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B.A. (OXON.), M.R.A.S.




Benedetto Croce's Philosophy of the Spirit, in the English translation
by Douglas Ainslie, consists of 4 volumes (which can be read separately):
1. Aesthetic as science of expression and general linguistic. (Second augmented
edition. A first ed. is also available at Project Gutenberg.)
2. Philosophy of the practical: economic and ethic.
3. Logic as the science of the pure concept.
4. Theory and history of historiography.
- Transcriber's note.


Certain chapters only of the third part of this book were anticipated
in the study entitled _Reduction of the Philosophy of Law to the
Philosophy of Economy,_ read before the Accademia Pontaniana of Naples
at the sessions of April 21 and May 5, 1907 (_Acts,_ vol. xxxvii.);
but I have remodelled them, amplifying certain pages and summarizing
others. The concept of economic activity as an autonomous form of the
spirit, which receives systematic treatment in the second part of the
book, was first maintained in certain essays, composed from 1897 to
1900, and afterwards collected in the volume _Historical Materialism
and Marxist Economy_ (2nd edition, Palermo, Sandron, 1907).

B. C.


19_th April_ 1908.


"A noi sembra che l' opera del Croce sia lo sforzo più potente che il
pensiero italiano abbia compiuto negli ultimi anni." - G. DE RUGGIERO in
_La Filosofia contemporanea,_ 1912.

"Il sistema di Benedetto Croce rimane la più alta conquista del
pensiero contemporaneo." - G. NATOLI in _La Voce,_ 19th December 1912.

Those acquainted with my translation of Benedetto Croce's _Æsthetic
as Science of Expression and General Linguistic_ will not need to be
informed of the importance of this philosopher's thought, potent in its
influence upon criticism, upon philosophy and upon life, and famous
throughout Europe.

In the Italian, this volume is the third and last of the _Philosophy
of the Spirit, Logic as Science of the Pure Concept_ coming second in
date of publication. But apart from the fact that philosophy is like
a moving circle, which can be entered equally well at any point, I
have preferred to place this volume before the _Logic_ in the hands of
British readers. Great Britain has long been a country where moral
values are highly esteemed; we are indeed experts in the practice,
though perhaps not in the theory of morality, a lacuna which I believe
this book will fill.

In saying that we are experts in moral practice I do not, of course,
refer to the narrow conventional morality, also common with us, which
so often degenerates into hypocrisy, a legacy of Puritan origin; but
apart from this, there has long existed in many millions of Britons a
strong desire to live well, or, as they put it, cleanly and rightly,
and achieved by many, independent of any close or profound examination
of the logical foundation of this desire. Theology has for some
taken the place of pure thought, while for others, early training
on religious lines has been sufficiently strong to dominate other
tendencies in practical life. Yet, as a speculative Scotsman, I am
proud to think that we can claim divided honours with Germany in the
production of Emmanuel Kant (or Cant).

The latter half of the nineteenth century witnessed with us a great
development of materialism in its various forms. The psychological,
anti-historical speculation contained in the so-called Synthetic
Philosophy (really psychology) of Herbert Spencer was but one of the
many powerful influences abroad, tending to divert youthful minds
from the true path of knowledge. This writer, indeed, made himself
notorious by his attitude of contemptuous intolerance and ignorance
of the work previously done in connection with subjects which he was
investigating. He accepted little but the evidence of his own senses
and judgment, as though he were the first philosopher. But time has
now taken its revenge, and modern criticism has exposed the Synthetic
Philosophy in all its barren and rigid inadequacy and ineffectuality.
Spencer tries to force Life into a brass bottle of his own making, but
the genius will not go into his bottle. The names and writings of J. S.
Mill, of Huxley, and of Bain are, with many others of lesser calibre,
a potent aid to the dissolving influence of Spencer. Thanks to their
efforts, the spirit of man was lost sight of so completely that I
can well remember hearing Kant's great discovery of the synthesis _a
priori_ described as moonshine, and Kant himself, with his categoric
imperative, as little better than a Prussian policeman. As for Hegel,
the great completer and developer of Kantian thought, his philosophy
was generally in even less esteem among the youth; and we find even the
contemplative Walter Pater passing him by with a polite apology for
shrinking from his chilly heights. I do not, of course, mean to suggest
that estimable Kantians and Hegelians did not exist here and there
throughout the kingdom in late Victorian days (the names of Stirling,
of Caird, and of Green at once occur to the mind); but they had not
sufficient genius to make their voices heard above the hubbub of the
laboratory. We all believed that the natural scientists had taken the
measure of the universe, could tot it up to a T - and consequently
turned a deaf ear to other appeals.

