Enzo Paci (1911–1976)

1. Brief Vita

Enzo Paci (°Monterado, Ancona 1911; †Milano, 1976) was trained at the Milanese school of Antonio Banfi and was one of the principal exponents of the Italian existentialism (Il nulla e il problema dell’uomo, 1950; Esistenzialismo e storicismo, 1950). After having started the journal Aut Aut (1951), Paci devised his relationalistic perspective (Tempo e relazione, 1954; Dall’esistenzialismo al relazionismo, 1957), which he then followed up, in the 1960’s, with his third and final phase, (Tempo e relazione, 1954; Dall’esistenzialismo al relazionismo, 1957), characterized by a return to the phenomenology of Husserl (Tempo e verità nella fenomenologia di Husserl, 1961) and to Marxist humanism (Funzione della scienze e significato dell’uomo, 1963; Idee per un’enciclopedia fenomenologica, 1973). Paci’s political and cultural involvements, and the originality of his theoretical proposals make him one of the greatest European philosophical personalities of the second half of the twentieth century.

2. Existentialism, Relationalism and phenomenology

Il significato del “Parmenide” nella filosofia di Platone (1938) is his first book, written when he was twenty six years old, which contains inspiration for his later philosophy. In Paci’s opinion, the hypotheses of Plato’s Parmenides are both the nerve center of Plato’s entire work and provide the ideal structure for whole subsequent tradition of Western philosophy. At the center of his analysis is the relationship between the temporal and the ideal, which Plato expresses as an instant, and to which Kierkegaard would also make reference. From this analysis Paci draws the central concept of his entire philosophy—temporality—which he would develop in relation to the Kantian schematism and the notion of temporal irreversibility. Paci’s meditation on Plato’s Parmenides led to his view that error and the negative are the central philosophical problem and that being and value cannot be exchanged. On the basis of this, he would start upon a re-interpretation of Husserl, in connection with ontologism and the Heideggerian philosophy of being; with a phenomenological interpretation of Marx that ultimately led Paci to criticize Marx for succumbing to its “naturalistic” and dogmatic versions of the economic fetishism he criticized.

Ingens Sylva (1949) represents one aspect of Paci’s mature thought. This book is of interest to philosophers and scientists, poets and novelists, economists and jurists, even though it pursues a single end—observing existence (i.e. Husserl’s Lebenswelt) without preconceptions. The book takes its direction from Vico, and from one of the young Vico’s songs, Affetti di un disperato, in which Paci saw the first expression of the irreconcilable dualism between nature and history, existence and value that was to characterize Vico’s later work. This study of Vico was to be developed further when Paci was working on the comparison of the subject of the “vital” with Croce. Croce was one of the many interlocutors, who in this work communicated, through Vico’s ideas, with the finest European culture—from Plato to Kant, Hegel to Marx, and from Freud to Jung. Paci also wrote on such topics as image, myth, the symbolic, art and religion, and their complex relations with the genealogical birth of the “historical world.”

Il nulla e il problema dell’uomo (1950) synthesizes the themes of his existentialistic phase. Since the pre-war period the author, along with Luigi Pareyson and Nicola Abbagnano, was one of the greatest exponents of the Italian “positive” existentialism. The term “positive” here signifies a humanistic and idealistic version of existentialism, free from the pessimistic and nihilistic tones of the French and German existentialism. The term is in harmony with the original sense of Antonio Banfi’s “critical rationalism” and Benedetto Croce’s “historicism.” This is how philosophy and human science meet and motivate the perspective of “Relationalism” that Paci inaugurated in the 1950’s. Philosophy must break out of isolation and open itself up to science. Science must also be careful not to isolate itself in its own technicality, offering itself as the only instrument for resolving the problems of man and society; instead it must rediscover philosophy’s ability to articulate science’s human roots, its social and ecological telos in the Lebenswelt, the sense and value of scientific undertakings and, more generally, the relational structure of existence and language.

Tempo e relazione (1954) heralds the centrality of the notion of relation:

One of the first concepts found in my work is the concept, or better, the principle, of irreversibility. Historically speaking, it came from the heart of an unusual science: thermodynamics, and it has incurred various adventures […]. Our principle of irreversibility is a general principle which opposes a mechanistic theory of the universe which, in our opinion, is connected to the principle of identity. What we are attempting to criticize is the philosophy that sees the universe as a perfectly equilibrated and closed mechanism (Introduction).

