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Croce on History

Aesthetic Defiguring

Massimo Verdicchio

The book is the first critical reading of all the major writings on history by Benedetto Croce. The study is not a summary but a critical assessment based on the relevance of Croce’s aesthetics for his concept of history. This account differs from previous studies which are characterized by the excluding or by minimizing the aesthetic, a process the author calls “defiguring.” Within this framework Croce’s concept of history is not a total philosophy but only an allegory of history: a narrative of the impossibility of history. In other words, Croce’s history is not unlike his definition of Hegel’s Phenomenology or his system as fiction. It is also not unlike Vico’s New Science, the other major influence on Croce’s concept of history, as an imaginative science. This study realigns Croce’s concept of history with Hegel’s and Vico’s to redefine, thanks to Croce, how we understand history.
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Introduction: The Background: Vico, Kant, and Hegel

Extract

The second Part of Estetica of 1902 is devoted to the “History of Aesthetics,” in which Croce outlines the major aesthetic theories from the Greeks and Romans to modern theories. In this study I am only concerned with Croce’s analyses of the three major philosophers who have played a role in shaping his theory of aesthetics: Vico, Kant, and Hegel. Of these three, Giambattista Vico is perhaps the one who has had the greatest impact on Croce’s thought. Croce regarded Vico both as the founder of the science of aesthetics and as Hegel’s predecessor:1

The revolutionary who, by putting aside the concept of verisimilitude and by comprehending imagination (fantasia) in a new way, grasped the true nature of poetry and art, and discovered, so to speak, the science of aesthetics, was the Italian Giambattista Vico. (E 242)

In the first Scienza nuova (1725), Vico developed his theory of poetry, which he had sketched earlier in De Constantia iurisprudentia (1721), anticipating by ten years the theories of Baumgarten. In the second New Science (1730), and particularly in “Della Sapienza poetica” (On Poetic Wisdom) and “Della discoperta del vero Omero” (On the Discovery of the Real Homer), he developed and improved on his previous “aesthetic” theory, which was later perfected in the third and last New Science (1744). This is the theory that became the first science of aesthetics. In this work, Vico established that poetry and poets came first and philosophers later, “by natural necessity;” so...

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