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main index © Jeff Matthews entry May 2003
at one time or another have had the feeling that the
professor up there in front was rambling on in a
foreign language. And so it really was for many
centuries in European universities, where lectures
were routinely held in Latin.
Antonio Genovesi's students of political economy at the University of Naples in 1755, thus, must have been pleasantly surprised when the professor delivered his lectures in Italian. He was "the first," according to a number of sources, though it is not clear exactly what that means—the first in Naples, the first on the Italian peninsula, the first in Europe. It is not even clear if he lectured in the northern language of Dante or the home-grown Neapolitan variety of Italian, a vibrant and living language at the time with an impressive literary history of its own. Whatever the case, it still made old (he was 43!) professor Genovesi a pretty good guy, I'm sure.
Genovesi was one of the
prominent members of the Neapolitan Enlightenment of
the mid-1700s, a school that includes Gaetano Filangieri, Vincenzo Cuoco and Vincenzo Russo. As a young
man he was educated for the church but gave that up.
He then studied law but eventually devoted himself
to philosophy. That is not as abstract as it sounds.
Genovesi wrote the first systematic and complete
work in Italian on economics, his Delle lezioni
di commercio (1767) and was, in fact, the
first professor of the newly founded Chair of
Political Economy in Naples in 1754, the first such
chair at a European university. He stressed that
human wants were the foundation of economic theory
and that labor was the source of wealth. He preached
the education of the masses (no doubt the reason
behind his lectures in Italian) and the abolition of
feudalism. He wrote his early works in Latin: Disciplinarum
metaphysicarum elementa (1743) and Elementa
artis logico-criticae (1745). His major work,
the Lezioni di commercio, was in Italian, as
was his Philosophical Meditations (1758). He
was born in 1712 and died in 1769.