Elsewhere in Europe Hartmann, Haeckel, and others were busy measuring
the imagination and putting fancy into the melting-pot - they offered
us the chemical equivalent of the wings of Aurora. We believed them,
believed those materialists, those treacherous neo-Kantians, perverters
of their master's doctrine, who waited for guileless youth with mask
and rapier at the corner of every thicket. Such as escaped this ambush
were indeed fortunate if they shook themselves free of Schopenhauer,
the (personally) comfortable philosopher of suicide and despair, and
fell into the arms of the last and least of the Teutonic giants,
Friedrich Nietzsche, whose spasmodic paragraphs, full of genius but
often empty of philosophy, show him to have been far more of a poet
than a philosopher. It was indeed a doleful period of transition for
those unfortunate enough to have been born into it: we really did
believe that life had little or nothing to offer, or that we were all
Overmen (a mutually exclusive proposition!), and had only to assert
ourselves in order to prove it.

To the writings of Pater I have already referred, and of them it may
justly be said that they are often supremely beautiful, with the
quality and cadence of great verse, but mostly (save perhaps the volume
on _Plato and Platonism,_ by which he told the present writer that he
hoped to live) instinct with a profound scepticism, that revelled in
the externals of Roman Catholicism, but refrained from crossing the
threshold which leads to the penetralia of the creed.

Ruskin also we knew, and he too has a beautiful and fresh vein of
poetry, particularly where free from irrational dogmatism upon Ethic
and Æsthetic. But we found him far inferior to Pater in depth and
suggestiveness, and almost devoid of theoretical capacity. Sesame for
all its Lilies is no Open Sesame to the secrets of the world. Thus,
wandering in the obscure forest, it is little to be wondered that we
did not anticipate the flood of light to be shed upon us as we crossed
the threshold of the twentieth century.

It was an accident that took me to Naples in 1909, and the accident
of reading a number of _La Critica,_ as I have described in the
introduction to the _Æsthetic,_ that brought me in contact with the
thought of Benedetto Croce. But it was not only the _Æsthetic,_ it was
also the purely critical work of the philosopher that appeared to me at
once of so great importance. To read Hegel, for instance, after reading
Croce's study of him, is a very different experience (at least so I
found it) to reading him before so doing.

Hegel is an author most deeply stimulative and suggestive, but any
beginner is well to take advantage of all possible aid in the difficult

To bring this thought of Hegel within the focus of the ordinary
mind has never been an easy task (I know of no one else who has
successfully accomplished it); and Croce's work, _What is living
and what is dead of the Philosophy of Hegel,_ as one may render the
Italian title of the book which I hope to translate, has enormously
aided a just comprehension, both of the qualities and the defects of
that philosopher. This work appeared in the Italian not long after the
_Æsthetic,_ and has had an influence upon the minds of contemporary
Italians, second only to the _Philosophy of the Spirit._ To clear away
the débris of Hegel, his false conception of art and of religion, to
demonstrate his erroneous application of his own great discovery of
the dialectic to pseudo-concepts, and thus to reveal it in its full
splendour, has been one of the most valuable of Croce's inestimable
contributions to critical thought.

