of

A law, being a volition of a class of actions, and therefore of an
abstraction, is in itself an abstract or unreal volition. What we
actually will is not the law, but the single, individual action
under the law: the reality of the law is only in its execution. In
the individual execution, however, what realizes itself is not the
law, but the practical principle, economic or ethic, of which both
the observance and the non-observance of the law are particular
determinations; the individual practical problems can never be foreseen
seen by the law, which is by its nature general and abstract. What is
then, it may be asked, the use of the laws? Croce's answer is that the
laws are helps to the real volition, in the same way as the empirical
and abstract concepts, though not real knowledge themselves, are helps
to knowledge. In order to determine ourselves to the single action,
it is useful to begin by fixing our attention to the class of which
that single is an element; in order to know either the individual,
or the universal, it is useful to create, between the universal and
the individual, classes and types, general concepts, or, as Croce
calls them, relatively constant variables, through which the process
of actual knowledge is made easier and quicker. We cannot think the
pseudo-concepts, but they help us to think; we cannot will the laws,
but they help us to will. The concept of law is akin to that of plan
or design; in practice, a plan or design, and its execution, are one
and the same thing, as we act by constantly changing our design,
because reality, which is the foundation of our action, is in perpetual
change. But this unreality of the plan, as distinct from the concrete
individual action, does not deprive the plan itself of its practical
uses, which are universally recognized, and which are identical with
the uses of law.

When we identify the empirical laws with the universal practical
principles, economic or ethic, we fall into "legalism," which can be
defined as the belief that universal principles can be definitely
embodied in a limited number of laws, and that, on the other hand,
these laws partake of the character of absoluteness which belongs to
those principles. It is especially in the treatment of ethics that
this confusion has caused its worst effects. The two outstanding types
of legalists are the Jesuit, who admits of the morally indifferent,
the justification through the intention, the pious fraud, and other
practical means for the purely literal observance of the law, supposed
to be a sufficient satisfaction of the moral obligation, and the
Puritan, who maintains that the unchangeable letter of the law is the
only, and always certain, guide of the moral consciousness. Both Jesuit
and Puritan, or to give them the names they assumed in a historical
controversy, both Molinist and Jansenist, have often been in practice
much better than their theories; but we are here interested only in
their theoretical pronouncements, which, though apparently contrasting,
yet combine in substituting the letter for the spirit, and in drying
up, in the name of morality, the living springs of moral activity.
And in both cases, moral legalism is associated with theological
utilitarianism; it is, in fact, but another aspect of the same error.

The will that wills classes of actions, the legislative activity, is
either moral or merely economic, and can therefore be judged as either
moral or immoral, economic or anti-economic. But as the laws are will
in the abstract, our judgment of the laws will also be an abstract
judgment. To pronounce a concrete judgment, we must turn to the moment
of the execution of the law, to the individual practical action, in
which the law realizes itself. In this sphere, it is vain to dispute
whether a law is essentially economic or moral: the economic or moral
character of the law is not determined by the abstract intention of the
legislator, but by the manner of its execution, by the quality of the
individual executor. The punishment which a law assigns for a category
of crimes may be intended by the legislator either to deter or to
emend the criminal; but in the man who abstains from that particular
kind of crime, the law is an economic one if the abstention is entirely
due to the fear of the punishment, it is a moral one if it coincides
with a sincere abhorrence of the crime. No law, therefore, can be said
to be intrinsically moral, and if we want to define the legislative
activity in its full extension, we must define it as generically
practical or merely economic.

The same definition obviously applies to the will that executes the
law, as distinct from the will that formulates it: the juridical
activity, as Croce names it, is also generically practical or
merely economic, and as such united to and distinct from the moral
activity. As the juridical activity, however, does not partake
of the abstractness of the legislative, but is as concrete and
determined as the economic activity, there is actually no possibility
of distinguishing the one from the other; the juridical activity
is therefore identical with the economic activity. This is Croce's
original solution of the fundamental problem of the philosophy of
law; a solution which is closely connected with his recognition of a
utilitarian practical category, distinct from but not opposed to the
moral category, and with his reduction of all laws to individual laws.
The reader must recall what has been said elsewhere of the relations
between economic and moral values; and he will then understand in what
sense it can be said that Croce's theory of law is an answer to the
secular disputes on the relations between law and morality, between
positive and ideal law, historical law and the Law of Nature. And he
will also be able to perceive the difference between the reduction of
the juridical to the mere economic activity, which, as we know, is
also the form through which only morality realizes itself, and the
theories of law as the pure embodiment of force and of the positive,
established right as the only conceivable right, which are nothing but
the counterpart of moral utilitarianism in the field of law. Croce's
theory of law is, as all the rest of his philosophy is, a purely formal
doctrine; not intended to defend one type of laws and institutions
against any other, but attempting to furnish a conception of law, as an
individual, perpetually new activity of the spirit of man, of which all
laws and institutions, all phases and tendencies of political history,
appear as concrete historical manifestations.

The philosophy of law has often had recourse to the philosophy of
language for analogies by which its own problems could be clarified. A
doctrinaire view of the juridical and political problem, for which the
origin of law and society is to be found in an abstract convention,
and which therefore tends to build up, by new conventions, a model
legislation, or an Eternal Code, shows its real nature when related to
the corresponding conception of language as a collection of signs, a
purely symbolical organism, which can be so perfected by reason as to
become an absolute, universal language, embodying in its signs every
conceivable type of logical operations: a universal language, which
should also be a universal symbolic logic. Sharply opposed to the
doctrinaire, the traditionalist views certain types of positive laws
and institutions as endowed with a character of necessity which puts
them above the reach of the individual judgment of man; and as he fails
to discover the ever present creative activity, by which man constructs
his juridical and political world, he also withdraws from the human
spirit the power to create its own language, and makes of words a
divine institution. Equally remote from the sociological as from the
theological concept, which are the extreme theoretical forms of popular
errors, Croce establishes between law and language an analogy by which
both manifest their intrinsic creative and human character. The reality
of law is the individual juridical or economic activity, as the reality
of language is the concrete intuitive activity. Law is the will of the
individual, as language is the knowledge of the individual. Grammars
and dictionaries are the codes of language, mere abstractions from the
actual living flux of the creative expression, as the written laws and
codes are but the grammars of law, mere abstractions from the actual
living flux of political history. Language is not logic, and yet the
logical thought cannot realize itself except through language; law
is not morality, and yet the ethical activity cannot live except by
incorporating itself in laws and institutions, and in the execution of
laws, the concrete, individual life of institutions, that is, in the
juridical and economic activity.

Thus, the end of this exposition of Croce's system, the doctrine of
language with which the system opens links itself intimately with this
doctrine of law, with which it closes. And both as regards language
and as regards law, the last word is, of necessity, a new implicit
affirmation of the identity of the philosophical with the historical
method. The true history of a language is not a history of abstract
grammatical schemes, but the history of the poetry and literature
in which that language has realized itself, a history of individual
expressions; the true history of law is one with the social and
political history of a people, which is, and cannot be but the history
of its practical activity in its effective, individual realization,
that is, juridical and economic history.

[Footnote 1: See _Filosofia della Pratica_, part iii, "Le Leggi," pp.



A retrospective view of the system--Germs of development--The return to
history--Croce's attitude during the war--Essays on the great poets.

To the reader of the three volumes of the _Filosofia dello Spirito_,
which were published before 1910, the whole of Croce's thought appeared
as a solidly constructed system, in which the four grades or forms
of spiritual activity were studied in their intrinsic essence, and
presented in their relations as completing the cycle of living reality,
in contrast with that reality which the mind postulates outside its
living self, and which the system reduces to a complex practical
product of the mind, a collection of material helps subservient to the
essential forms of its activity. Knowledge and action, reciprocally
implicated, are the substance of reality; and both knowledge and
action, rising, the first, from the intuition to the concept, the
second, from the economic to the ethical will, attain the universal,
all-including values which we express by the words Beautiful, True,
Useful and Good, but only and in so far as they realize themselves
in the concrete and individual. A universal more universal than that
which is present in the individual act is inexistent, or exists only
as an impotent abstraction renouncing the concreteness and reality of
the individual, and therefore also that true universality which has
no being outside this action, this thought, this life. The soul of
the system, slowly extricating itself from the traces of naturalism
or intellectualism, which are still visible in the _Estetica_, is the
logic of the pure concept, which resolves in the concrete universal the
dualisms of nature and spirit, of fact and value, of life and thought,
and, finally, of history and philosophy. But while this logic can be
seen at work in all the parts of the system, and is, in fact, the form
towards which all Croce's thoughts seem to have constantly tended from
the time of his earliest philosophical essays, yet, to an attentive
eye, it is possible to discover the successive stages by which it
actually incorporated itself in the system. In particular, we have been
able to point to the effects of the later meditations on the philosophy
of will, on one side, on a more intimate understanding of the pure
intuition as the lyrical intuition, on the other, on the identification
of the definition with the individual judgment, and thereby on the
relations between history and philosophy. On the whole it can be said
that two apparently contrasting directions were at work within the
system itself: one reflecting Croce's mental need for clear and fine
distinctions, the other, that deep consciousness of the unity of the
real, without which all distinctions tend to solidify themselves into
dead abstractions.

If we imagine two students of Croce's philosophy, endowed with
antagonistic philosophical temperaments, the one a dialectician,
the other a mystic, we can easily conceive them as the founders of
two diametrically opposed schools of thought. The first would have
emphasized the rigorous distinctions, the formal character, the
intellectual precision of the system; he might have retained the
identification of philosophy and history, but to him these words would
have stood only for the names of two formal disciplines, and not for
the concrete life of the human spirit which is present in them. The
second would have passed lightly over the distinctions, and probably
considered them as partaking of the same unreality which belongs to
scientific or legal abstractions; and by obliterating the logical
processes without which the mind of man is unable to grasp and to
express itself, he would have taken refuge in an ineffable, though
not necessarily silent, contemplation of the underlying unity. This
hypothesis is not a criticism of Croce's philosophy; it is merely the
indication of the fact that, when the system appeared as completed,
new problems, and therefore new errors or new truths, were bound to
grow out of the elements of the system itself. And nobody was more
conscious of this fact than Croce himself, who concluded his volume on
the _Filosofia della Pratica_ by expressly warning his readers of the
inexhaustibility of thought, which is one with the infinity of reality
and of life. No philosophical system is final, because life itself
has no end. Every system of philosophy, being conditioned by life,
can do no more than solve a group of problems historically given, and
prepare the conditions for new problems and new systems. Of his own
work in relation to his readers, he conceived as of nothing more than
an instrument of work.

