The Author reconstructs the attempt made by Carlo Cattaneo, in particular in a collection of writings in 1846-1847, to find some key concepts for the understanding of human becoming through time. Contrary to idealistically grounded philosophies of history, he outlines a vision in which fundamental importance is attributed to exchange between peoples and to the "dative" aspects of cultures. Significant is the recourse to the concept of system with the consequent proposal to interpret the path of history as a relation between open and closed systems. From this conflict are derived other oppositions such as that between uniformity and variety, immobility and change, and in a political key despotism and liberty. From 1852, Cattaneo’s teaching at the Liceo di Lugano provided the opportunity to perfect a social ideology, which he formulated as an interpretation of the constitutive factors of the various civilizations within the frame of that new science of humanity, which in the name of Vico he had advocated since the years preceding 1848. Keywords: philosophy of history, civilizing, social system, universal history, ideology, progress.