Benedetto Croce’s Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic is the first of four volumes in his Filosofia come sciensa dello spirito (“philosophy of spirit”); the other three are Logica come scienza del concetto puro (1909; Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept, 1917), Filosofia della pratica: Economica ed etica (1909; Philosophy of the Practical: Economic and Ethic, 1913), and Teoria e storia della storiografia (1917; Theory and History of Historiography, 1921). Croce is generally regarded as an inspired proponent of the idealist strain in philosophy, and Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic, the introduction to his theory, continues to be the work for which he is best known, and it is by his aesthetic theory that he is judged.
The entire thesis of Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic rests on the concept of intuition, and because of the ambiguity of that term, Croce’s work in translation never received the critical attention that the original Italian did. No English term, used without careful qualification, has enough levels of meaning, enough systematic ambiguity, to carry the burden of Croce’s central idea. If, in addition, as may very well be the case, one must bring to the reading of Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic a certain tolerance of mind that the prevailing empiricist temper makes difficult, it becomes even more evident that one must resist the temptation to understand Croce all at once. The idea, however deceptively direct its initial expression, must be built with great care, according to Croce’s plan.
With this warning in mind, it becomes possible to take certain phrases as initial statements of Croce’s position, retaining them as expressions to be illuminated by further discussion and reflection, for otherwise they are practically meaningless. Thus, for Croce, art is intuition; intuition is expression; art is the expression of impressions; and expression is the objectification of feelings by way of representative images. Many negations follow from these affirmations; of them, the most important, for those who would understand Croce, is the denial that the work of art is a physical object.