New Science

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* Book: The New Science. by Giambattista Vico. Yale University Press, 2020

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"The New Science is the major work of Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico. First published in 1725 and revised in 1730 and 1744, it calls for a reinterpretation of human civilization by tracing the stages of historical development shared by all societies. Almost unknown during his lifetime, the work had a profound influence on later thinkers, from Montesquieu and Marx to Joyce and Gadamer. This edition offers a fresh translation and detailed annotations which enable the reader to track Vico’s multiple allusions to other texts. The introduction situates the work firmly within a contemporary context and newly establishes Vico as a thinker of modernity."

Publishing History

From the Wikipedia:

"The full title of the 1725 edition was Principj di una Scienza Nuova Intorno alla Natura delle Nazioni per la Quale si Ritruovano i Principj di Altro Sistema del Diritto Naturale delle Genti, ending with a dedication to Cardinal Lorenzo Corsini, the future Pope Clement XII. Principj and ritruovano being archaic spellings of principi and ritrovano, the title may be loosely translated "Principles of a New Science Concerning the Nature of Nations, through Which Are Recovered the Principles of Another System of the Natural Law of Peoples".

The 1730 edition was titled Cinque Libri di Giambattista Vico de' Principj d' una Scienza Nuova d'Intorno alla Comune Natura della Nazioni ("Giambattista Vico's Five Books on the Principles of a New Science Concerning Nations' Shared Nature"), ending with a dedication to Clement XII.

The 1744 edition was slightly emended to Principj di Scienza Nuova di Giambattista Vico d'Intorno alla Comune Natura delle Nazioni[3] ("Giambattista Vico's Principles of New Science Concerning Nations' Shared Nature"), without a title page dedication. Clement had died in 1740 and Vico in 1744, before the edition's publication.

In 1720, Vico began work on the Scienza Nuova as part of a treatise on universal rights. Although it was originally supposed to be sponsored by Cardinal Corsini, Vico was forced to finance the publication himself after the cardinal pleaded financial difficulty and withdrew his patronage. It was the first work by Vico to be written in Italian, since his previous ones had been in Latin.

The first edition of the New Science appeared in 1725. Vico worked on two heavily revised editions. The first was published in 1730, the second posthumously in 1744.


Vico’s major work was poorly received during his own life but has since inspired a cadre of famous thinkers and artists, including Karl Marx and Montesquieu.[15] Later his work was received more favourably as in the case of Lord Monboddo to whom he was compared in a modern treatise.[16]

Isaiah Berlin has devoted attention to Vico as a critic of the Enlightenment and a significant humanist and culture theorist.[17][18]

Scienza Nuova was included by Martin Seymour-Smith in his book The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written.

The historical cycle provides the structure for James Joyce's book, Finnegans Wake. The intertextual relationship between Scienza Nuova and Finnegans Wake was brought to light by Samuel Beckett in his essay "Dante... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce” published in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (1929), where Beckett argued that Vico's conception of language also had significant influence in Joyce's work. Vico's notion of the lingua mentale commune (mental dictionary) in relation to universale fantastico reverberates in Joyce's novel, which ends in the middle of a sentence, reasserting Vico's principle of cyclical history.[19]

Language, knowledge and society are in a dialectical relationship, which means that any study or comparison of societies must consider the specific contexts of the societies. This has clearly influenced anthropology and sociology."



Christopher Quigley:

"Giambattista Vico in his classic book "New Science" pointed out that the greatest achievement of mankind was the growth of civil society out of the terror of barbaric nature. In his view God had created man, but man and man alone had constructed civilization. Thus, for Vico, the greatest investigation man could undertake was to truly understand how this miracle of order and achievement was made manifest through the passage of time.

In the course of his study Giambattista came to comprehend the importance of moral order in the development of societies. This Civitas, or sense of the greater good, formed the bedrock of the social contract that built Alexandria, Sparta, Greece and Rome.

Unfortunately it is all too obvious that this old natural civic sense is dying in modern society and unless we educate our youth about the fragility of society I fear civil order will continue to breakdown. The end result could be an ongoing civil war within "developed" nations that will eventually lead to a new Dark Age of city-states and self-preservation. We need to realise That consumption alone does not bring happiness. The Earth and its resources cannot be endless exploited forever. We need to raise or consciousness to a new understanding of what “civilization” is. To quote Carly Simon we have to stop destroying paradise to put in parking lots. We must move on.

In his book "The Evolution of Civilizations" Prof. Carroll Quigley summed up the problem succinctly:

- "The third age of conflict of our society began to display the ordinary marks of such a stage about 1890. At that time, in the principal industrial countries, it became clear that the rate of expansion had reversed itself....

All the characteristics of an age of irrationality began to appear on all sides. Increased gambling, increased smoking, the growing use of alcohol and narcotics, a growing obsession with sex and perversions of sex, an increased mania for speed, for nervous tension, and for noise; above all, perhaps, a growing tendency to regard violence as a solution for all problems, be they domestic, social, economic, ideological or international. In fact, violence as a symbol of our growing irrationality has had an increasing role in activity for its own sake, when no possible justification could be made that the activity was seeking to solve a problem. All the characteristics of any age of conflict are too obvious to require further comment. They arose because the organizational patterns of our culture CEASED TO FUNCTION AS INSTRUMENTS........Religious organizations no longer linked men to God but adopted diverse mundane purposes. Our intellectual theories no longer explained anything or made us at home in the Universe. Our social patterns no longer satisfied our gregarious needs, even when we fled from the lonely anonymity of the city to the rat-race uniformity of sub- urbanism. Our political organizations increased the burden of their demands on our time, energy and wealth but provided with growing ineffectiveness the justice, public order, education, protection, or incidental amenities we had come to expect from them. And on the military level costs rose at an astronomical rate without being able to catch up with our increased danger."

