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Appendix I: Croce’s Theory of Economic Action


While reflecting recently on what the historian means by greatness, I was led to examine Croce's theory of economic action. It seemed to promise an answer to the troublesome problem of the relationship between greatness and ethical goodness. How those hopes were disappointed will be explained presently; our main business is to consider Croce's theory on its merits. I shall confine the enquiry as far as possible to Croce's Filosofia della pratica, avoiding any detailed reference, e.g., to the somewhat artificial parallelism within the dialectic of the spirit between the forms of theoretical and those of practical activity. Since, however, Croce teaches—and his practice is in accordance with his teaching—that any severance of part from whole does violence to philosophy, it will be necessary to touch on certain larger questions before I close.

Croce's ethical theory is well known, and the barest summary will suffice as a text for subsequent criticism. In principle, it rests on Kant's doctrine that moral volition is volition of law universal, a doctrine the truth of which has been fully acknowledged in the present volume. His chief divergencies from Kant are in two directions. (1) As befits an uncompromising enemy of the Ding an sich, Croce interprets the universal as wholly immanent in human volitions, in other words, as the so-called “concrete universal” of the Hegelians. (2) Further—and this is his most original contribution to the philosophy of conduct—he claims to supply the needed complement to Kantian and post-Kantian ethics by a reasoned justification of utilitarian action, as at once independent of, and integrally related to, morality. This non-moral form of action he calls “economic”. Economic volition or action—these terms are for Croce identical in meaning—is defined as volition of the individual; ethical volition or action as volition of the universal. The former embraces all material ends, the latter is, qua ethical, merely formal. For the universal, as distinct from the general, covers more than any finite group or series of particulars. Since ethical action can only be willed effectively in particular volitions, it is always also economic; i.e., the economic moment, though distinct front the ethical, is present in every act of will. “Economicity is the concrete form of morality.”1 But, though all ethical action is thus economic, not all economic action is ethical; for the individual may be willed for its own sake, apart front volition of the universal. Economic volition is an autonomous type of practical activity. There is an economic imperative, and it is as categorical as that of morality.2 Such purely economic action is neither moral nor immoral; it is amoral. Moreover, both forms of action are rational, being essential phases in the dialectical movement of the spirit.3 Each therefore has its distinctive value; we approve ethical action for its goodness, economic action for its efficiency in grappling with the practical situation. The two forms are not co-ordinate, not is economic action morality at a lower grade; it is at once the generic form of all action, moral or amoral, and a specific mode of practical activity.4


When we scrutinize this doctrine more closely, we are struck, first, by certain ambiguities in Croce's exposition, alike of ethical and of economic volition. In the former case the doubt is in regard to the relation of universal and particular. We are told that the moral universal, while corresponding to conditions of fact, yet “refers to something that transcends them”, and that it satisfies us, not “as individuals in a determinate point of time and spaces”, but “as beings transcending time and space”. Yet the satisfaction in question is that of our common human nature; moral values as valori di cultura are humanistic, and as such immanent in the historic development of human civilization. How are we to understand this transcendence or to reconcile Croce's ethical humanism with the claim of the universal to infinitude? More of this hereafter; our immediate difficulty is with the interpretation of economicità. “Economic activity is that which wills and actualizes what corresponds solely with conditions of fact in which a man finds himself”, which “is answered to by what are called individual ends” and which “gives occasion to the judgement on the greater or less coherence of the action taken by itself”.5 It implies, in the subject, capacity to act and energy and firmness of volition; and, as regards the content of the action, i.e., what the agent wills to do, effective mastery of the practical situation.6 Hence its rationality, within the bounds (be it understood) of the situation of fact. Thus far the doctrine presents no serious difficulty, save perhaps in the implied isolation of particular situations and actions from their context in the life history of the individual. It is otherwise when it is extended to cover the whole held of utilitarian action. “This form of practical activity,” we read, “is in its entirety individual, hedonistic, utilitarian, economic.”7 Now it is true (1) that every human act implies self-affirmation and expresses, in Spinoza's phrase, the conatus sese conservandi;8 (2) that, whatever I will, mi piace farla, and its realization is attended by a certain satisfaction;9 and (3) that it is useful as means to the end desired, be that end a particular adjustment or the immanent universal. We may assent to these statements, with a reservation is to the applicability of the category of means and end even within the sphere of economic action. But Croce intends more than this. In what sense are purely economic: volitions—and such are asserted to be possible, both on the premoral plane and in cases of temporary suspension of the moral consciousness—wholly individual or hedonistic or utilitarian? Prior to the emergence of morality the conduct, say, of the child or the savage is far from being exclusively self-regarding; while suspension at the moral level involves, as we shall see presently, an act of rebellion which is not amoral but immoral. Hedonistic action, again, is directed towards pleasure as an end; and, as every ethical textbook tells us, a pleasant desire is one thing, the desire of pleasure another. Nor need pleasure be the end in order that economic action should prove effective. Of course, Croce knows all this, as Kant also must have known it; but his unaccountable slurring of such familiar distinctions is surely a stone of stumbling to his readers. The like is the case with his utilitarianism. Not only is utility interpreted hedonistically, as though there were no other finite goods save pleasure to serve as ends to means; but the willing of the pleasure of others is identified with the willing of our own pleasure, in other words, with egoism. “Altruism is as insipid as egoism, and is at bottom reducible to egoism; almost as in the case of sensual love, which has justly been called ‘egoismo in due’.… This blind and irrational attachment to others is at root attachment to ourselves, our nerves, our fancies, our interests, our habits. It is utility and not morality.”10 Croce allows, it is true, that moral volition may be veiled in the guise of altruism, and that such phrases as “interests rightly understood”, “the welfare of humanity”, may be stretched to bear an ideal significance, so that moral facts can be subsumed under the utilitarian formula. But mere differences of quantity cannot affect the form of practical activity; “the number 100,000 is as much a number as 3 or 2”; the action is economic, whether the interest pursued be that of the individual, the family, the nation, or the aggregate of humanity at large.11 “He who loves things for the things’ sake (whatever and however many be the things he loves, of whatever sort they be, one, many, or infinite), does not yet love the universal, which is pervasive and is exhausted in no particular thing or in any number of particulars, however vast.” It is a far cry from Croce's initial restriction within the hounds of the particular spatio-temporal situation to this enlarged concept of economic action. The differences are qualitative, and not merely numerical. But enough has been said about the straits to which Croce is put in mediating the transition. In what follows we shall accept his extended reading and take economic volition to cover the volition of all material, finite ends.


