Preti's Philosophical Thought and His Contribution to A Priori Historization

Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 30:31-45 (2008)
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Abstract

TGiulio Preti, born in Pavia (Italy) in 1911 and dead in Djerba (Tunisia) in 1972, represents one of the most subtle Italian thinkers of the latter half of the twentieth century. After graduating in 1933 discussing a thesis about The Husserl’s historical significance, he connected more and more to the Antonio Banfi’s lesson of critical rationalism and he elected him as his master. Starting from Banfi’s The principles of a reason theory (1927), Preti studied in depth the program of historization of the Kantian transcendental both in books such as Idealism and positivism (1942), and in Praxis and empiricism (1957), in Rhetoric and logic (1968), and then in his numerous essay studies, later collected in fundamental posthumous volumes, Philosophical essays (1976, 2 vol.). Preti’s decisive problem is the following question: how is it possible to historicize human knowledge without a relativization? According to Preti, in order to answer this question, it is necessary to acknowledge the objectivity of scientific knowledge. The objective knowledge mustn’t be confused with an absolute knowledge or, least of all, with a subjective, or toutcourt relative, knowledge. Therefore it is necessary to avoid either opposite poles, but specular, in which the different epistemologicaltraditions of the last century are, on the contrary, stopped. In Preti’s opinion, the objectivity of knowledge arises from the eidetic, linguistic and operative structures, within the limits of which develops a determinate form of human scientific knowledge. In other words: every scientific knowledge, structured into a particularscientific theory and relating to a particular technological heritage, consists of a precise theoretical-practical horizon, that determines, with Husserl’s words, a specific “ontological region”, or, with Bachelard’s words, a specific “ontogenesis”. So Preti recovers the heuristic rule of the Kant’s transcendental reason. Nevertheless, unlike Kant, Preti believes the aprioristic structures of our ideas always have a conventional and historical foundation. In this way, the Kantian a priori changes into an historical and relativistic a priori. Certainly in Kant’s opinion an historical and relativistic a priori would have looked like a “round-square”, an authentic contradiction, a pure logical impossibility. According to Preti, on the contrary, this paradoxical aspect is the true distinctive feature of scientificknowledge objectivity, which has no more any eternal or absolute value, but is always built by men born to die and is always bound to determinate historical forms of civilization. Starting from these assumptions, Preti builds, in this way, a research programme on the possibility to individualize a form of “critic ontologism”, which hasn’t any more connection with the claims and the traditional metaphysical structures of the “Being qua Being”. On the contrary, Preti thinks the only “being” we can rationally talk about is the one constituted within the different cognitive ambits. Philosophy then must be able to develop a “meta-reflection” on different knowledge elaborated by single sciences. According to Preti, in fact, philosophy is the formality of human culture, it is, in other words, a form of self-reflection by the human culture about itself. Therefore philosophy has no more any privileged subject, but it must be always able to reflect, with great theoretical humility, on the different cognitive forms, in order to study languages, structures, methods, extension and limits of the human knowledge. In this way Preti’s “critic ontologism” is a kind of historical-objective transcendentalism, able to study the different configurations of the technical-scientific heritage produced by mankind during his history.

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