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Giovanni Gentile

Updated on February 26, 2012

1875-1944

Giovanni Gentile, Italian philosopher and educator, who, as minister of education (1922-1924 ) in Mussolini's first cabinet, reformed the entire Italian school system. As a philosopher, Gentile was both an important figure in the neo-Hegelian movement in Italy and an apologist for fascism. Life and Career. Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily, on May 29, 1875. After obtaining a doctorate at the University of Pisa in 1898, he taught philosophy at the universities of Naples, Palermo Pisa, and Rome. From 1903 to 1923 he was coeditor, with the philosopher Benedetto Croce, of the journal La Critica. Gentile became minister of education in 1922, replacing Croce, with whom he had come to disagree over fascism . He also served the Mussolini regime during the 1920's as president of committees empowered to reform the Italian constitution, as president of the supreme council on education, and as a member of the Fascist grand council.

From 1925 to 1937, Gentile was engaged in organizing and editing the 36-volume Enciclopedia italiana. Although his political influence declined after the 1920's, he remained the self-styled philosopher-pedagogue of fascism. During the turmoil of 1944 he was assassinated at Florence, on April 15, by anti-Fascist partisans.

Thought and Influence

The educational policy of Gentile was nationalistic and elitist. He favored religious instruction by lay teachers in public schools and opposed the traditional pedantic intellectualism of Italian education. Gentile also sponsored physical training and health education, and he advocated other ideas, such as the study of the national literature, that are still influential in Italy.

Gentile made notable contributions to philosophy.

He edited the writings of Spinoza and Vico, translated Kant, and analyzed the philosophy of Marx. Building on the work of Hegel and Kant, he developed the concept that the act of thought creates the world's human experience.

Gentile's "actual idealism" dominated philosophy in the state universities while he lived. Later, the Giornale critico della filosofia italiana, which he founded in 1920, became the organ of the Gentile Foundation, established in 1947.

English translations of his works include The Theory of Mind as Pure Act, The Reform of Education, and Genesis and Structure of Society.

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