We pass now to a more radical criticism, affecting the substance of Croce's doctrine. Does he succeed in establishing the autonomy and rationality of economic action? We grant the value of his theory, in so far as it shows economicity as a distinct moment in ethical volition. The universal cannot be willed in vacuo, in abstraction from volition of the individual. But can the individual be willed apart from the universal? And, even if this be possible, does any value attach to such volition? I contend that Croce's doctrine entails two consequences: (1) that, when once the moral consciousness has developed, all action is either moral or immoral, never amoral; and (2) that moral action alone has economic value.

(1) Let us take the first point. “There are actions,” we read, “deprived of morality and yet perfectly economic.”12 Croce instances two types of such actions. There is the action of the primitive man or the infant, prior to the awakening of the moral consciousness.13 Such premoral action is doubtless amoral, but it is hardly relevant to our purpose. Even as economic, it represents a low level of spiritual activity. For actions of serious value we must look to Croce's other class of instances, in which the developed moral consciousness is temporarily “suspended”, “suppressed”, or “abolished”.14 Such is the case with the business man when engaged in business transactions, or—to quote Croce's favourite illustration—with the statesman whose public acts are directed exclusively to the interests of his country, to the neglect of universal ethical ends. But how can such action be regarded as involving suspension of moral obligation? Either the suspension is dictated by the moral consciousness or it is not. In the former case, the economic volition that ensues is also moral; in the latter case, there is rebellion against the moral law, and the resulting volition is immoral. Let us look more closely into Croce's statements on the matter, not only in his Filosofia della pratica, but in the illuminating elucidations of that philosophy subsequently published in La Critica.15 There we are told that it is “the strictest moral duty to treat politics in a manner independent of morality”.16 Initially, at all events, the suspension is an actwilled in obedience to moral duty. A less questionable example than that of the statesman would be the trustee who recognizes an obligation to administer his ward's affairs, as Plotinus is said to have done with remarkable ability, in the economic interest of the ward, without regard to his own desire to promote a philanthropic or religious enterprise. But can the ensuing economic action be so severed from the governing ethical obligation as to constitute a case of “suspension or abolition” of morality? The moral consciousness is awake and dominant throughout the entire course of conduct, ready to intervene as a regulative principle whenever there is risk of divergence between the economic and ethical prescriptions. The suspension is apparent and not real; the universal claims actualization in conduct of this specific character and is throughout immanent as its informing principle. Croce's assertion of amorality is possible only because of his strange assumption that each particular volition is a distinct entity, to be judged as merely economic or as ethical in abstraction from every other.17 Neither the trustee, acting on business principles in discharge of moral obligation, nor the company director, engaged in publishing a fraudulent prospectus, can be described as suspending the claims of obligation or, in Croce's surely most unhappy phrase, as “returning to a state of innocence”.18 The economic action is in the one case morally right, in the other morally wrong. The only amoral acts are the premoral. Indeed, Croce admits this when be says “that within the moral ambit … there subsist only moral actions. Economicity is indeed the concrete form of morality, but not an element possessed of independent value within the moral life.”19 We note in passing how disastrous is this consequence for the parallelism between the forms of theoretical and those of practical activity. If we substitute conceptual thought (logic) for morality, intuition (art) for economicity, we get the result that “aesthetic activity is the concrete form of the logical, but not an element possessed of independent value within the philosophic life”. Is it then the case that logic—Croce's logic—takes no cognisance of the “concrete universal”, and that the intuitional creativity of the artist is bereft of autonomy and value when once logic and philosophy have conic to birth? It would follow that only prelogical art could make good a claim to independence—a conclusion that is manifestly absurd.

