Benedetto Croce Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207222-Croce.jpg Benedetto Croce Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Benedetto Croce (KROH-chay) was a philosopher and literary critic whose influence on modern thought is still being assessed. During World War II he was the outstanding spokesperson for individual freedom and the center of intellectual resistance to Fascism. For forty-two years his journal, La Critica, covered every important development in twentieth century thought. His philosophic and critical work is vast, amounting to more than seventy volumes.

Croce was the son of a wealthy landowner and a highly cultured woman who encouraged her son’s passion for books. He attended a Catholic boarding school patronized chiefly by aristocrats. There he took all the prizes and began writing critical essays. While at school, he examined his faith and gradually came to recognize that he was done with religious beliefs. In 1883 he lost his parents and sister in an earthquake and suffered serious injuries himself. This tragedy almost broke Croce’s spirit. He went to live in Rome, where his study of the relationship of art to history revived his interest in living.

After his recovery he traveled throughout Europe, gathering material for a history of art and other publications that gained him public acclaim. In 1895 he read the works of Karl Marx, which, he said, caused his whole mind to burst into flame; he began to study economics intensively and to write voluminously. In 1900 he began his Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General...

(The entire section is 550 words.)


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Croce, modern Italy’s premier philosopher, made major contributions to European culture with his extensive writings on philosophy, history, aesthetics, and literary criticism. For his reserved but firm opposition to Benito Mussolini’s regime, Croce became recognized worldwide as an anti-Fascist symbol and as the intellectual guardian of Italy’s democratic political heritage.

Early Life

Benedetto Croce was born in the southern Italian region of Abruzzi. His family’s substantial property wealth afforded him a comfortable childhood in Naples. After his parents died in an earthquake in 1883, Croce moved to Rome to live with his uncle, Silvio Spaventa, a prominent intellectual and conservative politician. The Italy of Croce’s youth was a country struggling with all the problems attendant to a newly formed nation-state. The heroic era of the national unification movement—the Risorgimento—had ended in 1871. In the years that followed the Risorgimento period, Italian political life settled into the more uninspiring routine of parliamentary politics, budgetary battles, and electoral campaigns. Croce’s early exposure to politics came from the lively social and political gatherings at the Spaventa household. As a young man, he demonstrated little interest in politics, and his uncle’s conservative rhetoric only reinforced his apolitical disposition. Croce later recalled his time in Rome as “a bad dream … the darkest and most bitter years of my life.” His only consolation was in attending lectures on philosophy at the University of Rome.

Life’s Work

In 1886, Croce returned to Naples. His inheritance enabled him to devote his entire life to scholarship. Over several decades, he accumulated an impressive private library and made his residence in the Palazzo Filomarino, an important center of intellectual activity in Italy. Croce’s early research and writing dealt with local history and culture. He discovered in Naples a rich intellectual heritage that included the eighteenth century idealist philosopher Giambattista Vico and the Risorgimento literary critic Francesco De Sanctis. Like many of the scholars of his generation, Croce became intrigued with the economic theories of Karl Marx. After several years of intense study, he wrote a critique of Marxism, Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx, in 1899 and published it in 1900. Croce followed his rejection of Marx’s “scientific” socialism with a broader criticism of the pervasive influence of science among European intellectuals.

During the late nineteenth century, European thought was dominated by positivism—the belief that the methods of empirical science were the best means of arriving at a true understanding of all natural phenomena. Even human behavior became a valid subject of scientific inquiry through pioneering work in psychology and sociology. Croce took the lead in the intellectual “revolt against positivism.” He had little regard for scientific methodology, especially when applied to the study of human activity. He sought to defend those expressions of human creativity—especially art, poetry, and literature—from “scientific” critiques. He also argued that history, like art, was subjective. He denied that history could be written or understood with the detached objectivity of a scientist. Croce’s assertion that “all history is contemporary history,” refers to the manner in which the historian’s own time and place and personal biases are reflected in his understanding and writings about the past. Croce attempted a systematic approach to the fundamental problems of aesthestics, logic, practical philosophy, and history in his monumental four-volume Filosofia come sciensa dello spirito (“philosophy of spirit”), which is made up of Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic, Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept, Philosophy of the Practical: Economic and Ethic, and Theory and History of Historiography.

In addition to the ideas of Vico and De Sanctis, Croce drew heavily on German philosophy—most notably the thought of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He modified Hegel’s idealism by emphasizing the importance of the manifestation of the ideal in human creativity in a given time and place. Croce’s synthesis of Hegelian idealism and historical relativism gave new life to idealist philosophy. Croce reiterated and further developed his ideas in his journal of Italian...

(The entire section is 1868 words.)