Scienza Nuova by Giambattista Vico

Giambattista Vico contends with Descartes’s approach to history, which is with accurate and distinctive thoughts, and seeks what was constructed and realised by human beings through their activities, not by relying on the so-called veracious ideas. According to Vico, history is the achievement and evidence of humanity. He accedes to the notion that only one can ascertain what he or she has engendered. In other words, Vico advocates a principle which reveals that what is real is what has been done. [1] Furthermore, Giambattista Vico contemplates that society is created by people; therefore, it can only be unravelled with regard to people and their behaviour: “. . . in the night of the thick darkness enveloping the earliest antiquity, so remote from ourselves, there shines the eternal and never-failing light of a truth beyond all question: that the world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and that its principles are therefore to be found within the modifications of our own human minds.” [2]

Vico examines the world and the society from a dissimilar perspective compared to his predecessors as well as contemporaries and evaluates history with a rather outstanding perception. It can be affirmed with ease that the ideas of Vico had an impact on many littérateurs of great significance in history, such as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Diderot. [3] It is indeed conceivable to propound that he influenced Hegel and Marx with the precedent of thought in the context of ‘stages in history,’ as can be deducted from the following passage: “First the woods, then cultivated fields and huts, next little houses and villages, thence cities, finally academies and philosophers: this is the order of all progress from the first origins.” [4] Consistent with Vico, all societies pass through the ages and stages alike, likewise the identical continuity. Yet, another consequential subject matter he accentuates is that history progresses piecemeal with a set of interconnected ages, resulting in a cycle of development and collapse or growth and decay. [5] Vico makes a classification of the ages (or stages), which he deemed to be circulating in a gradual manner as follows:

“(I) The age of the gods, in which the gentiles believed they lived under divine governments, and everything was commanded them by auspices and oracles, which are the oldest things in profane history. (II) The age of the heroes, in which they reigned everywhere in aristocratic commonwealths, on account of a certain superiority of nature which they held themselves to have over the plebs. (III) The age of men, in which all men recognised themselves as equal in human nature, and therefore there were established first the popular commonwealths and then the monarchies, both of which are forms of human government, as we observed a short while ago.”

Giambattista Vico, The New Science of Giambattista Vico, ed. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1948), 18.

While the impression of Vico exerts influence on some of the intellectuals, who succeed him, or on the ‘social scientists’ in the context of the twentieth century, they distinguish Vico from his peers and the established set of attitudes of his era—that is, from the philosophy and scientific appreciation that prevailed in Europe in the eighteenth century. In this period, when the espousal of radical rationalism was prevalent, it was claimed that man has an unchangeable nature, and he was defined by being baffled between fixed, static, and mathematical patterns. [6] The sole and solemn authority of the mind had turned out to be in a decisive position. Further human characteristics, such as emotion, belief, and imagination, are somewhat shelved. These circumstances can perhaps be considered as one of the reasons behind the fact that Giambattista Vico became celebrated much later than his own period, because against the general tendency of the Cartesians to elucidate everything in nature with mathematical precision, Vico sets down human actions and approaches at the core of his thought and opens the door to a brand-new science based on comprehension and interpretation. [7]

This peculiar new science that Giambattista Vico endeavours to mould is a discipline that incorporates language, religion, tradition, law, mythology, art, along with philosophy, and history as well as culture at its nucleus. In this respect, it can be avowed that Vico undertakes to put a methodology for humanities, so much as for history, against the more inveterate methods of the natural sciences of his age. [8] As maintained by Giambattista Vico, for a reason that nature is created by God, only he can be the solid foundation of its impeccable knowledge: “Whoever reflects on this cannot but marvel that the philosophers should have bent all their energies to the study of the world of nature, which, since God made it, He alone knows; and that they should have neglected the study of the world of nations or civil world, which, since men had made it, men could hope to know.” [9] The mastermind behind culture and history is the human species on the other hand. Nonetheless, commensurate with Giambattista Vico, everything that man creates in the historical and cultural field is possible thanks to the grace bestowed upon us by God. [10] To cut a long story short, Giovanni Battista Vico was tremendously steering and far ahead of his time.

  • [1] Giambattista Vico, Yeni Bilim, ed. Taşkın Takış and Şermin Korkusuz, trans. Sema Önal, 1st ed. (Ankara: Doğu- Batı Yayınları, 2007), 14.
  • [2] Giambattista Vico, The New Science of Giambattista Vico, ed. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1948), 85.
  • [3] Ibid., 13.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid., 18.
  • [6] Vico, Yeni Bilim, 14.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Vico, The New Science of Giambattista Vico, 85.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • Vico, Giambattista. The First New Science. Edited by Leon Pompa. Translated by Leon Pompa. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • ———. The New Science of Giambattista Vico. Edited by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch. Translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1948.
  • ———. Yeni Bilim. Edited by Taşkın Takış and Şermin Korkusuz. Translated by Sema Önal. 1st ed. Ankara: Doğu-Batı Yayınları, 2007.

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