(2) Secondly, as we follow out Croce's exposition of his doctrine, we are driven to deny economic value to any save moral action. The asserted autonomy of mere economic action, as distinct from its presence as a moment in moral action, vanishes into thin air. This conclusion follows at once if, as we have just argued, there are no amoral economic acts. For we are told that in immoral act cannot be economic or an economic act immoral.20 But it follows equally if we admit the amoral nature of acts done under suspension. What value have such acts? How far do they achieve this end of subserving the interest of the agent? Croce tells us that they achieve it within the bounds of the particular momentary situation. “True, the volitional act, qua economic, satisfies us as individuals in a determinate point of time and space; but if it satisfy us not also as beings transcending time and space, our satisfaction will be ephemeral and be swiftly changed to dissatisfaction.”21 And in impressive language, reminiscent of the leaking vessel of Plato's Gorgias, he insists on the utter transitoriness of such satisfactions, desire being followed by desire ad infinitum, so that dissatisfaction alone endures. “It will endure for ever, and pale Care will for ever be seated behind us … unless we know how to wrest from the contingent its character of contingency … and to incorporate the eternal in the contingent, the universal in the individual, duty in pleasure.”22 Where, in this flux of desire, is there place for rationality or autonomy of value? Where, even if we admit the Human discreteness of volitions, can we find anything deserving to be called realization of our interest? Croce tells us again and again that such transitory satisfactions are not a man's true interest, that morality is “the supreme interest that triumphs over interest”, that there can be no conflict between economic and ethical values, and that “virtue is always felicity, as morality is always pleasure”.23 Now either this appeal to the “higher expediency” is to be taken seriously, or it is not. There is assuredly a qualitative difference between mere interest and interest attendant on moral volition, which latter is “interest well understood”.24 But is interest “wrongly understood” interest at all? And what becomes of its claim to rationality? “Our action always obeys a rational law, even when the moral law is suppressed.”25 But it is no more rational than is the pursuit of virtue against interest on the Utilitarian theory of erroneous association, a theory which Croce rightly stigmatizes as irrational.26