In these last few chapters we shall see Croce himself at work on
the new problems generated by his own system, trying "more rigidly
to eliminate the last remnants of naturalism, and to put a stronger
accent on the spiritual unity,"[1] yet constantly defending his
conception of the spirit as the unity of distinctions, especially
against the mystical tendencies of the new actual idealism. While
never, in the course of his whole life, has he limited his activity to
mere systematic thinking, during the last eleven years he has shown
a more marked tendency to return from a philosophy, which is all a
meditation of the formal problems of history, to those concrete works
of history, by which he was started on his philosophical career; to
return to them, however, with a mind in which the original uncertainty
and obscurity has given place to a definite consciousness of the nature
and purpose of history. The passage from the more philosophical to the
more historical stage is marked by the publication of a fourth volume
of the _Filosofia dello Spirito_, in which, under the title of _Teoria
e Storia della Storiografia_, he collected a number of essays written
between 1912 and 1913, containing an elaboration of the theory of
history already expounded in the _Logica_. This volume does not form
a new part of the system, but rather the natural conclusion of the
whole work, since the problem which it discusses is the one towards
which tended all his former inquiries into the forms of the spirit,
into their concrete life which is development and history, and the
consciousness of which is historical thought. But before proceeding to
analyze this final form of Croce's theory of history, we shall give a
rapid account of the rest of his intellectual activity from 1910 onward.

As during the preceding eight years, the _Critica_ continues to this
day to be the main organ of Croce's work and influence, and in the
Critica the greatest part of his writings are still published for
the first time. The general features of the Critica have remained
practically unchanged, except that his series of essays on the Italian
literature of the last fifty years (which he collected in 1914-15 in
the four volumes of _La Letteratura della Nuova Italia_) has been
followed by studies on Italian historiography from the beginning of the
nineteenth century to our day (since 1914), by essays on some of the
greatest European poets (since 1917), by notes on modern Italian and
foreign literature (since 1917), and by the Frammenti di Etica (since
1913), containing discussions of particular problems of contemporary
morality. But practically all the reviews and essays published in
the Critica and elsewhere are now being collected in the edition of
his complete works, of which a full list will be found at the end of
this volume. In 1912, for the inauguration of the Rice Institute in
Houston, Texas, he wrote his _Breviario di Estetica_, which we have
partly utilized in our exposition of his æsthetic doctrine, and which
he reprinted in 1920 in his _Nuovi Saggi di Estetica_, which also
contains his most significant philosophical essays of the last four or
five years. His _Contributo alla critica di me stesso_ ("Contribution
to the Criticism of Myself") was written in April, 1915, on the eve of
Italy's entrance into the war, and is the best essay in existence on
the development of his thought.

Of Croce's attitude during the war we shall say but a few words. He
was one of the very few European philosophers or scholars who did not
transform themselves into improvised statesmen, or into passionate
defenders of national prejudices and proclaimers of national hatreds.
Differing from the Germanized philologist, who was the type prevailing
in most universities before the war, in that he had not waited for
the war to become aware of the many weaknesses and imperfections
of modern German culture, while on the other hand he had lived for
years in true and intimate contact with the great spirits of German
Romanticism, he resisted with all his power the universal tendency of
the time to make of the contingent issues of the war a criterion of
intellectual truth and of scientific conduct. At the same time, his
temper and education reacted violently against the false ideologies of
the war, the superstructure of verbal ideals with which on all sides
cunning statesmen and naïve philosophers attempted to veil the true
nature of the conflict. Against these, he reasserted his conception
of the political life and struggles of states as manifestations of
the economic, amoral or pre-moral, activity, and of life itself as a
perpetual struggle, finding its reason and its rest in the struggle
itself. The theory of the state as justice appeared to him merely as
a theoretical error, the fortune of which lay in the opportunity it
afforded to give a convenient mask of morality to particular interests,
either of individuals or of states. The intrinsic morality of the
war he conceived as resting on its tragic reality, as reflected in
a severely historical thought, to which it appears as a moment of
that historical fate which crushes and destroys states as well as
individuals, to create from their ruins always new forms of life.

It is needless to say that for a time at least Croce shared with
Bertrand Russell and with Romain Rolland, two thinkers in many respects
very distant from him, and yet as impervious as he was to the rhetoric
of the war, the privilege of a vast unpopularity. Looking back now on
his writings which were later collected in the volume _Pagine sulla
guerra_, it is possible to discover among them many attitudes which
were justified and useful only as a reaction against the current
fallacies of the time; and also to realize that the man who speaks to
us through them is not always and only a pure philosopher, but a man
with a given complex of moral and political tastes and passions. But
this is, in a way, as it should be; in the same way, between Croce the
philosopher of æsthetics and Croce the critic of poetry, there is a
difference which is inherent in the nature of the two different forms
of intellectual activity; the philosopher is a man of understanding,
the critic a man of tastes and passions. In both cases, his ideal
has always been to make the critic or the moralist worthy of the
philosopher, his particular comprehension of history adequate to his
concept of the universal. To say that the equation is never perfect,
is only another way of saying that every particular historical problem
continually raises new problems of thought, and that Croce's thought
finds therefore in itself the motives of its own development, the
springs of its own life. Where passion and reason ultimately coincide,
the roots of the development are taken away, and death takes the place
of life.

Yet, notwithstanding these limitations, I know of no man whose thought
on the war is on the whole more acceptable to those among us who lived
through the war not as spectators, looking on it as on a vast moral
abstraction, but as humble actors, in the midst of its human reality. A
sense of collaboration between one side and the other, of being, here
as there, employed in a common task, whose meaning was much deeper
than any that had been offered to us by the national rhetoricians,--a
collaboration which happened to take the aspect of a struggle, and
imposed duties antagonistic, but of the same nature--was probably the
most usual frame of mind among the soldiers who could think; and it
existed, subconsciously, even among the unthinking ones, provided that
their duties were of a definite, concrete kind, touched them in the
deepest chords of their beings, involved the fundamental issues of life
and death. To the man who consciously faces death, there is no comfort
in wilful error; only this realization of an end that transcends all
particular ideals, because it is the end of life itself, can be worthy
of that price. You cannot willingly die for fourteen points any more
than for one point, but death which is loathsome in the drama of mere
circumstance, however adorned with brilliant rhetoric, is no longer
death but an act of life in the tragedy in which the hero is conscious
of his fate. There was no war, probably, that was ever more full than
the last one of what might be called the material of tragedy; but what
have the official celebrators done with it, they who have not feared
to desecrate, in all our countries, one at least of the concrete,
individual tragedies, in order to make of it an empty symbol, to
transform an unknown hero into abstract heroism? In some of Croce's
pages, there is a more concrete realization of the ideal tragedy of
the war than in any poem or oration that I have seen to this day.

The last years of the war found Croce at work on some of the greatest
poetical spirits of modern Europe, Ariosto, Goethe, Corneille,
Shakespeare, bringing to the understanding of their work, to this task
of concrete history, the deep consciousness of the nature of poetry,
and of the relations of poetry with life, acquired in twenty years of
philosophical meditations. Even his functions as Minister of Public
Education during the last two years did not distract him entirely from
his studies, and this year of the sixth centenary of Dante's death
was celebrated by him with the publication of _La Poesia di Dante_,
which will certainly remain as the most lasting monument raised to the
memory of the poet on this occasion. This troubled peace cannot make
him deviate from the path of his appointed labour any more than the war
could; in peace as in war, his duty is his daily task, here and to-day,
and his confidence in the morality and usefulness of that work which is
his work is as little shaken by the prophets of despair in peace, as
it was by the messiahs of the promised land who were so loud above the
turmoil of war. He is probably now noting with a smile that the same
men who talked of the war to end all wars, are now very busy preventing
our civilization from dying away; that is, building a peace in the
abstract, with programs and words, as they fought a war which was not
the war, but a phantasm of their imagination.

[Footnote 1: _Contributo_, p. 74.]


Two meanings of the word history--History as contemporary history--
History and chronicle--The spirit as history--Philology, and
philological history--Poetical and rhetorical history--Universal
history--The universality of history: history and philosophy--The
unity of thought--Philosophy as methodology--The positivity of
history--The humanity of history--Distinctions and divisions--The
history of nature.

There are two meanings to the word history, in English as well as in
other European languages; on one hand it denotes the actual doing, the
immediacy of life, on the other, the thinking that seems to follow
the doing, the consciousness of life. In a rough, approximate way, we
speak of men who make history, and of other men who think or write
history--though we are all perfectly aware of the fact that we cannot
make history without first thinking history, that the action, in other
words, follows a judgment of the situation, which is an elementary form
of historical thought, and is accompanied by its own consciousness,
which is its immediate history. In this sense, the action cannot be
materially severed from its history: the distinction between the two
is a purely formal and ideal one. And again, the thinking of history,
in the second meaning of the word, consists in making present to our
spirit, in re-living, an action or group of actions, which thus
become as actual an experience as any practical doing, a fragment
of our own life, and, ultimately, the consciousness of our own
individual experience. Thus the two meanings which stand out as sharply
contrasting when we objectify and solidify them, as an external,
chronological series of happenings, and as a formal discipline
attempting to give, in innumerable books, a description and as it were
a verbal duplicate of that series, once we examine them in the light
of our consciousness, reveal themselves merely as different aspects or
moments of the same spiritual process.

Croce's latest writings on history may be puzzling to the average
reader because this ambiguity cannot be overcome by him unless he is
willing to penetrate to the heart of Croce's doctrine, in which the
word history acquires a more pregnant and fundamental meaning. In
many of us there is a tendency to balk at any attempt at filling old
words with deeper and more precise connotations; but philosophy is
not a matter of words. A new thought will in any case alter the whole
physiognomy of our vocabulary, and to stand up for the old meanings
is as much as to refuse to think, or rather, to refuse to live. For
history as a formal discipline, for the actual writing of history,
Croce uses the word Historiography; but in his _Teoria e Storia
della Storiografia_ (Theory and History of the writing of History),
history still means both the doing and the thinking, life and the
consciousness of life, though not in the abstract distinction in which
these meanings are generally apprehended. In Croce the distinction is
also unity, and there is no doing which is not also a thinking, no life
which is not also the consciousness of life, no consciousness which is
not also the consciousness of itself. The ambiguity, some traces of
which could still be seen in the _Logica_, entirely disappears in this
fourth volume of the system, at least for the reader who has followed
the whole development of Croce's thought.

