Durant 1926: Criticism (Croce)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter X Section 2.3 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The  contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.

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II. BENEDETTO CROCE

4. Criticism

All this is as clear as a starless night; and not wiser than it should be. The Philosophy of the Spirit lacks spirit, and discourages a sympathetic exposition. The Philosophy of the Practical is unpractical, and lacks the breath of living reference. The essay On History catches one leg of the truth, by proposing a union of history and philosophy; but it misses the other by failing to see that history can become philosophy only by being not analytic but synthetic; not shredded history (giving in separate books the separate story of the supposedly insulated activities of men—economic, political, scientific, philosophical, religious, literary, and artistic) but what one might call, not too seriously, wedded history,—history in which all the phases of human life in a given period—made as brief as individual frailty may require—shall be studied in their correlation, in their common response to similar conditions, and in their varied mutual influence. That would be the picture of an age, the image of the complexity of man; it would be such history as a philosopher would consent to write.

Croce is simply too logical and analytical. True history, according to Will Durant, would be history in which all the phases of human life in a given period shall be studied in their correlation. That would be the picture of an age.

As to the Esthetic, let others judge. At least one student cannot understand it. Is man an artist as soon as he farms images? Does the essence of art lie only in the conception, and not in the externalization? Have we never had thoughts and feelings more beautiful than our speech? How do we know what the inward image was, in the artist’s mind, or whether the work that we admire realizes or misses his idea? How shall we call Rodin’s “Harlot” beautiful, except because it is the expressive embodiment of an adequate conception?”—conception though it be of an ugly and distressing subject? Aristotle notes that it pleases us to see the faithful images of things that are repugnant to us in reality; why, except that we reverence the art that has so well embodied the idea?

Croce’s Esthetic leaves too many questions unanswered.

It would be interesting, and no doubt disconcerting, to know what artists think of these philosophers who tell them what beauty is. The greatest living artist has abandoned the hope of answering the question. “I believe,” he writes, “that we shall never know exactly why a thing is beautiful.” But the same mellow wisdom offers us a lesson which we learn, usually, too late. “No one has ever been able to show me precisely the right way. … As for me, I follow my feeling for the beautiful. What man is certain of having found a better guide? … If I had to choose between beauty and truth, I should not hesitate; it is beauty I should keep. … There is nothing true in the world except beauty.” Let us hope that we need not choose. Perhaps we shall some day be strong enough and clear enough in soul to see the shining beauty of even the darkest truth.

It would be interesting to know what artists think of these philosophers who tell them what beauty is. Perhaps we shall some day be strong enough and clear enough in soul to see the shining beauty of even the darkest truth.

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