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A Brief History of the Journal

«Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica» was first published on January 13, 1909 (though it was ready at the end of 1908) in Florence by Casa Editrice Fiorentina. It was assembled by a group of scholars and two editors-in-chief, whose names appeared on the title page: «Dr. Giulio Canella and Dr. Agostino Gemelli, of the Order of Friars Minor». Gemelli, who was a biologist and psychologist, thought that the foundation of a philosophical journal was an essential step toward forming the scientific and cultural basis for his even more ambitious project: the foundation of a Catholic University. Starting in 1912, therefore, the journal was published by the Italian Society for Philosophical and Psychological Studies (which later became the Italian Society for Philosophical and Religious Studies). Then, with the founding of the University in 1922, the journal was published by the Philosophical Department until 1927, then by the Department of Philosophy from 1928 to 1962, and by Università Cattolica from 1963 to 2012. Finally, since 2013, the Department of Philosophy of the University has been publishing the journal.

Gemelli was the director until 1959, the year of his death, then Francesco Olgiati took over until 1962, when the responsibility was entrusted to Sofia Vanni Rovighi. In 1971, Adriano Bausola became director, assisted by a management committee that was originally made up of Gustavo Bontadini and Vanni Rovighi, then expanded to include Giovanni Reale and, gradually, all the professors of Philosophy of the Catholic University. In 2000, after the death of Bausola, the task was assumed by Alessandro Ghisalberti, after whom, in 2012, came Massimo Marassi, who still runs the journal.

Throughout the history of this journal, there have been several special issues or supplements to the regular ones. These extra editions have been dedicated to particularly relevant philosophers and movements, on the occasion of significant anniversaries, such as those devoted to Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Bacon, Suarez, Galileo, Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche, Leibniz, Vico, Kant, Hegel, and Rosmini. Other special issues concentrated on the aims and achievements of Neo-Scholastic philosophy and on the relationship between religion and philosophy.


The journal came into being before the Università Cattolica, but like «Vita e Pensiero», which was first released in 1914 and focused more on cultural and educational interests, «Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica» was intended to prepare for the birth of the University, which officially opened its doors on December 7, 1921 with the foundation of two Departments: Social Science and, of course, Philosophy. The first collaborators would also be the first teachers, who would play an essential and decisive role in the history of the new Departments. The periodical founded in 1909 was the crucible in which the perspectives, references and methods of those who would go on to found the «School of the Università Cattolica» could be compared and characterized. Initially, the editorial staff, in addition to Gemelli and Canella, consisted of Amato Masnovo, Giacinto Tredici, Emilio Chiocchetti and Francesco Olgiati, inspirers of the program and philosophical viewpoint of the journal; Guido Mattiussi was also associated with the venture for a time. Ludovico Necchi, a medical doctor who handled the connection the journal had with biology and other scientific disciplines, was also a member of the editorial staff. Science was important to Gemelli, who saw it as a distinctive and fresh Milanese approach to Neo-Scholasticism. The revival of Thomism was certainly the primary objective, but it took place in a specific context and a specific cultural perspective. Gemelli did not just intend to update or revise the old positions, but to give life to a new, young current of thought, capable of attracting general attention, in order to have contact with and to debate with all of the global scientific and philosophical movements.

Initially, the journal adopted a strongly polemic and militant attitude. Apart from offering historical research and outlining theoretical perspectives, it also wished to promote discussion and was open to collaboration with foreign scholars that gave it authority, especially the School of Leuven. In addition, the journal was characterized by a strong emphasis on scientific, biological and psychological issues, and also on important problems of an experimental nature, so that philosophical inquiry could interact with scientific inquiry to work towards some progress in the development of knowledge.


At the beginning and in the first decades of the life of the journal, the stances of prevalent contributors could be identified in the return to Thomism of Leuven and in a heated debate with Positivist culture, first, and then with Neo-Idealist philosophy. Compared to the movement of Leuven, which under the influence of Desiré Mercier’s investigations at the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie, founded in 1894, incorporated Thomism, as urged by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Aeterni Patris, the School of Milan was in a position to better exploit the scientific method and make it fruitful for philosophy, thanks to a more direct experimental basis, especially in the field of psychology. In this way, through an extension of the scientific method that was not simply restricted to the empirical realm, the journal aimed to ally with modern science to deal both with Positivism, which was dominant then, and with Kantian residues that could be felt above all in certain professions of agnosticism.

