Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


The founder of modern Italian philosophy is Giovanni Battista Vico (1668-1744), who, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, opposed the Cartesian method in philosophy and anticipated the historical method subsequently developed by Herder and Hegel. The mind, Vico teaches, can know only that which it can produce through its own activity; this activity is manifested in the historical development of civilization, the basis of which is Divine Providence. Human experience is, therefore, to be interpreted and rendered reasonable by referring it to the principles by which human nature has developed itself. In this development Vico distinguishes three stages: the divine (theocracy), the heroic (aristocracy), and the human (monarchy and democracy).

In the movement of philosophic thought in Italy during the nineteenth century we may distinguish

1. Sensism and Empiricism, of which the chief representatives are Gioja (1767-1829) and Romagnosi (1761-1835). These represent the Italian phase of the sensistic philosophy of Condillac, which, as we have seen, was dominant in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

2. Criticism, of which the chief exponent is Pasquale Galuppi (1770-1846), who, while he assumes the immediate consciousness of the ego and the objectivity of sensation, reduces the intellectual element of thought to the synthetic relations (rapporti) of identity and difference, which are a priori products of the activity of the mind. In this, as well as in his emphatic assertion of the supremacy of moral obligation, Galuppi betrays the influence of Kant.

3. Idealism. The principal representative of idealism in Italy during the nineteenth century is Antonio Rosmini.


Life. Antonio Rosmini-Serbati (1797-1855), the founder of Italian idealism, was born at Rovereto near Trent. In 1821 he entered the priesthood, and in 1828 founded the Institute of Charity, a religious society devoted to corporal, intellectual, and spiritual works of charity. In 1848 he went to Rome as special envoy of King Charles Albert; in the same year he became minister of instruction in the papal cabinet and was considered a candidate for the honors of the cardinalate. After the murder of Rossi (November, 1848) and the flight of Pius IX to Gaeta, changes in the policy of the pontifical court necessitated Rosmini's retirement. The last years of his life he spent at Stresa, near Lago Maggiore, where he had established a house of his order. There he led a quiet, studious life, edifying his brethren by his many virtues, and especially by the humility with which he received the condemnation of two of his works.{2} He died in 1855.

Sources. The treatises in which Rosmini sets forth his metaphysical and psychological doctrines are Teodicea (1828), Nuovo Saggio sull' Origine delle Idee (1830), Il Rinnovamento della Filosofia in Italia (1836), Antropologia (1838), Psicologia (1846-1850), Introduzione alla Filosofia (1850), La Logica (5853), and Teosofia (1859). For full bibliographical list, cf. Davidson, Rosmini's Philosophical System (London, 1882).{3}


Rosmini distinguishes the matter and the form of thought, the matter being sensation, and the form being the pure intellectual element. Now the matter of thought is multiple and diverse; the form, however, is one and self-identical, namely, the intuition of Being in its transcendental ideality (l' essere ideale, ente universale). This intuition cannot result from experience, abstraction, or reflection: it is an innate concept and is of divine origin. Rosmini does not, it is true, expressly identify this idea of Being with the idea of God; for he teaches that l' essere ideale, although it is necessary, eternal, immutable, and identical for all minds, is a principle of knowledge, not a principle of existence.{4} Nevertheless, Rosmini cannot consistently maintain a distinction between l' essere ideale and God; because, although he maintains that God is both real and ideal (l' essere reale-ideale), he teaches that the reality of l' essere iniziale is a reality of pure indetermination. Indeed, in the Teosofia, all attempts at discriminating between l' essere iniziale and God are abandoned, and we are told that the former is something of the Word, which the Father distinguishes from the Word by a distinction which is merely logical (distingue non realmente ma secondo la ragione dal Verbo).{5} There is, therefore, in Rosmini's teaching only too much foundation for the almost unanimous verdict of his critics, that he was an ontologist{6} and by implication a pantheist.{7}

In his account of the soul and its faculties, Rosmini teaches that the soul is not the substantial form of the body, but is united to it by a fundamental sensibility (sentimento fondamentale), that the essence of the soul is sensibility (sentimento primitivo e sostanziale), and that the soul becomes intelligent by the intuition of Being in its ideality (essere ideale).{8}

Ontologism. Vincenzo Gioberti (1801-1852), who was a priest, a revolutionary leader, a statesman, and a controversialist (Il Gesuita Moderno, his best known controversial work, appeared in 1846), opposed the philosophy of Rosmini and formulated a system of his own, which is characterized by ontologism. He begins as a metaphysician rather than as a psychologist; he does not examine the contents of the mind, nor does he subject mental processes to analysis; he simply postulates a primitive intuition with which constructive synthesis begins. The content of this intuition is not Being in its ideality nor God, but God as creating, -- Ens creat existentias.