Indeed, the book is dedicated to Whitehead, and Paci’s engagement with Dewey and Whitehead leads to his recognition of the urgent necessity to overcome the separation of the various fields of thought and human culture. The analyses of the relation-event concept show the link between nature and history as the guiding idea on which to construct every possible natural relationship and every human relationship. “A philosophy of this type,” writes Paci in a central chapter, “is an organic philosophy […] in the sense that nothing that happens is an in-itself and can be explained in function of an in-itself.”

In the 1950’s, Paci dedicated numerous essays to Whitehead in Aut Aut. These rose out of his works from the preceding ten years, after his rediscovery of Husserl, his journey to the Husserl archives in Leuven, Belgium. Paci also published columns every week from 1963-1974 in the Milanese magazine Il senso delle parole on various philosophical and literary themes. These have been collated in a posthumous text, edited by Bompiani, Milan and compiled by P.A. Rovatti. Paci writes in Dall’esistenzialismo al relazionismo:

Relationalism is a philosophy of time and relation which does not separate the process of temporal situations from the conditioning relations that form it and does not shut it in an abstract determinism, but rather opens it up to new relations. In so much that the philosophy of time is also a philosophy of our time and of our historical situation.

The study Tempo e verità nella fenomenologia di Husserl (1961) is dedicated to temporality and grew out of his time in the Husserl archive of Leuven. “Will my Relationalism,” Enzo Paci asked himself in 1956, “be possible without returning to phenomenology?” From 1957 to 1963, Paci had an explosion of thought which led him to the completion of two important works—his book on Husserl (1961) and Funzione delle scienze e significato dell’uomo. At the same time appeared Diario fenomenologico, a collection of thoughts, impressions and suggestions that represent, as it were, his theoretical laboratory. “My attempt is to influence philosophy and Italian culture with phenomenology.” The central points here are time (as treated by Husserl from 1905) and relation, as discussed in the V Cartesianische Meditationen and in Krisis. Phenomenology is, according to Paci, a “concrete” philosophy, capable of taking on and over stepping the fertile heredity of Merleau-Ponty, of giving concreteness to Husserl’s analysis, of accentuating the “genetic” character and the “passivity” prospect of the description, and of insisting on “truth” as intentional meaning. Fundamental, during these years, was the discovery of Brand’s Welt, Ich und Zeit: nach unveroffentlichten Manuskripten Edmund Husserls (Nijhoff, Den Haag 1955), which Paci translated into Italian in 1960. We may say that Paci’s relationalistic phase is in substantial continuity with his return to Husserl: returning to phenomenological concepts does not constitute a sliding effect of unsolved problems, but a radicalization of the positive existentialistic concepts around which reflections can be made. Phenomenological Relationalism, in fact, interprets reality as a relationship between several elements, none of which are identical and none of which are such as to make the others completely dependent: relationships, in this sense, are never formless, just because they are irreversible (temporal), and so things resolve themselves in situations of past process and by the possibility of development opened by the emergency of their field. The resolution of things in the centers of relationality give place to forms, determined by the process that created them: that is, they are always open and always under construction. During these years in which he reread Whitehead, Paci was developing the idea that the determination, the shape of a relational field, is always changeable and may vary according to the directions chosen within the field of possibility; thus, man is always a function of his own temporal, historical behavior, of his projects, of their results (Paci 1959, 1964).

This relationalism is an existential condition, in the sense that all events are what they are in virtue of their reciprocal interactions. An event, therefore, will not only be connected within a given space and in a given time, because every form of the event, or of the complexity of events, will be in relation to all others; the other in the relationship is not annulled, re-comprehended, exalted in its own value as a fundamental link of the process. The philosophies of Whitehead and Husserl, their style of writing, their shared combination of intense energy, rigorous argumentation, and avoidance of dogmatic conclusions—all this is reflected in Paci’s own work. The Pacian phenomenological relationalism and its approach to the problem of science originate mainly in dialogue with these two authors, and perhaps with Whitehead most of all.

