It is believed, mainly, that a philosopher’s biography is important, or even fundamental, in order to understand the movements of “his” thought, as if this latter depends on the personal background and on the context in which a philosopher is placed. However, Severino writes: «If Necessity appears as such, the listener cannot be what “one” has discovered, and that therefore is within the limits of this one’s glance. If in the listening process the Necessity appears as such, the listener can be none other than Necessity itself. The act of listening to itself is […] its appearing» (The Original Structure, La struttura originaria, Adelphi, Milan 1981, p. 98). This justifies the extreme brevity that I have given to this section from which the traits of an extraordinary “life”, however, emerge.
Born in Brescia (Italy) in 1929, after his High School diploma in classical studies he enrolles in the degree course in Philosophy at the Collegio Borromeo, of the University of Pavia. He graduates in 1948 under Gustavo Bontadini, presenting his thesis on Heidegger and the metaphysics (Heidegger e la metafisica).
In 1950 he becomes a lecturer in theoretical Philosophy; in 1954 he is invited to teach at the Catholic University of Milan, where since 1962 he is full professor of moral Philosophy. In that same year Studies of philosophy of praxis (Studi di filosofia della prassi) is published, in which it is written that faith is a contradiction because it assumes as incontrovertible what does not present itself as such:
After writing Studies of philosophy of praxis (Studi di filosofia della prassi), I started to realize that my presence at the Catholic University was precarious.Severino, My dispute with the Church (Il mio scontro con la Chiesa), Rizzoli 2001, p. 11
With the publication of Returning to Parmenides (Ritornare a Parmenide- 1964) and of its Postscript (Poscritto – 1965), his position at the Catholic University becomes even more critical:
How could I teach at a free and private University […] affirming that Christianity is part of the essential alienation of the West?Severino, Madness of the angel. Conversations concerning philosophy (La follia dell’angelo. Conversazioni intorno alla filosofia), Rizzoli, Milan 1997, p. 25
In 1970 he enters the Palace of the Holy Office (Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, which is now the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – Sacra Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede) in order to discuss with the experts responsible for examining his writings:
The procedure adopted by the Church towards me was the same one it had reserved to Galilei . As far as I know, the Church had not adopted those procedures for a long time and it would not have happened again in the future. I was curious and a little flattered to find myself in the same rooms in which that great – that great “man” – had lived something totally different. However, the relationship between the destiny of truth and faith is essentially more radical than the relationship between the Copernican system, and in fact between the modern science, and faith.Severino, My memory of the eternals (Il mio ricordo degli eterni), Rizzoli 2011, p. 93
The verdict, included in the Acta Apostolica, declares the incompatibility of Severino’s philosophy with the catholic doctrine. Cornelio Fabro, former definitor of the Holy Office (Sant’Uffizio), has written that Severino «criticizes at its roots the conception of God’s transcendence and the cornerstones of Christianity like perhaps no atheism or heresy have ever done so far».
Gone to Venice, together with Piero Treves (for ancient History), Gaetano Cozzi (for modern History), Adriano Limentani (for romance Philology) and Giorgio Padoan (for Italian Literature), he founds the board of the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy which was then about to be instituted. From 1970 to 2001 he is full professor of theoretical Philosophy at the University of Venice; until 1989 he directs there the Institute of Philosophy, subsequently the Department of Philosophy and Theory of Sciences. He is professor emeritus of the same University.
Since 2002 he collaborates with the Faculty of Philosophy of the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele of Milan, where he teaches a class on “fundamental ontology”.
The publishing houses Adelphi and BUR dedicate a series to the publication of his works, many of which translated in various languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Finnish. He collaborates with the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera”.
Academician of the Lincei (Accademico dei Lincei), winner of many awards – among the others: Nietzsche, Tevere, Circeo, Guidarello, and Columbus awards, the Prime Minister’s award for philosophy of 1998, Grinzane Cavour-Cesare Pavese award –, he received the Golden medal of the Republic for culture merits (Medaglia d’oro della Repubblica per i Benemeriti della Cultura) and possesses the title of “Cavaliere di Gran Croce”.
Several his students of great scientific and academic significance:
In 1951 he marries Ester Violetta Mascialino, high school professor of Latin and Ancient Greek, with whom he had two children, Federico and Anna; he has a grandson, Andrea.