I shall not pause here to dilate upon the immense achievement of Croce,
the youngest of Italian senators, a recognition of his achievement
by his King and country, but merely mention his numerous historical
works, his illuminative study of Vico, which has at last revealed that
philosopher as of like intellectual stature to Kant; the immense tonic
and cultural influence of his review, _La Critica,_ and his general
editorship of the great collection of _Scrittori d' Italia._ Freed
at last from that hubbub of the laboratory, from the measures and
microscopes of the natural scientists, excellent in their place, it is
interesting to ask if any other contemporary philosopher has made a
contribution to ethical theory in any way comparable to the _Philosophy
of the Practical._ The names of Bergson and of Blondel at once occur to
the mind, but the former admits that his complete ideas on ethics are
not yet made known, and implies that he may never make them entirely
known. The reader of the _Philosophy of the Practical_ will, I think,
find that none of Bergson's explanations, "burdened," as he says, with
"geometry," and as we may say with matter, from the obsession of which
he never seems to shake himself altogether free, are comparable in
depth or lucidity with the present treatise. The spirit is described by
Bergson as memory, and matter as a succession of images. How does the
one communicate with the other? The formula of the self-creative life
process seems hardly sufficient to explain this, for if with Bergson we
conceive of life as a torrent, there must be some reason why it should
flow rather in one channel than in another. But life is supposed to
create and to absorb matter in its progress; and here we seem to have
entered a vicious circle, for the intuition presupposes, it does not
create its object. As regards the will, too, the Bergsonian theory of
the Ego as rarely (sometimes never once in life) fully manifesting
itself, and our minor actions as under the control of matter, seems
to lead to a deterministic conception and to be at variance with the
thesis of the self-creation of life.

As regards Blondel, the identification of thought and will in the
philosophy of action leads him to the position that the infinite is not
in the universal abstract, but in the single concrete. It is through
matter that the divine truth reaches us, and God must pass through
nature or matter, in order to reach us, and we must effect the contrary
process to reach God. It is a beautiful conception; but, as de Ruggiero
suggests, do we not thus return, by a devious and difficult path, to
the pre-Hegelian, pre-Kantian, position of religious platonicism?[1]

This, however, is not the place to discourse at length of other
philosophies. What most impresses in the Crocean thought is its
profundity, its clarity, and its _completeness, - totus teres atque
rotundus._ Croce, indeed, alone of the brilliant army of philosophers
and critics arisen in the new century, has found a complete formula for
his thought, complete, that is, at a certain stage; for, as he says,
the relative nature of all systems is apparent to all who have studied
philosophy. He alone has defined and allocated the activities of the
human spirit; he alone has plumbed and charted its ocean in all its
depth and breadth.

A system! The word will sound a mere tinkling of cymbals to many
still aground in the abstract superficialities of nineteenth-century
scepticism; but they are altogether mistaken. To construct a system
is like building a house: it requires a good architect to build
a good house, and where it is required to build a great palace it
requires a great genius to build it successfully. Michael Angelo
built the Vatican, welding together and condensing the works of many
predecessors, ruthlessly eliminating what they contained of bad or of
erroneous: Benedetto Croce has built the Philosophy of the Spirit.
To say of either achievement that it will not last for ever, or that
it will need repair from time to time, is perfectly true; but this
criticism applies to all things human; and yet men continue to build
houses - for God and for themselves. Croce is the first to admit the
incompleteness, the lack of finality of all philosophical systems, for
each one of them deals, as he says, with a certain group of problems
only, which present themselves at a definite period of time. The
solution of these leads to the posing of new problems, first caught
sight of by the philosopher as he terminates his labours, to be solved
by the same or by other thinkers.