The confusion between the two positions, (1) that economic action has independent value, and (2) that moral action atone is truly economic, is most evident in Croce's doctrine of the State. He holds that the State, like all institutions and law, is a generically economic entity, which as such may or may not subserve an ethical end. “Politics, like economics, has its own laws, independent of morals.”27 And we have seen that it is the politician's moral duty to divest himself of the trammels of morality. We are told that “political honesty consists in political capacity, just as the honesty of the physician or surgeon is his capacity qua physician or surgeon”,28 moral character being irrelevant, save in so far as it fosters or impairs professional skill. So, again, States in their mutual conflicts act, not as ethical, but as economic individuals; like men of masterful and overbearing disposition, who yield submission only to those stronger and more fortunate than themselves.29 There is, indeed, a difference between the State and the timocratic (or, shall we say; the historically great?) individual; and in remarking it Croce gives a drastic solution to a problem that has caused trouble to other philosophers, how to inspire a whole people with such devotion to a form of common life that is absolute and all-embracing, that they will willingly sacrifice, if called upon to do so, their national existence in its service.30 “The masterful man,” he writes, “has within him a ray, oblique though it be, of moral conscience, a kind of honour, that leads him on occasion to choose min or death rather than the shame of submission, and by which he renders indirect homage to the moral conscience, in sacrificing himself to preserve the value of human dignity. But the State can never do this. It cannot prefer its own ruin or death to the preservation of its life in any respect. Now, were it amoral individual, it would in this deserve to be called base; but it escapes censure because it does not move in the ethical sphere; its acts of baseness are not baseness but painful renunciations, such as all States are forced from time to time to suffer.”31 These declarations seem explicit enough. But other passages strike a different note. We are told that the doctrine is not to be understood in the sense that the State's action is directed to the prevalence of sheer might. War, for instance, will be waged with an intelligent regard to the State's true interest to secure a spiritual, a rational victory.32 Real-Politik is ideal as well as real. The Machiavellian concept of the State is thus declared to be moral.33 The rational State is inspired in its striving for power by a moral faith that the issue will conduce to the greatest good.34 What is this but the appeal to higher expediency, with its implication that merely economic action fails as economic? Again, Kant is approved for holding that concrete political action must be submitted to the moral standard, though he failed to see that such submission implies antecedent independence.35 And, in the Saggio sull’ Hegel, where Hegel is criticized by Croce for his idealization alike of the heroic individual and of the State as above morality, we read that “the man who defends the State of which he is a citizen and the fatherland of which he is the son has precisely this moral duty, determined like all his duties by the historical situation in which he finds himself; and all that he does in the cause of that defence, all that it renders necessary, its dura lex, is neither above morality nor below it, because it coincides with concrete morality”.36 So nationalism is defended, in contrast with in empty and abstract humanitarianism, as being an effective concrete expression of the universal.37 Yet we are told that the bounds which the State sets on its lust for power are imposed not from without by morality, but by its own “instinct of conservation”, and are therefore immanent in economic activity; and that true politics, i.e., politics “rightly understood”, while accordant with morality, is not morality but politics.38 Croce himself seems to he aware of the difficulty of reconciling these conflicting statements. In his Frammenti di Etica, under the title, “The Ethical State”, he restricts the purely economic action of the State to the premoral stage of its development. There are, he said, two concepts of the State, one merely political and amoral and the other ethical, and both are true. They are related to one another, not in juxtaposition as co-ordinate, but dialectically. “In its first moment”, i.e., the premoral, “the State is posited as mere power and utility”; from this basis it raises itself to the moral plane, at which the economic moment is at once preserved and transcended.39 But what is this but the acknowledgment once again of the higher expediency, and of the irrationality, for civilized society, of political action directed to non-moral ends? We look in vain for clear guidance front Croce in the present crisis of our civilization.


The question here arises: how does all this bear on the problem of greatness and goodness? It is obvious that historically great men are not great in proportion to their goodness, and that the morally good are not good in proportion to their eminence in history. A given individual may be both great and good, but, save in the case of moral greatness, the conjunction of characters is accidental. Both sorts of judgement, the historical and the ethical, claim to rest on reason. How then are we to account for the difference between these rational, yet conflicting, estimates? In both cases what is judged is the same, namely, human character and action. The difficulty cannot be evaded by questioning the right either of the historian or of the moral critic to judge within their several domains. The twofold autonomy must be justified, if at all, by showing how the respective judgements are passed in the light of distinct, but legitimate, standards of conduct.

I have discussed this problem elsewhere,40 and refer to it here only in connexion with Croce's doctrine of economicità. That doctrine seems to point the way to a solution, if the scale of historical greatness can be interpreted in terms of economic value. But on examination this interpretation will be found impracticable.

In the first place, Croce not only nowhere explicitly discusses historical greatness, but denies the right of the historian to make such valuations. Historical judgements are theoretical, not practical, and their proper object is events, not actions. He protests41 against any attempt to rank events in order of importance, pointing out that no event lacks historical significance, and that if an historian selects one event for notice and passes over another in silence, it is for expository, i.e., practical, convenience.42 In his refusal to regard any event, or, for the matter of that any individual, as intrinsically unhistorical, Croce is clearly right; though we may question the extremer doctrine that events do not admit of being graded in order of objective importance. The event describable as the passage of the Rubicon by Cæsar in 49 B.C. is surely of greater historical importance than that which consists in my writing of this Appendix. Moreover, its importance is objective, i.e., it is independent on any relative value these events may have for a given historical investigator under the actual conditions of his enquiry. It is conceivable, if the peoples go on playing fast and loose with the resources of civilization, that a thousand years hence the discovery in a rubbish-heap of these few pages may furnish the only extant evidence for the existence of Croce's book. In that case, an event intrinsically trivial would acquire an adventitious significance for the historian. But we are not here concerned with the greatness of events, and may therefore let pass Croce's adhesion to the doctrine that as regards the course of history “whatever is right”. With individuals and their actions it is otherwise. “History is what takes place, and this is not judged practically, for it ever transcends the individual; it is to the individual, not to history, that the practical judgment is applicable.” “Altra è l'azione dell’ individuo e altro l'avvenimento storico il quale va oltre volontà singole.”43 Now, in treating of economic activity, he points out how “actions and individuals, which we cannot approve morally, yet compel our admiration for their display of practical ability and firmness of will, worthy of a better cause”, and cites as examples Farinata and Capaneus from the Inferno.44 This is coming very near to the historically great bad man. Yet on closer examination we find that more goes to greatness than can be brought under the economic rubric. Does it consist merely in a high grade of practical efficiency, of successful adjustment to a particular practical situation? Greatness implies this, of course, but it implies a great deal more that is as distinctive in specific quality as is moral volition of the universal. It implies, first, in the agent, rare gifts of imagination and practical intelligence, of φρονησις in its widest extension—all those gifts which were enumerated by Kant, along with self-control and firmness ofpurpose, as capable of ethical abuse, and therefore not to be valued as unconditionally good. Greatness, again, implies as a condition for its display—and, to be greatness, it must be displayed overtly—a situation of exceptional significance, that will give scope for that splendour of achievement with Professor Alexander notes as the specific mark of greatness in every field. This requirement is very independent of the volition of the agent. Thus great men of action seem almost invariably conscious that their success has been due to a power beyond their own control, a power which they construe, according to their temperament and outlook, as providence or as blind chance. Once more, greatness lies, as we have seen, not in mere effective handling of a complex problem, but in the actualization of some essential of a desirable human civilization, in the service rendered to art or knowledge or public security or the establishment of social and political institutions. This gives Croce calls “valori di cultura”.45 But action directed towards cultural values ranks, on the view, no longer as economic, but as ethical. If so, what becomes of the distinction between historical greatness and moral goodness?