Thus, the culture of the west needs to reconnect with its roots. Philosophy, learning, investigation, discipline, self-sacrifice, future orientation all these attributes need to be focused upon and nurtured for out youth. Sport, lotteries, quiz games, celebrity, reality shows, crime, are all very well but if they become the essential core of modern mentality then it bodes a society trending towards narrow self interest and terminal decline. We need to start believing in meaning again and the place to start is to believe in yourself and the power of a human life."

(email, May 2022)

Giambattista Vico's Cyclical View of History

From the Wikipedia:

Corsi e ricorsi:

"Vico is often seen as espousing a cyclical philosophy of history where human history is created by man, although Vico never speaks of "history without attributes" (Paolo Cristofolini, Vice Pagano e Barbaro), but of a "world of nations". Which is more, in the 1744 Scienza Nuova (esp. the "Conclusion of the Work") Vico stresses that "the world of nations" is made by men merely with respect to their sense of certainty (certamente), though not fundamentally, insofar as the world is guided by the human mind "metaphysically" independent of its makings (compare opening paragraph of the Scienza Nuova). Furthermore, although Vico is often attributed the expression "corsi e ricorsi" (cycles and counter cycles of growth and decay[13]) of "history", he never speaks in the plural of "the cycle" or of "the counter-cycle" (ricorso) of "human things", suggesting that political life and order, or human creations, are oriented "backward," as it were, or called back to their constitutive "metaphysical" principle.

On present day "constructivist" readings, Vico is supposed to have promoted a vision of man and society as moving in parallel from barbarism to civilization.

As societies become more developed socially, human nature also develops, and both manifest their development in changes in language, myth, folklore, economy, etc.; in short, social change produces cultural change.[14]

Vico would therefore be using an original organic idea that culture is a system of socially produced and structured elements. Hence, knowledge of any society would come from the social structure of that society, explicable, therefore, only in terms of its own language. As such, one may find a dialectical relationship between language, knowledge and social structure.

Relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in the Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony; in this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione or barbarism of reflection, and civilization descends once more into the poetic era. Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages – common to every nation – constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna or ideal eternal history. Therefore, it can be said that all history is the history of the rise and fall of civilizations, for which Vico provides evidence (up until, and including the Graeco-Roman historians)."


Vico's Prefiguration of a Radically Constructivist Theory of Knowledge

Ernst von Glasersfeld:

"Vico’s battle cry “Verum ipsum factum” — the truth is the same as the made (factum and “fact” both come from the Latin facere, to make!) — has been quoted quite frequently since Vico was rediscovered in our century as a cultural historian and a philosopher of history. His revolutionary epistemological ideas, however, are rarely mentioned, let alone explicated. According to him, the only way of “knowing” a thing is to have made it, for only then do we know what its components are and how they were put together.

Thus God knows his creation, but we cannot; we can know only what we ourselves construct. Vico even uses the word “operation” and thus preempts the main term launched by constructivists such as Dewey, Bridgman, Ceccato, and Piaget, in our century.

Vico, of course, still tries to establish a connection between human cognitive constructions and God’s creation. Reading his treatise on metaphysics, one gets the impression that he occasionally frightened himself by his own ideas. Although the theory of knowledge he has developed is logically closed because man’s knowledge is seen as man’s construction and does not (and could not) pertain to God’s ontological creation, Vico is reluctant to stress that independence. Because of that reluctance, his picture of the world could be seen as a counterpart to Berkeley’s metaphysics. For Berkeley, the principle “esse est percipi” (to be is to be perceived) does the same trick as Vico’s statement that God knows everything because he has made everything. For both, ontology is assured through God’s activities. Vico, however, also opens another way towards ontology that I find much more acceptable, because it does not involve any form of rational realism. He suggests that mythology and art approach the real world by means of symbols. They, too, are made, but the interpretation of their meaning provides a kind of knowledge that is different from the rational knowledge of construction.

For us, the important difference between Vico and Berkeley, as well as later idealists, is that Vico considers man’s rational knowledge and the world of rational experience simultaneous products of man’s cognitive construction. Thus Vico’s “knowledge” is what, today, we might call an awareness of the operations that result in our experiential world. Though Berkeley says “that all the choir of heaven and furniture of earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, their being is to be perceived or known,” and thus presupposes the activity of the intellect, his accent always lies on the being, whereas Vico invariably stresses human knowledge and its construction.

There can be no doubt that Vico’s explicit use of facere, his constant reference to the composing, the putting together and, in short, the active construction of all knowledge and experience come very much closer to Piaget’s genetic epistemology and to modern constructivism in general, than did Berkeley. Nowhere does that become clearer than in a statement with which Vico anticipated the epistemological attitude of some of today’s philosophers of science: “Human knowledge is nothing else but the endeavor to make things correspond to one another in shapely proportion.


To sum up Vico’s thought, the construction of knowledge, for him, is not constrained by the goal of (impossible) correspondence with an “objective” reality that can neither be experienced or known. It is, however, constrained by conditions that arise out of the material used, which, be it concrete or abstract, always consists of the results of prior construction. With this idea of consistency within certain constraints that replaces the iconic notion of “truth,” Vico, without knowing it, anticipated the basic principle of viability in the constructivist theory of knowledge.

As elegant as his system is, it still leaves open two questions. First, what are the conditions under which a new construct will be considered compatible with what has already been constructed? Second, why should any organism undertake the task of cognitive construction? ”


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