ENRICO BERTI IN MEMORIAM
(delivered on 21 October 2022 during the Entretiens de Bonn de l’Institut International de Philosophie)
Concerning the relation between verità filosofica and storia all’interno della metafisica classica, Enrico Berti (3 November 1935-5 January 2022) did not hesitate to admit the difficulty of any history of philosophy secundum veritatem: “Non sono d’accordo con gli scettici e nemmeno con quanti affermano che v’è già una filosofia vera, totalmente vera, la quale ha esaurito tutta la verità alla quale si poteva ambire.... Sono un sostenitore della storicità della filosofia.”1
Berti evidently was referring to the debate that set Ferdinand Alquié (and his assistants Gilles Deleuze and Jean-Luc Marion) against Martial Gueroult (also the teacher of many). Topical books by Alquié are his Nostalgie de l’être,2 while Gueroult started with a paper published in the first issue of the Archivio di filosofia.3 In Italy, the debate had been alive already in the writings of Eugenio Garin4 and Michele Federico Sciacca.5 For Alquié, philosophy is historical, and that would be it:
L’oeuvre d’un homme, et le philosophe n’est pas doué de lumières, de vertus, ou d’intuitions particulières ; il n’en sait pas plus que les autres, et souvent moins que beaucoup ; il éprouve des passions, et des plus désagréables, et, s’il aime la sagesse, il n’est pas pour cela un sage : aussi, quand il veut le paraître, ne réussit-il qu’à prêter à rire.6
For Gueroult—as noted by Fernand Brunner—the correct opposition was between the history of thought secundum historiam and the history of thought secundum veritatem, which brings up the difference between historical and philosophical history of philosophy. Brunner explains:
Si l’on choisit le premier membre de l’alternative, il y a une histoire de la philosophie et cent philosophies ; si l’on choisit le second, il y autant d’histoires de la philosophie que de philosophies. Brucker est leibnizien, Tennemann kantien, Erdmann hégélien et l’on songe aujourd’hui à Marbourg à récrire l’histoire de la philosophie à la lumière du kantisme enfin compris.7
The solution proposed by Gueroult was that of establishing a dianoématique, the “science des conditions de possibilité des oeuvres philosophiques en tant qu’elles possèdent une valeur philosophique indestructible.”8
The history of ideas indeed has a remarkable affinity with the history of philosophy. But the history of ideas is distinct from the history of philosophy for the simple reason that philosophers tend to neglect differences in cultural contexts and instead look for the most part only at the internal coherence of the philosophical argument itself. Moreover, Anthony Grafton has clarified that for the mutual advantage of all the interested ones so much it is worth declaring dead the history of ideas and to keep working only in intellectual history.9 Gueroult noted:
La nature de l’intérêt historique est simplement scientifique, positif. Il est entièrement satisfait par la connaissance véridique de faits et la recherche du nexus causal qui enchaîne les événements. L’intérêt de l’histoire de la philosophie est plus complexe, et au fond radicalement différent. C’est un intérêt philosophique ; ceci veut dire qu’il ne s’agit plus seulement de connaître exactement un objet, mais d’en saisir la signification ; car l’objet, qui est ici la doctrine, est significatif et représentatif ; il n’est devenu objet de la science exacte que parce qu’il devait devenir objet d’intellection. Le souci de l’exactitude historique n’est donc plus la fin en soi, mais un simple moyen d’approche, indispensable d’ailleurs pour assurer un contact effectif avec la réalité philosophique des doctrines. […] La reconstitution interne des doctrines selon leur loi propre d’organisation est la grand affaire.10
Adhering to the centrality of text requires the highest philological-humanistic standards.11 It is not obvious: it means finding the common denominator for exchanging thoughts, speeches and discussions on texts that have reached us after centuries and centuries. The text is what mediates between context and idea and who deals with lexica and texts mediates between the history of philosophy and the history of ideas (or, better, intellectual history). Here we must remember the important contribution of the Neapolitan school. It was, in fact, Pietro Piovani, in 1965, who recognized the tension between philosophy and the history of ideas. Piovani’s pluriverse brought with it a new lexicon: history is the history of facts and history of ideas; we must look at the historicization of ideas and think of the history of philosophy as history.12
Returning to Berti's positions on contemporary philosophy themes, one cannot fail to appreciate the individual arguments in and of themselves, but also to see development grow in response to the increasingly frequent global contamination of what were once considered
national philosophical traditions. We all appreciated Berti for the vivacity with which he proposed a metaphysical approach based on a humble or poor conception of metaphysics as awareness of the problems and hence as awareness of the insufficiency of the world of experience, taken as a whole. Berti preferred to speak of a “metafisica leggera, povera, umile, che si accontenta di poche tesi, perché essa è più difficile da attaccare, più difficile da confutare, presta il fianco a meno obiezioni.” He was satisfied with a “metafisica che si limita ad illustrare la problematicità del mondo dell’esperienza, cioè la sua non assolutezza.” Once one has admitted such insufficiency, philosophy, “che domanda il perché di tutto, è costretta ad ammettere che il perché ultimo del mondo dell’esperienza trascende questo stesso mondo, cioè che l’assoluto è trascendente”13.