The critique of Positivism was that it was, after all, not loyal to its program, excluding from the category of fact what is undeniably given, even though is not perceivable, and verifiable. Reality itself should be listened to, without prior exclusions or unilateral approaches, and the method of investigation should be modeled on the real and modified when reality requires it. For Gemelli, «like science needs philosophy in order to overcome its inherent limitations, so philosophy needs scientific material to avoid falling into vacuous and barren abstraction».

Neo-Thomism not only would have to attempt to adapt to modern thought, repeating the mistakes made by Modernism, but also would undergo the process of assimilation of the philosophical culture inspired by Christianity, similar to the typical development of a living organism: «In short, between the “St. Thomas” of the repeaters who have mummified him and the “St. Thomas” of the executors who would kill him, it seems to us that there is room for the “St. Thomas” of those who believe in the development of culture following the theory of Marsilio Ficino “A bono in bonum”; of those, namely, who do not conceive of history as a set of occurrences and reoccurrences, nor as a succession of constructions and destructions, but like Goethe’s spiral, as real progress».

The main opponent of this emerging Neo-Scholasticism was Positivism, but soon the Italian philosophical scene would change with the emergence of new movements such as Pragmatism and Spiritualism, but above all, Neo-Idealism, in the dual version proposed by Croce and Gentile, which would remain in the foreground for some decades.

This change would have significant effects on the perspective and content of the various contributions to the journal. The privileged attention to the theory of knowledge would become more precisely calibrated, and the metaphysical theme of the relationship between immanence and transcendence would polarize readers and, inevitably, lessen the interest in the scientific issues that Positivism had nurtured. It was Gemelli’s collaborators and the first students in the Department of Philosophy, who took part in this debate, in which theoretical analyses would be put alongside more and more numerous and detailed studies of the history of philosophy.

On the one hand, the classics of modern thought would be discussed, not only and not so much to evaluate them in the light of their own theoretical perspectives, but also for a more adequate understanding of the historical context in which they were located, in the belief that such a study is in itself worthy of attention and can have significant results. On the other hand, a metaphysical vision inspired by a Thomistic and Scholastic perspective and attentive to its Greek roots would resurface and be refined, along with any developments in modern thought, in order to be able to measure the journal’s ideas against the claims of Idealism.

In this regard, Olgiati and Chiocchetti dedicated themselves particularly to the study of modern and contemporary authors, while Masnovo dealt with the context in which Thomist thought was developed. Amato Masnovo reconstructed the process that led to the Scholastic, and did not interpret Thomas Aquinas as a giant, isolated in his perfection, but highlighted the multiple and seemingly disparate thinkers Thomas was influenced by and dependent on. Emilio Chiocchetti, studying Croce and Neo-Idealism, constructed a rich dialogue and attempted to appraise what he found to be true in that current of thought, with appreciation for some theoretical points, such as the doctrine of «concrete universals» or that of the organic nature of reality. With respect to this research, Francesco Olgiati’s approach was more theoretical: by addressing authors with his great erudition and with an extensive discussion of critical literature, he considered it essential to grasp the «living core», that is, that one idea that, inspiring each step, is the dynamic unity of a work that lies underneath its secondary and chance aspects, with the final aim of bringing out the «soul of truth», namely, that which can be taken and brought to life by Neo-Scholastic philosophy.

Compared to the historical-theoretical methodology outlined by Olgiati, which was not unanimously accepted and applied, the journal also began to open itself up to interventions better focused on the nuances and richness of the periods examined.

Sofia Vanni Rovighi paid particular attention to medieval philosophy in its entirety, recognizing the different and complex issues present in a very extensive period and refusing to view a decline in the centuries after the apex reached by Aquinas. Though she was attentive to the metaphysical issues and ready to focus on St. Thomas’ «First Way», Vanni Rovighi also emphasized the humanistic dimension of medieval thought, highlighting the centrality of man, who in his reason finds dignity and his proper task. However, Vanni Rovighi did not look only to the Middle Ages, nor did she ever claim that all of the problems were stated and all the solutions found in those centuries. With her studies, along with those of Mariano Campo, the journal began to pay scrupulous attention to modern thought, without apologetic pretenses or the temptation to pronounce global judgments. There were many articles devoted to the origins of modern science and to Galileo, Descartes, Spinoza, Wolff, Kant and Hegel. At the same time, the journal also began to open up to contemporary thinking outside of the idealistic currents that prevailed in Italy in those days. The regular review of the magazine «Erkenntnis», the continued attention to German thought (Husserl, Scheler, Stein, Hartmann and Heidegger), the interest in the debates of Analytic Philosophy on epistemological and moral issues were all the subject of essays that aimed to make the Italian public aware of authors then little known and perhaps under-appreciated.

