Giambattista Vico

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Giambattista Vico

Giambattista Vico (also Gian Battista , Giovan Battista ; born June 23, 1668 in Naples , † January 23, 1744 ibid) was an Italian historical and legal philosopher who dealt with the rise and fall of civilizations.


In his autobiography, Vico wrote that at the age of seven, he fell off a ladder, suffered a fractured skull, and remained unconscious for five hours. Since then, says Vico, he has become melancholy and irritable. At the age of ten he attended a grammar school in Naples, where he learned so much on his own that he was allowed to skip a class.

When he felt disadvantaged in the Jesuit College in Naples, he withdrew home to study again the grammatical textbook of the Portuguese Jesuit Emmanuel Alvarez (1526–1583) De institutione grammatica . Pointed to the logic of Paul of Venice by his teacher , he also tried to master this work alone, but the young Vico was so overwhelmed that he abandoned his studies for a year and a half. After this time he entered the Academy of Infuriati in Naples, where he studied the works of Duns Scotus and Francisco Suárez . Due to the worsening economic situation of his parents, he broke off his studies at the academy and in 1684 entered the service of Domenico Rocca , whose son he taught law . At the same time he worked on the works of Francisco Suárez in self-study and carried out his first legal and legal philosophical research. He was increasingly interested in working on an all-encompassing method of study and knowledge. He also wrote poems in Latin.

In the following nine years he was self-taught with Augustine , Lorenzo Valla , Cicero and some Latin poets. He heard very little of the new philosophical developments of atomism and Cartesianism during his activity as a private tutor and was surprised by the presence, above all, of Cartesianism in Naples on his return in 1693.

In 1696 Vico's first publication appeared, a preface to a volume of eulogies to the Count of San Stefano, the viceroy of Naples, with which he established his reputation as a scholar. In 1697 he was appointed to the chair of rhetoric at the University of Naples . During this time he formulated his basic idea on metaphysics : All human and divine knowledge can be traced back to one principle.

In 1699 he married Teresa Caterina Destito, with whom he had eight children, five of whom survived childhood.

In 1709 he published the treatise De nostri temporis studiorum ratione . In his text from 1710 De antiquissima Italorum sapientia ex linguae Latinae originibus eruenda ("On the oldest wisdom of the Italians , as it can be deduced from the origins of the Latin language") he developed some of his later reflections on metaphysics. In 1716 there was a historiography about Caraffa, 1720-22 Il diritto universale , 1725 and 1731 his autobiography Vita di Giambattista Vico scritta da se medesimo . In 1725 the first version of his main work Scienza Nuova ("New Science") came out. After extensive revision, a second version appeared in 1730.

Vico had failed in 1723 in his attempt to get the better-paid chair of law in Naples. His son Gennaro Vico followed his chair for rhetoric in 1741. The father died in Naples at an old age. His theses remained relatively unknown during his lifetime. After his death, his views became increasingly important.


His earlier writings are mostly used to trace the development of his ideas, as he presented them in his main work Scienza Nuova . In De nostri temporis , for example, he posed the question of how one can gain knowledge better with the “modern” method or that of the ancient authors. Vico understood the modern method as the Cartesian logic, which made possible investigations in the natural sciences that were inaccessible to the ancients. With emphasis on these instruments of philosophical criticism and the “ geometrical method ” one neglects the imagination , intuition and memory , although these are central for learning and complex thinking and thus for finding the truth . Vico was determined to combine both methods and pleaded for a comprehensive humanistic education for young people. He continued these considerations in De Antiquissima ... and came to the conclusion that linguistic history could be a source of historical research in general - an argument that later strongly influenced Herder .

In his biography, Vico emphasized the importance of the authors to whom he felt most indebted: Plato , Tacitus , Francis Bacon and the early Enlightenment Hugo Grotius and the poets of classical antiquity. He also described how he came up with the idea of ​​a natural law that could explain the development of Roman law. From here the step to the idea of ​​a universally valid law of nature with regard to natural and cultural history was not far. This became the basic idea of ​​the Scienza Nuova , according to which a “philosophy and philology of humanity” exists, from which an infinite ideal story can be derived, in which he saw the national histories embedded, each with its specific rise, development, culmination and Descent.

