Emilio Betti: A Short Biography

Born in Camerino (central Italy) in 1890 and dying in Cainorciano (near Camerino) in 1968,Emilio Betti was one of the greatest Italian jurists of the 20th century. His family was the typical of the small landowners in central Italy. His father was a doctor, and his brother, Ugo (1892-1953), became a quite famous poet and playwright.

Although much drawn to history and philosophy (as a young student he would read Vico, Croce, Gentile and - directly in German - Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Fichte, Dilthey and the much-appreciated Nietzsche), he graduated in law in 1912 with a dissertation on obligations in Roman law (1912 he also graduated in History).

Attracted by the academic career (and after two burning disappointments in 1914 and 1915: in both circumstances the commissioners judged his works ‘too historical’ and ‘not quite dogmatic’), Betti obtained the chair of Roman law in the Law Faculty of Macerata in 1917. He then taught in Messina (1924-1925), Florence (1926, where he gave his famous paper on ‘The creation of law in the jurisdictio of the roman praetor’) and Milan (from 1927). In those years he expanded his interest, especially in procedure (both Roman and contemporary) and international-comparative law. During this time he published a series of important works, the most famous of which is his Teoriagenerate del negozioginridico, in which he condemns the Willensdogma (‘dogma of the will’) at that time generally accepted by the continental jurists, in favour of a greater evaluation of the ‘cause’ and ‘function’ of the transaction: in other words, Betti affirms the superior importance of the (national) community over private individual interests.

At a relatively early stage, Betti accepted the ideas of fascism; however, he only enrolled in the PNF (National Fascist Party) in 1932 (later he would also join the Republic of Salo). Arrested in 1944, and excluded from teaching in 1945, he was acquitted of all charges in 1946. Despite the strong opposition of some colleagues, in November of that year he was offered the chair of Civil Law at the Law Faculty of the Sapienza University of Rome, x Emilio Betti: A Short Biography

where he remained until his retirement in 1960, becoming a point of reference for many fùture jurists of the Republican Italy.

His years teaching in Rome were very intense and productive ones. In addition to teaching civil law and then Roman law, Betti began to devote himself intensely to the study and teaching of hermeneutics. In 1955 he published his perhaps most successful volume, The General Theory of Interpretation, and also founded the Institute ofTheory of Interpretation in Rome, and his teaching was included in the order of studies within the Faculty of Law. A very important dialectical confrontation with the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer then began; and Betti and Gadamer still represent the two cornerstones of modern hermeneutic philosophy.

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