The main intent was not to make schematic judgments, but to present new approaches, analyzing methodologies and perspectives able to rigorously expound on ancient problems, and following the evolution of thinkers and currents of thought in order to understand their reasons and motives. In these contributions, it is clear that there was great confidence in reason and in its possibilities, which – although certainly not without limits – should not be underestimated. Compared to the initial years, the horizon of the journal had expanded and the overall atmosphere had become more serene and less militant, despite its stated theoretical commitment and privileged interest in specific topics.

Gustavo Bontadini, instead, tenaciously pursued a confrontation with Idealism, both in a heated debate with Gentile, and in a constant dialogue with the philosophers active in those years in Italy. The essential meaning of Idealism, according to Bontadini, consisted in the elimination of the «dualistic Realism» (for which being transcends thought and is unattainable by it) that is at the origin of modern philosophy and is still present in nineteenth-century Positivism. If the Modern Age gained the primacy of consciousness, as the primary and transcendental horizon of every truth about being, the meaning of Idealism is to highlight the immediacy of experience of the given. Intentionality, so important for Greek and Scholastic philosophy, here returns to perform its crucial function. The «unity of experience» is the horizon within which various phenomena may arise, and that self for which reality is present is also part of that unity. However, this should not imply an immanent outcome. When one wonders, philosophically, if experience is the absolute, then the question arises as theological problem as well as a philosophical one, whatever the answer to it is. For Bontadini, Idealism will move towards Immanentism only when it asserts that «the unity of experience is the Absolute. This formula of the identity of the Absolute and of the unity of experience is, in our opinion, the immanentist formula, on which is based, with all desirable accuracy, the antinomy of immanence and transcendence».


The theoretical proposals outlined in the «Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica» also show a variety of themes and nuances. In this context, Amato Masnovo sets up his reflection on tracks that were then followed, with various emphases and variations, by his disciples. Masnovo focused particular attention on some ontological questions, such as the nature of the possible, and the justification of a rational theology. Giuseppe Zamboni’s observations differed, aiming at developing themes already present in Leuven Neo-Scolasticism, facing important epistemological issues and seeking to establish a theoretical foundation of ontology and metaphysics: the «pure theory of knowledge». His search – for a complex set of reasons – would not attain the appreciation it deserved, and the journal printed the long, intense and painful debate that accompanied the entire happening.

It was, rather, the teaching of Masnovo that would be continued in the pages of the journal, with a different emphasis, but with equally rigorous commitment by Bontadini and Vanni Rovighi.

Gustavo Bontadini liked to call his philosophical approach «Neoclassical», precisely for its references not only to Thomistic but also to Greek thought, particularly Aristotle and Parmenides. Thanks to the semantization of being obtained by the immediate opposition to nothing and the dialectical application of the principle of non-contradiction, Parmenides’ thought allowed the gains achieved by Scholastic philosophy to be made rigorous. The «Principle of Parmenides» certifies that being cannot be originally limited by non-being; otherwise, this would give a positive value to non-being, since it would be able to affect and limit being. It is therefore necessary to transcend experience, given as becoming, while the Origin must be absolutely devoid of the negative: «Becoming has to come from the Immobile. Since, if it did not, it would be itself the origin, and therefore non-being would, in it, originally limit being. It must come from the Immobile without making the Immobile becoming. We conceive this necessity as the “Principle of Creation”».

In 1964, Emanuele Severino, a student of Bontadini and then a professor at the Università Cattolica, objected to this formulation, arguing that, even in that case, the contradiction would not be removed: the contradiction, in fact, does not consist in the alleged originality of becoming, but in equalizing being and nothing, which takes place when we allow any becoming, whether original or derivative. These observations were then placed within the broader context of a Neo-Parmenidean thought, that sought to support the immutability and eternity of each thing and to deny that experience, properly interpreted, attests to becoming as a passage from being to non-being or vice versa. A long debate was begun surrounding Bontadini’s proposal, that of Severino and the criticism that followed each. This debate lasted for years and is still today recalled and reprised. While not leading to profound theoretical revisions or resolutions of the conflict, it has served to point out and clarify the respective positions and to study the terms of the problem.