We call contemporary history the history that is being made, rather
loosely including in it a more or less extended stretch of time up
to the actual present. But contemporary history rigorously ought
to be only history in the actual making, the immediate present and
the consciousness of the immediate present. All history, however,
is contemporary history in this rigorous and precise sense; it is a
condition of all history that it should live, be present in the mind
of the historian; all history springs directly from present life,
since only an interest of our present life can induce us to inquire
into the past, which, by being made history, is no longer a past but
a present. If, Croce says, "contemporaneity is not the characteristic
of one class of histories (as it is held to be, and with good reasons,
in an empirical classification), but the intrinsic character of all
history, the relation between history and life must be conceived of
as a relation of unity: not certainly in the sense of an abstract
identity, but in that of a synthetic unity, which implies both the
unity and the distinction of the terms. To speak of a history, of
which we do not possess the documents, will then seem as absurd as
to speak of the existence of a certain thing, of which we should at
the same time affirm that one of the essential conditions for its
existence is lacking. A history without relation with the document
would be an inverifiable history; and since the reality of history
lies in this verifiability, and the historical narrative in which it
realizes itself is an historical narrative only in so far as it is the
critical exposition of the document, a history of that kind, without
meaning and without truth, would be inexistent as history. How could
ever a history of painting be composed by a man who should not see and
enjoy the works of which he intends to describe critically the origin
and development? How, a history of philosophy, without the works, or
at least the fragments of the works of the philosophers? How, the
history of a feeling or a custom, for instance, of Christian humility
or of chivalresque honour, without the capacity to re-live, or rather,
without actually re-living those particular states of mind? On the
other hand, having established the indissoluble connection of life
and thought in history, the doubts that have been advanced about the
certainty and utility of history suddenly and totally disappear, and
it becomes almost impossible to understand them. How could that ever
be uncertain, which is a present product of our spirit? How could a
knowledge be useless, which solves a problem rising from the womb of

If history is thus regarded not as an object but as an activity, not as
the irrevocable past but as the living present, the difference between
history and chronicle, which is one of the puzzles of historical
thought, becomes an important and significant distinction. We are used
to think that the original form of historical writing is the chronicle,
and history a later and maturer development. Now if history is the
consciousness of a present, it follows that history is contemporary
with the event; that, therefore, the most meagre chronicle, in the mind
of its writer, moved by the actuality of the facts which he records,
is already a history in the full sense of the word. And the records of
the past, whether appearing to us, from a literary point of view, as
mere chronicles or as true histories, become history again whenever
they are apprehended by a new mind as an answer to a present problem,
partaking of the activity of the mind that thinks them anew. The same
records, on the other hand, are a mere chronicle, an empty narrative,
a truly irrevocable past, whenever they are not re-lived by a living
mind, either because they do not correspond to any interest of present
life, or because the essential conditions for the recreation of that
past, the documents which enable us to revive within ourselves the
original experience, are irrevocably lost. The true distinction between
history and chronicle is not, therefore, a literary or material one,
but a distinction between forms of spiritual activity: history is the
living consciousness, and, therefore, an act of thought or knowledge;
chronicle is the dead record, which we preserve by a mere act of will,
because we know that some day the dead record itself may come back to
life, transform itself again, under an impulse rooted not in the past
but in the present, into a living thought.

"These revivals have purely inward motives; and no amount of narratives
or documents can produce them; on the contrary, it is the inner motive
that gathers and brings before itself documents and narratives,
which, without it, would remain dispersed and inert. And it will be
for ever impossible to understand the effectual process of historical
thought, unless one starts from the principle that the spirit itself
is history, and, in every one of its moments, the maker of history
and at the same time the result of all foregoing history; so that the
spirit carries within itself the whole of its history, which in fact
coincides with the spirit itself. To forget one aspect of history
and to remember another is nothing but the rhythm of the life of the
spirit, which works by determining and individualizing itself, and by
in-determining and dis-individualizing the preceding determinations
and individualizations, in order to create new and richer ones. The
spirit would live over again, so to speak, its history, even without
those external objects which we call narratives and documents; but
those external objects are instruments that it fashions for itself, and
preparatory acts that it accomplishes, in order to effect that vital
interior evocation, in whose process they resolve themselves. And for
this purpose the spirit asserts and jealously preserves the 'memories
of the past.'"[2]

This practical function of the preservation of the dead documents
and records is the work of the pure scholar, of the erudite, the
archivist, the archæologist, or what might be termed philology in the
strict sense of the word. And it is a legitimate and useful function,
provided that it does not pretend to be other than it actually is, and
to substitute itself for the true process of history, by attempting to
make history with the external objects that have been confided to its
care. Philological histories are never anything but mere compilations,
learned chronicles, useful repertories; and as such, blameless; but
as histories they lack the living spirit, the creative impulse, which
alone can transform the document into history. We have only to turn our
attention to the greatest part of our modern histories of literature,
whether written by a single philologist or by a learned society, to
realize that that which is philology in them is not history, but
repertory; and the rest, which is history, is not philology, but a
vivid reaction, an act of present life, by which some at least of the
documents of the past (since some philologists are men) have suddenly
become part of the actual experience of the writer, answered his
spiritual need, stirred that which is still human in his soul. And if
a further confirmation of the philological error is needed, and of the
further errors in which it involves the philological historian, it is
sufficient to open those same literary histories at the pages in which
they attempt to explain the origins of the Renaissance. Because as
those writers make history from the sources, so they imagine that life
itself springs from material sources; and the Renaissance finds its
_causes_ in the discovery of monuments and documents of the classical
world, in the lives and travels of humanists, in the munificence of
popes and princes. It does not seem to occur to them that monuments
and manuscripts, which materially had existed in Europe during all the
so-called Dark and Middle Ages, could not have been discovered unless,
at a certain moment in the development of European civilization, the
spirit of the Western nations had not craved those particular helps
to its own life, because of motives and impulses generated by its own
actual experience; and that the mediæval clericus was not less of a
traveller than the humanist, and that the economic aspect of life can
never be intelligibly conceived as a cause of that life of which it is
but a moment. For the philological historian, the Renaissance begins
between the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth
century; but the historian _tout court_ knows that the fundamental
impulses and motives by which we empirically ally characterize that
period in the history of the human spirit were already present in the
Italy of the thirteenth century, and slowly maturing in the other
European countries long before any of the Italian humanists had come to
them as the apostles of a new creed.

If philological history is not history but pseudo-history, so are also
two other forms of so-called historical thought, poetical history and
rhetorical history. The first substitutes for the value of history,
which is thought, a purely immediate and sentimental, or æsthetic
value; it presents itself very often as a reaction to philological
history, but it falls into the opposite error, which is that of putting
the imagination in the place of the document. Rhetorical history is
that which is animated by practical ends (moralistic, nationalistic,
or other), and it really consists of two distinct elements, history
itself, and the particular end towards which the recitation of history
is directed, converging into a single practical act. Both partake of
life much more intensely than philological history; but the life of
the one is poetry, that of the other is economic or moral action. They
are, therefore, legitimate as poetry and as action, and become errors
only in so far as they are presented as history. It is important to
make this distinction as clear as possible: the actual interest which
makes history is not for Croce a sentimental or practical interest,
but an interest of thought. In the distinction of the various forms of
spiritual activity, history is not the sentimental or practical moment,
but the moment of ultimate consciousness, the reflection and not either
the intuition or the action, the thought which is consciousness of
life and not life immediate; neither art nor morality, in a word, but
philosophy, if by philosophy, we mean not a formal discipline, but
all knowledge _sub specie universalis_. The defenders of rhetorical
history have become more frequent during and after the war than they
were before it, it being only too natural that in times of exceptional
stress truth should be made subservient to practical ends, and the man
of knowledge should be unwittingly transmogrified into a man of action;
and they insist more than ever on the moral efficacy of history as its
proper educational value. But "if by history we mean both that history
which is thought, and those that are poetry, philology or moral will,
it is clear that 'history' will enter into the educational process not
under one only, but under all these forms; though as history proper,
under one only, which is not that of moral education, exclusively
and abstractly considered, but of the education or development of

The conception of history as contemporary history, or present thought,
helps us to discard that form of historical scepticism, or agnosticism,
which affirms that all we can know of history is but one part, and
a very small part, of the whole. If we should imagine that infinite
whole, in its infinite detail, as present for one moment to our mind,
all we could do, would be instantly to proceed to forget it, in order
to concentrate our attention on that detail only which answers to
a problem and, therefore, constitutes a living and active history.
That whole is not something of which we can affirm the existence at
any given moment, but the eternal phantasm of the thing in itself,
the limiting concept of the infinity of our doing and knowing: a
naturalistic construction similar to the external and material reality
of physical science. It is this naturalistic process that gives birth
to agnosticism, in history as in science; that is, to the affirmation
of the impossibility of knowing that which has no reality outside our
own thought, which has created, or rather posited it, for its own
purposes. A further consequence is that we must renounce the knowledge
of universal history, not as a fact, because as such it has never
existed, but as a pretence under which, in fact, we are given something
quite different. The pretence consists (and it will be well to recall
Croce's own words, written long before some recent attempts, which in
those words find their precise valuation) in "reducing within a single
frame all the facts of mankind, from its origins on earth to the
present day; or rather, since in this way history would not be truly
universal, from the origins of things or from the Creation to the end
of the world; hence a tendency to fill the abysm of prehistory or of
the origins with theological or naturalistic novels, and somehow to
outline the future, either with revelations or with prophecies, as in
the Christian universal history (which extended to the Anti-Christ and
to the universal judgment), or with forecasts, as in the universal
histories of positivism, democraticism, and socialism. Such is the
pretence; but the fact turns out to be different from the intention,
and what we get is either a more or less heterogeneous chronicle, or
a poetical history expressing some aspiration of the heart, or even a
true history, which is not universal but particular, though embracing
the life of many nations and of many epochs; and, more often, in the
same literary body we discern these divers elements, one by the side of
the other."[4]

