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EXTRACT FROM INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, 1909
I CAN lay no claim to having discovered an America, but I do claim to have discovered a Columbus. His name is Benedetto Croce, and he dwells on the shores of the Mediterranean, at Naples, city of the antique Parthenope. It was at Naples, in the winter of 1907, that I first saw the Philosopher of AEsthetic. Benedetto Croce, although born in the Abruzzi, Province of Aquila (1866), is essentially a Neapolitan, and rarely remains long absent from the city, on the shore of that magical sea where once Ulysses sailed, and where sometimes yet (near Amalfi) we may hear the Syrens sing their song. But more wonderful than the song of any Syren seems to me the Theory of AEsthetic as the Science of Expression, and that is why I have overcome the obstacles that stood between me and the giving of this theory, which in my belief is the truth, to the English-speaking world.
The solution of the problem of Æsthetic is not in the gift of the Muses.
This Philosophy of the Spirit is symptomatic of the happy reaction of the twentieth century against the crude materialism of the second half of the nineteenth. It is the spirit which gives to the work of art its value, not this or that method of arrangement, this or that tint or cadence, which can always be copied by skilful plagiarists: not so the spirit of the creator. In England we hear too much of (natural) science, which has usurped the very name of Philosophy. The natural sciences are very well in their place, but discoveries such as aviation are of infinitely less importance to the race than the smallest addition to the philosophy of the spirit. Empirical science, with the collusion of positivism, has stolen the cloak of philosophy and must be made to give it back.
Yet though severe, the editor of La Critica is uncompromisingly just, and would never allow personal dislike or jealousy, or any extrinsic consideration, to stand in the way of fair treatment to the writer concerned. Many superficial English critics might benefit considerably by attention to this quality in one who is in other respects also so immeasurably their superior. A good instance of this impartiality is his critique of Schopenhauer, with whose system he is in complete disagreement, yet affords him full credit for what of truth is contained in his voluminous writings.
This thoroughness it is which gives such importance to the literary and philosophical criticisms of La Critica. Croce's method is always historical, and his object in approaching any work of art is to classify the spirit of its author, as expressed in that work. There are, he maintains, but two things to be considered in criticizing a book. These are, firstly, what is its peculiarity, in what way is it singular, how is it differentiated from other works 2 Secondly, what is its degree of purity ?—That is, to what extent has its author kept himself free from all considerations alien to the perfection of the work as an expression, as a lyrical intuition ? With the answering of these questions Croce is satisfied. He does not care to know if the author keep a motor-car, like Maeterlinck; or prefer to walk on Putney Heath, like Swinburne. This amounts to saying that all works of art must be judged by their own standard. How far has the author succeeded in doing what he intended ?
As regards Croce's general philosophical position, it is important to understand that he is not a Hegelian, in the sense of being a close follower of that philosopher. One of his last works is that in which he deals in a masterly manner with the philosophy of Hegel. The title may be translated, “What is living and what is dead of the philosophy of Hegel.” Here he explains to us the Hegelian system more clearly than that wondrous edifice was ever before explained, and we realize at the same time that Croce is quite as independent of Hegel as of Kant, of Vico as of Spinoza. Of course he has made use of the best of Hegel, just as every thinker makes use of his predecessors and is in his turn made use of by those that follow him. But it is incorrect to accuse of Hegelianism the author of an anti-hegelian AEsthetic, of a Logic where Hegel is only half accepted, and of a Philosophy of the Practical which contains hardly a trace of Hegel. I give an instance. If the great conquest of Hegel be the dialectic of opposites, his great mistake lies in the confusion of opposites with things which are distinct but not opposite. If, says Croce, we take as an example the application of the Hegelian triad that formulates becoming (affirmation, negation and synthesis), we find it applicable for those opposites which are true and false, good and evil, being and not-being, but not applicable to things which are distinct but not opposite, such as art and philosophy, beauty and truth, the useful and the moral. These confusions led Hegel to talk of the death of art, to conceive as possible a Philosophy of History, and to the application of the natural sciences to the absurd task of constructing a Philosophy of Nature. Croce has cleared away these difficulties by showing that if from the meeting of opposites must arise a superior synthesis, such a synthesis cannot arise from things which are distinct but not opposite, since the former are connected together as superior and inferior, and the inferior can exist without the superior, but not vice versa. Thus we see how philoSophy cannot exist without art, while art, occupying the lower place, can and does exist without philosophy. This brief example reveals Croce's independence in dealing with Hegelian problems.
I know of no philosopher more generous than Croce in praise and elucidation of other workers in the same field, past and present. For instance, and apart from Hegel, Kant has to thank him for drawing attention to the marvellous excellence of the Critique of Judgment, generally neglected in favour of the Critiques of Pure Reason and of Practical Judgment; Baumgarten for drawing the attention of the world to his obscure name and for reprinting his Latin thesis in which the word AEsthetic occurs for the first time ; and Schleiermacher for the tributes paid to his neglected genius in the History of AEsthetic. La Critica, too, is full of generous appreciation of contemporaries by Croce and by that profound thinker, Gentile.
There can be no doubt of the great value of Croce's work as an educative influence, and if we are to judge of a philosophical system by its action on others, then we must place the Philosophy of the Spirit very high. It may be said with perfect truth that since the death of the poet Carducci there has been no influence in Italy to compare with that of Benedetto Croce.
Of the popularity that his system and teaching have already attained we may judge by the fact that the AEsthetic, despite the difficulty of the subject, is already in its third edition in Italy, where, owing to its influence, philosophy sells better than fiction ; while the French and Germans, not to mention the Czechs, have long had translations of the earlier editions. His Logic is on the point of appearing in its second edition, and I have no doubt that the Philosophy of the Practical will eventually equal these works in popularity. The importance and value of Italian thought have been too long neglected in Great Britain. Where, as in Benedetto Croce, we get the clarity of vision of the Latin, joined to the thoroughness and erudition of the best German tradition, we have a combination of rare power and effectiveness, which can by no means be neglected. The philosopher feels that he has a great mission, which is nothing less than the leading back of thought to belief in the spirit, deserted by so many for crude empiricism and positivism. His view of philosophy is that it sums up all the higher human activities, including religion, and that in proper hands it is able to solve any problem. But there is no finality about problems: the solution of one leads to the posing of another, and so on. Man is the maker of life, and his spirit ever proceeds from a lower to a higher perfection.
I believe that Croce will one day be recognized as one of the very few great teachers of humanity. At present he is not appreciated at nearly his full value. One rises from a study of his philosophy with a sense of having been all the time as it were in personal touch with the truth, which is very far from the case after the perusal of certain other philosophies.
Secure in his strength, Croce will often introduce a joke