In the Scienza Nuova , Vico summarized everything he had developed in previous writings and carried out his ideas further. The scholastic equation: Verum est ens  - being is the truth - he opposed his formula: Verum quia factum . Only what we have made ourselves can be recognized as true. This statement led him beyond the replacement of scholastic metaphysics; He also rejected the Cartesian epistemology: Because the human mind cannot recognize how it functions itself, since it creates its objects of knowledge itself (“just as the eye can see everything, just not itself”). Thus, for Vico, Descartes' first principle - according to which nothing is supposed to be true that is not recognized so clearly and clearly that it cannot be doubted - no longer existed. He considers the reduction of human knowledge to the geometric method to be a self-deception based on the fact that humans make themselves the measure of all things. Instead, according to Vico, one must examine the origins and development of the phenomena ; and if only what we have designed is "true", then science means not only knowledge of these causes, but also their own further development. With this Vico introduced the element of dynamization into epistemology - a radical innovation in European intellectual history.

He further distinguished between the “true” and the “certain”, which on the one hand were in contrast to the eternal and universal science and the individual and perishable consciousness, and on the other hand in that of the above-mentioned terms philosophy and philology. According to Vico, rationally operated “philosophy” and the social sciences (“philology” as Vico saw them) are mutually exclusive and remain - each seen and operated individually - only empty abstractions. Only both together enable complete insight into the essence of things and into causal chains: philosophy provides universal truth and philology security in individual cases.

With his "philology" - natural and cultural history - Vico postulated a general pattern in Scienza Nuova , which all societies (empires, peoples, cultures) follow. It is reflected in the languages, the customs, the forms of society and government, the legal system, etc. and is passed on to the following generations in the form of a common sense. History in the philosophical sense is therefore "true", that is, ideal and eternal, and reflects the divine order and providence .

He traced the emergence and development of nations back to two forms of organization: the “divine-heroic age”, based on memory and imagination, and the “age of men”, based on reflection. This dichotomy corresponds to poetry and philosophy or - due to the dual nature of man - feeling and spirit . Social institutions arise initially from direct sensory experience, pure feeling and the child's ability to imitate . Since people were - naturally given - poets in the world, the origins and evolution of nations can be traced in their poetic truth: in myths, the structure of early languages ​​and polytheistic religions . This metaphysics cannot have been rational and abstract, argues Vico. Rather, she was the result of her poetry , born of her ignorance, "because ignorance - the mother of miracles  - made everything miraculous to them". From this primeval metaphysics, Vico derived various “poetic” areas: poetic morality is based on piety and shame, poetic economy arose from the concepts of fertility and family relationships, poetic cosmography populated the heavens and the underworld with gods, etc.

However, as people's capacity for reflection has increased, their powers of imagination have weakened. Thinking on the basis of reason has slowly replaced poetry as a form of understanding. This also reflects a steady rise of the respective society - controlled by Providence. Coming from barbaric beginnings, it tends more and more to sensible, humane behavior. Rule-setting enables trade, military strength and thus general welfare . At the same time, the transition from poetic to rational consciousness enables individuals to examine this natural and cultural history - e. B. manifests itself in the form and content of the Scienza Nuova itself. This optimism of culture and history is typical of many enlightened people .

At the same time, however, Vico put this idea of ​​constant progress into perspective by means of cyclical historical thinking. After that, each culmination phase was followed by a descent, namely the return of the pernicious customs of heroic times; this “second barbarism” then changed back into the primitive simplicity of the early days, from which a renewed upswing (“curso”) is possible. Vico saw this as manifested in his own time in the “true” Christian religion, the monarchies of absolutism and the beginning of the Enlightenment.

