Giambattista Vico

Giambattista (also Giovan Battista ) Vico ( born June 23, 1668 Naples, † January 23, 1744 ) was an Italian historian and philosopher of law, who grappled with the establishment and decline of civilizations.


In his autobiography, Vico wrote that he had been killed at the age of seven years from a ladder to a fractured skull had suffered and was unconscious for five hours. Since then, as Vico, he became melancholy and irritable. With ten years he attended a grammar school in which he learned so much in their own work, that he was allowed to skip a grade in Naples.

When he felt himself at a disadvantage in the Jesuit College Naples, he retired back home to work through there again in the self-study grammar textbook of the Portuguese Jesuit Emmanuel Alvarez De institutione grammatica. Advised by his teacher on the logic of Paul of Venice, he also tried to master this work alone, but the young Vico overtaxed himself so that he was for one and a half years remain quite the studies. After this period, he joined the Academy of Infuriati in Naples and employed there with the works of Duns Scotus and Francisco Suárez. Due to the deteriorating economic situation of his parents, he interrupted his studies at the Academy in 1684 and entered the service of Domenico Rocca a, whose son he taught in law. At the same time he acquired through self-study the works of Francisco Suárez ' and operational first legal and jurisprudential research. His interest was intensified working on an all-encompassing study and realization method. He also wrote poetry in Latin.

In the following nine years he worked as an autodidact with Augustine, Lorenzo Valla, Cicero and some Latin poets. Of the new philosophical developments of atomism and Cartesianism he heard during his time as a private tutor very little and was surprised by the presence mainly of Cartesianism in Naples on his return in 1693.

1696 appeared Vico's first publication, a preface to a band with eulogies to the Count of San Stefano, the Viceroy of Naples, with which he established his reputation as a scholar. 1697 he was appointed to the chair of rhetoric at the University of Naples. During this time he formulated his basic ideas to metaphysics: All human and divine knowledge was due to a principle.

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

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

Vico was in 1723 with his failed attempt to get the better paid Chair of Law in Naples. On his chair of rhetoric in 1741 he was succeeded by his son Gennaro Vico. The father died at a great age in Naples. During his lifetime, his ideas remained relatively unknown. After his death, his views increasingly gained importance.


His earlier writings were mostly used, the development of his ideas to understand how he expounded in his major work, Scienza Nuova. So he put in De nostri temporis ... the question is how one can gain better insight with the "modern" method or that of the ancient authors. Under modern Vico understood the Cartesian logic; it enables studies in the natural sciences, which were the old inaccessible. With emphasis on these instruments of philosophical critique and the " geometric method" is negligible, however, the imagination, intuition and memory, although these are still central for learning, complex thinking and thus for the truth. Vico was decided to combine both methods and called for a comprehensive humanistic education of young people. These considerations led it in De ... Antiquissima away, and came to the conclusion that linguistic history is a source of historical research in general could be - an argument that Herder has greatly influenced later.

In his biography of Vico emphasized the importance of the four authors to whom he felt most committed: Plato, Tacitus, Francis Bacon and the early reconnaissance Hugo Grotius and the poets of classical antiquity. He also described how he had the idea of ​​a law of nature that can explain the development of the Roman legal system. From here the step to idea of ​​a universally valid law of nature with regard to the natural and cultural history was not far off. This was the basic idea of ​​the Scienza Nuova, therefore, a "philosophy and philology of humanity " exists from which derives an infinite ideal history, in which he saw embedded the national histories, each with their specific promotion, the development, culmination descent.

In the New Science Vico summed together everything he had developed in earlier writings, and led his ideas further. The scholastic equation: verum est ens - Being is the truth - he introduced his formula contrary: Verum quia factum. Recognizable as true is only what we have done themselves. This statement led him beyond the replacement of scholastic metaphysics; he also rejected the Cartesian epistemology back: The human mind can not see how he works because he designed his knowledge objects themselves ( ... as well as the eye can see everything but yourself ... ). This had for Vico the first principle of Descartes ( Nothing hold to be true, which is not recognized so clearly that it can not be doubted ) not stand. The reduction of human knowledge on the geometric method he thinks is a self-deception, which is to ensure that man makes himself the measure of all things. Rather, one must, as Vico examine the origins and development of the phenomena; and if only that is " true," what we have designed yourself, then science does not only aware of these causes, but also their own ( further) development. Thus Vico led to the theory of knowledge, the element of a dynamic - a radical innovation in European intellectual history.

He further distinguished between the " truth " and the "safe ", Science (universal and eternal) on the one hand, and consciousness (individual and ephemeral ) on the other hand - or the above terms philosophy and philology. Rational -driven philosophy and social sciences ( " philology " as Vico saw ) cancel each other and are - each seen and operated for themselves - just empty abstractions. Only both together allow full insight into the nature of things and in causal chains: Philosophy provides universal truth and Philology security in individual cases.

