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Croce, Benedetto (1866–1952)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD015-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

The leading Italian philosopher of his day, Croce presented his philosophy as a humanist alternative to the consolations of religion. A Hegelian idealist, he argued that all human activity was orientated towards either the Beautiful, the True, the Useful or the Good. These ideals were the four aspects of what, following Hegel, he termed spirit or human consciousness. The first two corresponded to the theoretical dimensions of spirit, namely intuition and logic respectively, the last two to spirit’s practical aspects of economic and ethical willing. He contended that the four eternal ideals were ‘pure concepts’ whose content derived from human thought and action. Spirit or consciousness progressively unfolded through human history as our ideas of beauty, truth, usefulness and morality were steadily reworked and developed.

Croce insisted that his idealism was a form of ‘absolute historicism’, since it involved the claim that all meaning and value evolved immanently through the historical process. He strenuously denied that spirit could be regarded as some form of transcendent puppet-master that existed apart from the human beings through which it expressed itself. He accused Hegel of making this mistake. He also maintained that Hegel’s conception of the dialectic as a synthesis of opposites had paid insufficient attention to the need to retain the distinct moments of spirit. He argued that the Beautiful, the True, the Useful and the Good, though linked, ought never to be confused, and he criticized aestheticism and utilitarianism accordingly.

Croce developed his thesis both in philosophical works devoted to aesthetics, ethics, politics and the philosophy of history, and in detailed historical studies of Italian and European literature, culture, politics and society. Opposition to the Fascist regime led him to identify his philosophy with liberalism on the grounds that it emphasized the creativity and autonomy of the individual. In practical politics, however, he was a conservative.

Citing this article:
Bellamy, Richard. Croce, Benedetto (1866–1952), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD015-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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