Croce, Bendetto (1866–1952)
Croce was a southern Italian idealist philosopher and historian. His Philosophy of Spirit was intended as a secular religion capable of encompassing all aspects of human life. He regarded as his greatest innovation the addition of the category of the Useful to the classical triad of the Beautiful, the True and the Good. He elaborated this theory in the course of his early writings on Marx (1900b) and a debate with Pareto ‘On the Economic Principle’ (1900a). He argued that human practical activity was orientated to solving the immediate problems of everyday life, and hence highly contingent. We only discover the moral worth of an act post facto, when the consequences can be evaluated. Our action is therefore directed at the Useful and only indirectly at the Good. Whilst all moral acts are economic, the reverse is not the case. He rejects hedonism and egoism as ethical theories, since happiness and self-interest may be good guides to the utility of an act to an agent at a given time, but not necessarily to its ultimate moral worth. He therefore disputed Pareto’s contention that you could develop a science of economics based on certain constant features of human behaviour. All human activity is conditioned by chance and the diversity of beliefs different individuals hold. This fact similarly vitiated Marx’s historical materialism. These ideas were later expanded into his Philosophy of the Practical (1908). However, in a later debate he denied Luigi Einaudi’s conclusion that his theory implied classical liberal laissez-faire policies (1928). He asserted that certain conditions could warrant welfare socialism. A moderate conservative rather than a liberal, he belatedly opposed fascism, partly because his philosophy provided few action guiding principles in the present beyond the endorsement of whatever succeeds. The judgement of events is left to history.
- Bellamy, R.P. 1986. Modern Italian social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press. ch. 5.Google Scholar