Universal history is a utopian ideal similar to those of a universal
language, or of universal art, or of a law that should be valid for
all times; the only useful meaning of the word universal when applied
to history is that of a recommendation to enlarge the sphere of our
historical interests, and to turn from the knowledge of one time and
one people to that of the great facts and currents of history. But a
denial of the validity of universal history must not be understood as
withdrawing from history the knowledge of the universal. The reader who
has followed us through the preceding chapters, and especially through
our analysis of the historical judgment, knows how the concreteness
and individuality of history is determined by thought, and therefore
known as a universal. History is thought, and, as such, the thought
of the universal in its concrete and particular determinations. The
object of history is never this or that poet, but poetry; not this or
that nation or epoch, but culture, civilization, progress, freedom, or
a similar word which denotes the development of the human spirit as a
whole, and is therefore a universal. It is of history, thus conceived,
of contemporary history, as opposed to the naturalistic moment
(chronicle, or philological history), that Croce asserts the identity
with philosophy: history as, the knowledge of the eternal present being
one with the thought of the eternal present, which is philosophy.
History renounces the pretence of an objective universality in the same
way as philosophy, immanent in and identical with history, abolishes
the idea of a universal philosophy: the two negations are but one,
since the closed system, the final truth, is as much a cosmological
novel as universal history is. "This tendency was implicit in Hegel's
philosophy, but contrasted within it by old prejudices, and wholly
betrayed in the execution, so that even that philosophy converted
itself into a cosmological novel; we can therefore say that that which
at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a mere presentiment,
only at the beginning of the twentieth is transforming itself into a
firm consciousness, which defies the fears of the timid, that in this
way we endanger the knowledge of the universal; maintaining that, on
the contrary, in this way only this knowledge is obtained truly and
for ever, because in a dynamic mode. History becoming actual history,
and philosophy becoming historical philosophy, have freed themselves,
one from the dread of not being able to know that which is not known
only because either it was or it will be known, and the other, from the
despair of never attaining the final truth: that is, both have freed
themselves from the phantasm of the 'thing in itself.'"[5]

This final affirmation of the unity of human thought, this
qualification of all thought as at the same time historical and
philosophical, is the last answer given by Croce to the problem
which had occupied him for the last twenty years, ever since his
first speculations on history as art. From the consideration of the
individual moment which is essential to history, he had slowly raised
himself to the contemplation of the pure universal, only to return
finally to the individual moment in which only the universal realizes
itself. And while this answer can be regarded, on the whole, as the
natural conclusion of the idealistic movement in philosophy, yet it
differs from Kant in its ultimate repudiation of the _noumenon_, from
Hegel, in that it makes it impossible to build, side by side with a
dynamic logic, a mythology of the Idea, a philosophy of history and of
nature, in which the transcendental element, eliminated already from
the logic, should find its ultimate refuge. It is to be hoped that
Croce's critics will not level against him those same criticisms that
are generally employed against Kant or Hegel, because they would be for
the most part ineffectual against a Kantian and Hegelian philosopher
who has discarded the whole of Kantian and Hegelian metaphysics.
From this standpoint, Croce is not only the heir of the idealistic,
but also of the positivistic or realistic tradition, which he has
constantly opposed, not because of its anti-metaphysical character,
but because in the external reality of the realist, in the natural or
historical philosophy of the positivist, he is unable to see anything
but naturalistic disguises of the old metaphysical entities. A realist
who should not in principle refuse to become acquainted with Croce's
thought, but honestly attempt to understand it, would probably find his
own realism purified and made more truly realistic by the experience.

A material distinction, as of formal disciplines, between history and
philosophy still survives in Croce's theory, philosophy proper being
considered as the categoric or methodological moment of history--a
distinction roughly corresponding to the one he made in his logic
between the individual judgment and the definition. But philosophy
itself is profoundly modified once we fully realize that its historical
character implies the abandonment of certain features which are
constantly associated in our minds with the idea of philosophy, because
of its early associations with mythology and the positive religions
ions. To these belong the belief in the existence of a fundamental
problem of philosophy, which remains the same throughout the history of
human thought, and of which the various philosophies are but successive
approximations to an answer; the consequent stress laid on the unity
of the system rather than on the fine and clear distinctions; the
research of an ultimate truth; and finally, the prejudice by which
the philosopher is regarded as a Buddha or priest, freed from human
passions and human illusions, resting in the pure contemplation of
a truth, which, by being tom from the soil of active life that has
borne it, cannot but wither away and become as empty and unreal as the
Buddha's own Nirvana frankly professes to be. Metaphysics to Croce is
the last incarnation of theology; and the professor of philosophy in
our universities, with a culture formed exclusively on the books of the
great philosophers of the past, unmoved by the passions and problems
of life, is but the heir of the mediæval master of theology. "A strong
advancement of philosophical culture ought to tend towards this result:
that all the students of human things, jurists, economists, moralists,
men of letters, that is, all the students of historical matters,
should become conscious and well-disciplined philosophers; and the
philosopher in general, the _purus philosophus_, should no longer find
place among the professional specifications of knowledge."[6]

We shall not follow our author in all his developments of the theory
of history. It suffices to say that these developments are obviously
but new presentations, made here and there more precise and more
coherent, of the various problems already discussed in the preceding
volumes of the _Filosofia dello Spirito_. We shall thus recognise in
Croce's criticism of the philosophy of history as a special discipline,
distinct both from history as such and from a so-called general
philosophy, his polemic against transcendence, either metaphysical
or naturalistic; and in his claim for the positivity of history, his
theory of value, by which the only real values are the positive ones,
coinciding with the fact, while negative values are but expressions
of feelings and desires. In the light of this theory, since history
is obviously concerned with that which is, and not with that which is
not, the limits of historical judgment are clearly established, in the
way in which we saw them established for literary criticism. As the
literary critic is never concerned with anything but with expression,
or art, or beauty, non-expression, non-art, non-beauty being as such
inexistent, and truly existent only as manifestations of the logical
or practical activity of man; so the historian at large will never
meet negative values, but positive facts only, which assume the aspect
of ugliness, or error, or immorality, only in the dialectic process of
reality, in the creation of a higher form of life. His affirmation of
the positive fact is sufficient judgment, and it becomes an implicit
moral judgment whenever the consciousness of the historian is a moral
consciousness, without any need for him to usurp the function of the
moralist or of the judge in apportioning praise or blame on the objects
of his history.

Against the humanistic or pragmatic conception of history, which finds
the reasons and motives of history in the abstract individual, as
against the opposite view, for which the true history is only that
of the collectivity, of the institutions, of the human values, Croce
reasserts his concept of the actuality of the spirit, in regard to
which the individual is as much of an abstraction as the society or
the value which does not entirely realize itself in the fact. The
object of history is neither Pericles nor Politics, neither Sophocles
nor Tragedy, neither Plato nor Philosophy; but the universal in the
individual, that is, Politics, Tragedy, Philosophy, as Pericles,
Sophocles, and Plato, or Pericles, Sophocles, and Plato as particular
moments of Politics, of Tragedy, and of Philosophy.

As there are no special philosophical sciences, and then a general
philosophy, which should be outside or above them, but whenever we
think of reality under one of its aspects or distinctions, we think
of the whole of reality in one of its determinations, so there are no
special histories, the limits of which can be definitely stated, and
above them a general history, which would in a new form revive the myth
of universal history. We have seen how literary history, for instance,
tends inevitably to become the whole spiritual history of a nation;
and the same applies to all special histories, whether political or
moral, or philosophical. There are divisions of history, according
to the quality of the objects, to time and space, but such divisions
are mere empirical classifications, practical instruments or literary
expedients; and we can use as the foundation of such divisions even the
ideal distinctions of the fundamental forms of spiritual activity. But
when these distinctions are understood as actual distinctions of the
aspects of the spiritual life, of which we make history, then all the
other aspects will inevitably be present in the particular distinction,
once we truly apprehend it in the fulness of its relations. In this
sense, history is always special or particular, because it is only in
the special and particular that we can grasp the effectual and concrete
universality, the effectual and concrete unity.

Finally, the difference between the history of man and the history of
nature is not a difference in the object but in the method of history.
The whole of reality is spiritual reality, and nature apprehended
in its concreteness and actuality, if we are able to recreate it
within ourselves, becomes actual, concrete, contemporary history as
much as any part of human history. On the other hand, the application
of empirical and abstract concepts, the practical manipulation of
the data of human history, transforms the history of man into mere
natural history. This difference in method we have already analyzed in
studying Croce's logic, and we shall only add here that the reader of
Croce may often be tempted to regard Croce's conception of reality as
limited to the human spirit only, and therefore to give a metaphysical
interpretation to his exclusion of "nature." The correct interpretation
is a purely epistemological one, and again and again Croce insists that
in the whole of reality, which is development or life, man and nature
are but empirical and abstract distinctions. On the other hand, Croce's
interests are certainly more human than natural, and not only in the
sense in which this is true of every man; in the more precise sense
also that the effort to recreate within himself the consciousness of a
blade of grass, which he advises the historian of nature to perform,
clearly appeals to him so little, that he may even seem doubtful of its
success. The accent is continually laid, in Croce's thought, on the
history of man, and on the thought of man; to many of us, our dealings
with nature (not the dead nature of Linnæus, but the living nature of
Virgil and Shelley) would probably suggest a shifting of the accent
by which the spirituality of nature, the continuity of the dynamic
process from nature to man would become more emphatically affirmed
than it is in any of Croce's writings. We are probably touching here
on one of the possible, and probable, lines of development of Croce's
philosophy; which, however, will not become actual until the historical
problems of the living nature shall not urge Croce himself, or one of
his successors, as powerfully as the problems of human history have
moved him. At present, with very rare exceptions, the students of
the history of nature are occupied in transforming their historical
experience into classes and types and laws; but a time may come when
from the naturalistic constructions we shall be able more frequently
to recreate the life of which these are but the dead spoils, the
accumulated vestiges, by the same process by which history re-kindles
the old chronicles into new, contemporary life. That such a development
is implied in Croce's own theory of history can hardly be questioned,
though, when realized, it will undoubtedly react on more than one point
of Croce's logic.

[Footnote 1: _Teoria e Storia_, pp. 5-6.]

[Footnote 2: _Teoria e Storia_, pp. 15-16.]

[Footnote 3: _Teoria e Storia_, pp. 35-6.]

[Footnote 4: _Teoria e Storia_, p. 46.]

[Footnote 5: _Teoria e Storia_, pp. 51-2.]

[Footnote 6: _Teoria e Storia_, p. 145.]


Beyond the system--The universality of art--The discipline of
art--Poetry, prose and oratory--Classicism and impressionism--
Practical personality and poetical personality--The monographic
method in criticism--The reform of æsthetic history--Criticism as
philosophy--Sensibility and intelligence.

