*Croce, Benedetto

Benedetto Croce

Benedetto Croce



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Croce, Benedetto

Italian, 1866–1952
Benedetto Croce was the dominant figure in Italian culture for the first 50 years of the 20th century. His formidable output covers well over a hundred volumes, over half of which consist of collections of essays in philosophy, aesthetics, literary criticism, philosophy of history, narrative history, and politics. Although the essay form was the dominant mode of Croce’s writing—even the chapters of his monographs can often be read as self-contained pieces—it was for him an instrument in a literary life dominated by cultural battles rather than a genre chosen for its own sake. Ironically, Croce, one of the most prodigious and effective users of the essay in the 20th century, produced an aesthetic theory which allowed no space for critical consideration of the genre as such.
Croce burst onto the cultural scene in 1896 with the publication in essay form of two lectures given in 1893 and 1894 under the title Il concetto della storia nelle sue relazioni col concetto dell’arte (The concept of history in its relationship to the concept of art).
One of the immediate effects of these essays was to bring cultural debate in Italy into the mainstream of European thought. In these writings Croce engaged with the German neo- Kantians in a common enterprise to establish the theoretical foundations of humanistic studies vis-à-vis the natural sciences and to clarify the distinction between Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences) and Geisteswissenschaften/Kulturwissenschaften (sciences of the humanities). In these early writings Croce was not as antipositivist as he later claimed. He attempted to establish the autonomy of art (and historiography as an art form) on the philosophical terrain of naive or uncritical realism. But this was the terrain par excellence of the natural sciences, firmly based on the epistemological assumption that human understanding has an unmediated access to reality. The natural sciences thus had the unassailable advantage of being able to analyze reality with greater explanatory power than the arts, by implication relegating the latter to a second-order, divertive, cognitive activity. Croce’s observation in Il concetto della storia nelle sue relazioni col concetto dell’arte that the philosophical foundations of aesthetics did not yet exist was made in recognition of this temporary defeat.
From this point onward, the direction of his thinking took a decisive anti-positivist turn, and began to shift in emphasis away from the desire of the German neo-Kantians to establish the autonomy of the arts; Croce’s objective became to demonstrate their cognitive superiority over the natural sciences. His discovery of Hegel (and a strongly idealist Kant), revealed in his letters of the period to Giovanni Gentile, led him to abandon uncritical realism, and with a complete volte face to construct an epistemology in which the human mind or spirit does not so much perceive reality as actually construct it. His monumental Estetica come scienza dell’espressione e linguistica generale (1902; Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic), which also contains a collection of discrete essays and studies on the history of aesthetics, and the Logica come scienza del concetto puro (1905; Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept), laid the foundations of Croce’s solution to the problem. In these works he establishes a hierarchy in which philosophy, dealing with “pure concepts,” is epistemologically superior to the more mundane “pseudo-concepts” of the natural sciences. Art, based on intuition, and philosophy, based on reasoning, are given equal status as the two “cognitive” activities of the human spirit, while science is consigned to the sphere of the multifarious moral and economic “practical” activities of the human spirit. Historiography is transferred from art to become a branch of philosophy. Karl Vossler observed that no previous thinker had put aesthetic theory on the map so effectively, and Croce’s influence spread well beyond Italy to inspire critics abroad. These writings, along with his Filosofia della pratica: Economica ed etica (1909; Philosophy of the Practical: Economic and Ethic), laid the foundations of Croce’s subsequent theoretical labors. Later, when the positivist threat receded, Croce’s antipathy toward the incursions of the scientific mentality into the arts took the form of opposition to methodological developments, whether in literary analysis, historiography, or the study of language.
A deep-rooted conservatism lay at the heart of Croce’s thinking: not a sterile conservatism, but a tortured, creative, and challenging questioning of all that was new.
Thus while he had an inhibiting effect in many fields of inquiry (e.g. historical and literary methodologies, linguistics, psychology), his passionate commitment to debating all the issues of the day nevertheless broadened the horizons of Italian intellectuals, and his journal La Critica (Criticism), founded in 1903 in collaboration with Giovanni Gentile, remained a critical point of reference for the next 40 years.
