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  • Goodbye to Community:Exile and Separation
  • Remo Bodei (bio)
    Translated by Sylvia Hakopian


The Italian Difference

I am going to speak of a peculiar way in treating the idea of the common vis-à-vis what has been called Italian philosophical difference.

Looking back over the long Italian philosophical tradition, its core consists in a civil vocation. In fact, from its Renaissance humanist origins to the present, Italian philosophy's largest audience is made up not of specialists, intellectuals, or academics, but of a much wider public, of the entire national community. For philosophers and literati, the inner circle consists of their compatriots, fallen heirs of a great past and citizens of an ideal nation, initially defined only by language, but politically divided into a multiplicity of fragile regional states and spiritually influenced by a strong Catholic church. The second circle, with an accent on "universalistic" traits, includes everyone else.

The objects of philosophical investigation are questions that involve the majority of humanity and assume that human beings are not only rational animals, but animals with desires and plans, whose thoughts, actions, and expectations should be anchored to reality. In Machiavellian terms, these should be secured to "la verità effettuale della cosa," instead of "l'immaginazione di essa." Quoting Machiavelli: "I have thought it proper to represent things as they are in real truth, rather than as they are imagined" [65]. The classical heritage of Italian philosophy thus is made of concreteness (from the Latin cumcrescere, to grow together and let the different elements interact with each other), a term that conveys the sense of complexity of human affairs in fields of knowledge and practice in which the way of thinking is not linear; that is, in which, using Bernard Williams's categories, we need "thick" and not "thin" concepts and arguments [140-55].

The most representative philosophers in Italy thus did not enclose themselves within narrow fields or dedicate themselves to questions involving particular logical, metaphysical or theological subtleties, as was the case in other nations such as England, Germany, Spain, and later the United States. In these other countries the weight of scholastic or academic philosophy was felt for a longer time, since the caesura of the Renaissance was not as strong there as it was elsewhere. I am speaking of scholasticism in the positive sense of the word, that is, as a form of culture in which the division of philosophical knowledge is articulated according to thematic, rather than historical criteria (logic, metaphysics, ontology, and ethics). In this model prevails the argumentative rigor that Italian philosophers have often abandoned and which represents the root and the most appreciable aspect of the analytic tradition, by which I mean the capacity of reasoning with coherence and clarity (which is therefore in its origins not only Anglo-Saxon). In Italy, humanistic and Renaissance culture, often unintentionally, degenerated into an explanation of ideas by means of external historical or psychological events or became a source of rhetoric. [End Page 178]

Italian philosophy is a philosophy of impure reason, which takes into account the conditions, imperfections, and possibilities of the world, as opposed to pure reason, which is concerned with knowledge of the absolute, the immutable, and the rigidly normative. Italian philosophy is at its best when attempting to solve problems in which the universal and the particular, the logical and the empirical, collide. Such problems arise from the intersection of associated life and various social networks; from individual conscience, which combines the awareness of the limits imposed by reality with projections of desire; the opacity of historical experience with its transcription into images and concepts; and the impotence of morality in the face of the harshness of the world. Thus there have been many (successful) attempts to preserve zones of rationality in territories that appeared to have none and to make sense of forms of knowledge and practices that seemed dominated by the imponderability of arbitrariness, taste, and chance. This pertains to political philosophy, the theory and philosophy of history, to aesthetics and to the history of philosophy (all fields in which subjectivity and individuality are decisive). It must be stressed that there was no "weakening" of the demands for intelligibility...