The identification of history and philosophy, in the form in which
we have expounded it in the preceding chapter, is the turning point
of Croce's thought; the system which in the first three volumes of
the _Filosofia dello Spirito_ had still a somewhat static and rigid
appearance, is really set to movement, animated as if by a new and
intenser life, since its implicit dynamism is made explicit in the
fourth and concluding volume. To Croce himself, the whole of his work
appears no longer as a system, but as "a series of systematizations,"
and his _Filosofia dello Spirito_, as a series of "volumes on the
problems slowly gathering in his mind since the years of his youth."
No wonder, therefore, that his later work should contain "thoughts
that break the bars of the so-called system, and give, to a close
scrutiny, new systems or new 'systematizations,' since always the whole
moves with every one of our steps." No wonder that he should feel that
he will continue to philosophize even if one day he shall abandon
"philosophy," "as this is what the unity of philosophy and history
implies: that we philosophize whenever we think, and of whatever object
and in whatever form we may think."[1] And in fact, in these last few
years, Croce has given many a severe shock to the faithful worshippers
of his system, sometimes by extending his tolerance, or even his
approval, to types of speculation apparently remote from his own, but
in which he recognises, under a radically different aspect, some of
the living impulses, and spiritual interests by which his own thought
is moved; and sometimes by developing new theories, through which
intellectual positions criticised by him at an earlier stage of his
work were reëstablished as having a new meaning and value, once they
were approached from a new and higher standpoint, partly reached by
means of that same critical process which had previously revealed them
as errors. Croce's conception of the function of error in the history
of human thought, while making him violently intolerant of actual
negative error, leads him to search painstakingly for that element of
truth which is the reality of every error; and in this respect too, his
philosophical career is as it were roughly divided into two periods,
one of critical dissolution, and the other of critical reconstruction,
respectively corresponding to the building up of the system, and to the
successive liberation from the shackles of the system itself. Croce's
name will certainly be remembered in the future, if on no other
account, as that of the only philosopher who never became the slave
of his dead thought. His coherence is never of the letter, but of the

This last phase of Croce's thought offers greater difficulties to the
expositor than the preceding ones, partly because it is still in the
making, and therefore lacks the necessary perspective, and partly
because it is embodied not only in purely philosophical essays, but in
every page of Croce's historical and critical writings; so that very
often it would be impossible to give a clear account of it without
ample and minute reference to the underlying historical material.
The whole of Croce's thought could indeed be restated through an
exposition of Croce's historical views, and it would be an alluring
task to extract from his writings a kind of outline of the history
of mankind, considered especially in its æsthetic and philosophical
cal manifestations, and indirectly also in its moral and economic
activities; but it would take us much beyond the limits which we have
set to our labour. We shall therefore confine ourselves to examining,
in this chapter, the latest developments of Croce's æsthetics,
especially in relation with the history of art and poetry; and, in the
following and concluding one, to considering his theory of truth or of
the function of thought, in relation to other types of contemporary

We have followed the evolution, or rather the deepening, of Croce's
concept of art as pure intuition, into lyrical intuition, through
which the movement and life which might seem to have been denied to
the products of the æsthetic activity considered as a mere form of
knowledge, were recognised as intrinsically belonging to them by reason
of the very nature of that cognitive activity, and of its relations
with the practical sphere of the spirit, the states of mind, which can
be abstracted as the matter or content of the æsthetic form. Another
difficulty, however, still persisted in Croce's theory, due to the
sharp distinction between the æsthetic and the logical activity, which
reserved to the first the field of individual, to the second that of
universal knowledge--constituting a double-grade relation, in which the
æsthetic was implied by the logic activity, but not vice-versa. The
corresponding distinction of the two forms of the practical spirit,
the economic and the ethic, evolved by Croce at a maturer stage of his
speculation, establishes not only a double-grade relation, but also
a reciprocal implication. Croce's essay on _Il carattere di totalità
della espressione artistica_ (1917) is an attempt at interpreting his
first distinction in the light of the second, thereby recognising the
universal or cosmic character of art. That universality which becomes
explicit in the logical judgment is implicit in the intuition, already
identified with the category of feeling, with the concrete states of
mind, on which it imposes its form: "Since, what is a feeling or a
state of mind? is it something that can be detached from the universe
and developed by itself? have the part and the whole, the individual
and the cosmos, the finite and the infinite, any reality, one outside
the other? One may be inclined to grant that every severance and
isolation of the two terms of the relation could not be anything
but the work of abstraction, for which only there is an abstract
individuality and an abstract finite, an abstract unity and an abstract
infinite. But the pure intuition, or artistic representation, abhors
abstraction; or rather it does not even abhor it, since it knows it
not, because of its naïve or auroral cognitive character. In it, the
individual lives by the life of the whole, and the whole is in the life
of the individual; and every true artistic representation is itself and
the universe, the universe in that individual form, and that individual
form as the universe. In every accent of a poet, in every creature of
his phantasy, there is the whole of human destiny, all the hopes, the
illusions, the sorrows and the joys, all human greatness and all human
misery, the entire drama of reality, which perpetually becomes and
grows upon itself, suffering and rejoicing."[2]

This recognition of the implicit universality of the æsthetic
expression does not abolish, as it might seem to a superficial
observer, the distinction between æsthetic and logical knowledge; it
rather makes it clearer and truer. An imperfect recognition may lead
to an intellectualistic or mystic theory of art; and intellectualism
and mysticism in æsthetics remain for Croce as typical forms of error,
whether they are directed towards a confusion between intuition and
judgment, or towards a symbolical or allegorical interpretation of
art, or towards a semi-religious theory of art as the revelation of
the _Deus absconditus_. But the truth that those errors tried to
express in their imperfect formulas, is finally understood by him to
be that character of universality which belongs to every aspect and
to every fragment of the living reality. Feeling itself, or a state
of mind, partakes in its actuality of that universal character, but
when expressed in art, it retains its universality only by losing its
practical nature, and subjecting itself entirely to the form which
expresses it. Thus the æsthetic activity, because bent on realizing
its own universality, which is the perfection of its form, imposes on
the artist a morality and a discipline which cannot be identified with
practical morality, with the discipline of life. The sincerity of the'
artist is of another order than that of the practical man, though (we
can never repeat it too often) æsthetic virtues being incommensurable
with moral values, his work as an artist does not exempt him from his
duties as a man.

This further determination of the concept of expression is used by
Croce to clarify a distinction which had already been adumbrated
in the Estetica; the distinction between poetic, intellectual, and
practical expression, between the word in which the pure intuition
embodies itself, the word which is a sign or symbol of thought, and
the word which is an instrument for the awakening of the emotions, a
preparation for action. Thus the old categories of poetry, prose, and
oratory reappear, but no longer as criteria of material classification,
no longer to be identified with classes or genres of expression. They
become synonyms, respectively, of the æsthetic, the logical, and the
practical activity; to be used as instruments of literary and artistic
criticism, if the critic is willing to renounce all external helps and
material standards, and to penetrate into the "individuality of the
act, where only it is given to him to discern the different spiritual
dispositions, and what is poetry from what is not poetry. Under the
semblance of prose, in a comedy or in a novel, we may find a true and
deeply felt lyric; as under that of verse, in a tragedy or in a poem,
nothing but reflection and oratory."[3] It is easy to perceive how this
distinction will also react on Croce's theory of language as intuition
and expression, not by altering its initial position, but by offering
new means for the empirical analysis of the facts of language, the
nature of which is obviously determined by the kind of impulse which
man obeys in the individual act of expression. By the employment of
such a method, the history of language as æsthetic expression can be
qualified and illumined through the consideration of the moments in
which language ceases to be a pure act of æsthetic creation, and is
subordinated, as a symbol or instrument, to the purposes of the logical
and practical mind.

Similarly, in the history of poetry or of art, the consideration of
the logical and practical moments in the expression will help to
define and isolate that which is purely æsthetic expression, that is,
poetry and art. Croce's expressionistic theory, when thus understood,
differs both from other expressionistic theories and from the narrow
interpretations of Croce's own theory that have been given by some of
his followers and by all his adversaries. It does not, in fact, attempt
to give an æsthetic justification of art as the mere passive reception
of the transient mood; it has no sympathy for that impressionism which
transforms the artist into a reed shaken by all winds of circumstance,
legitimizing every intrusion of the practical personality in the
æsthetic production. It reduces this modern æsthetics of the immediate
feeling to an expression, not of the true spirit of what art and poetry
is being produced to-day, but of that disease, or passivity, of the
times, the first solemn document of which can be traced in Rousseau's
_Confessions_. Against it, Croce appeals to the example and the word
of a Goethe or a Leopardi, who diagnosed the disease in its inception,
and contrasted the classical naturalness and simplicity of the ancients
with the affectation and tumidity of the moderns. But the classicism
which Croce invokes is not a formal and literal ideal, limited to
certain models or standards: it is that complete idealization, which
the immediate practical data, in all times and climates, will undergo
at the hands of the true poet and artist, whether he calls himself a
romanticist or a classicist, an idealist or a realist.

Closely related with this line of thought is Croce's distinction of
the practical from the poetical personality of the artist, and of
biography from æsthetic criticism, as we find it in the essay of
_Alcune massime critiche_, and in the first chapter of his study on
Shakespeare (1919). The knowledge of the facts of an artist's life is
undoubtedly required for the purposes of biographical or practical
history; but their relation with the æsthetic personality of the artist
is not, as it is generally assumed, a relation of cause and effect.
They may have an indirect utility for the definition of the æsthetic
personality, and especially for the recognition of that which in the
works of art themselves is still purely practical, not yet stamped
with the seal of the æsthetic activity. But in the apprehension of
art, the critic must prescind from the biographical elements, because
"the artist himself has prescinded from them in the act of creation of
his work of art, which is a work of art inasmuch as it is the opposite
of the practical life, and is accomplished by the artist raising
himself above the practical plane, abandoning the greatest part of
his practical feelings, and transfiguring those even that he seems
to preserve, because putting them into new relations. The artist, as
we say, 'transcends time,' that is, the 'practical time,' and enters
the 'ideal time,' where actions do not follow actions, but the eternal
lives in the present. And he who pretends to explain the ideal time by
the practical time, the imaginative creation by the practical action,
art by biography, unwittingly denies art itself, and reduces it to
a practical business, of the same kind as eating and making love,
producing goods or fighting for a political cause."[4]