In several essays, Berti dealt with the role that in contemporary philosophical debates continues to have two classical notions: that of person, as we know from Boethius, rationalis natura individua substantia,14 and that of the soul as forma corporis.15 Berti discussed the difference between the Aristotelian conception of the soul and the Cartesian dualism after Frege and Wittgenstein referring to Sir Anthony Kenny, who believed that the Aristotelian point of view allows a clear understanding of the nature of the mind, whereas Aristotle conceived the human being essentially as an animal endowed with language.16 Berti saw form as the condition of personal identity. He took up the paradox of the ship of Theseus, whose decayed wood parts were gradually taken away and replaced with more robust ones welded to the rest,17 a paradox discussed by David Wiggins to prove the thesis of the unity of form as the principle of identification.18
Berti addressed today’s debate between analytic and continental philosophers19 by recalling that it is a conflict that dates back to the second half of the twentieth century and that today is institutionalized despite resting on a clear asymmetry because it contrasts a way of doing philosophy to a geographical area, so it is as if one were saying—the joke is by John Searle—“America is divided into two parts, Kansas and business,” or, this one is by Bernard Williams—“cars are divided into Japanese and front wheel drive.” Yet, the opposition has proved so helpful that it has been repeated countless times, but it has also managed to characterize two geographical areas, and therefore cultural, quite precise.20 As we all know, the homogeneity of analytic philosophy, inspired by the European emigrants of the neo-positivism of Vienna and Berlin (Rudolf Carnap, Philipp Frank) and then by specifically English traditions (Bertrand Russell, George Edward Moore, John Langshaw Austin and Gilbert Ryle) and North Americans (Willard Van Orman Quine, Wilfrid Sellars), opposed the heterogeneity of continental philosophy, which ranged from phenomenology to existentialism, from Western Marxism, that is, Leninist, neo-Thomism, from historicism to spiritualism, from structuralism to hermeneutics.21
But because entire continents remained excluded from this opposition, despite being continents in which influential philosophers work, in Asia, Africa and Latin America (e.g., Ioanna Kuçuradi, Tu Weiming, Souleymane Bachir Diagne and Francisco Miró Quesada), Berti observed how a helpful observatory to have a picture of philosophy in the world were and are the world congresses of philosophy, to which he recalls having participated regularly: the first time at the world congress in Venice, in 1958, which was an opportunity to meet Sir Alfred J. Ayer, Gaston Berger, Frank, Étienne Gilson, Sidney Hook, Helmuth Kuhn, Chaïm Perelmann, Karl Popper, Ryle and Jean Wahl, and then at the Congress of Vienna in 1968, which was dominated ‘on the one hand, strong personalities such as Ernst Bloch, Hans-Georg Gadamer, György Lukács, Gabriel Marcel, Quine and Paul Ricoeur, on the other hand by the echo of the student protest that was spreading in Western Europe (which was opposed in a memorable debate the Polish Marxist heterodox Adam Schaff.22
The presence of philosophers from all continents has become visible since the World Congress in Montreal in 1983, “dando luogo ad una situazione di tale varietà ed eterogeneità dei modi di fare filosofia, da indurre qualcuno a dire che la filosofia si era rivelata essere semplicemente una specie di ‘vaga brezza.’”23 However, a real turning point occurred only in 1998, at the World Congress in Boston, attended by two thousand philosophers worldwide. Globalization, or the globalization of philosophy, continued at the conferences in Istanbul in 2003 (to whose organization Berti personally collaborated as chairman of the program committee), in Seoul, in 2008, and Athens in 2013, which three thousand philosophers attended, and finally Beijing, in 2018, with eight thousand participants.24
The teaching that Berti drew from it is as follows. It can be said that, at least from the numerical point of view, today’s philosophers are no longer divided into “analytical” and “continental.” The “analytical” obviously survive, although many of them have opened to dialogue with typically continental philosophies such as that of Martin Heidegger (e.g., Richard Rorty and today Hilary Putnam) and that of Hegel (e.g., Robert Brandon and John McDowell). Conversely, some philosophers, born “continental,” have opened to dialogue with analytical philosophy, such as Paul Ricoeur, Karl-Otto Apel, Ernst Tugendhat, and in Italy Umberto Eco and Maurizio Ferraris.25 Instead, on other continents, the impression is that they are present above all philosophies different from the analytical one, which is considered an essentially Western practice, that is philosophies approachable to the other European or Latin-American philosophical traditions (existentialism, spiritualism, hermeneutics, Marxism, philosophy of liberation).26 For example, in China, where Berti went in 1998 as a guest of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the impression was that of a strange combination between Marxism-Leninism, which remains the official philosophy of the ruling Communist Party, and the ancient Chinese wisdom, dating back to Confucius.27
