Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

Giambattista VicoVico was professor of Latin Eloquence at the University of Naples. In the last decade of his life he was appointed Royal Historiographer by Charles of Bourbon. Vico's major work is the New Science (Scienza nuova), which was translated into English by the Italianist Thomas Goddard Bergin and the philosopher Max Harold Fisch in 1948. In this work, Vico presents the principles of humanity and gives an account of the stages common to the development of all societies in their historical life. He also shows how all human thought and action is connected to imagination and memory as well as to reason.

Vico is generally regarded as the founder of the modern philosophy of history. He may also be regarded as the founder of the philosophy of culture and the philosophy of mythology. Ernst Cassirer, the great twentieth-century philosopher of culture and symbolism, called Vico "the real discoverer of the myth." Vico's work has attracted attention for the modern study of rhetoric, language, poetry, architecture, aesthetics, law, moral philosophy, politics, education, metaphysics, society, culture and history. Vico's thought has importance for the full range of problems within the sphere of humane letters and the study of the self and of social institutions.

The New Science was written in Italian and published in a first edition in 1725. Vico rewrote it completely and published a second edition in 1730, which he was revising for a third printing at the time of his death in 1744. Vico wrote his autobiography, which was published in 1728. He also wrote a continuation of it in 1731.

Prior to the New Science Vico wrote a number of Latin works, principal among which are his conception of human education developed in his six Inaugural Orations from 1699-1707 (collected under the English title, On Humanistic Education) and in On the Study Methods of Our Time (De nostri temporis studiorum ratione) (1709). He presents a conception of knowledge and metaphysics based on a criticism of Descartes in On the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians (De antiquissima Italorum sapientia) (1710). These works and the autobiography have been translated into English. He wrote a collected work on jurisprudence. In the 1720s, he published the three parts of this work, which he referred to by the general title, Il diritto universale (Universal law). This work is equal in size to all Vico's other major works taken together. In it he develops a conception of law through its connections to human culture, and in one chapter, "Nova scientia tentatur" (A new science is essayed), Vico projects his conception of the New Science.  Il diritto universale has been translated into English with the title, Universal Right.

In addition to these Vico wrote a number of smaller works and orations as well as commissioned histories, poems, and panegyrics.  A few of these are available in English translation, as are some of his letters.

Vico's work had great influence on Jules Michelet, who translated the New Science and Autobiography into French and incorporated Vico into his own philosophy of history; Benedetto Croce, who founded his own idealist philosophy through a combination of Vico and Hegel and who, with Nicolini, created the standard edition of Vico's works in Italian; and James Joyce, who based the general structure of Finnegans Wake on the New Science, referring to Vico by name in various places and beginning the work with a play on Vico's name in Latin, "a commodius vicus of recirtculation."

Goethe acquired a copy of the New Science which he lent to Jacobi. Hamann read Vico, as did his disciple, Herder. Coleridge was the first English disseminator of Vichian ideas. Marx cites and discusses Vico in Capital. Yeats was interested in Vico and was influenced by Gentile's interpretation. Sorokin read Vico. Trotsky quotes Vico on the first page of his History of the Russian Revolution. Collingwood translated Croce's book on Vico and was influenced by Vico's conception of history, and Edmund Wilson began his influential To the Finland Station with a discussion of Vico.