Paci is conscious that his project of developing a relationalistic perspective harmonious with the theoretical suppositions of the Husserlian phenomenology is the first concrete attempt to respond to the cultural crisis that characterizes the present historical moment. This crisis is

the tendency to isolate and separate the various fields of culture and science. Sciences tend to be formed in specialized fields and to devise particular techniques of which one may not in any way deny the importance, but which threaten an organic and relationalistic vision of the culture, art and life of man (Dall’esistenzialismo al relazionismo).

Furthermore, Paci is to see, during those years, a positive reaction to the conception of inorganic life in phenomenological relationalism, and tends, in this sense, towards a new encyclopaedia of knowledge. This project is to be as an ongoing synthesis, capable of modifying itself in accordance with the temporal situation (with the problems of time: of the era in which one lives and makes new syntheses of knowledge), with the results sought after by science and technology. “Today a scientist will know the jargon of his field very well,” explains Paci, “its literature and its respective branches, but he will often be forced to consider other subjects, such as something that concerns his colleague ‘three doors down the corridor,’ who will regard his concern as an indiscretion. It is here that Relationalism can intervene: it can knock down the walls of intercultural separation, unfailingly clarifying the relationship between the ‘practice of knowledge,’ the temporal permanent impermanence that allows that emergency through which something stands out and becomes object (or image) of knowledge.” We are no longer dealing with metaphysical dualism between subject and object, but rather of the object particular to experiences, of their entwining together within a relationship. Paci’s work will continue to move towards an encyclopaedic form: Idee per un’enciclopedia fenomenologica (1973) marks the completion of that cultural Relationalism pursued by Paci since his study of Plato’s Parmenides.

The connection between existentialism and Relationalism, as between existentialism and phenomenology, is founded on the re-examination of the philosophy of existence: historically, existentialism marks the break from Hegelism. Existence, explains Paci, has now found its own technical expression and emerges as a philosophical problem. That is, existence has become a source of philosophical speculation. Here Relationalism plays a binding role: the relationship is like a fire in which human problems are concentrated and live together in a material and metaphoric sense:

Reality is not made up of substantiality, but by the form of the attributes, of the relations […]. Everything that exists, or that does not exist, is in relation to other than itself. The individual, if it is not an empty identity of itself, if it is a relationship between body and soul, is together a relationship of all the individuals, which are, in turn, a relationship between body and soul. Every fact, every thing, is shown as a relational form of a space-temporal structure (Diario fenomenologico).

New concepts (such as Eros) and the return to Kierkegaard and Plato, showed Paci the problem of transcendence inherent in existence, of the opening towards history and towards the telos of a harmonic society.

On a human plane, this reasoning means that living in time calls for consumption and sustained work. But consumption implies need and only by working—only with industriousness and reciprocal exchange, with the recognition of a You, and only by entering into relationships with others people and things—can man satisfy his own needs. This is the only defacto way of escaping the solipsism that is implicit in certain strains of neo-positivism and existentialism. Only Relationalism makes it possible to overcome solipsism and the meditatio mortis expressed in Plato’s Phaedo. Here Socrates defines philosophy as “practice of death” to find, through inter-subjectivity, the key to the authentic comprehension of the real and other than self. Moving in this direction, Paci is to progressively consolidate his phenomenological thoughts through the relationalistic and Husserlian concept of Paarung.

According to Paci, the problem of sense and harmony has to bring about a distinction of values between the vital and non-vital, between the healthy and the pathologic, that is, between the desire for life and for death. To the end Paci always expressed his desire to combat the nihilistic tendency of contemporary thought. His own meditatio vitae is present even in his earliest writings. Healthy and the harmonious are not inclined to conservation, but that which is inclined to the transformation of less organic relations into more organic relations: research that does not come to a halt in a dogmatic system but remains open (for its being in the temporal irreversibility) to transformation, possibility and happening. For Relationalism, the experience cannot be expressed by a theory which considers sensitive atomic data as a simple elements, as a quantifiable and classifiable data. There cannot be any atomic data, because, every sensation that constitutes the event of hope is made up of a complexity of relationships, determined by an already given situation of “natural and historical” process. Atomism is replaced, therefore, by Relationalism. Gnoseological empiricism, which reduces experience to elementary data, is replaced by temporal and existentialist historicism. Historicism does not present itself as a cognitive philosophy, but as an interpretive philosophy, which seeks to transform the historic process by work. Whitehead and Dewey are the two philosophers who have contributed most to the criticism of that brand of empiricism which looks for empirical “atoms” as the original elements of knowledge. Whitehead, in particular, taught that nothing may be inferred from sensations, if one begins with isolated, atomic “data.” A sensation is always a collection of relations and implicitly contains the structure of the permanent and emergent process that makes up the historical process. In Process and Reality, Whitehead observes that intuitions are never pure and isolated. They are in relation to each other, like concepts, or rather, as the category already involved in sensations, categories that the Kantian subject believed to discover in itself: in this sense, according to Whitehead, sensations are relational, and in the sensation, the “organic philosophy” presents the relation between the categories.