In conclusion, Berti observed, if philosophy wants to be a universal discourse that is practicable for all and is at the same time attentive to the sensibilities, the traditions, and the beliefs of each, it will have to attempt a new synthesis, like the one between analytical and continental philosophy realized by Ferraris in the contemporary realism. It is essential to emphasize that for Berti the ground on which the possibility of such a synthesis is played remains—in his opinion—metaphysics, understood, as well as description and classification, also and above all as research of the first causes.28
In an interview dating back to 2017, Berti spoke about the situation of philosophy in Italy today. In our country, philosophy had already left the academic environment, that is university, in the sixties and seventies to engage on the political level; emblematic example: Toni Negri. In recent years academic philosophy has entered the mass media (newspapers, weeklies, television). It has spread in countless philosophical festivals, making itself heard in theaters and squares, but it has lost polemical animosity and political influence. In the seventies, philosophy became a form of entertainment, an intelligent pastime. Many philosophers have been involved in debates, especially bioethics, joining local and national advisory committees. On the contrary, few have been involved in the activity of political parties because of the crisis that has affected political parties. Berti's impression of this mass-media dimension of philosophy, which makes Italy today almost a unique case in the world, was eventually positive. He noticed “che nei rapporti reciproci tra i filosofi ci sia meno ideologia e più tolleranza che in passato.” On this, Berti surprised us with a personal note: “almeno io mi sento rispettato, nelle mie idee e nei miei studi, più di quanto lo fossi all’inizio della mia attività.”29
When asked by the interviewer what aspects he considered most original of his philosophy, Berti replied that he must first distinguish his general philosophical position from his studies on Aristotle, which he considers an essential part of his philosophy. Secondly, he noticed with the modesty of the ciceronian vir probus dicendi peritus, “non ho mai preteso di essere originale, perché mi interessa essere nel vero, cioè sapere come stanno realmente le cose.”30 That Berti’s adherence to classical metaphysics has indeed represented a contribution of extreme originality in the philosophical panorama of this first glimpse of the new century is a view shared by many, and here we can make an example of the privileged observatory constituted by the group of philosophers gathered in the Institut International de Philosophie, the international academy that for decades has counted Berti as a partner and of which he was president from 2013 to 2016.31
1 Enrico Berti, A partire dai filosofi antichi, edited by Luca Grecchi, il Prato, Padova 2010, p. 96s.
2 Ferdinand Alquié, Nostalgie de l’être, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1966; Id., Signification de la philosophie, Hachette, Paris 1971.
3 Martial Gueroult, “Le problème de la légitimité de l’histoire de la philosophie,” in Archivio di Filosofia 1 (1954), pp. 39-64; Id., Philosophie de l’histoire de la philosophie, Aubier Montaigne, Paris 1979.29 Ivi, p. 207.
4 Eugenio Garin, La filosofia come sapere storico, Laterza, Bari 1959.
5 Michele Federico Sciacca, La filosofia nel suo sviluppo storico, 12a edizione, Cremonese, Roma 1968.
6 Alquié, Nostalgie de l’être, op. cit., p. 147.
7 Fernand Brunner, Historie de la philosophie et philosophie, in Études sur l’histoire de la philosophie en hommage à Martial Gueroult, edited by Leslie J. Beck, Yvon Belaval, Jean-Louis Bruch et al., Fischbacher, Paris 1964, pp. 191 e 193.
8 Gueroult, Le problème de la légitimité de l’histoire de la philosophie, op. cit., p. 63. See also the chapter “Idée d’une dianoématique” in Id., Philosophie de l’histoire de la philosophie, op. cit., pp. 43-71.
9 Anthony Grafton, “The History of Ideas. Precept and Practice, 1950-2000 and Beyond,” in Journal of the History of Ideas 67 (2006), pp. 1-32.
10 Gueroult, Philosophie de l’histoire de la philosophie, op. cit., p. 52.
11 Giorgio Pasquali, Storia della tradizione e critica del testo, Le Monnier, Firenze 1934; reprinted for Le Lettere, Firenze 1988.
12 Pietro Piovani, Filosofia e storia delle idee, Laterza, Bari 1965; reprinted with a preface by Fulvio Tessitore, for Edizioni di storia e letteratura, Roma 2000.
13 Enrico Berti, Saggi di filosofia teoretica, Studium, Roma 2021, p. 105.
14 Ivi, p. 9.
15 Ivi, p. 55.
16 Ivi, p. 59.
17 Ivi, p. 66.
18 Ivi, p. 67s.
19 Ivi, p. 112.
20 Ivi, p. 175.
21 Ivi, p. 176.
22 Ivi, p. 176s.
23 Ivi, p. 177.
24 Ivi, p. 179.
25 Ivi, p. 180.
27 Ivi, p. 181.
28 Ivi, p. 193.
30 Ivi, p. 204.
31 Ivi, p. 183ss.