"Through the intuition of this principle, the mind is in possession at once of the real and the ideal; for the first member of the formula, Being, contains the object, the absolute idea as well as the absolute substance and cause; the second, existences, gives the organic multiplicity of contingent substances and causes and relative ideas; the third, the creative act, expresses the relation existing between the absolute and the relative, . . . the production of real and ideal existences from the Absolute."{9} The primum philosophicum is, therefore, an organic truth containing in itself the primum ontologicum and the primum psychologicum. Gioberti's posthumous works (published by Massari, 1856-1859) exhibit a more advanced form of ontologism than that which has just been sketched.

Among the later ontologists may be reckoned Terenzio Mamiani (1800-1885), who during the later half of the century associated his name and influence with the rationalistic movement represented by Ferri (1826-1895), Ferrari (1812-1876), and Ausonio Franchi (C. Bonavino) (1821-1895).

Positivism. The principles of positivism were defended by the three rationalistic writers just mentioned and taught systematically by Roberto Ardigò (born 1828), Andrea Angiulli (1837- 1890), and others.

Hegelianism. The most distinguished of the Italian representatives of Hegelianism, Augusto Vera (1813-1885), was by education and long residence a Frenchman rather than an Italian. His works, some of which were composed in French, others in Italian, and others in English, are devoted to the interpretation and exposition of Hegel's philosophy.

Scholasticism. The history of Scholastic philosophy in Italy during the nineteenth century will be given in the chapter devoted to the history of Catholic philosophy.

Historical Position. The systems which have just been outlined do not, with the exception of Rosmini's idealism, exhibit any sustained effort at independent construction. The most distinctive trait of modern Italian philosophy is its tendency to treat religious and political philosophy in the controversial or polemical spirit, rather than in the spirit of constructive synthesis, -- a tendency easily traceable to the influence of the events which determined the political history of Italy during the nineteenth century.

{1} Cf. "Historical Sketch of Modem Italian Philosophy," by Botta, Appendix II to Ueberweg's History of Philosophy, II, 461 ff. consult also the last (German) edition of Ueberweg's History, edited by Heinze.

{2} The pamphlet Delle cinque piaghe, etc., and a project for a constitution. cf. "Letter to the Master of the Sacred Palace," Letters of Rosmini, trans. by Gazzola, p.664.

{3} Cf. Father Lockhart's Life of Rosmini (London, 1856); also, Letters of Antonio Rosmini, trans. by Gazzola (London, 1901). For list of Rosminian doctrines condemned by the Holy See, cf. Rosminianarum Propositionum Trutina Theologica (Romae, Typis Vaticanis, 1892).

{4} Il Rinnovamento, Cap. 42. In reply to Gioberti, who argued that the idea of Being must be God, since it possesses divine attributes, Rosmini writes: "Every real being must be God or creature, but not so every ideal being. The idea of Being abstracted from God's reality is neither God nor creature, it is something sui generis, an appurtenance of God." Rosmini's Short Sketch of Modern Philosophies and of his Own System, trans. by Lockhart (London, 1882), p. xii.

{5} Teosofia, Vol. I, No. 490.

{6} "The difference between our system and that of Malebranche lies not in fundamentals but in details" (Sketch, etc., p. 30).

{7} "La quiddità (ciò che una cosa é) dell' ente finito non é costituita da ciò che ha di positivo, ma dai suol limiti" (Teosofia, Vol. I, No. 726).

{8} Cf. Antropologia, Lib. IV, Cap. 5, No. 819, and Psicologia , P. II, Lib. I, Cap. 11, No. 849.

{9} Cf. Ueberweg, op. cit., II, 498.

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