As a literary critic Croce developed the theory that the “poetic” core of all art was independent of genre, period, structure, and intellectual and ethical content. This theory, underlying the Aesthetic, discussed in his collection Problemi di estetica (1910; Problems in aesthetics), clearly enunciated in the Breviario di estetica (1913; The Breviary of Aesthetic), and further elaborated in the essays Nuovi saggi di estetica (1920; New essays on aesthetics), was finalized in La poesia (1936; Benedetto Croce’s Poetry and Literature). Croce’s inability to define the ineffable “poetic” essence of art, which escaped all specificities, made the critic’s task impossible to formulate. The critic with true perception simply knows “poetry” when he sees it. The purpose of this “purist” theory (art was simply “art,” or in essence “poetry”) was twofold: to keep criticism free of “particular” theories (art as pleasure, feeling, moral purpose, etc.), which would transform art into a different order of activity of the spirit, and to protect art from the methodological “technicians” who would collapse genius or inspiration into tecnica.
Croce’s own literary criticism followed the practice of dichotomizing the work of art into a “poetic” core on the one hand and “extraneous” intellectual, moral, and structural elements on the other.
Some of Croce’s most notable collections of critical essays appear in his six-volume La letteratura della nuova Italia (1914–40; Literature of the new Italy), La poesia di Dante (1921; The Poetry of Dante), Ariosto, Shakespeare e Corneille (1920; Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Corneille), Poesia e non poesia (1923; European Literature in the Nineteenth Century), Poesia “popolare” e poesia d’arte (1933; “Popular” poetry and true poetry), the two volumes of Saggi sulla letteratura italiana del Seicento (1911, 1931;
Essays on Italian literature of the 17th century), Conversazioni critiche (1918–39; Critical conversations), Poesia antica e moderna (1941; Ancient and modern poetry), and Letture di poeti (1950; Poetic readings). His classical taste led him to view the experimental movements of the day as decadent. In his Dante essays he contrasted the positive lyrical elements in the Divine Comedy with its “non-poetic” rational and structural dimensions, while his opponents saw the interpenetration of these elements as the very reason for the work’s poetic power. His similar treatment of Manzoni, Leopardi, and other writers produced vigorous opposition to what increasingly came to be seen as an overschematic system of analysis, resulting in the eventual discrediting of the aesthetic theory on which Croce’s style of criticism was based.
His evolving idealist historicism eventually reduced philosophy to historiography according to the formula that the defining cognitive constituent of reality, the spirit, is quintessentially historical. Croce initially defined the historical process as an inscrutable impersonal force that progressively enriches our understanding of the “truth” content of
reality. Attempts to steer the course of history violate this process. In his World War I essays Pagine sulla guerra (Notes on the war)—eventually published in 1928—he exhorts Italians to stop debating whether or not Italy should enter the conflict, and to follow their political leaders since “such compliance, such obedience to the word of command issued by the few in number, by the ruling classes, is not blindness but a profound instinct for survival…a profound sense of necessity, of obedience to the laws of history.” This deeply conservative view of history was modified when Croce turned against fascism, from which point he perceived the force of history as promoting the emergence of “liberty” rather than “truth.” His subsequent historical writings reflect this injection of a greater moral purpose into the activities of individuals (but not collective
forces) and into the historical process, a position theorized in the collection La storia come pensiero e come azione (1938; History as the Story of Liberty). Yet this new orientation never resolved the tensions between the moral purpose inherent in human activity and Croce’s insistence on ultimate surrender to history’s lofty design. Thus, despite his championing of liberty, his political writings in such collections as Elementi di politica (1925; Politics and Morals), Etica e politica (1931; Ethics and politics), Pensiero politico e politica attuale (1945; Political thought and current politics), and Scritti e discorsi politici (1943–1947) (1963; Political writings and speeches) greatly disappointed the more radical anti-fascist elements of the Liberal party, the postwar reconstitution of which he presided over until 1947. His attachment to the theory of history as an impersonal force led Croce to see political programs for systematic reform as futile attempts to interfere with history’s mysterious purpose. His leadership divided Liberal intellectuals and left the party as a right-wing rump on the margins of postwar Italian politics.