It is clear that Croce furnishes no solution of the problem of greatness and goodness. If the distinction is to be preserved, greatness must be brought under the head of economic value; but the historian's estimate is determined in the light of those cultural values which for Croce are not economic but ethical. Moreover, our analysis of Croce's theory of economic activity has led to the conclusion that the only amoral action is the premoral, and that, within the ethical sphere, immoral economic action is impossible. It follows that, if greatness were economic value, none would be great save the morally good. When we turn to the facts, we find that historical greatness is exhibited, not in elementary premoral activity, nor in action directed solely to the agent's private satisfaction, but in the service of public causes and ends of wide historical significance. The great man is he who identifies his personal interest with the dominant interests of human civilization. The facts, again, bear evidence that he can do this without achieving moral excellence. On Croce's theory, this is impossible. Greatness for Croce must be either a spurious greatness, grounded on a false estimate which it is the historian's business to correct; or, if it be genuine greatness, greatness “rightly understood”, it must be perfectly coincide with goodness.


Croce thus leaves us with two unsolved problems. An ethical ideal, which is a form of human civilization, actualizable in the course of the temporal process, gives no ground for distinguishing between historical greatness and ethical goodness. Nor can the autonomy of economic volition, as a distinct activity of the spirit, be vindicated on such a basis. What is it in his philosophy that gives rise to these two difficulties? Not, surely, the initial distinction between volition of ends that are individual and contingent and volition of the universal. On the contrary, this distinction must be held to firmly if we are to hope for a solution. The error lies in the restriction of ethical volition to volition of humanistic and cultural values. Croce rightly insists, against a common misreading of Kantian ethics, that the universal cannot be willed in abstracto, but only as immanent in particular acts of will. But is it merely immanent? Can the distinction between economic and ethical action be maintained unless the universal be also transcendent of any and all of the particulars Here is the stone of stumbling, the rock of offence, in Croce's philosophy. His answer is an uncompromising affirmative. Let me quote some typical passages from his writings. The first two are from the Filosofia della pratica. “The supreme rationality that guides the course of history must not be conceived as the work of a transcendent Intelligence or Providence, as is the case in religion and semi-fantastical speculation, whose only value lies in a confused presentiment of the truth. If history be rationality, it is assuredly directed by a Providence, but by one that actualizes itself in individuals, and that works, not upon them, but in them. Such affirmation of Providence tests not on conjecture or on faith, but on evidence of reason.”46 Again, treating of the moral life and the peace it brings to the soul, he writes: “Our actions will be ever new, because the reality ever sets before us new problems; but if, in doing them, we do them with a lofty mind, with purity of heart, seeking in them what lies beyond them, we shall at each moment possess the whole. Such is the character of moral action, which satisfies us, not as individuals, but as men; and as individuals only in so far as we are men; and in so far as we are men, only with individual satisfaction as its means.”47 In the third quotation, from his later volume on Historiography, humanism is asserted without disguise: “The profound value of this concept”—i.e., of immanent reason as the author of history—“rests on this, that it has transformed an abstract humanism into one that is veritably human, into the humanity common to all men, or rather to the entire universe, which is through and through humanity, in other words, spirituality. History, thus conceived, is no longer the work of Nature, or of an extra-mundane God, any more than it is the work, impatient and interrupted at every instant, of the empirical unreal individual; it is the work of the individual that is truly real, of the spirit that individualizes itself eternally.”48 Lastly, in the same treatise we find this decisive rejection of transcendence: “Concrete logic is truly sovereign over the real, which produces and thinks and is its very self. For it there is nothing material, nothing accidental, nothing irrational, nothing evil; precisely because the material, the accidental, the irrational, and the evil are the spiritual itself qua overcome by a more ultimate form, and owe their legitimate negativity solely to this form, while in themselves they are entirely rational. Nature and history are despoiled of the last relics of accidentality in the light of the concept, solely because the concept is despoiled of the last remaining relics of abstractness and arbitrariness; and, therefore, concept and history in the end perfectly coincide in extension and in intension. The last shadow of the transcendent, the personal God whittled down to the creator Logos, the logical if not chronological antecedent of nature and history, his