Antonio Genovesi

Antonio Genovesi

Antonio Genovesi (November 1, 1713 – September 22, 1769) was an Italian writer on philosophy and political economy.


Genovesi was born at Castiglione, near Salerno.

He was educated for the church and after some hesitation, taking 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, being especially attracted by John Locke's ideas. 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, of which he was appointed extraordinary professor in the university of Naples.

His first works were Elementa Metaphysicae (1743 et seq.) and Logica (1745). The former is divided into four parts, Ontosophy, Cosmosophy, Theosophy, Psychosophy, supplemented by a treatise on ethics and a dissertation on first causes. The Logic, an eminently practical work, written from the point of view of Locke, is in five parts, dealing with:

  • the nature of the human mind, its faculties and operations
  • ideas and their kinds
  • the true and the false, and the various degrees of knowledge
  • reasoning and argumentation;
  • method and the ordering of our thoughts

Genovesi does introduced the new order of ideas into Italy, at the same time preserving a just mean between the two extremes of sensualism and idealism.

Although bitterly opposed by the partisans of scholastic routine, Genovesi found influential patrons. One of them was Bartolomeo Intieri, who in 1754 founded the first European chair of political economy (commerce and mechanics), on condition that Genovesi should be the first professor, at the University of Naples. The fruit of Genovesi's professorial labours was the Lezioni di Commercio, the first complete and systematic work in Italian on economics.

On the whole he belongs to the Mercantile school, though he does not regard money as the only form of wealth. Specially noteworthy in the Lezioni are the sections on human wants as the foundation of economical theory, on labour as the source of wealth, on personal services as economic factors, and on the united working of the great industrial functions. He advocated freedom of the corn trade, reduction of 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.

Melchiorre Gioia's more important treatise owes much to Genovesi's lectures.


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