This concept of the æsthetic personality, which we find clearly
defined in Croce's most recent essays, was the guiding principle
of all his literary criticism, since the time when he started his
series of studies on modern Italian literature. He had inherited
it from De Sanctis, whose work, in so far as it is æsthetic and
not moral or political history, can be regarded as a collection of
powerful characterizations of æsthetic personalities. But, in his
first attempts in literary criticism, Croce employed it tentatively
in what then appeared to him only as the preparatory stage of his
work; beyond the individual characterizations, and once these had
been sufficiently determined, he still thought of the possibility of
a general literary history, in which these should find their place as
parts of a more complex organism of critical thought. But when he had
completed his task, in a series of remarkable essays, some of which
will have fixed for a long time to come the physiognomy of the most
notable Italian writers of the last half-century, he perceived that
he had practically exhausted the æsthetic problems which the work of
those writers presented to his mind: a general literary history of
the period could have been nothing but a new arrangement of the same
ideas and valuations contained in the individual essays. Thus the
monographic method .which he had originally adopted for convenience'
sake, justified itself in the practice of his work, or rather proved
to be the only legitimate method of literary and general artistic
history. All the vague abstractions with which modern nationalistic or
sociological histories of art and poetry are crammed, reveal themselves
ultimately as either generalizations of individual characteristics, or
concepts borrowed from the economic and moral history of a nation or
people, more or less irrelevant to the purposes of æsthetic criticism.
The true unity in the consideration of the history of art cannot be
reached by the establishment of purely external and material relations
between work and work, between artist and artist, but only by making
one's critical estimate of the individual work or artist sufficiently
vast and sufficiently deep. "Contemporaries, related or opposed to the
individual poet, his more or less partial and remote forerunners, the
moral and intellectual life of his time, and that of the times which
preceded and prepared it, these and other things are all present (now
expressed, now unexpressed) in our spirit, when we reconstruct the
dialectic of a given artistic personality. Undoubtedly, in considering
a given personality we cannot, in the same act, consider another or
many others or all others, each for itself; and psychologists call this
lack of ubiquity the 'narrowness of the threshold of consciousness,'
while they ought to call it the highest energy of the human spirit,
which sinks itself in the object that in a given moment interests it,
and does not allow itself under any condition to be diverted from it,
because in the individual it finds all that interests it, and, in a
word, the Whole."[5]

This is the purport of the essay on _La Riforma della Storia artistica
e letteraria_ (1917), and this is the method deliberately followed by
Croce in his recent essays on Ariosto, Goethe, Shakespeare, Corneille
and Dante, which ought to be studied not only as characterizations of
the various poets, of the feeling or tonality which is peculiar to each
of them and constitutes their æsthetic personality, but also as sources
for the methodology of literary criticism. To his theory Croce brings
a two-fold corroboration, first, from the observation of the fact that
it coincides with a more and more widespread tendency in both literary
and artistic history towards the monographic form, the individual
essay, as the most effectual type of criticism; and second, from the
analogy with other forms of history. All history, and not æsthetic
history only, is essentially monographic; all history is the history
of a given event or of a given custom or of a given doctrine, and all
history reaches the universal only in and through the individual. The
only obstacles to a general acceptation of this view are, on one side,
a persistent inability to distinguish art from the practical and moral
life and from philosophy, and on the other, a lack of scientific sense,
through which science is regarded not as critical research, but as a
material gathering of facts. Prospectuses, handbooks, dictionaries
and encyclopedias are not the ideal of history: they are instruments
of which we shall always make use as practical helps for the critical
research; but what is living and real thought in them is but an echo of
the actual thinking of individual problems.

All æsthetic criticism, and therefore all æsthetic history, is this
thinking of logical problems, rooted in the concrete ground of the
works of art, which are in their turn solutions of æsthetic problems.
For this the dynamic conception of the human spirit imports that every
one of its acts is a creation, or a doing, in the particular form
in which the spirit realizes itself; art, a creation, in respect to
which all spiritual antecedents assume the aspect of a given æsthetic
problem; history or philosophy, a creation on the substance of reality
presenting itself as a logical problem; and the whole sphere of the
theoretical spirit, "a theoretical _doings_ which is the perpetual
antecedent and the perpetual consequent of the practical doing."[6]
The mere recreation of the æsthetic impression given by a work of art
is not yet criticism; the critic as a mere _artifex additus artifici_
is not yet a critic, but still an artist. Criticism, like all other
history, is not feeling or intuition, but intelligence and thought.
Every history of criticism will therefore ultimately coincide with the
history of æsthetic theories, with the philosophy of art. We thus reach
again, by a new path, the identification of history with philosophy; to
which, in this particular case, the most common objection is that what
is required in a critic is much more an exquisite æsthetic sensibility
than an elaborate concept of what art is as a category of the human
mind. But the objection rests on a misunderstanding of the proper
function of criticism. What sensibility can give is but the immediate
apprehension or taste of the work of art, critically dumb in itself;
on the other hand, it is impossible to conceive of a true intelligence
of art, "without the conjoined capacity to understand the individual
works of art, because philosophy does not develop in the abstract,
but is stimulated by the acts of life and imagination, rises for the
purpose of comprehending them, and understands them by understanding
itself."[7] The mere æsthetic sensibility makes but a new artist; what
makes the critic is his philosophy. Here also, however, as during the
whole course of our inquiry, we must not identify philosophy with the
official history of philosophical disciplines, which offers a large
number of theories of æsthetics only remotely related to the concrete
works of art, to the concrete processes of æsthetic creation, but with
the whole history of human thought, with the working out of particular
problems successively presented to the intelligence of man by the
actual developments of poetry and art. The æsthetic judgment, like
every other judgment, is a synthesis of the individual intuition, or
subject, and of the universal category, or predicate; and this is but
another way of stating the identity of æsthetic criticism, as of all
forms of history, with philosophy. The critic must be endowed with a
power to give new life, within his own mind, to the intuitions of the
artist, but this is for him but the soil in which his thought must
spread its roots; it is true that without that power, no criticism
is possible, but it is equally true that no philosophy of art can
grow on any but that same soil. The ultimate test of the validity of
æsthetic thought is in its capacity to expand our sphere of æsthetic
apprehension; and pure æsthetics is but the methodological moment of
æsthetic history or criticism.

[Footnote 1: _Contributo_, pp. 79-81.]

[Footnote 2: _Nuovi Saggi, di Estetica_, p. 126.]

[Footnote 3: _Nuovi Saggi_, p. 142. Also _Conversazioni Critiche_, I,
pp. 58-63.]

[Footnote 4: _Nuovi Saggi_, p. 231.]

[Footnote 5: _Nuovi Saggi_, p. 181.]

[Footnote 6: _L'arte come Creazione_ (1918), in _Nuovi Saggi_, p. 160.]

[Footnote 7: _La Critica Letteraria come Filosofia_ (1918), in _Nuovi
Saggi_, p. 217.]


_Quid est veritas?_--Platonism, or transcendental idealism--Naturalism,
or transcendental realism--The idea of progress--Progress and truth:
evolutionism--Pragmatism--Croce's new pragmatism--The immanence of
value--The actuality of Truth--Truth as history: the function of error
and of evil--The foundations of Croce's thought.

There is one problem in the history of human thought, which, however
conscious we might be of the multiplicity and historical contingency
of philosophical problems, yet can appear to us as the ultimate or
central one, if only because it is an abstract interrogation describing
the attitude of the philosopher, and to which every concrete logical
research, every act of thought, can be reduced. It is Pilate's
question: _Quid est veritas?_ What is truth?

The question itself has no definite meaning, until it receives from the
individual thinker a definite content, which is history or experience,
and the infinite variety of the answers it has received is due to the
infinite variability of that content. But at all times man has been
urged by a passionate desire to lift his own individual answer from the
flux of life, to put it as it were over and against that experience
from which it had emerged, not as the truth of his particular problem,
but as an abstractly universal truth. It is by violently breaking the
process of thought, and hypostatizing in essence the subject of his
thought, abstracted from its object, or the object from its subject,
and both from the creative activity which produces truth, that man has
created, both in philosophy proper and in the minds of the multitude,
a double transcendence, of pure ideas, on one side, of brute matter on
the other, from which the two most common meanings of the word truth
are derived.

The Platonic idealist, for whom the actual processes of life and
thought are but shadows and remembrances of the Eternal Ideas in
the hyper-uranian space, can be assumed here as the symbol of the
transcendental idealist, for whom truth is adequation to an ideal model
existing outside the mind. The most disparate types of philosophers
belong to this herd, and among them many that commonly go under the
name of realists, since the idealist who has fixed and objectified
his ideas cannot help considering them as real essences, and dealing
with them accordingly. The Aristotelian realist, the theologian,
Hegel himself when postulating an original Logos, of which Spirit and
Nature are the temporal explication, all can be gathered together
in the goodly company of Platonists; and Platonists are to-day both
the literal followers of German idealism, and the less barbarous
among contemporary realists, who are in the habit of attributing
an independent, absolute existence to logical or mathematical
abstractions. But neither the ones nor the others seem to be in very
close contact with the spirit of the age: what they mean by truth is
not what is generally meant by truth to-day, except among those who
still cling to the myths in which that form of transcendence expressed
itself in past ages. The sturdiest, though hardly recognizable,
survivals of Platonism are relics of formalistic logic, still very
frequent in contemporary culture, and a belief in what might be called
average truth, mechanically extracted from an external and material
consensus of opinions. But with this conception of truth, we touch the
border line between idealistic and naturalistic transcendentalism.

The most common attitude of contemporary thought (and the one that is
therefore usually designated as common sense, and as such opposed to
philosophy) is a naively naturalistic one. But it would be a mistake
to regard it as a simple and spontaneous attitude, and to identify it,
for instance, with the naïve intuition of the artist, with a first
grade of knowledge as yet untroubled by logical problems. The artist's
vision is more distant from naturalism than the philosopher's concept,
since common sense, however unreflected and illogical, is in itself
a philosophy, and, though it may sound paradoxical, a transcendental
one. The artist constantly identifies himself with his object; in his
consciousness, the distinction between subject and object has not
yet arisen. But the naïve naturalism of which we are now speaking
is posterior to the logical judgment, in which that distinction
first appears; and is obtained by keeping separate the two terms of
the judgment, each of which exists only in relation to the other,
and by transforming that relation into a quality of the object. The
unity thus disrupted is artificially reconstituted by abolishing the
subject, that is, by treating the subject itself as merely an object
among many objects, or as a mere abstract intersection of objects. It
is with this form of naturalism that realism generally coincides, and
its abstracting process is the one that has been recently systematized
by the New Realists. The justification of the naturalistic conception
of truth, as truth of description, and the motive of its present
popularity, is that it rests on a method of knowledge which is
indispensable to the natural and mathematical sciences, and that the
sciences have come to usurp, in modern times, for reasons which are
obvious to every one, the place of science. It is not the less true,
however, that wherever that method is applied, it reduces the living
reality of life and thought to a heap of dead, immovable abstractions.
There is no real danger in this as long as the abstractions are taken
for what they are, and used as instruments for the purposes of our
doing and understanding; but when they are considered as a complete
equivalent of the living reality, then we become their prisoners, and
are shut out by them from all possibility of true understanding.
It is especially from the misuses of this method in the historical
and moral sciences, from the degenerations of sociology, psychology,
and philology, that we must be constantly on guard; lest in the very
sciences of the human spirit we should miss that which is their true
object, the human activity which creates the world of history and the
values of life.