And here it may be well to state very briefly the basis on which rests
the _Philosophy of the Spirit,_ without attempting to do anything more
than to give its general outline. The reader should imagine himself
standing, like bold Pizarro, on his "peak of Darien," surveying at a
great distance the vast outline of a New World, which yet is as old as

The Spirit is Reality, it is the whole of Reality, and it has two
forms: the theoretic and the practical activities. Beyond or outside
these _there are no other forms of any kind._ The theoretic activity
has two forms, the intuitive and individual, and the intellectual or
knowledge of the universal: the first of these produces images and is
known as _Æsthetic,_ the second concepts and is known as _Logic._ The
first of these activities is altogether independent, self-sufficient,
autonomous: the second, on the other hand, has need of the first, ere
it can exist. Their relation is therefore that of double degree. The
practical activity is the _will,_ which is thought in activity, and
this also has two forms, the economic or utilitarian, and the ethical
or moral, the first autonomous and individual, the second universal,
and this latter depends upon the first for its existence, in a manner
analogous to _Logic_ and to _Æsthetic._

With the theoretic activity, man understands the universe, with the
practical, he changes it. There are no grades or degrees of the Spirit
beyond these. All other forms are either without activity, or they are
verbal variants of the above, or they are a mixture of these four in
different proportions.

Thus the Philosophy of the Spirit is divided into _Æsthetic, Logic,
and Philosophy of the Practical_ (Economic and Ethic). In these it is
complete, and embraces the whole of human activity.

The discussion of determinism or free will is of course much more
elaborated here than in the Æsthetic, where exigencies of space
compelled the philosopher to offer it in a condensed form. His solution
that the will is and must be free, but that it contains two moments,
the first conditioned, and that the problem should be first stated in
terms of the Hegelian dialectic, seems to be the only one consonant
with facts. The conclusion that the will is autonomous and that
therefore we can _never_ be obliged to do anything against our will may
seem to be paradoxical, until the overwhelming argument in proof of
this has been here carefully studied.

Croce's division of the practical activity into the two grades of
Economic and Ethic, to which Kant did not attain and Fichte failed
fully to perceive, has for the first time rendered comprehensible much
that was hitherto obscure in ancient history and contemporary history.
The "merely economic man" will be recognised by all students of the
_Philosophy of the Practical,_ where his characteristics are pointed
out by the philosopher; and a few years hence, when Croce's philosophy
will have filtered through fiction and journalism to the level of
the general public, the phrase will be as common as is the "merely
economic" person to-day.

For indeed, all really new and great discoveries come from the
philosophers, gradually filtering down through technical treatises and
reviews, until they reach the level of prose fiction and of poetry,
which, since the _Æsthetic,_ we know to be one and the same thing with
different empirical manifestations. In truth, the philosophers alone
go deeply enough into the essence of things to reach their roots. Thus
some philosophy, generally in an extremely diluted form, becomes part
of every one's mental furniture and thus the world makes progress and
the general level of culture is raised. Thought is democratic in being
open to all, aristocratic in being attained only by the few - and that
is the only true aristocracy: to be on the same level as the best.

Another discovery of Croce's, set forth in this volume for the first
time in all the plenitude of its richness, is the theory of Error.
The proof of the practical nature of error, of its necessity, and of
the fact that we only err because we will to do so, is a marvel of
acute and profound analysis. Readers unaccustomed to the dialectic may
not at first be prepared to admit the necessary forms of error, that
error is not distinct, but opposed to truth and as such its simple
dialectic negation, and that truth is thought of truth, which develops
by conquering error, which must always exist in every problem. The full
understanding of the Crocean theory of error throws a flood of light
on all philosophical problems, and has already formed the basis of at
least one brilliant study of contemporary philosophy.

To the reduction of the concept of law to an economic factor, which
depends upon the priority and autonomy of Economic in relation to
Ethic, is devoted a considerable portion of the latter part of the
_Philosophy of the Practical,_ and it is easy to see that an elaborate
treatment of this problem was necessary, owing to the confusion as
to its true nature that has for so long existed in the minds of
thinkers, owing to their failure to grasp the above distinction. In
Great Britain indeed, where precedent counts for so much in law,
the ethical element is very often so closely attached as to be
practically indistinguishable from it, save by the light of the
Crocean analysis. In the _Logic as Science of the Pure Concept_ will
be found much to throw light upon the _Philosophy of the Practical,_
where the foreshortening of certain proofs (due to concentration upon
other problems) may appear to leave loopholes to objection. Thought
will there be found to make use of language for expression, though
not itself language; and it will be found useless to seek logic in
words, which in themselves are always æsthetic. For there is a duality
between intuition and concept, which form the two grades or degrees of
theoretic knowledge, as described also in the _Æsthetic._ There are
two types of concept, the _pure_ and the _false_ or _pseudo-concept,_
as Croce calls it. This latter is also divided into two types of
representation - those that are concrete without being universal (such
as the cat, the rose), and those that are without a content that can
be represented, or universal without being concrete, since they never
exist in reality (such are the triangle, free motion). The first
of these are called empirical pseudo-concepts, the second abstract
pseudo-concepts: the first are represented by the natural, the second
by the mathematical sciences.