Alongside Bontadini’s reflection, the journal preserved numerous theoretical essays by Sofia Vanni Rovighi, another student of Masnovo, faithful to his Thomistic perspective but open to multiple influences, both modern and contemporary, especially Husserl’s Phenomenology, thanks to whom she identified in the «immediate evidence» an inescapable starting point: «Either one tries to see and to show others, or otherwise, there is no other alternative but to impose one’s thesis by force. And if I were asked why I would not force others, I would answer that I opt for dialogue, that is, reason, to see and then to attempt to make others see. And I admit that this radical option is the basis of philosophy». As for anthropology, the teaching of Aquinas was used by Vanni Rovighi to reaffirm the unity of man, in whom the spiritual dimension animates the bodily and material activities and supports them; however this spiritual dimension is also able to detach such activities and transcend them.


In recent years, the journal has expanded, both in terms of the number of authors, and in terms of the variety of topics addressed, and it has tried to combine the ideal fidelity to its original viewpoint with the changes brought about by time and history.

There have been numerous historiographical research projects and, though they range over the whole arc of schools of thought, they show some clearly identifiable constants. In the studies of ancient philosophy, interest in Aristotle has remained strong, also thanks to the many contributions of Enrico Berti and Giovanni Reale. The latter contributed also to a complete rethinking of Platonic philosophy, launching an innovative interpretation of the so called «unwritten doctrines»; Reale was also interested in Plotinus, Neoplatonism, Augustine and other important figures of Christian thought. In medieval thought, in addition to the great Patristic and Scholastic thinkers, late Scholastic authors and topics were addressed in other contributions, in particular by Efrem Bettoni on the Franciscan School of Duns Scotus, and by Alessandro Ghisalberti on Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham and John Buridan. Investigations on modern thought have included anthropological and religious themes that had previously been left on the fringe. Angelo Pupi studied the period from Kant to Fichte, and later, Hamann, in a detailed analysis of the vast collection of his letters. Marco Paolinelli took up Mariano Campo’s interest in the Aufklärung to then explore Edith Stein’s thought. Carla Gallicet Calvetti offered important contributions on Spinoza and the Reformation, and lastly, Mario Sina explored the debate from the Cartesian Age to the English Enlightenment. With regard to contemporary thought, the research has continued on all of the current trends, concretely going from the Phenomenology, in the tradition of the pioneering studies of Vanni Rovighi, to the Hermeneutics and Trascendentalism, explored previously by Italo Mancini, to the Analytical Philosophy. In each case, the scholars attempt to question the authors examined with historiographical relevant questions, in the belief that the rigor of textual analysis and the study of the cultural environment are necessary prerequisites for any comparison or possible reprisal.

On a more purely theoretical plane, the so called «second philosophy», developed in the last century, was addressed, with particular attention paid to epistemology and logic (two significant figures were Francesca Rivetti Barbò and Evandro Agazzi), to anthropology and to the philosophy of religion and of history. In the field of metaphysics, there have been attempts to trace new paths, as in the case of Virgilio Melchiorre, who by blending the metaphysical approach with the personalistic and existential, values the symbolic dimension and the analogia as essential for naming the ineffable absolute by means of many names; on the other hand Adriano Bausola took up the classic ontological argument, moving from the primitive idea of «Absolute» and «Unlimited», which opens our mind to the whole and infinite. These paths connect with tendencies that were already present, especially in Bontadini, but these are developed in new ways: the most important thing for these contributors is still the principle of metaphysics, both in relation to the irrevocability of the logical and phenomenal datum, which testifies to the metaphysical problem of reality, and in relation to the conception of being in Thomistic metaphysics.

Even if the confrontational positions taken by the journal are a distant memory today, its now secular activities demonstrate a continuing vitality and an ability to adapt to changing needs and different contexts with a commitment to rigor and consistency. In today’s philosophical and cultural panorama, descriptive or problematic attitudes seem to prevail over constructive and foundational ones, so that often the absence of strong contrasts in the philosophical debate does not necessarily mean that there is a peaceful agreement or acceptance of common reference points, but rather a surrendering of any truthful claim, believing that the overarching views, inspiring existence, are essentially optional and not commensurable with each other. This context does not favor the development of strong, unified stances, capable of inspiring an entire school of thought or groups of studies, as happened at the beginning. Rather than a search for unified answers, which renders different contributions somewhat homogeneous, the journal now recognizes the need to appreciate a plurality of interests and a variety of perspectives, capable of interacting against the background of shared beliefs and attitudes. Moreover, it is clear that, alongside the traditional topics, on which work continues today, new problems are emerging that require conceptual, methodological and linguistic approaches that are different from classical ones, although they certainly have more than one point in common, which can be adequately evidenced only on a path which ensures renewal in continuity.


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