Nicola Abbagnano was born in Salerno on July 15th 1901. He was the first born son of a middle-class professional family, whose father was a lawyer. He studied in Naples and in November 1922 took a degree in philosophy with a thesis that became the subject of his first book Le sorgenti irrazionali del pensiero (1923). His mentor was Antonio Aliotta. In the following years he taught philosophy and history at the Liceo Umberto I° in Naples and from 1917 to 1936 he was the professor of philosophy and pedagogy in the Istituto di Magistero Suor Orsola Benincasa. At the same time he actively contributed as secretary of its editorial staff to the review "Logos" edited by his mentor Aliotta. From 1936 to 1976 he was full professor of the History of Philosophy, first at the school of Education and then from 1939 in the Faculty of Letters and philosophy at the University of Turin. Immediately after World War II he was among the founders of the Centro di studi metodologici in Turin. With his student, Franco Ferrarotti ,Abbagnano founded in 1950 the "Quaderni di sociologia" and from 1952 he was joint editor with Norberto Bobbio of the "Rivista di filosofia". Then from 1952 to 1960 he inspired the group of scholars for a "New Enlightenment" and organized a series of conventions attended by the philosophers who were engaged in the construction of a "lay" philosophy and who were interested in the main trends of the foreign philosophical thought. In 1964 he began his contributions to the Turin newspaper "La Stampa". In 1972 he moved to Milan and discontinued his contributions to "La Stampa", but began writing for Indro Montanelli's "Il Giornale". In Milan he held the office of Town Councillo, elected from in the lists of the Liberal Party, and was also the Councillor of Culture. He died on September 9th, 1990, and was buried in the cemetery of Santa Margherita Ligure, the Riviera town where he had spent his vacations for many years.

Theoretical writings

During the Neapolitan period Abbagnano's theoretical work is represented by Le sorgenti irrazionali del pensiero (1923), as well as Il problema dell'arte (1925), La fisica nuova (1934) e Il principio della metafisica (1936). These works are all influenced by the teaching of Aliotta, who encouraged Abbagnano's interest in the methodological problems of science. Equally influential was the anti-idealist controversy that is particularly evident in his volume on art. After moving to Turin, Abbagnano turned to the study of existentialism, which by this time was also the interest of the general Italian philosophical culture. He formulated an original version of existentialism in a book that was known widely, La struttura dell'esistenza (1939), which was followed by his Introduzione all'esistenzialismo (1942) and a set of essays collected in Filosofia religione scienza (1947) and by Esistenzialismo positivo (1948). In 1943 he played a very important part in the debate on existentialism that appeared in "Primato" the review of the fascist opposition led by Giuseppe Bottai. But already in the first years after the war, Abbagnano's interest turned to American pragmatism, above all in the version offered by John Dewey to the philosophy of science and to neopositivism. In existentialism, having freed himself from the negative implications he found in Heidegger, in Jaspers, in Sartre, in Dewey's pragmatism and in neopositivism, Abagnano saw the signs of a new philosophical trend, that he called a "New Enlightenment" in an article written in 1948. The development of his thought in the fifties was precisely characterized both by his interest in science, in particular, sociology, and by an attempt to define the program of a philosophy, that he first called a "New Enlightenment" and later a "methodological empirism". To this period belong the essays collected in Possibilità e libertà (1956) and in Problemi di sociologia (1959) but, above all belongs the Dizionario di filosofia (1961), a true "summa" meant to clarify the principal concepts of philosophy.

Historycal writings

Besides the volumes and the essays of theoretical character, Nicola Abbagnano, since his youth, had published many historical monographs Il nuovo idealismo inglese e americano (1927), La filosofia di E. Meyerson e la logica dell'identità (1929), Guglielmo d'Ockham (1933), La nozione del tempo secondo Aristotele (1933), Bernardino Telesio (1941). But his major historiographic work is found in the Storia della filosofia published by UTET (1946-1950) which was preceded by the Compendio di storia della filosofia (1945-47), a kind of textbook. A few years later the latter was followed by a collection entitled Storia delle scienze which he coordinated for UTET (1962).

Last years

The production of the last decades, starting from 1965, above all consists in articles which appeared in "La Stampa" and in "Giornale" that were later assembled in different collections, Per o contro l'uomo (1968), Fra il tutto e il nulla (1943), Questa pazza filosofia (1979), L'uomo progetto Duemila (1980), La saggezza della vita (1985), La saggezza della filosofia (1987). His last book, written few months before his death, is autobiographical whose title is Ricordi di un filosofo (1990).

Pietro Rossi Pietro Rossi
Università di Torino
Settembre 2000