Vico's theory of the origin of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (section “Discovery of the true Homer” in Scienza Nuova ) is also exceptional for his contemporaries : Since the vulgar feelings and customs in the heroic age corresponded to a wild and irrational state, Homeric poetry could not esoteric wisdom of an individual, rather it represents the poetic abilities of the Greek people as a whole. The poet of Iliad and Odyssey never existed (as an individual); rather, the Greek singers as a whole would have imagined the ideal of the one poet.


The effect of his reflections goes far beyond philosophy and touches areas such as anthropology , cultural history , hermeneutics or literary criticism . Today he is seen as an extraordinarily original thinker who influenced central currents in the humanities. He is one of the founders of cultural studies . In sociology he is seen as a sociologist before the establishment of the subject .

In France, Montesquieu , Rousseau, and probably Denis Diderot too, were familiar with Vico's views; In the Hispanic-speaking area, his work was recognized by the most important enlightenment thinkers in Spain (e.g. Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos ) and in Hispanic America (e.g. the group of Jesuits exiled in 1767, above all by the Mexican Francisco Javier Clavijero , the Chilean Juan Ignacio Molina and the Ecuadorian Juan de Velasco ) received and further thought; in Germany there is a chain from Johann Georg Hamann via Herder , Goethe to Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi ; in England the dissemination of his works began with Samuel Taylor Coleridge , in Italy with his pupil Antonio Genovesi . The basic structure of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce follows the Scienza Nuova ; Joyce wrote: " My imagination grows when I read Vico as it doesn't when I read Freud or Jung ."


Total expenditure

  • Opere di Giambattista Vico . Precedute da un discorso di Giulio Michelet sul sistema dell'autore. Tip. della Sibilla, Napoli 1834.
  • Opera . 8 volumes. Stamperia de Classici Latini, Napoli 1858-1860.
  • Opere di Giambattista Vico . Edited by Francesco Sav. Pomodoro. 2nd edition, 8 volumes. in 4 volumes. Napoli 1858–1869. ( Reprint Zentralantiquariat der DDR, Leipzig 1970)
  • Tutte le opere di Giambattista Vico . Introduzione Francesco Flora. Mondadori, Milano 1957.

Individual works

  • De nostri temporis studiorum ratione , Naples 1708
    • On the nature and way of spiritual education. In: Peter Fischer (Ed.): Philosophy of Technology. Reclam, Leipzig 1996, ISBN 3-379-01566-0 , pp. 99-110.
  • De antiquissima Italorum sapientia ex linguae Latinae originibus eruenda libri tres , Naples 1710 (of the planned three volumes, however, only the first, the Liber metaphysicus, was completed)
    • Liber metaphysicus (De antiquissima Italorum sapientia liber primus): 1710. Translated from Latin and Italian into German by Stephan Otto and Helmut Viechtbauer. Fink, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-7705-1719-9
  • Institutiones oratoriae , 1711
  • Prima risposta , 1711 (answer to objections to the Liber metaphysicus )
  • Seconda risposta , 1712 (also)
  • De rebus gestis Antonii Caraphaei , 1716 ( Antonio Caraffa was a contemporary general, his nephew Vico's pupil)
  • De universi iuris uno principio et fine uno , Naples 1720 (later called by Vico himself, together with the following, Il diritto universale )
  • De constantia iurisprudentis , 1721
  • Principj di una Scienza Nuova d'intorno alla commune Natura delle Nazioni , Naples 1725 (so-called Scienza nuova prima )
  • Vita di Giambattista Vico scritta da sé medesimo, in: Angelo Calogerà: Raccolta di opuscoli scientifici e filologici I , Venice 1728, pp. 145–256
    • Autobiography. Trans. V. Vinzenz Rüfner . Occident-Pantheon, Zurich / Brussels 1948.
  • Cinque libri de 'Principj di una Scienza Nuova d'intorno alla commune Natura delle Nazioni , Naples 1730 (2nd version)
  • Principj di Scienza Nuova d'intorno alla commune Natura delle Nazioni , Naples 1744 (3rd, expanded version)
    • Outlines of a New Science on the Common Nature of Nations . Trans. V. Ernst Wilhelm Weber. FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1822 ( online ).
    • Principles of a new science on the common nature of peoples. Trans. U. ed. v. Vittorio Hösle u. Christoph Jermann. Meiner, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-7873-0791-5 (Vol. 1), ISBN 3-7873-0792-3 (Vol. 2).
    • The new science of the common nature of peoples. Trans. V. Erich Auerbach (greatly abbreviated). 2nd Edition. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2000, ISBN 3-11-016890-1 .