Observing that there is no sensation outside history, Paci notes that sensation is always brought back to the natural historical process. The simple sensation imagined by Gnoseologism is a badly set-up abstraction. One must, therefore mistrust the over-evaluation of the sense presentation which remains the origin and arrival point of knowledge: more precisely, one must not make it, as a presence, absolutized and isolated, but recognize it as involving an ongoing process of the prehensions. According to Paci, the greatest risk to philosophy is potential absorption in the technical perfection of logic: the unchangeableness of formal, logical language tends to finish divert attention from process. The function of philosophy is not to deny the validity of a particular technique, but to show that no single technique is perfect: it is one among possible others, and indeed new techniques are possible for dealing with the changing relations and possibilities of lived experience. The risk that science and every system runs is the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” Science should, instead, strive for enlargement, a more thorough investigation of the process itself, and of a continuation of the art of life.

By living, we create various interpretations, we assume beliefs, habits and thus history is realized in the single lives as a “historical process.” The coherent life is not that of a person who continuously changes direction: the limited direction must, on the contrary, turn into a wider road which takes into account the previous one. The old functions are reused for new purposes(new practices with their objects of knowledge, as Wright had already taught), and every road is organically conserved within the new direction. To say that the universe is a process of events, is to say that this perspective is also a process which emerges from a way of reasoning and that it has, as a condition of its own knowledge, Relationalism. In this sense, man must accept, Paci seems to suggest, his constituent being in error, the Irren of Heideggerian memory. Paci’s relationalistic and phenomenological perspective is, therefore, a coherent continuation of the existentialistic path that has been waiting for a thorough theoretical investigation of the philosophy of the relation. Phenomenology sets itself up on the new road of this effective philosophical system, of these “Chinese boxes” of the truth of research. As if to say that there is the truth but always declined in its experience of life and thought and, that is, in its permanent mobile impermanence which gives origin to “the meaning”: in primis the autobiographic meaning, around that implicit text which is the life of man the producer and craftsman, to meet the needs of existence, defender and guardian of value and action, wise, thinker and thus philosopher in the city of men. This was the meaning of the life, study and work of Enzo Paci.

Works Cited and Further Readings

Alfredo Civita. 1983. Bibliografia degli scritti di Enzo Paci, introduction by M. dal Pra (Florence, La Nuova Italia).

AAVV. 1986. “Attraverso la fenomenologia. L’esperienza filosofica di Enzo Paci,” Aut Aut, 214-215, July-October.

Amedeo Vigorelli. 1987. L’esistenzialismo positivo di Enzo Paci. Una biografia intellettuale (1920-1950) (Milan, Franco Angeli).

Fulvio Papi. 1990. Vita e filosofia. La scuola di Milano—Banfi, Cantoni, Paci, Preti (Milan, Guerini e Associati). See pp. 215-34 on Paci.

AAVV. 1991. Vita e verità. Interpretazione del pensiero di Enzo Paci, edited by S. Zecchi (Milan, Bompiani).

AAVV. 2006. Filosofi a Milano. Enzo Paci, compiled by M. Cappuccio and A. Sardi, preface by E. Renzi (Milan, Cuem).

Alessandro Sardi. 2006. “Strumenti bibliografici,” in AAVV, “Omaggio a Paci,” compiled by E. Renzi and G. Scaramuzza—Quaderni di Materiali di Estetica, 2 vol., Milan, Cuem), Vol. II, 303-322.

Author Information

Alessandro Sardi
Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy

How to Cite this Article

Sardi, Alessandro, “Enzo Paci (1911–1976)”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <http://encyclopedia.whiteheadresearch.org/entries/bios/scholarly-legacy/enzo-paci/>.