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Ovi Symposium; Twenty-eighth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-06-20 09:19:55
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Drs. Abis, Paolozzi, Paparella and Vena
Twenty-eighth Meeting: 19 June 2014



Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order):

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.


Indirect Participants at this meeting within the “Great Conversation” across the Ages (in the order of their Appearance): Morin, Vico, Croce, Gianturco, Manzoni, Foscolo, Balzac, Boudelaire, Homer, Cervantes, Joyce, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Baumgarten, De Sanctis, Hegel, Borges, Coppola, Dostoyevsky, De Botton, Shakespeare, Aristophanes, Marx, Epicurus, Augustine, Plato, Socrates, Esperti, Ficino, Galileo, Mondolfo, Apel, Grassi, Salutati, Landino, Pico, Valla, Poliziano, Bergin, Gianturco, Verene, Cassirer, Hoglan, Hendel, Leibniz, Held, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Scheler, Heidegger.


Table of Contents for the 28th Session of the Ovi Symposium (19 June 2014)

Preamble by way of an abstract by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “From Edgar Morin to Giambattista Vico: the Aesthetics of Complexity.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi.

Section 2: “The Uniqueness of Vico’s Philosophy of History.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella


Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

We regret to announce to the Symposium’s readers that Dr. Michael Vena has withdrawn from participation in our forum due to other pressing commitments and personal obligations. We remain grateful for his pro bono contributions on Italian Theater and hope that he will return with some contributions on the Italian theater as a guest collaborator. Thank you for your generous collaboration, Mike.

It has been a year since this special feature of Ovi magazine, the Ovi Symposium, began in June 2013. In this 28th session we return to what its heading clearly states as its main goal: the envisioning of a new humanism for a new millennium. Admittedly this is not an easy task in an era of fragmentation and specialization characterized by precision of means and confusion of goals, as Einstein aptly put it, the era when the center does not seem to hold very steadily. However, what gives us confidence that a new humanism is ultimately attainable, is the indisputable historical reality that we stand on the shoulders of giants and from that vantage point we are able to see much further than we would otherwise. This very symposium is meant to be part of an ongoing philosophical conversation which has been going on in the West at a minimum of 24 centuries and transcends in some way both time and space.

In fact, any vision of a new humanism needs necessarily to be buttressed by this perennial great conversation across the ages dedicated to the search for truth, lest we end up reinventing the wheel. That is why in every issue of the symposium a list of indirect participants is always mentioned. When such a conversation was convivial and dialogic the ancient Greeks characterized it as a symposium, a civilizing humanizing instrument, the best hope of transcending the inevitable strife and confrontations inherent in a debated issue, via free and unfettered speech while remaining respectful of others’ point of view.

The expressed motto of Ovi magazine is “we cover every issue,” which may give the impression that quantity is paramount, but in my opinion that would be a false impression, for what remains unique about this extraordinary magazine is not so much how impressive is its list of issues covered, but how varied and how outside the conventional box those issues are, that is to say, what those issues’ encompassing framework is, and how are they dealt with. In that sense the Ovi symposium simply follows the Greco-Roman tradition of civilized discourse for the purpose of exploring everything that is True, Good and Beautiful, attempting to make those transcendent realities universal and available to all.

Within modernity, it is hard to think of two philosophers who can teach us how to achieve the above mentioned vision of a new humanism better than Vico and Croce. The Vico scholar Elio Gianturco, in his magisterial lessons at New York University in the 60s, would refer to Vico as “the culmination of Italian Humanism.” Croce, on the other hand, who was greatly inspired by Vico, is the one who enthusiastically revived and carried on Italian humanism and therefore remains the best example of how we moderns can follow suit. But the pristine origins of that revival remains Vico who precedes Croce by two centuries. And that is why, in this issue, we return to an elucidation of Vico’s unique philosophy of history and aesthetics which has inspired and formed so many contemporary idealistic visionaries, Alexander Baumgarten and Edgar Morin being two of them, as mentioned by Paolozzi. We suggest that if the two essays on Vico presented in this issue are read attentively they may well inspire readers to seek what Vico calls “poetic wisdom.” Without it, no true humanism is attainable.



From Edgar Morin to Giambattista Vico: The Aesthetics of Complexity
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(as translated from the Italian by E.L. Paparella)


Edgar Morin (1921--     )

Is there such a thing as the aesthetics of complexity? Strictly speaking there isn’t, if we are to refer to Edgar Morin’s philosophy, and more generally to the thought which characterizes the most modern of epistemologies. On the other hand, there is a plethora of insights and reflections which belong to the world of art and they are often profound and original. To become aware of this phenomenon all one has to do is to peruse some Morinian reflections.

“Aesthetic participation is to be distinguished from practical, technical, religious participation, and so on, even if at times they dovetail each other (a car can be beautiful and useful at the same time; one can admire or venerate a statue), and it transcends those. Within the aesthetic relationship, there coexist a participation which is intense and detached, a double consciousness. The reader of a novel, the viewer of a film, enters into an imaginary universe which, as it is, comes alive for him: and yet even at the apex of the participation, he knows that he is reading a novel or viewing a film.” (Edgan Morin, The Spiriti of the Time, 1962). There are echoes here, direct or indirect, of Aristotelian thought regarding the value of the catharsis and therefore representative of art, just as the reader with knowledge of philosophy will notice the classical distinction made by Croce. Moreover, Morin intertwines the issue of the poetic with that of myth, in a Vichian mode, even if he holds on to the idea that art and poetry have an autonomous space.

