Italy, philosophy in

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N028-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 22, 2021, from

2. The nineteenth century

During the nineteenth century, philosophy in Italy was closely connected to political events in which most philosophers played an active part. The influence of Vico was especially strong and, due to Vincenzo Cuoco, permeated even the Milanese school which traditionally tended more towards the Enlightenment. The attention to historical detail and to Italian tradition which are evident in Cuoco’s work Platone in Italia (Plato in Italy) (1805) was also characteristic of the work of Carlo Cattaneo, a proponent of Federalism along with Giuseppe Ferrari. But Cattaneo’s work is more philosophically aware of wider issues in European culture. He was the author of historical and economic studies (in 1844 he predicted the famine that was to hit Ireland during 1845–8) and the driving force behind the group based around the journal Il Politecnico, which he also managed on many occasions. His original theory of knowledge, outlined in the Psicologia delle menti associate (Psychology of associated minds) (1859–66), justifies Kant’s theory of phenomena in terms of historical development and the efficacy of science. Works closer to Enlightenment thought from this time include those of Francesco Soave, critic of Kantianism; Melchiorre Gioia who, in Filosofia della statistica (Philosophy of Statistics) (1826), worked out an economic theory influenced by Bentham; and Giandomenco Romagnosi who put forward a naturalistic conception of society.

The major European philosophies of the time – Kantianism and Idealism – were combined in Italy with elements derived from the long-standing humanist and religious traditions. Pasquale Galluppi contributed to the spread of the philosophy of Kant, especially in Naples (which later became an important centre for Hegelian philosophy). In his Saggio filosofico sulla critica della conoscenza (Philosophical essay on the critique of knowledge) (1819), Galluppi maintained the necessity of going beyond sensationalism (such as that of Condillac) and Kantian subjectivism, but his critics charged him with falling into an idealism more inconsistent than that of Kant.

Strongly spiritualistic elements are found in the romantic idealism of authors such as Giuseppe Mazzini, Antonio Rosmini and Vincenzo Gioberti. Mazzini advocated ideas that inspired the struggle for national unity (Risorgimento), and the slogan ‘Dio e popolo’ (God and the people) summarizes his thought: supreme authority is of the people, but the aims they pursue are inspired by God. The Italian people, he believed, had been called to begin a new era founded not on rights, like the French Revolution, but on duties, on the awareness that each person belongs to Humanity. Mazzini, an opponent of Socialist International, proposed a lay spiritualist philosophy and attempted to give it European significance by creating an association called ‘Giovane Europa’ (Young Europe), following the domestic ‘Giovane Italia’ movement. The philosophy of Antonio Rosmini is even more strongly spiritualist (see Rosmini-Serbati, A.). A priest, he elaborated a philosophy (suspected of being heterodox) which was meant to supersede that of Kant. He developed an ontology founded on the primacy of the idea of being as prior to any other knowledge or category. The sole category is possibility and knowledge is rooted in consciousness of self (Nuovo saggio sull’origine delle idee (New essay on the origin of ideas) (1830); Logica (Logic) (1854)).

If, in spite of his polemics, Rosmini is considered the Italian Kant, Vincenzo Gioberti is the Italian Hegel. A critic of Rosmini, Gioberti summarized his own philosophy with the formula ‘L’ente crea l’esistente, l’esistente ritorna all’ente’ (being creates existence, existence returns to being). This describes a process of imitation and participation clearly inspired by Neoplatonism, which brought accusations of immanentism. Also a priest, Gioberti like Rosmini was motivated by an apologetical intention, but his Catholic philosophy does have some original points. Apart from strictly philosophical works such as Degli errori filosofici di A. Rosmini (On the philosophical errors of A. Rosmini) (1841) and Protologia (Protology) (1857), Gioberti is also remembered for his civil commitment and political theories. In Del primate morale e civil degli italiani (On the moral and civic superiority of the Italians) (1842–3) he supports a neo-Guelphian idea which sees the Roman Catholic Church as the guide of the Italian people, helping them to regain their historical pre-eminence. Rosmini’s and Gioberti’s Catholic spirituality met with hostility from the Church which, in the 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris of Leo XIII, declared the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas to be the orthodox doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. This date marks the beginning of neo-scholastic philosophy which became widespread in the twentieth century, especially at the Pontifical University of Rome and Catholic University of Milan.

The legacy of the Enlightenment continued, particularly in the positivist school in the North which comprised more scientists than philosophers, and which was interested in the ‘sciences of life’, by which was meant anthropology, psychology, sociology and so on. The major figure of this movement was Roberto Ardigò, an ex-priest and academic at Padua (a well-known centre for heterodoxy since the Renaissance). He wrote an essay on Pomponazzi and maintained a naturalistic positivism which was a cross between Spencer’s Evolutionism (Spencer was the best-known positivist philosopher in Italy) and Bruno’s Naturalism. For Ardigò, the fact is divine, the absolute to which every theory must be referred. Although not without a certain dogmatism, this theory is more radical than Spencer’s because it refuses to recognize the unknowable. Ardigò’s work on ethics, La morale dei positivisti (The morality of positivists) (1879), met with great success, especially in the field of criminal law, while his Psicologia come scienza positiva (Psychology as a positive science) (1870) is important in the development of psychology as an autonomous science.

Naples was the centre of Hegelianism in Italy, and two of the most influential Italian philosophers of the beginning of the twentieth century, Croce and Gentile, were educated there. Hegelianism in Italy is not regarded as an imported school of thought – rather, the roots of European philosophy are sought in the Italian and especially the Neapolitan tradition. Bertrando Spaventa’s theory of the circulation of ideas, outlined in his La filosofia italiana nelle sue relazioni con la filosofia europea (Italian philosophy and its relation to European philosophy) (1862), maintains that the origin of modern philosophy is to be found in the Italian Renaissance: Spinoza, Kant, Fichte and Hegel he regards as disciples of Bruno, Campanella and Vico. This interpretation of history, in spite of its one-sidedness (it ignores Galileo and the Enlightenment), stimulated important historical studies, especially on the Renaissance and on German philosophy which was seen as the link with the Renaissance. Such one-sidedness is typical of Italian philosophy of the nineteenth century, where Positivists and Idealists alike viewed theoretical progress in science with indifference, leaving thinkers of European stature practically isolated: these included Giuseppe Peano, for instance, who completed the work of Weierstrass and whose discoveries in mathematics and geometry place him among the greatest scientists of the century; and Federigo Enriques, the greatest representative of the Italian school of algebraic geometry and supporter of an epistemological theory similar to that of Lakatos (see Lakatos, I.).

Citing this article:
Chiurazzi, Gaetano. The nineteenth century. Italy, philosophy in, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N028-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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