been dissipated; there is no nature to confront a human history which invokes its unity from a principle embracing and transcending both; there is only one history, which is God.”49 These extracts are typical of a host of similar declarations of faith in a human, an all-too-human, Absolute, that meet us everywhere in Croce's writings. To admit transcendence at any point is to take refuge in il mistero, the lowest grade of error of which the spirit is capable when it despairs of attaining truth.50 For Croce, the so-called “other” world of the mystic is but this world rightly understood. Its reality, which is Spirit, is real in the eternal present, and in no other way. Spirit is thought (pensiero) and thought is Spirit; and the thought which is Spirit is the thought of the human mind. “What” he asks, “is the universal? It is the Spirit, it is the Reality, in so far as it is truly real, i.e., as unity of thought and will; it is Life, as harvested in its profundity, as this same unity; it is Liberty, if a reality thus conceived be perpetual development, creation, progress.”51 It follows that history and philosophy are one, for each is synthesis of intuition and concept, individual and universal. “Immanenza vuol dire storia”; and if history spells immanence, philosophy must spell it too. To question this by affirming transcendence is to sin against the holy spirit of Reason and, Ixion-like, to embrace the phantom of the Ding an sich.

Il pensiero pensa o tutto o nulla;52 this holds, not only of the absolute Spirit, but of Croce's own philosophy. It claims to be judged in its entirety, as an organic whole, or not at all. We cannot here embark on an examination of the principles of Croce's metaphysic. We can only touch on two questions, both of them with direct hearing on the problems we have been discussing. (1) What is the “humanity”, which is contrasted now with the Unding of an abstract humanitarianism, now with a finite aggregate of individuals, and which is identified, in the passage quoted above, with the spirituality of the whole universe? “Man is entire man, in each man and at every instant.”53 It is not an empirical “pseudo-concept”, but a pure concept, an adequate expression of il concetto; in other words, it is a “concrete universal” that oversteps the bounds of any visible community. Nor is it an ideal projection, that shadows forth the eventual possibilities of human development, for it is actual here and now, and this, not as a Platonic Idea54 in a supersensible Paradise, but as a denizen of the world in which we live. In thus holding before us what is in fact no more than the apotheosis of a class-name as the object of rational devotion, Croce is making an extravagant demand on our credulity. It is otherwise if we are prepared to pan beyond the sphere of morality to that of religion, with its admission of a transcendent God. Then indeed, as Bradley showed long ago in Ethical Studies, we are enabled to envisage an ideal order that is truly universal, “because it is God's will, and because it therefore is the will of an organic unity, which is the one life of its many members, which is real in them, and in which they are real”.55 What, again, is Croce's warrant for restricting Spirit, which is avowedly infinite, within any conceivable human limits? Even for religion, humanity is but a part of the spiritual kingdom. To quote Bradley once more: “our minds and hearts are not bounded to one among the phenomena of this one among the bodies in the universe”.56 The mind of man, as conceived by Croce, doubtless transcends empirical limitations of space and time. But when we ask as to the relation between spatio-temporal individuality and this ideal humanity, he leaves us greatly in the dark. The one is finite, the other infinite; and the two are incommensurable with one another. They are somehow to be thought together; how, we are nowhere told.57 This brings us to our second question. (2) Can history, either of man or of the world, be interpreted as a purely rational system, without violence to the known facts? Enlarge our view ideally, as we may, to the utmost reach, there ever remains an unbridged gulf between the particular and the universal. The historical judgement, on Croce's showing, affirms their absolute equivalence. Yet every event in the temporal process belies the affirmation. The particular is never wholly covered by the universal, and the universal is never wholly exhausted by the particular. We are told that the equation is only realized at infinity.58 How are we to understand this enigma, or reconcile it with experience? History presents us with an incomplete series of incomplete occurrences, which defy reduction to terms of an immanent conceptual system, and this, not merely because of the limitations of actual human knowledge, but because of an inherent irrationality in the facts. The truth is that Croce is driven, for all his disclaimers, to take refuge in an article of faith.59 What else is his insistence on perpetual progress in human civilization. 60 Where are we to seek a basis in experience for such a conviction? Not in the record of human history, where it is contradicted at every turn by the facts of degeneration and evil.61 Not in the predictions of physical science, which point rather to the eventual extinction of mind and life. How, we wonder, would Croce square accounts with the second law of thermo-dynamics?