Of the _pure concept_ it is predicated that it is ineliminable, for
while the pseudo-concepts in their multiplicity are abolished by
thought as it proceeds, there will always remain one thought namely,
that which thinks their abolition. This concept is opposed to the
pseudo-concepts: it is ultra or omni-representative. I shall content
myself with this brief mention of the contents of the _Philosophy of
the Practical_ and of the _Logic_ upon which I am now working.

Since the publication of _Æsthetic as Science of Expression and General
Linguistic,_ there has been some movement in the direction of the study
of Italian thought and culture, which I advocated in the Introduction
to that work. But the Alps continue to be a barrier, and the thought of
France and of Germany reaches us, as a rule, far more rapidly than that
of the home of all the arts and of civilization, as we may call that
Italy which contains within it the classical Greater Greece. A striking
instance of this relatively more rapid distribution of French thought
is afforded by the celebrated _Lundis_ of Sainte-Beuve, so familiar to
many readers; yet a critic, greater in depth than Sainte-Beuve, was
writing at the same period - greater in philosophical vision of the
relations of things, for the vision of Sainte-Beuve rarely rose above
the psychological plane. For one reader acquainted with the _History
of Italian Literature_ of De Sanctis, a hundred are familiar with the
_Lundis_ of Sainte-Beuve.

At the present moment the hegemony of philosophical thought may be
said to be divided between Italy and France, for neither Great Britain
nor Germany has produced a philosophical mind of the first order.
The interest in Continental idealism is becoming yearly more keen,
since the publication of Bergson's and of Blondel's treatises, and of
Croce's _Philosophy of the Spirit._ Mr. Arthur Balfour, being himself
a philosopher, was one of the first to recognise the importance of
the latter work, referring to its author in terms of high praise in
his oration on Art delivered at Oxford in the Sheldonian Theatre. Mr.
Saintsbury also has expressed his belief that with the _Æsthetic_ Croce
has provided the first instrument for scientific (_i.e._ philosophical,
not "natural" scientific) criticism of literature. This surely is well,
and should lead to an era of more careful and less impartial, of more
accurate because more scientific criticism of our art and poetry.

I trust that a similar service may be rendered to Ethical theory and
practice by the publication of the present translation, which I believe
to be rich with great truths of the first importance to humanity,
here clearly and explicitly stated for the first time and therefore
(in Vico's sense of the word) "created," by his equal and compatriot,
Benedetto Croce.

Then leaning upon the arm of time came Truth, whose radiant face,

Though never so late to the feast she go, hath aye the foremost place.



[1] G. de Ruggiero, _La Filosofia contemporanea,_ Laterza, Bari, 1912.








Practical and theoretic life - Insufficiency of descriptive distinctions
- Insufficiency of the psychological method in philosophy - Necessity of
the philosophical method - Constatation and deduction - Theories which
deny the practical form of the spirit - The practical as an unconscious
fact: critique - Nature and practical activity - Reduction of the
practical form to the theoretical: critique - The practical as thought
in action - Recognition of its autonomy.



The practical and the so-called third spiritual form: feeling - Various
meanings of the word: feeling, a psychological class - Feeling as a
state of the spirit - Function of the concept of feeling in the History
of philosophy: the indeterminate - Feeling as forerunner of the æsthetic

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