Benedetto Croce

Benedetto Croce


Born 25 February 1866 in Pescassèroli. Lost his parents and sister in an earthquake on the island of Ischia, 1883. Studied law at the University of Rome, 1883–86. Returned to Naples, and administered family estate, 1886–90. Founder, with Giovanni Gentile, and editor, La Critica, 1903–44, later the Quaderni della “Critica”, 1945–51; adviser, Laterza and Sons publishers, Bari, from 1904. Appointed senator for life, 1910. Married Adele Rossi, 1914: four daughters. Minister of education, 1920–21; denounced the fascist dictatorship, 1925; president of the Liberal party, 1943–47, minister without portfolio of the new democratic government, 1944, and member of the Constituent Assembly, 1946– 47. Founder, Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici (Italian institute of historical studies), Naples, 1947. Awards: honorary degrees from three universities. Died in Naples, 20 November 1952.

Selected Writings

Essays and Related Prose
Il concetto della storia nelle sue relazioni col concetto dell’arte, 1896
Materialismo storico ed economia marxistica, 1900; as Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx, translated by C. M.Meredith, 1914
Estetica come scienza dell’espressione e linguistica generale, 1902; as Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1909, revised edition, 1953; as The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General, translated by Colin Lyas, 1992
Logica come scienza del concetto puro, 1905; as Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1917
Letteratura e critica della letteratura contemporanea in Italia, 1908
Filosofia della pratica: Economica ed etica, 1909; as Philosophy of the Practical: Economic and Ethic, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1913
Problemi di estetica e contributi alla storia dell’estetica italiana, 1910
La filosofia di Giambattista Vico, 1911; as The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico, translated by R.G.Collingwood, 1964
Saggi sulla letteratura italiana del Seicento, 1911
Breviario di estetica, 1913; as The Breviary of Aesthetic, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1915, and as The Essence of Aesthetic, 1921; as Guide to Aesthetics, translated by Patrick Romanell, 1965
Saggio sullo Hegel, seguito da altri scritti di storia della filosofia, 1913; part as What Is Living and What Is Dead of the Philosophy of Hegel, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1915
La letteratura della nuova Italia, 6 vols., 1914–40
Aneddoti e profili sette centeschi, 1914
Cultura e vita morale, 1914
Teoria e storia della storiografia, 1917; as History: Its Theory and Practice, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1921, and as Theory and History of Historiography, 1921
Conversazioni critiche, 5 vols., 1918–39
Primi saggi, 1919
Curiosità storiche, 1919
Storie e leggende napoletane, 1919
Una famiglia di patrioti, ed altri saggi storici e critici, 1919
Pagine sparse, edited by G.Castellano, 3 vols., 1919–26
Goethe, 1919; revised edition, 1939; as Goethe, translated by Emily Anderson, 1923
Nuovi saggi di estetica, 1920
Giosuè Carducci, 1920
Giovanni Pascoli, 1920
Ariosto, Shakespeare e Corneille, 1920; as Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Corneille, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1920
Storia della storiografia italiana nel secolo decimonono, 2 vols., 1921
La poesia di Dante, 1921; as The Poetry of Dante, translated by Douglas Ainslie, 1922
Nuove curiosità storiche, 1922
Frammenti di etica, 1922; as The Conduct of Life, translated by Arthur Livingston, 1924
Poesia e non poesia, 1923; as European Literature in the Nineteenth Century, translated
by Douglas Ainslie, 1924
Elementi di politica, 1925; as Politics and Morals, translated by Salvatore J.Castiglione, 1945
Storia del Regno di Napoli, 1925; as History of the Kingdom of Naples, translated by F.Frenaje, 1970
Pagine sparse, edited by G.Castellano, 1927
Uomini e cose della vecchia Italia, 1927
Pagine sulla guerra, 1928
Storia d’Italia dal 1871 al 1915, 1928; as A History of Italy, 1871–1915, translated by C.M.Ady, 1929
Storia dell’età barocca in Italia: Pensiero—Poesia e letteratura– Vita morale, 1929
Alessandro Manzoni, 1930
Eternità e storicità della filosofia, 1930
Nuovi saggi sulla letteratura italiana del seicento, 1931; revised edition, 1949
Etica e politica, 1931
Storia d’Europa nel secolo decimonono, 1932; as History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century, translated by H.Furst, 1933
Poesia “popolare” e poesia d’arte, 1933
Nuovi saggi sul Goethe, 1934
Orientamenti: Piccoli saggi di filosofia politica, 1934
La critica e la storia della arti figurative, 1934
Ultimi saggi, 1935
La poesia: Introduzione alla critica storia della poesia e della letteratura, 1936; as Benedetto Croce’s Poetry and Literature: An Introduction to Its Criticism and History, translated by Giovanni Gullace, 1981
Vite di avventure, di fede e di passione, 1936
La storia come pensiero e come azione, 1938; as History as the Story of Liberty, translated by Sylvia Sprigge, 1941
Poesia antica e moderna, 1941
Il carattere della filosofia moderna, 1941
Storia dell’estetica per saggi, 1942
Aneddoti di varia letteratura, 3 vols.,1942; enlarged edition, 4 vols., 1953–54
Pagine sparse, 3 vols., 1943
Considerazioni sul problema morale del tempo nostro, 1945
Pensiero politico e politica attuale, scritti e discorsi, 1945
Il carattere della filosofia moderna, 1945
Discorsi di varia filosofia, 2 vols., 1945; selection in My Philosophy and Other Essays on the Moral and Political Problems of Our Time, 1949
Poeti e scrittori del pieno e del tardo Rinascimento, 3 vols., 1945–52
Nuove pagine sparse, 2 vols., 1948–49
Filosofia e storiografia, 1949; selection in My Philosophy and Other Essays on the Moral and Political Problems of Our Time, 1949
My Philosophy and Other Essays on the Moral and Political Problems of Our Time, edited by R.Klibansky, translated by E. F.Carritt, 1949
La letteratura italiana del Settecento—Note critiche, 1949
Letture di poeti e riflessioni sulla teoria e la critica della poesia, 1950
Filosofia, poesia, storia: Pagine tratte da tutte le opere, 1951; as Philosophy, Poetry, History: An Anthology of Essays, translated by Cecil Sprigge, 1966
Indagini su Hegel, 1952
Terze pagine sparse, 2 vols., 1955
Scritti e discorsi politici (1943–1947), 1963; edited by Angela Carella, 1993
Essays on Marx and Russia, edited and translated by Angelo A.De Gennaro, 1966
Essays on Literature and Literary Criticism, translated by M.E. Moss, 1990