Modern thought, at the end of the Renaissance, begins with an attempt
at eliminating that static conception of truth, in which both Platonism
and naturalism find the roots of their transcendence. This is the
origin of the idea of Progress, first established by Bruno, by Bacon,
by Pascal, by Vico, in the form of a correlation between truth and
time. Mediæval thought had been shackled for centuries by the authority
of the ancients; the new thinkers invoked the authority of antiquity,
of old age, and, therefore, of wisdom, not for the distant ages, in
which the world could be said to be still young and inexperienced, but
for their own times, in which it was possible to add a perpetually
new experience and thought to that which had been bequeathed by the
thinkers of Greece and Rome. The consequence of this attitude was the
discovery of the immanence of truth in life, the liberation from the
principle of authority (which had been the characteristic mediæval
form of transcendence), and a vigorous impulse towards the recognition
of the dynamic nature of reality, of what an American philosopher
called the continuity of the ideal with the real. The thought that
was contained in germ in those early polemics, vaguely and mythically
in Bruno, and much more consciously in Vico, is substantially that of
Croce's identification of philosophy with history.

We do not expect of a new philosophy that it should suddenly, as a
revelation or illumination, give us a key to all the problems of
reality, and resolve, once and forever, the so-called mystery of the
universe. If such a thing should ever happen, it would mean the end of
life, which cannot be conceived, in its ultimate essence, otherwise
than as a perpetual positing and solution of problems. It must not be
forgotten that a philosophy is the work of one man, and, therefore,
contains only the answers to the problems that are real to him.
But if we stop to consider the whole course of thought in the last
two centuries, we shall realize that the idea of Progress, in many
different and even in contrasting forms, is the one around which all
our life, theoretical and practical, has centred in modern times. And
of that idea, Croce's philosophy is the most powerful and coherent
expression that has ever appeared. It is only by considering the
whole of reality as activity, and the values of reality as coinciding
with the forms of that activity, that Progress acquires a definite
meaning: a progress which should be a constant approximation towards
a preëxistent ideal, or a material process external to ourselves,
would be a purely illusory one. In one case, our whole life would tend
towards making a duplicate of that which already is--a work, therefore,
without intrinsic worth, and without a real end; in the other, there
would be no work at all, no activity, no life.

But nothing seems more difficult to our mind than to keep together
the two ideas of progress and of truth. The natural sciences have
made a gallant attempt at assimilating the idea of progress, and at
transforming themselves, ultimately, into history. But the static
concepts of naturalism resist that assimilation, and scientific
evolutionism offers but the mechanical outline, the external processes
of progress, the evolved and not the evolving reality; that is, it
keeps its truth at the expense of its progress. This same evolutionism,
when applied to the human sciences, is obviously unable to grasp the
actuality of spiritual growth and life, and it only reproduces, in
aggravated form, the evils inherent in all naturalistic interpretations
of the spirit. Bergson's philosophy is a new evolutionism, which
succeeds much better than the old one in retaining the idea of
progress, and is, therefore, a further step towards the transformation
of science into history; but what it gains in this respect, it loses
in relation to its principle of truth, which is mythically represented
as the lowest form of consciousness, or rather as that which is below
consciousness itself.

What is vital in Bergson is his criticism of the scientific, or
naturalistic, intellect; but the intellect of man has other functions
besides those of dissecting and classifying. From a similar beginning,
that is, from the economic theory of science, derives another attempt
at conciliating progress and truth, pragmatism. In pragmatism also, the
critical element is more or less sound, but the constructive one is
weak and arbitrary. Pragmatism does not reject the truth of science,
because of its practical character; on the contrary, having recognized
that the foundation of scientific truth is economic, it proceeds
to deduce all truth from the will, and to verify it in action. The
result of this deduction is a closer connection between truth and life
than has been ever reached by any system of philosophy; but a merely
apparent one, since truth itself is thus submerged and annulled in the
immediacy of practical and passional life. The solution of the problem
of truth is obtained only by putting truth out of the question at the
beginning of the inquiry; as it is dear that for a rigid pragmatist,
there is but one truth left, and that is the truth of his theory,
which, however, cannot be verified by the theory itself, since its
usefulness is, to say the least, very doubtful.

By some of his adversaries Croce himself has been classed as a
pragmatist. It is no wonder that certain distinctions should escape
the attention of men who live to-day as exiles from distant centuries,
and whose critical sight is, therefore, not clearer then that of an
owl fluttering in the noonday sun. But the only relation that I
can think of between Croce and the pragmatists is that he advocates
an economic theory not of truth, but of error; that he finds in the
passions and practical interests of men the root of intellectual
error. The problem of the positive relations between life and thought
has been treated by him, as we know, in a very different spirit from
that of the pragmatists; and in the circle of the human spirit, the
ideal precedence is given by him, not to the practical but to the
theoretical. On the other hand, in the actual process of time, all
forms of human activity are reciprocally conditioned, and under
this respect Croce's thought can be called, and has been called by
himself, a new pragmatism, but "of a kind of which pragmatists have
never thought, or at least which they have never been able to discern
from the others, and to bring out in full relief. If life conditions
thought, we have in this fact the clearly established demonstration of
the always historically conditioned form of every thought: and not of
art only, which is always the art of a time, of a soul, of a moment,
but of philosophy also, which can solve but the problems that life
proposes. Every philosophy reflects, and cannot help reflecting, the
preoccupations, as they are called, of a determined historical moment;
not, however, in the quality of its solutions (because in this case it
would be a bad philosophy, a partisan or passional philosophy), but in
the quality of its problems. And because the problem is historical,
and the solution eternal, philosophy is at the same time contingent and
eternal, mortal and immortal, temporary and extratemporary."[1] Croce's
conception of truth is his philosophy, and it is not my intention to
summarize here what this book presents in what is already so rapid a
survey. I wish only to point again at those doctrines of his, through
which progress and truth are reconciled, without any sacrifice of the
one to the other. Truth is for Croce a universal value or category of
consciousness: its absoluteness rests on its character of universality,
but, as a universal has no real being outside its concrete actuality,
truth is nowhere if not in the individual judgment, that is, in the
mind that creates it. It is strange that this mode of its manifestation
should be considered to impair the quality of truth, while a similar
objection would hardly be raised to-day in regard to other forms of
spiritual activity. That the Beautiful is the value of the concrete,
historical productions of the æsthetic spirit, or the Good that of the
concrete, historically determined moral activity, these are concepts
common to all contemporary thought, though no one, perhaps, has as
yet expressed them as clearly as Croce. To the artist or to the
saint, reality appears at a given moment as an æsthetic or an ethical
problem; the terms of the problem are always particular, contingent,
historical; yet when the artist or the saint impresses on that reality
the seal of his own deepest personality, when he creatively reacts to
it, then the Beautiful and the Good realize themselves, as universal
values, in the individual work of art or of mercy. Our belief in the
absoluteness of the æsthetic or of the moral value is not weakened
but strengthened by our inability to fix them in formulas or codes or
standards; we see them perpetually transcending the reality in which
they express themselves, by the same process by which that reality,
which is all growth and life, transcends itself in the infinite
course of its realization. We cannot think of any number of works
of art or of mercy as exhausting the categories of the Beautiful or
of the Good. The identification of these values with the infinite
series of their individual expressions fills the soul with a sense of
reverence and responsibility towards life, that cannot be equalled
by any faith in static, immovable ideals, by which a term, however
high and remote, is set to the living spirit, no longer recognised
as the creator of its own æsthetic and moral world. To the mind that
has grasped this relation of the universal to the individual, of the
eternal to the present (and the artist or the saint grasps it in his
own unphilosophical way, to which his work or his action is witness),
the whole of reality, human and natural, appears as linked by a bond of
spiritual solidarity, moving towards the same end, engaged in the same
sacred task.

Truth is the value of the logical activity, and therefore it coincides
with the positive history of human thought. Its actuality is an
infinite progress or development, but not in the sense that the value
itself may be subject to increase or change from century to century.
At no particular point in that history is it possible to point to a
conversion from error to truth, to a total illumination or revelation.
Every single affirmation of truth, from the simplest and humblest
to the most elaborate and complex, takes possession of the whole of
reality, in the fulness of its relations; since it is manifestly
impossible to affirm the truth of one individual subject, without
implicitly determining its position in the universe. Truth, as all
other values, has no extension; it is incommensurable either with space
or with time, it is not augmented by accumulation. Degrees in truth,
and a more and a less, are inconceivable; but each act that affirms
it contains its whole, since truth itself does not live except in the
spirit that perpetually creates and recreates it. Truth belongs to the
thinking mind, that is, to reality as a logical consciousness, as life
belongs to the living body. It belongs to us, individually, in relation
to that universal consciousness, in the mode and measure of our
partaking of it: which means that however much of it we may conquer,
however constant, laborious, honest, intense our efforts towards
truth may be, yet our duty towards it will always remain infinite,
inexhaustible. The conquered truth is dead in the mind that rests in
it, that ceases its effort, as life gives place to death in the body
that no longer functions.

In a wider sense, truth belongs to every form of spiritual activity.
Beauty, utility, goodness are the truths of the artistic, the
practical, the moral mind. And in the actual life of the spirit, each
of these values represents all the others in the particular act in
which it realizes itself. This is what Croce means by his circular
conception of the spirit. And this is why what is said of one value
seems to apply without any change to the others; why, as we said
elsewhere, all universals are but one universal. Whether we call this
one Progress or Development, Spirit or Reality, Mind or Nature, we
know that our thought is grasping Life itself, not in its abstract
identity, but in its infinite actuality, that is, each time, this
life, this beauty, this action, this truth. What we aim at is not an
ecstatic absorption into the undifferentiated unity, but the finding
within ourselves of a centre of consciousness, capable of introducing
order and reason into the variegated spectacle of the natural and human
world, not from outside and from above, but from its very heart. The
truth that we seek is therefore never external to ourselves, but our
own activity, our own life, our own history.

