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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 4. The Character of Modern Philosophy


Croce’s last major pronouncement on history consists of four essays, which make up the volume of Il carattere della filosofia moderna: not only the continuation of the concept of history outlined in the Logica of 1909, but also the definitive statement on the absolute character of history or absolute historicism.1 It was published in 1941, three years after La Storia come pensiero e come azione. In the Taccuini di lavoro (Working Notes) dated December 26, 1940, Croce gives a sense of the importance these four essays had for him:2

Perhaps these four essays are my philosophical testament, which follows the two volumes on Poetry and History. I believe, at least, and I almost hope, to have brought to an end my more strictly philosophical work and to be able to entrust it to others, to those who will come later and will continue it. A sort of peacefulness seems to spread over my life as over someone who has completed his long war campaign and does not take an idle rest but is free from the anxiety he felt so far. (CFM 256)

In these essays, Croce arrives at a definition of philosophy as absolute historicism, the absolute resolution of philosophy in historiography: “the mature product of the history of thought in its development up to our time” (CFM 9). This conclusion finds its resolution in the relation between history, aesthetics (mainly La poesia of 1936), and philosophy. The thesis has two major premises:

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