Antonio Genovesi

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Antonio Genovesi (November 1, 1712 – September 22, 1769) was an Italian philosopher and political economist who played a pivotal role in modernizing Italy by introducing the ideas of Locke, Leibniz, and Hume and breaking the hold of scholasticism on academic circles. Originally educated for the priesthood, he resigned soon after taking orders and studied law, then devoted himself to philosophy. In 1741 he was appointed extraordinary professor of metaphysics in the university of Naples, and published “Elements of the Discipline of Metaphysics,” elaborating his own radical system of Christian metaphysics, and treatises on logic and physics. Genovesi strove for a balance between idealism and sensualism. He wrote in Italian rather than Latin, to make his ideas more accessible to ordinary people, and he emphasized the practical application of philosophy to fields such as economics and social policy.


In 1753 Genovesi was appointed to the first European chair of “commerce and mechanics” (political economy) at Naples, and subsequently produced Lezioni di Commercio, the first complete and systematic work in Italian on economics. He took a mercantilist view of economics, though he did not regard money as the only form of wealth, and identified human wants as the foundation of economic theory. He denounced the relics of medieval economic institutions which were still in force, and advocated limiting ecclesiastical authority to spiritual matters. Antonio Genovesi’s lectures strongly influenced the Italian economist and philosopher Melchiorre Gioja.


Genovesi was born at Castiglione, near Salerno, Italy on November 1, 1712. He was educated for the church and after some hesitation, took orders in 1736 at Salerno, where he was appointed professor of eloquence at the theological seminary. During this period of his life he began the study of philosophy, and was especially attracted to the ideas of John Locke. Dissatisfied with ecclesiastical life, Genovesi resigned his post, and qualified as an advocate at Rome. Finding law as distasteful as theology, he devoted himself entirely to philosophy. The Italian universities of that time were operated by the state governments, which were becoming increasingly humanist, and which competed to employ professors whose lectures would attract large numbers of students from among the local populace. Genovesi went to Naples in 1738, and in 1741 he was appointed extraordinary professor of metaphysics in the University of Naples.

In 1743 he wrote the first volume of Disciplinarum Metaphysicarum Elementa, 5 vol. (1743–52; “Elements of the Discipline of Metaphysics”), and in 1745 published his treatises on logic (“Logica,” 1745) and physics. He wrote a companion work on theology, Universae Christianae Theologiae Elementa (1771; “Elements of Universal Christian Theology”), but decided not to publish it because he had been charged with propagating heretical ideas in Elementa. It was published posthumously.

In 1753, Genovesi dedicated a discourse on agriculture to Bartolomeo Intieri, a Florentine, who founded the first European chair of “commerce and mechanics” (political economy) in 1754 at Naples, and directed that Genovesi be its first occupant, and that it should never be held by an ecclesiastic. As a professor of political economy, Genovesi produced Lezioni di Commercio, the first complete and systematic work in Italian on economics.

Genovesi died on September 22, 1769.

Thought and Works

Antonio Genovesi played an important role in introducing modern concepts to Italian philosophical circles, which had been dominated by scholasticism. He pioneered the writing of philosophy in Italian rather than the traditional Latin, and was always concerned with making ideas accessible to ordinary people. Though he is best known today for his works on economics, he introduced the ideas of Locke, Leibniz, and Hume into Italy and initiated a movement to apply philosophical methods to practical fields such as physics, economics, and social policy. He strove for a balance between idealism and sensualism.

His first work, Disciplinarum Metaphysicarum Elementa, 5 vol. (1743–52; “Elements of the Discipline of Metaphysics”) was divided into four parts, Ontosophy, Cosmosophy, Theosophy, Psychosophy, supplemented by a treatise on ethics and a dissertation on first causes. Logica (“Logic,” 1745), a practical work written from the point of view of Locke, consisted of five sections dealing with:

  1. the nature of the human mind, its faculties and operations
  2. ideas and their kinds
  3. the true and the false, and the various degrees of knowledge
  4. reasoning and argumentation
  5. method and the ordering of our thoughts

Lezioni di Commercio, the first complete and systematic work in Italian on economics, was divided into two parts. The first dealt with political bodies, education, nutrition, freedom, and taxation; the second discussed economic policy, change, currency, usury, and credit. Genovesi generally took a mercantilist view of economics, though he did not regard money as the only form of wealth. Especially noteworthy in the Lezioni are his analysis of human wants as the foundation of economic theory, his emphasis on labor as the source of wealth, his consideration of personal services as economic factors, and his examination of the united working of the great industrial functions. Genovesi advocated freedom of the corn trade and a reduction in the number of religious communities, and deprecated regulation of the interest on loans. In the spirit of his age he denounced the relics of medieval institutions, such as entails and tenures in mortmain. He attempted to reconcile free competition with protectionist policies to guard against economic collapse. He proposed numerous reforms for the Kingdom of Naples, combining humanist ideas with a radical Christian metaphysical system. Genovesi maintained that the authority of the Church should not extend beyond spiritual matters, and recommended that the lands belonging to clerical and religious orders should be taken over by the state.

Antonio Genovesi’s lectures strongly influenced Melchiorre Gioja, the Italian economist who developed statistical methods for evaluating the state of the economy and the effectiveness of economic policy.

There exist two ways of dealing with physics, one historical in manner and the other by resorting to geometrical formulae and calculations. I have resolved on choosing the former, in order to make even the minds inexpert, and yet keen on natural things, imbued with the chief notions of the world, and predispose them to a more sublime knowledge. (Elementa physicae experimentalis usui tironum aptata neapoli, 1779, auctoris praefatio 5.)


  • Asso, Pier Francesco. 2001. From economists to economists: the international spread of Italian economic thought, 1750-1950. Economisti italiani, 4. Firenze: Polistampa. ISBN 8883043529
  • Boba, Romualdo. Commemorazione di A. Genovesi. Benevento 1867.
  • Ciocca, Pierluigi, and Mario Baldassarri. 2001. Roots of the Italian school of economics and finance. ISBN 033392102X
  • Corpaci, Francesco. 1966. Antonio Genovesi; note sul pensiero politico. Milano: Giuffrè.
  • Pagden, Anthony. 1987. The Languages of political theory in early-modern Europe. Ideas in context. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521320879
  • Perrone, Benigno. 1943. Il dinamismo psicologico nella filosofia di Antonio Genovesi. Lecce: Tip. "La Modernissima,."
  • Pii, Eluggero. 1984. Antonio Genovesi: dalla politica economica alla "politica civile". [Firenze]: L.S. Olschki.
  • Ugoni, Camillo. 1856. Della letteratura italiana nella seconda metà del secolo XVIII. Milano: Tip. di G. Bernardoni.
  • Wahnbaeck, Till. 2004. Luxury and public happiness: political economy in the Italian Enlightenment. Oxford historical monographs. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0199269831
  • Zambelli, Paola, and Antonio Genovesi. 1978. Antonio Genovesi and eighteenth-century Empiricism in Italy. St. Louis.
  • Zambelli, Paola. 1972. La formazione filosofica di Antonio Genovesi. Napoli: Morano.

External links

General Philosophy Sources

All links retrieved December 9, 2013.


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