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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 6. Philosophy and Historiography


In the Preface to Filosofia e Storiografia,1 dated August 1948, Croce alludes to a “daimon” who will not leave him be and who constantly “stimulates me to reflect and discuss philosophy again” (FS vii). Although he was 82 and had forgone many things of his youth, he could not relinquish this impulse, which is eternal, because at stake is the “search for truth,” “the ceaseless revival of the Socratic moment of ignorance which demands to be integrated with the real, a new real” (FS viii).

The first essay of the work, “Il primato del fare” (The Primacy of Activity) (1946), does not belong to this project. The essay is basically a review of Manlio Ciardo’s Le Quattro epoche dello storicismo (The Four Epochs of Historicism), which was published by Laterza a year before with Croce’s approval. The work outlines the four stages of the philosophy of history, from the perspective of “the primacy of activity” from Vico to Kant to Hegel and, finally, to modern philosophy and Croce. In reviewing Ciardo’s work, Croce wants “to define the fundamental character of the philosophical and, above all, gnoseological revolution … which is still in full development” (FS 4). The revolution of modern philosophy, in contrast to medieval philosophy, is the primacy of activity as opposed to contemplation. Activity against the passivity of contemplation is not just limited to “useful and moral activity but extends and embraces all forms of activity which are related to knowledge such as poetry, philosophy and...

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