Umberto Curi is one of those people whose philosophical ideas have inspired Daniela and Marzia Banci’s works, and has contributed towards making the exhibition Tradition in Modernity more meaningful.
Umberto Curi is emeritus professor of History of Philosophy at the university of Padua. Here is a passage from his conversation with Daniela and Marzia Banci.
How did philosophy enter Umberto Curi’s life?
Since its origins, philosophy has been a form of life, rather than a ‘discipline’.
Do you share Plato’s philosophical thinking, which is found in all your books?
Plato is certainly the author I find more productive dealing with. However, I never identify myself with him completely, precisely because Plato teaches us to deal with other people’s ideas in highly critical ways. Polemos – dispute – is therefore the way I deal with Plato.
Plato speaks about art as ‘divine mania’, can you explain this interpretation?
It would take me a very long time.
In short, according to Plato, art places us in contact with a dimension that unfolds beyond the boundaries of sensitivity. It is important to emphasise that in his view, the beauty art seeks has the same function as eros, which also aims at ‘drawing’ from a more perfect reality.
Hegel speaks about fine arts in his Phenomenology of Spirit, placing it at the same level as Religion and Philosophy. What do you think about it?
Hegel spoke (slightly out of turn, perhaps) about ‘the death of art’, precisely because in accomplishing the Absolute Spirit, fine arts are bound to be overcome by religion, which in turn will be overcome by philosophy. But this is a school version of Hegel. In fact, his ideas can’t be framed in arid little formulas..
A new philosophy manual curated by you has recently been published. What are its contents and who is it dedicated to?
Its title is Il coraggio di pensare (Dare to Think, Loesher, 5 volumes, about 3500 pages) and loosely refers to sapere aude – dare to know – a phrase first used by the Roman poet Horace and cited by Kant. It is written for high school students and aims to provide radical innovations to what are generally disappointing philosophy books. Together with my collaborators, I’ve tried to ‘teach how to think’, rather that ‘teach thoughts’. I can’t wait to know if this undoubtedly original approach is appreciated by my colleagues in secondary school and by their students.
What form should a project have to spread philosophical thought valid today?
The manual I spoke about in my previous reply aims at spreading philosophical thought. We shouldn’t forget that Italy is the only country in the world where the study of philosophy is compulsory in the first three years of high school. In other countries, philosophy either isn’t part of the curriculum, or it is an optional subject (as in Great Britain) to treat problems and restricted to the last year of school (as in France). In my opinion, the problem is there aren’t suitable instruments for the role played by philosophy in schools. I’d be rude to say that this manual intends to fill this gap.
Where do philosophy and goldsmithing meet?
I’d say that research is essential in both. I’m no golsmithing expert. However, the Banci sisters’ jewels are not simple displays of beautiful things, they actually strive to uncover beauty, to produce it even where we don’t expect to find it. And then there’s another surprising link between the two. Jewels are made to be worn. Gazing at them isn’t enough. They become jewels once worn. Something similar happens in philosophy, which doesn’t mean studying a philosopher or repeating a formula mindlessly. I must adapt it to myself for it to be true philosophy. It must become part of me. Just like I wear jewellery in order for precious metals to become true jewels, so I have to make philosophy a way of life to emphasise its peculiarity.