Everything in Croce's philosophy turns on the meaning he gives to “universal”. It is a deceptive term. Croce's “concrete universal” is rather a universe than a universal;62 an individual system, in whose rational structure intuition and concept, particular and universal, fact and value, consummate their union. This rational system is at once reality and the thought thereof, apprehended reflectively by a single act of logical thinking, by a perfect judgement in which the individual subject his no truth that is not made intelligible by the universal predicate, the predicate no truth that is not incarnate in the individual subject. There is no place left for the irrationality of fact in a Reality which is Spirit, thus “individualizing itself eternally” after the pattern of the human mind.

“We can indeed think God in nature and in finite Spirit, deus in nobis et nos, but not a God beyond or before nature and man.”63 Can we indeed? Not unless we are willing to postulate the doctrine of pure immanence by an act of faith. We have seen that this is in effect what Croce does.64 But it is a faith to which experience surely lends far less countenance than to that other faith, so passionately rejected by Croce, which acknowledges a transcendent Reality and sees in events that are indecipherable by conceptual analysis the revelation of a wisdom surpassing that of human thought.

There are, I know, other alternatives to Croce's doctrine beside the admission of a theistic metaphysic. There is, for example, the line followed by the German Phenomenotogists.65 All I urge here is that if ethical volition be volition of the universal, and if this be construed, in accordance with the Platonist tradition, as volition of an ideal that is at once transcendent and immanent, Croce's distinction of ethical and economic values can be established on a firm foundation. All action for empirical finite ends is economic. But, if this be so, ethical action cannot be restricted to action in view of humanistic values. I cannot see that transcendence is the contradictory of immanence; indeed, how can that be immanent which is not also above and beyond the world that it informs? Nor does belief in a transcendent reality imply unknowability, unless the field of knowledge be limited to that of logical ratiocination. If I were clearer in my mind as to what is meant by the Ding an sich, I might be more moved by Croce's menace. Nor, once more, is the realm of spatiotemporal happenings thereby tendered an illusion. Rather is it Croce who does violence to the legitimate claims of empirical actuality. He is bound by logic to banish all therein that is recalcitrant to the cadres of reason to the limbo of mere appearance. The phenomena can only be saved, and temporal events make good their title to actuality, through dependence on a spiritual order that transcends, while it informs, the course of history.

  • 1.

    Filosofia della pratica, 248 (references here and elsewhere to the Italian edition of 1909). Here, and throughout this Appendix, I follow Croce in rising the terms moral and ethical equivalents. My own distinction between the two terms has been explained above (ch. 11).

  • 2.

    Filosofia della practica, 238–239,

  • 3.

    Ibid., 220, 233.

  • 4.

    Croce's assertion that the distinction, being philosophical, not psychological, is grounded, not on observation of contingent fact, but on the necessary process of the spirit, must not be understood to imply that economicity is merely a moment in volition that is also ethical, or that no purely economic acts actually occur in human experience. The contrary is explicitly stated (F. d. pr., 245, 369). Such acts, except at the premoral level, intervene in the midst of other acts which are both moral and economic through a temporary suspension of the moral life. What Croce is concerned to show (217 ff.) is that philosophical distinctions am not to be explained by an appeal to facts which are admittedly approximative, but vice versa.

  • 5.

    Filosofia della practica, 219, 2211, 223; Cf. La Critica, x, 233, i valori universalmente umani che si dicono di cultura, and F. d. pr., 302, 312.

  • 6.

    Ibid, 219.

  • 7.

    Not, of course, as measured by overt success; the event (accadimento) depends on conditions largely beyond the control of the individual agent.

  • 8.

    Ibid., 221.

  • 9.

    Ibid., 310–311.

  • 10.

    Ibid., 300–301. Mr. Leon's doctrine of Egotism, as distinct front Egoism, in The Ethics of Power is more convincing.

  • 11.

    Ibid., 230–231, 298.

  • 12.

    Filosofia della practica, 245

  • 13.

