Nicola Abbagnano


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Abbagnano, Nicola

sex: m; b. Jul 15, 1901 in Salerno, Italy – d. Sep 9, 1990 in Milan, Italy; country/nation/culture: Italian; field of study: history of philosophy, history of science; ref.: nonecontrib.: Marco Sgarbi


[edit] Main Works

  • Le sorgenti irrazionali del pensiero, 1923
  • Il problema dell'arte, 1925
  • Nuovo idealismo inglese e americano, 1927
  • Guglielmo di Ockham, 1931
  • La nozione aristotelica del tempo, 1933
  • La fisica nuova, 1934
  • Il principio della metafisica, 1936
  • La struttura dell'esistenza, 1939
  • Introduzione all'esistenzialismo, 1942
  • Storia della filosofia, 2 vols., 1946-50
  • Filosofia, religione e scienza, 1947
  • Esistenzialismo positivo, 1948
  • Possibilità e libertà, 1956
  • Problemi di sociologia, 1959
  • Dizionario di filosofia, 1961
  • Storia delle scienze, 3 vols., 1962

[edit] Biography

Nicola Abbagnano was born in Salerno in a middle-class family. He studied in Naples with Antonio Aliotta and wrote under his direction in 1922 his dissertation, Le sorgenti irrazionali del pensiero (1923). In the following years he taught in the Liceo Umberto I and in Istituto di Magistero Suor Orsola Benincasa. In Naples he was a member of editorial staff of the journal Logos. From 1936 to 1976, he was ordinary professor of philosophy at the university of Turin. After the Second World War, he co-founded with Ludovico Geymonat and others the Centro di studi metodologici and the Quaderni di sociologia, whose first issue came out in 1950. In 1952 Abbagnano became co-editor with Norberto Bobbio of the Rivista di filosofia, Italy's most authoritative philosophical journal today. He wrote also on national newspapers such as La Stampa and Il Giornale. In 1972 he moved to Milan, where he died in 1990.

[edit] Characterization

The first original formulation of Abbagnano's thought is Le sorgenti irrazionali del pensiero, in which he criticizes the idealism of Croce and Gentile. Abbagnano's main thesis is that thought cannot be said to be everything, for in the world there is other kinds of real essence, first and foremost free and productive activity. In La fisica nuova (1934), Abbagnano investigates the foundations of physics by recognizing the limits of the different approaches. In Il principio della metafisica (1936), Abbagnano's objective is to determine a metaphysics that is capable of encompassing the totality of human experience. In 1939, Abbagnano publishes La struttura dell'esistenza, in which he defines philosophy as a research on human being focused on study of existence and possibilities. Abbagnano rejects Heidegger's identification of the proper possibility of existence in the life-for-death as well as Jasper's impossibility of grasping the true being. Existence is neither anguish nor a setback in the search of sense. Existence, according to Abbagnano, is a structure of transcendental possibility, whose aim is the self-realization of being. Abbagnano's positive existentialism is aimed at pointing out the problematic character of existence. In Possibilità e Libertà (1956), he gives great importance on the notion of freedom and its connections with the possibility of existence. According to Abbagnano, human being is defined by the possibility to choose among the possibilities he/she is offered. Human beings can choose between authentic or inauthentic existence. Abbagnano focuses on the finitude of the human being in his/her temporality and freedom to choose to determine himself/herself. The finitude of the human beings is the limit of the reason. Aware of the limit of reason, Abbagnano considers philosophy, science and reason different modalities of the determination of existence. The dialogue of all disciplines is necessary to understand human nature in its fullness. Sociology, as an interdisciplinary science, can give a contribution to the understanding of human beings in their relationships. In the programmatic essay to the Quaderni di sociologia, invites all components of society to reflect on their role of fundamental constituents of human existence.