  • Maeve Edith Albano: Vico and Providence. Lang, New York / Bern / Frankfurt am Main 1986.
  • Leonardo Amoroso: Explanatory Introduction Vico's “New Science”. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2006, ISBN 3-8260-3125-3 .
  • Isaiah Berlin : Giambattista Vico and Cultural History. In: Ders .: The Crooked Timber of Humanity. Chapters in the History of Ideas. Edited by Henry Hardy. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1997, ISBN 0-691-05838-5 , pp. 49-69.
  • Peter Burke : Vico: philosopher, historian, thinker of a new science. Wagenbach, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-8031-2399-2 .
  • Giuseppe Cacciatore: Metaphysics, Poetry and History: On the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico. Academy, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-05-003514-5 .
  • Giuseppe D'Alessandro: Vico e Heyne. Percorsi di una recezione. In: Giornale critico della filosofia italiana. Vol. 19 (1999), No. 3, pp. 372-398.
  • Paolo Fabiani: The philosophy of the imagination in Vico and Malebranche. Florence University Press, Florence 2009 ( PDF ).
  • Thomas Gilbhard: Vico's thought picture: Studies on the "Dipintura" of the Scienza Nuova and the doctrine of Ingenium. Academy, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-05-005209-0 .
  • Thomas Sören Hoffmann : Philosophy in Italy: An Introduction to 20 Portraits. Marix, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-86539-127-8 , pp. 351-368.
  • Peter König : Giambattista Vico. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52809-0 .
  • Karl Löwith : Vico's principle: verum et factum convertuntur. Its theological premise and its secular consequences. Presented on November 18, 1967 . Winter, Heidelberg 1968.
  • Adolf Lumpe:  Vico, Giambattista. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 7, Bautz, Herzberg 1994, ISBN 3-88309-048-4 , Sp. 1331-1334.
  • Richard Peters: The structure of world history with Giambattista Vico. Cotta, Stuttgart 1929.
  • Stephan Otto : Giambattista Vico: Basics of his philosophy. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-17-010574-4 .
  • Andreas Urs Sommer : Creation of meaning through history? On the emergence of a speculative, universalistic philosophy of history between Bayle and Kant. Schwabe, Basel 2006, ISBN 3-7965-2214-9 , pp. 188–206.
  • Harold Samuel Stone: Vico's Cultural History: The Production and Transmission of Ideas in Naples 1685-1750. Brill, Leiden / New York / Cologne 1997, ISBN 90-04-10650-2 .
  • Daniel Strassberg: The poietic subject: Giambattista Vico's science of the singular. Fink, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-7705-4377-9 .
  • Eric Voegelin (Ed.): Giambattista Vico: La scienza Nuova. With a foreword by Peter J. Opitz and an afterword by Stephan Otto . Fink, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7705-3920-6 .
  • Winfried Wehle : At the height of an abysmal reason: Giambattista Vico's epic “New Science”. In: Roland Galle, Helmut Pfeiffer (Ed.): Enlightenment. Fink, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-7705-4298-7 , pp. 149-170 ( online ).
  • Karl Werner : Giambattista Vico as a philosopher and learned researcher. Faesy & Frick, Vienna 1879; Reprint: Burt Franklin, New York 1972.
  • Stefanie Woidich: Vico and Hermeneutics: A Reception-Historical Approach. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8260-3463-3 .

Web links

Wikisource: Giambattista Vico  - Sources and full texts (Italian)
Commons : Giambattista Vico  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Later called Scienza Nuova Prima
  2. ^ Joseph Ratzinger : Introduction to Christianity . Munich 1968 (introduction and first chapter), ISBN 3-466-20455-0 .