    Ibid., 240.

  • 14.

    Ibid., 240, 246–247, 250, 369.

  • 15.

    Certain of these contributions are contained in the short volume entitled Frammenti di Etica.

  • 16.

    La Crit., xiv, 483.

  • 17.

    F. d. pr., 240, 369.

  • 18.

    Ibid, 147.

  • 19.

    Ibid., 284.

  • 20.

    F. d. pr, 250.

  • 21.

    Ibid., 221,.

  • 22.

    Ibid., 222.

  • 23.

    Ibid., 246, 250, 253.

  • 24.

    Ibid., 231.

  • 25.

    Ibid., 220.

  • 26.

    F. d. pr., 223.

  • 27.

    Ibid., 368–369; La Crit., xiv, 241–242.

  • 28.

    Framm., xxxiii, p. 143.

  • 29.

    Ibid., xxxv, 150–151.

  • 30.

    See, for example, Joseph: Some Problems of Ethics, pp. 133–135.

  • 31.

    Loc. cit.

  • 32.

    La Crit., Loc. cit.

  • 33.

    La Crit., 78, 81; una vera “Real-Politik”, la quale non sará verments reale se non sarà insieme ideale, giacchè la serie idealità e la seia realtà coincidono.

  • 34.

    Ibid., xiv, 483.

  • 35.

    F. d. pr., 287.

  • 36.

    Saggio, p. 161.

  • 37.

    Teoria e Storia della Storiografica, p. 252.

  • 38.

    La Crit., xiv, 242.

  • 39.

    Framm., xxxvi, 156; cf. Saggio, 161: per lo Stato si portà sacrificare… perfino la salute dell’ ma non la moarlità, per la contradizione che non lo consente. A wide door is here left open for the conscientious objector within the field of politics.

  • 40.

    See my Presidential addresses (1) to the Aristotelian Society, Session 1931–1932 (Proc. of the Ar. Soc., N.S., xxxii, on “Greatness and Goodness”) and (2) to the joint Conference of the Aristotelian Society, and the Mind Association, 1932 (Proc. of the Ar. Soc., Suppl., vol. xi, on “Historical Greatness”).

  • 41.

    Tearia e Storia della Storiografica, p. 83.

  • 42.

    Log (ed. 1928), 197 f.

  • 43.

    Log, 191; cf. F. d. pr., 178.

  • 44.

    F. d. pr., 221.

  • 45.

    On valori di cultura, La Crit., x, 233 ff.; cf, F. d. pr., 302, 312.

  • 46.

    F. d. pr., 178–179.

  • 47.

    Ibid., 222–223.

  • 48.

    Teoria e Storia della Storiografica, 86–87.

  • 49.

    Ibid., 166–162.

  • 50.

    See Log, 299, 306.

  • 51.

    F. d. pr., 310.

  • 52.

    Ibid., 308

  • 53.

    Log 162.

  • 54.

    Ibid., 43.

  • 55.

    Eth. St., 251; cf. 205.

  • 56.

    Eth. St., 44.

  • 57.

    The same difficulty arises in Gentile's Philosophy of the Spirit, in regard to the relation of the “empirical” to the “transcendental” Ego; see my chapter on Gentile in Towards a Religious Philosophy.

  • 58.

    “For that which is individual and finite, essence and existence do not coincide; it changes at every moment, and while at every moment it is the universal, it is equated with it only it at infinity (lo adegua solamente all’ infinto),” Log, 106.

  • 59.

    In Log, 110, he defines “that mysterious and unqualifiable faculty called Faith” as “an intuition which world intuite the universal, or a thought of the universal without the logical process of thought.” Cf. 45, on intellectual intuition as caprice.

  • 60.

    F. d. pr., 180, 310–311..

  • 61.

    Evil, we are told, is qua evil negative; its positivity is an activity of Spirit and therefore good. Why good is positive, evil negative, and not vice versa, is nowhere explained. Both are abstract moments in the Spirit's movement, with equal claim to positivity.

  • 62.

    Alexander: Space, Time and Deity, I, 233: “The so-called ‘concrete universal’ is, in fact, not a universal but a universe.”

  • 63.

    See Log, Part 1, Sect. iii, chaps. 1 and 2; Part 11, chaps. 3 and 4, and p. 135:4 “Truths of reason and truths of fact, analytic and synthetic judgements, definitory and individual judgements, as distinct one from the other, are abstractions. The logical act is single; identity of definition and individual judgement, the thought of the pure concept.”

  • 64.

    Storiografica, 137,

  • 65.

    I refer, of course, to the doctrine of “subsistent” universals and values in a realm of being other than that of existence and actuality. See Chapter IV above.