[edit] Method

History of philosophy designates, according to Abbagnano, a specific field of investigation dedicated to the interpretation of human experience. Experience is the object of all investigations concerned with human beings, things, world, God or being in general. Experience must be understood without subjective implications. Objectivity and reality are within in the domain of experience. The domain of experience is no totality, it is neither simple nor homogeneous and it has no unity. Philosophy is primarily the choice of a group of preferred experiences. Experiences are always human, for the events of history of philosophy have intrinsic interest only for human beings. Philosophy, however, is not just choices of human experiences, it is ways of interpreting them, for every interpretation is a judgment on a group of experiences. Three conditions are necessary for historical research: 1) documents; 2) critical attitude; 3) canon of historiographical choice. The first condition is the availability of documents as texts, news, biographies. Following Nietzsche, Abbagnano call the first condition archeological history, which has nothing to do with philological history and it does not imply any devaluation of historical work. A necessary rule is to use in the most complete way all documentary materials. Under critical attitude Abbagnano understands with the specific attitude towards the past that was formed in the Western culture beginning with the Renaissance. The discovery of the historical perspective permits to recognize the past in its diversity from the present and to make it the subject of historical surveys. Critical attitude results in: 1) historical individuation; 2) chronology. Historical individuation aims at reconstructing the individual character of historical events by means of a rigorous methodology. The best historical surveys are the ones that are able to determine the subject in an unmistakable way, i.e., as something unique and unrepeatable in the same forms. Based on the recognition of historical diversity and perspective, chronology of events assumes a decisive relevance within historiographical methodology. The placement of an event in time provides the necessary condition of its individuality. Time is a dimension of historical comprehension. Finally, the third condition of historical activity is the rule of historiographical choices. Not every event can be the subject of an historiographical survey. The historian must to face urgency to choose his/her subject. In other words, the subject choice depends from the historian's interests, which are legitimate as long as they do not falsify history. Abbagnano establishes four rules for the activity of historians of philosophy. First, to respect documentary evidence. Second, to respect the dictionary and the linguistic syntax of the philosophy made the subject of investigation. Philosophy in fact does not rely, as exact sciences do, on a unified language. In order to understand philosophical concepts, it is necessary to be aware of their histories, which is the main goal of Abbagnano's Dizionario di Filosofia. The third rule of the historian of philosophy is to limit himself/herself to proposing problems and not their solutions. This is the rule that guarantees the objectivity in historical research. The fourth condition of historiographical activity is to establish historical relationships. Historical relationships are not solely every functional relation, they are also every possible polemic comparison and elucidation available from archeological documents. The rule of historical relationships sets limits to the assumption of the possibility of such relationships. The variety of historical situations, choices and interests permits to individuate historically determinable relationships in the most various and inscrutable forms.

History of philosophy must show the essential humanity of the philosophers. It must disprove both prejudices that philosophy has no relationship with human existence and is an amazing bundle of opinions lacking in a thread. History of philosophy must narrate the lives of persons and discover their relationships with other persons. History of philosophy reproduces rigorously the final goal of every human relationship, i.e., mutual comprehension. Nothing that is human is stranger to philosophy and its history, for they are a survey of the foundation of being. Abbagnano denies the possibility of finding a continuous progress in philosophy in terms of the formulation of universal truths.

[edit] Impact

Abbagnano's obtained a strong impact with the publication of his Storia della filosofia and Dizionario di filosofia, which had both several editions and count among the most used textbooks in Italian schools and universities. Thanks Giovanni Fornero's (the pupil whom Abbagnano designated as prosecutor of his work) and brilliant updates and intelligent modernizations, Abbagnano's history of philosophy textbooks is still today most diffused and it has also been translated in a number of languages. His dictionary of philosophy is an indispensable guide for the explanation of philosophical concepts and the understanding of their transformations. Both are innovative in methodology, in opposition to idealistic or positivistic historiographical approaches based on the criterion of progress or on overcoming. Abbagnano has taught that the historian is not the arrogant depositary of an absolute knowledge of the past and that he/she must respect the thoughts of the philosophers made the subject of investigation. Carlo Augusto Viano and Pietro Rossi are also brilliant and original pupils of Abbagnano's in the history of philosophy.

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