Other writings:

works on aesthetics, logic, economics, ethics, literary criticism, historiography, and Marxism.
Collected works edition: Edizione nazionale delle opere, 1991–(in progress).
Borsari, Silvano, L’opera di Benedetto Croce, Naples: Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, 1964
Cione, Edmondo, Bibliografia crociana, Turin: Fratelli Bocca, 1956 Nicolini, Fausto, L’”editio ne varietur” delle opere di B.Croce: Saggio bibliografico con taluni riassunti o passi testuali e ventinove fuori testo, Naples: Biblioteca del “Bollettino”
dell’Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, 1960
Palmer, L.M., and H.S.Harris, editors, Thought, Action and Intuition: A Symposium on the Philosophy of Benedetto Croce, Hildesheim and New York: Olms, 1975

Further Reading

Adamson, Walter L., “Benedetto Croce and the Death of Ideology,” Journal of Modern History 55 (June 1983):208–36
Allan, George, “Croce’s Theory of Historical Judgement: A Reassessment,” Modern Schoolman (January 1975):169–87
Bedani, Gino, “Art as ‘Poesia’: The Strategic Dimension of Croce’s Aesthetic,” in The Italian Lyric Tradition, edited by Gino Bedani, Remo Catani, and Monica Slowikowska, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1993:7–22
Bedani, Gino, “Art, Poetry and Science: Theory and Rhetoric in Croce’s Early Anti- Positivist Epistemology,” Italian Studies 49 (1994):91–110
Bobbio, Norberto, Profilo ideologico del Novecento italiano, Turin: Einaudi, 1986
Bonetti, Paolo, Introduzione a Croce, Rome: Laterza, 1984
Brown, Merle E., Neo-Idealistic Aesthetics: Croce-GentileCollingwood, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1966
Carr, Herbert Wildon, The Philosophy of Benedetto Croce, New York: Russell and Russell, 1969 (original edition 1917)
Corsi, Mario, Le origini del pensiero di Benedetto Croce, Naples: Giannini, 1974
Garin, Eugenio, Intellettuali italiani del XX secolo, Rome: Riuniti, 1974
Montale, Eugenio, “Lesson on Croce: Esthetics and Criticism,” Italian Quarterly 7 (1963):48–65
Moss, M.E., Benedetto Croce Reconsidered, Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1987
Orsini, Gian N.G., Benedetto Croce: Philosopher of Art and Literary Critic, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1961
Palmer, L.M., and H.S.Harris, editors, Thought, Action and Intuition: A Symposium on the Philosophy of Benedetto Croce, Hildesheim and New York: Olms, 1975
Parente, Alfredo, “Estetica e gusto nell’opera critica di Croce,” Rivista di Studi Crociani 3 (1966):293–94
Roberts, David D., “Benedetto Croce and the Dilemmas of Liberal Restoration,” Review of Politics 44 (April 1982):214–41
Roberts, David D., Benedetto Croce and the Uses of Historicism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987
Sprigge, Cecil J.S., Benedetto Croce: Man and Thinker, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, and Cambridge: Bowes and Bowes, 1952
Wellek, René, Four Critics: Croce, Valéry, Lukács, and Ingarden, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981
White, Hayden V., “The Abiding Relevance of Croce’s Idea of History,” Journal of Modern History 37 (June 1963):109–24

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