With his " philology " - the natural and cultural history - postulated in Vico Scienza Nuova, a universal model, which all companies ( empires, nations, cultures ) follow. It is reflected in the language, the customs, the social and forms of government, law, etc and is passed on in the form of a public spirit to the next generations. History in the philosophical sense is therefore "true", so ideal and eternal, and reflects the divine order ( same providence ).

The origins of the nations he led back to two basic forms: " the divine- heroic age " based on memory and imagination, and the "age of man", which goes back to reflection. This dichotomy correspond poetry and philosophy, and - due to the dual nature of man - feeling and spirit. Social institutions are initially formed from the immediate sensory experience pure emotion and from the child's ability to imitate. As people in the infancy of the world - natural - poets were, you can feel the origins of nations in their poetic truth: in myth, the structure of earlier languages ​​and polytheistic religions. This metaphysics can not have been rational and abstract, Vico argues. Rather, it was discharge their poetry, born of their ignorance, "for ignorance - the mother of the miracle - made ​​them all wonderfully ." From this primitive metaphysics led Vico different " poetic " areas: poetic morality is based on piety and shame, poetic economy emerged from the concepts of fertility and family relationships, poetic cosmography populated the sky and the underworld gods, etc.

With the increasing ability of people to reflect, however, the imagination has become weaker, thinking on the basis of reason has seal replaced as a form of understanding slowly. This also reflects a - controlled by Providence - steady rise of the respective company: Coming from barbaric beginnings it tends more and more reasonable, human behavior. Rulemaking allows trade, military strength and thus general welfare. At the same time enables the transition from poetic consciousness to rational individuals, to illuminate these natural and cultural history - eg manifested in the form and contents of Nuova Scienza itself This cultural and historical optimism is typical of many reconnaissance.

However, Vico saw the steady progress interrupted in a cyclic manner: On a culmination always followed by a descent, namely the return of perishable manners of the heroic age; this " second barbarism " is transformed again in the primitive simplicity of the early period, from a rebound ( " curso " ) is possible. Eben saw this Vico in his own time manifested in the "true" Christian religion, the monarchies of absolutism and the early Enlightenment.

Exceptionally for his contemporaries is also Vico's theory on the origin of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (Section discovery of the true Homer in Scienza Nuova): As the vulgar feelings and manners in the heroic age represented a wild and irrational state, the Homeric poetry could not esoteric wisdom be an individual, but they represent the poetic overall capabilities of the Greek people. The poet of the Iliad and Odyssey had never existed ( as an individual ); Rather, the Greek singer had the ideal of a poet imagines.


The impact of his ideas extends far beyond the philosophy and touches areas such as anthropology, cultural history, hermeneutics or literary criticism. Today he is an exceptionally original thinker, the central tendencies of the humanities has influenced. He is considered one of the founders of cultural studies. In sociology, he is regarded as a sociologist before the establishment of the subject.

In France, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Denis Diderot probably were familiar with Vico's views; in the Hispanic -speaking world, his work was both the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment in Spain ( eg Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos ) and Hispanic America (eg the group of exiled Jesuits in 1767, led by the Mexican Francisco Javier Clavijero, the Chileans Juan Ignacio Molina and the Ecuadorian Juan de Velasco ) received and further thought; in Germany runs a chain of Johann Georg Hamann, Herder, Goethe to Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi; in England began the dissemination of his works 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 does not when i read Freud or Jung. "


  • De nostri temporis ratione studiorum, Naples 1708 On the nature and path of spiritual formation. In: Peter Fischer ( ed.): Philosophy of Technology. Reclam, Leipzig 1996, ISBN 3-379-01566-0, pp. 99-110.
  • Liber metaphysicus ( De antiquissima Italorum sapientia liber primus ): 1710th From Latin and Italian transmitted by Stephan Otto and Helmut Viechtbauer into German. Fink, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-7705-1719-9
  • Autobiography. Übers v. Vincent Rüfner. Occident Pantheon, Zurich / Brussels 1948.
  • Outlines of a new science about the communitarian nature of nations. Übers v. Ernst Wilhelm Weber. FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1822 ( online).
  • Principles of a new science on the common nature of nations. Übers u ed. v. Vittorio Hösle and Christoph Jermann. Meiner, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-7873-0791-5 (vol. 1), ISBN 3-7873-0792-3 (Vol. 2).
  • The new science of the communitarian nature of nations. Übers v. Erich Auerbach. 2nd edition. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2000, ISBN 3-11-016890-1.