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Giambattista Vico (1668 - 1744)

Lifespan: 1660s - 1740s

Related: Italian literature - counter-enlightenment

New Science: Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations (1725) - Giambattista Vico [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Giambattista Vico (June 23, 1668 - January 23, 1744) was a Neapolitan philosopher, historian, and jurist.

Vico is famous for his concept of truth as an act, verum factum. His major work is the New Science (Scienza Nuova), published in 1725 and, as a completely rewritten work, in 1730. His major idea — that truth is an act, is discussed in this work as a principle of history — that it is made by humans, and so humans are able to fully understand it, just like mathematics, which is product of human imagination.

Vico suggested study of tradition, mythology and language as methods for investigating history. He is believed to be the pioneer of ethnology. The historical life follows similar pattern — although not in details — in every nation, according to Vico. The first humans thought in mythical terms, universali fantastici or poetic characters. All nations begin by fantasia, the power of imagination and the age of gods which are needed to comprehend the world. After that, there comes a second age in which fantasia is used to form social institutions and heroes are used to inspire moral virtues. The third and final age is the age of rationality, in which humanity declines into barbarie della reflessione — barbarism of reflection. According to Vico, this is a cycle — gods, heroes and humans — which repeats itself within the world of nations, forming storia ideale eterna — ideal eternal history.

Vico was an isolated genius, who lived in near poverty and never met a thinker of equivalent magnitude. However, his views have influenced many philosophers in the nineteenth century. Karl Marx studied Vico, and owes much to him. Also, Vico's notion verum factum anticipates pragmatism and pragmaticism of Peirce. He was able to predict historical development of Europe with appalling accuracy. In the 20th century, his ideas of the myth and nation were embraced by James Joyce, as well as Edward W. Said.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giambattista_Vico [Aug 2004]

Eternal recurrence, Vico and Joyce

James Joyce was influenced by Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), an Italian philosopher who proposed a theory of cyclical history in his major work, New Science. Joyce puns on his name many times in Finnegans Wake, including the "first" sentence: "by a commodius vicus of recirculation". Vico's theory involves the recurrence of three stages of history: the age of gods, the age of heroes, and the age of humans—after which the cycle repeats itself. Finnegans Wake begins in mid-sentence, with the continuation of the book's unfinished final sentence, creating a circle whereby the novel has no true beginning or end. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_return [Oct 2006]

New Science (1725) - Giambattista Vico

New Science: Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations (1725) - Giambattista Vico [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Giambattista Vico, the Italian philosopher, lived from 1668 to 1744. His "New Science" is gradually being re-established as one of the most significant "humanist" achievements since the Renaissance and the greatest work of Italian philosophy. This book represents an attempt to provide a comprehensive science of human society by decoding the history, mythology and law of the ancient world.

"My imagination grows every time I read Vico as it doesn't when I read Freud or Jung."-- James Joyce

That Vico is largely unknown, even by the so-called experts teaching in our universitiues, while mediocrities and worse of the past half century are lauded and taught widely is yet another indication that our educational standards are dumbed down considerably. Vico is difficult to read, and we are increasingly an intellectually lazy people who prefer simplistic platitudes that sooth our postmodernist prejudices.

I give this Penguin edition only a 4 not because New Science is not itself a 5 or because the translation itself is weak, but because Vico requires copious notes. Most who read this work will do so on their own, and they need considerable help unless they are already as well read in the Classics and works of the Medieval and Renaissance eras as was Vico himself. Perhaps soon we will see an edition that meets that need, which also might encourage a few more to teach Vico, before we fall into the re-barbarism. --review via amazon.com

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