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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 5. Universal History and Philosophy of History

Extract

This chapter examines some of Croce’s late writings on historicism and Hegel that were collected in two volumes as Discorsi di varia Filosofia (Various Discourses on Philosophy).1 These late writings on the philosophy of history never move too far from the critical epicentre that Croce establishes in the works that we have examined so far. In the first essay, “Differenza dello storicismo hegeliano dallo storicismo nuovo” (The Difference between Hegelian Historicism and the New Historicism), as the title indicates, Croce sets up a dichotomy between Hegel’s philosophy of history and his new historicism. There are no major surprises: Croce praises Hegel for having introduced the dialectic and for having been the first to recognize the historical character of philosophy or of philosophy as philosophy of history. Nonetheless, he reproaches him for having abused the concept of dialectic and for having deviated from his initial intention to identify history with philosophy. He points to Hegel’s transcendental and theologizing “bent” as the reason he was unable to get free of the Vernunft, the Idea or Spirit, which he conceived “as transcendence” (DVF I. 119). He alludes to the similar case of Vico’s Scienza nuova, in which philosophy, initially conceived as “Ideal eternal history,” became a history of “empirically formed epochs,” which diminished historical reality, taking away the individuality of its development, “or its perpetual progress” (DVF I. 120). Hegel, likewise, instead of handling the concept of the dialectic “with critical caution,” abused it by rationalizing the mythic conception of a God...

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