This concept of truth as activity and as history, this activistic and
energetic philosophy, truly positive in that the course of history
appears to it as a succession of only positive acts and positive
values, is not however a blind and fatuous optimism. If it is true
that nowhere positive error or positive evil can interrupt the process
of life, that death itself does not end but fulfil it, yet from the
relations and implications of the various forms of activity arises
a real dialectic of good and evil, of truth and error, which is the
spring and motive of life. What to the purely utilitarian conscience
is the good of now and of to-day, the same conscience, awakened to a
greater light, repudiates as evil. The imaginative vision of the poet,
in which truth expresses itself, sensuous and finite, and yet pregnant
of its infinity, dissolves like mist in the sun in the clearness
of the logical concept, and is then restored in its right by the
historical and critical consciousness to which that truth is poetry.
The myths and superstitions of the old religions, dead in the letter,
are revived in the thought itself that seems to destroy them. History
is but this perpetual cycle of death and resurrection, in which what
is concrete distinction in the act transforms itself into opposition
in the process, producing the terms of a new problem and becoming the
source of the new creation. Thus the whole method of Croce's philosophy
reveals itself as directed towards a realistic conception of life, and
the distinctions within the concept are not abstract forms, but the
very structure of reality.

The professional philosopher moves always and only in the rarefied
atmosphere of the pure concept. Croce came to philosophy from art and
from economics, and he never lost contact with the elementary forms
of knowledge and of action. What might be termed as his fundamental
discoveries are his definitions of the æsthetic and of the economic
principle. On this basis the whole of his thought rests. Without a
conception of a truth which is sufficient unto itself, and yet is not
logical truth, and of a good which has its own justification, and yet
is not moral good, he would have been compelled to maintain by the side
of the concepts of truth and of goodness, error and evil as positive
realities, or to include the whole of reality within what would have
been truth and goodness in a purely verbal sense. In both cases, he
would have been unable to make his philosophy immediately adherent to
all grades of active consciousness, from the lowest to the highest,
and thereby to history. Of these discoveries the one that until now
has attracted the greatest attention is that of the pure intuition,
and of art and language as expression. But the establishment of the
economic principle, that is of the world of nature, of feeling, of
passion, as a positive grade of the spiritual process, will probably
be counted as Croce's greatest achievement, by those who shall be able
to look back on his work with an ampler perspective. It is through
it that his philosophy of the spirit, and in this philosophy, the
consciousness of our day, has taken possession of that other world, of
that persistent transcendance, which we call nature. In this direction
lies, undoubtedly, the future course of the thought of an age, to
which, in this afterglow of a great conflagration, all problems seem to
gather into the one of the subjection to its better and higher self,
the utilization for its purer purposes, of its own cumbersome economic
body, of its nature and of its passions.

[Footnote 1: Filosofia della Pratica, p. 208.]


Croce's Complete Works form a collection of twenty-eight volumes, in
four distinct series, published by Laterza e Figli, of Bari, who are
also the publishers of _La Critica_, and of the following collections
initiated or directed by Croce: _Scrittori d'Italia, Scrittori
Stranieri, Classici della Filosofia Moderna._

We give here a full list of the _Opere di Benedetto Croce_, adding to
the title of each volume the year of the last available edition, the
years of their composition having already been indicated in the text:

_Filosofia dello Spirito_ ("Philosophy of the Spirit"):

Vol. I, _Estetica_, 1912. (Translated under the tide of "_Æsthetic_.")

Vol. II, _Logica_, 1917. (Translated under the tide of "_Logic_.")

Vol. III, _Filosofia della Pratica_, 1915. (Translated under the tide
of "_The Philosophy of the Practical: Economics and Ethics._")

Vol. IV, _Teoria e Storia della Storiografia_, 1920. (Translated under
the tide of "_Theory and History of Historiography_" in England, and
under the ride of "_History: Its Theory and Practice_" in the United

Saggi filosofici ("_Philosophical Essays_"):

Vol. I, _Problemi di Estetica_, 1910 ("_Problems of Æsthetics._")

Vol. II, _La Filosofia di Giambattista Fico_, 1911. (Translated under
the title of "_The Philosophy of Vico._")

Vol. III, _Saggio sullo Hegel_, 1913. ("_Essay on Hegel_," followed
by essays on the history of philosophy; the essay on Hegel translated
under the tide of "What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of

Vol. IV, _Materialismo Storico ed economia marxistica_, 1918.
(Translated under the title of "Historical Materialism and Marxian

Vol. V, _Nuovi Saggi di Estetica_, 1920. ("New Essays on Æsthetics";
contains the _Breviario di Estetica_, translated under the title of
"The Essence of Æsthetics.")

Vol. VI, _Frammenti di Etica_, 1922. ("Fragments of Ethics.")

Scritti di Storia letteraria e politica. ("Writings on Literary and
Political History"):

Vol. I, _Saggi sulla Letteratura italiana del Seicento_, 1911. ("Essays
on Italian Literature in the Seventeenth Century.")

Vol. II, _La Rivoluzione napoletana del_ 1799, 1912. ("The Neapolitan
Revolution of 1799.")

Vols. III-VI, _La Letteratura della nuova Italia_, 1914-15. "(The
Literature of the New Italy.")

Vol. VII, _I Teatri di Napoli_, 1916. ("The Theatres of Naples.")

Vol. VIII, _La Spagna nella Vita italiana durante la Rinascenza_, 1917.
("Spain in Italian Life during the Renaissance.")

Vols. IX-X, _Conversazioni critiche_, 1918. ("Critical Conversations.")

Vol. XI, _Storie e leggende napoletane_, 1919. ("Historical Tales and
Legends of Naples.")

Vol. XII, Goethe, 1919.

Vol. XIII, _Una Famiglia di Patrioti_, 1919. ("A Family of Patriots";
includes essays on Francesco de Sanctis.)

Vol. XIV, _Ariosto, Shakespeare e Corneille_, 1920. (Translated under
the title of "Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Corneille.")

Vols. XV-XVI, _Storia della Storiografia italiana_, 1920. ("The History
of Italian Historiography.")

Vol. XVII, _La Poesia di Dante_, 1921. ("The Poetry of Dante.")

_Scritti varii_. ("Miscellaneous Writings"):

Vol. I, _Primi Saggi_, 1919. ("Early Essays.")

The following volumes are not included in the Laterza edition of
Croce's works:

_Cultura e vita morale_, Bari, 1914. ("Culture and Moral Life.")
_Aneddoti e profili settecenteschi_, Palermo, 1914. ("Anecdotes and
Profiles of the Eighteenth Century.")

_Contributo alla critica di me stesso_, Naples, 1918. ("Contribution
to a Criticism of Myself"; one hundred copies printed for private

_Curiosità storiche_, Naples, 1920. ("Historical Curiosities.")

_Pagine Sparse_, edited by G. Castellano, Naples, 1919-1920.
("Scattered Pages," consisting of _Pagine di letteratura e di cultura_,
2 vols.; _Pagine sulla guerra_; and _Memorie, scritti biografici e
appunti storici_.)

A complete bibliography, cataloguing the whole of Croce's multifarious
activity, is outside the scope of this note. The nearest approach to it
can be found in G. Castellano's _Introduzione alle opere di B. Croce_,
Bari, 1920, which contains, besides, a full list of translations in
eight languages, a bibliography of the Italian and foreign critical
literature on Croce, and a very useful series of abstracts of
discussions and judgments on Croce's work.

Besides articles and essays in American and English magazines and
reviews, the following works of Croce have been translated into
English: the four volumes of the _Filosofia dello Spirito_, the essay
on Hegel, the _Essence of Æsthetics_, and the essays on _Ariosto,
Shakespeare, and Corneille_, by Douglas Ainslie; the essay on Vico, by
R. G. Collingwood, and the essays on Historical Materialism, by C. M.
Meredith. But the English or American student of Croce ought to rely
as little as possible on translations; the reading of the Italian text
will be found comparatively easy, on the basis of a good acquaintance
with Latin or with French. The labour entailed by the surmounting
of the first difficulties will be largely repaid by the advantages
gained in coming into direct contact with Croce's thought, and by the
acquisition of at least a reading knowledge of Italian.

For the vast critical literature on Croce, scattered through the
literary and philosophical reviews of Europe and of America during
the last twenty years, we are compelled again to refer the reader to
Castellano's book. We shall only mark out Croce's own autobiographical
notes, the Contributo listed above, which, however, having been printed
for private circulation only, is not generally accessible except in
the French translation printed in the _Revue de Métaphysique et de
Morale_, XXVI, pp. 1-40. The following are the only books which give
a general view of Croce's thought: G. Prezzolini, _Benedetto Croce_,
Naples, 1909; E. Chiocchetti, _La filosofia di B. Croce_, Florence,
1915; H. Wildon Carr, _The Philosophy of B. Croce_, London, 1917. The
first is an able, but very cursory sketch; the second examines Croce's
philosophy from the standpoint of neoscholasticism; the third is an
ample summary written by a distinguished writer well acquainted with
the various currents of modern thought. Each of them ought to be read
with a critical and discriminating eye.

In the English-speaking world, Croce's fame rests emphatically on his
æsthetics, and its applications to literary criticism. His influence
on English and American critical thought has already gone much deeper
than a mere list of writings on his theories would show; especially in
England, his ideas are, so to speak, in the air, and appear in many
writers who have no direct knowledge of his work. The best exposition
of this phase of his philosophy is to be found in E. F. Carritt's
book, _The Theory of Beauty_, 1914, chap. XIV. The writings of A. B.
Walkley, and of J. E. Spingam, contain the most vigorous prosecution
of his thought as applied, respectively, to English and to American
scholarship and criticism.

For the general history of Italian thought, to which many a reference
is made in the course of this book, the best helps, besides Croce's
essay on Vico, and B. Spaventa, _La filosofia italiana_, recently
reprinted, Bari, 1909, are the historical works of Giovanni Gentile,
and especially his _Storia della filosofia italiana_, Milano, n.
d. Gentile is one of the most profound and earnest modern European
thinkers, and it is desirable that his theoretical works, similar in
tendency to, but widely divergent in temper from those of Croce, should
become better known to the Anglo-Saxon world. Two of his books, _La
Riforma dell' Educazione_ and _Teoria generale dello Spirito_, are soon
to appear in English. Croce's judgment on Gentile's Actual Idealism is
expressed in _Una discussione tra filosofi amici_, in _Conversazioni
Critiche_, II, pp. 67-95. But a complete understanding of the vital
relations between the two thinkers can be gathered only through an
adequate knowledge of both Croce's and Gentile's work.

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