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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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Chapter 2. Theory and History of Historiography


The previous chapter outlined Croce’s position on history in the Logica of 1909, and the shift from art to philosophy that makes possible the identity of history and philosophy. For Croce, it is not a question of an epistemological shift but of a “natural” evolution with which history frees itself from art and joins philosophy in a new identity. The shift is modeled on Vico’s New Science, as Croce recounts in his analysis of this work, which dates to about the same time, 1911:

The human mind—which naturally desires to unite with God whence it comes, that is, with the true One, but unable given the exuberant sensual nature of primitive man to exercise this faculty, buried under its too powerful senses, to abstract from subjects their universal properties and forms, imagined imaginary unities, fantastic universals or myths—in its subsequent unfolding or development resolves, as it goes, the fantastic universals in intelligible universals, the poetic universals in rational ones, and frees itself from myth. The error of myth thus passes in the truth of philosophy. (FGBV 69; emphasis mine)1

The freeing of the mind from the error of myth is the fiction of the mind that believes it has overcome the errors of the past in the new truth of philosophy. The truth of philosophy is now the new name of what was once the error of myth. Similarly, the shift in the Logica that makes possible the identity of history and philosophy...

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