|Birth:||February 25, 1866 (Pescasseroli, Italy)|
|Death:||November 20, 1952 (Naples, Italy)|
|School/tradition:||Hegelianism, Idealism, Liberalism|
|Main interests:||History, Aesthetics, Politics|
|Influences:||Giambattista Vico, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Antonio Labriola|
|Influenced:||Giovanni Gentile, Antonio Gramsci|
Benedetto Croce (February 25, 1866 - November 20, 1952) was an Italian critic, idealist philosopher, and politician. He wrote on numerous topics, including philosophy of history and aesthetics, and was a prominent liberal, although he opposed laissez-faire free trade. His influence on Antonio Gramsci is quite notable.
Croce was born in Pescasseroli in the Abruzzi region of Italy. He came from an influential and wealthy family, and was raised in a very strict Catholic environment. Around the age of 18, he turned away from Catholicism and became an atheist, remaining so for the rest of his life. In 1883, an earthquake hit his village, destroying the home he lived in. His mother, father, and only sister were all killed, while he was buried for a very long time and barely survived. After the incident, however, he inherited his family's fortune and was able to live the rest of his life in relative leisure, enabling him to devote a great deal of time to philosophy. As his fame increased, many pushed him, against his wishes, to go into politics. He was made Minister of Public Education, and later moved to the Italian Senate, a life long position. He was an open critic of Italy's particpation in World War I, feeling that it was a suicidal trade war. Though this made him initially unpopular, his reputation was restored after the war and he became a well-loved public figure and, even though he openly opposed the Fascist Party, he remained so till his death in 1952.
Heavily influenced by Hegel and other German Idealists, such as Fichte, Croce produced what was called, by him, the Philosophy of Spirit. Croce was an ardent idealist, and denied any reality other than "pure concept", or simply ideas. "Pure Concept" to him are largely Plato's Ideas, and are similar to Kant's categories, there are things like quantity, quality, evolution, more or less any idea we have that can be described as a universal idea. He came to the conclusion that if all of reality was an idea, all of reality could be reduced to purely logical concepts, and most of his works from there on are expositions on logic. He rejected all forms of religion, as not logical enough, and came to view most metaphysics in the same manner. He felt that all metaphysics are simple justifications of religious ideas and not full, viable philosophical ideas. Nevertheless, he held onto his idealism.
Croce also held great esteem for Vico, and shared his view that history should be written by philosophers. Croce's On History sets forth the view of history as "philosophy in motion", that there is no greater "cosmic design" or ultimate plan in history, and that the "science of history" was a farce. This lead him to scorn theorists like Marx and Hegel who attempted to reduce history to a few guiding principles. He largely agrees with Rousseau, saying that history is a series of lies, where we must choose the one that seems closest to the truth.
Croce's work Breviario di estetica (The Essence of Aesthetic) appears in the form of four lessons (quattro lezioni), as he was asked to write and deliver them at the inauguration of Rice University in 1912. He declined the invitation to attend the event; however, he wrote the lessons and submitted them for translation, so that they could be read in his absence. In this brief, but dense, work, Croce sets forth his theory of art. He claimed that art was more important than science or metaphysics, since only the former edifies us. He felt that all we know can be reduced to logical and imaginative knowledge. Art springs from the latter, making it at its heart, pure imagery. All thought is based in part on this, and it precedes all other thought. The task of an artist is then to put forth the perfect image that they can produce for their viewer, since this is what beauty fundamentally is - the formation of inward, mental images in their ideal state. Our intuition is the basis of forming these concepts within us. This theory was later heavily debated by such contemporary Italian thinkers as Umberto Eco.