However, Morin failed to encompass this intuition and several others within a wider framework. Hence some possible equivocations. For example, the complexity of art justifying an aesthetic of complexity, cannot be founded on a quantitative element, as the most superficial interpreters hold. Willy nilly one would thus fall into reductionism, even inanity. The novel The Betrothed, as any other novel is not a complex work vis à  vis a brief sonnet of Foscolo. The vast work of Balzac is not in itself more complex than Boudelarian poetry. In this sense, complexity alludes to a greater capacity for interpretation of history, a greater adhesion to the great problematic of humankind, not to poetry in itself. 

On the other hand, if by complexity we refer to the ability of art in its essential function of knowing the world, our life, versus some aspects and values which neither science nor philosophy can grasp, then we need to recognize the very concept of complexity which we are proposing. We can then read a novel of thousands of pages, full of news and facts, not lacking philosophical and scientific considerations of great relevancy and yet find it ultimately and wholly devoid of the poetical, of the artistic, of expressive and representative capacity. Any modern soap would beat Homer, Cervantes, Joyce when it come to the intricacies of the plot.

Therefore, to be able to reconstruct, even within the realm of  the philosophy of art a non reductionist philosophy, not trivially linear or, as one says within classical philosophy, purely rationalistic dimension, one needs to grasp its specificity, it autonomous wealth, its particular cognitive and expressive capacity, given that art, as we all know, is not a philosophy, even when it deals with philosophy; it is not morality, when it challenges morality; it is not even a pure release of feelings and passions and, even less, a pure game of imagination to make life more pleasing. The philosophical root of art’s complexity lies in its ability to know life as no other human function can; its ability to grasp the particularity, the sentiments, the  passions, in order to make them universal without however reducing them to an abstract universal.

We all belong to the human race, as the sciences demonstrate, and in some way we are all Don Quixote, as the poetical shows us, as only poetry can. Within history, especially in our 20th century we have attempted to reduce art to a schema, to abstract rationality, with the result that the young have distanced themselves from it rather than be compelled by a pedantic and obtuse school to study art with the same methodology used to learn the road regulations. Authentic poetry avoids those schemata and abstractions, those dissections which professors, more or less learned, more or less in good faith exercise thus suffocating art. Within such a perspective Italy has its own relevant philosophical tradition which is not only relevant and original but returns to being relevant every time reductionists attack it.

In the above sense, the philosopher who more than any other represents a turn in studies of aesthetics is undoubtedly Giambattista Vico. This is not to deny that within ancient classical and medieval philosophy there were not astute and profound concepts and reflections. It is enough to remember Aristotle who perceives the universality of the poetical and its ability to transform experienced sentiments empirically into sentiments experienced cognitively via the catharsis. We are not talking here of the Aristotle who catalogues the poetical abstractly into genres and arts, even if even there he was genial and successful. 

But let’s return to Vico. The great philosopher of the New Science is clearly aware of how art represents an essential moment of man’s life; essential, just as much as language itself, and in its own a fountainhead of knowledge; knowledge of the complex and irreducible world which is human imagination, not to be mistaken for the mere play of imagination. This is so, even if in a sense with which we cannot fully agree nowadays, Vico identifies the source of poetic wisdom with the beginning of the human world, with its infancy.

In fact Vico writes in The New Science that “Poetic wisdom, which was the first knowledge of the gentile world, felt and imagined, as it must have been for those first humans, given that they were weak in rationality and strong in their senses and vigorous imaginations. This was their proper poetry, which was a faculty natural to them (since they naturally possessed robust senses and imaginations), born from ignorance of causes, which was for them the mother of all things, which those ignorant of all things, admired greatly. (…) In such a way, the first men of gentile nations, just like children of the human kind, created things, but with an infinite difference with the way God creates.”


Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

But the genial philosopher clarifies his position, which also presents some oscillations and incertitudes, qualifying the specific function of art vis à vis philosophy. As a famous aphorism puts it: “Men first feel without consciousness, then they are conscious of what they feel with a perturbed moved mind, finally they reflect with a pure mind. This aphorism is the principle of poetic utterances which are formed with the senses out of passions and feelings, as distinguished from philosophical utterances which are formed via reflection by reasoning; so that those are closer to the truth the higher they reach for the universal, while the former are most certain the more they deal with particulars.”

Vichian philosophy, which Edgar Morin considers the first whole philosophy of complexity, a well thought out distancing from the linear thought of Cartesian thinkers who outpace even Descartes himself, had some fortune in the 18th century. It reappeared, even if with many misinterpretations in the 19 century’s Romantic period which recovers and exalts the sense of history, and promotes a conception of life within which art takes on an absolute relevancy. Already in Kant, the Kant of the Critique of Judgment, the beautiful has a cognitive value and joins the quintessential philosophical knowledge of The Critique of Pure Reason. And before him there was Baumgarten who, as is well known, had reconsidered art as a specific form of knowledge, to be distinguished by rational forms of knowledge. This allows him to be recognized as the father of modern aesthetics. He is the first to pronounce the term aesthetics in the sense in which we still use it, that is to say, as philosophy, or science of the beautiful or of art.

The Vichian tradition is resurrected in Italy above all thanks to the work of Francesco De Sanctis and Croce later on. This great literary critic is the one who best exemplifies the switch from late romanticism to reductionist positivism. He is the one who best takes upon himself the epoch’s contradictions and then, while remaining within the horizon of Hegelianism first and of realism later, interprets a new conception of art as autonomous and free from the fetters of reason as well as from those of morality and technology.

It is only with Croce however that this vast and complex matter assumes philosophical characteristics in the wider sense. Let’s reflect a bit on how the philosopher reconstructs this narration and, to say it with Borges, creates its own precedents within the affirmation of an anti-reductionist theory of art. In his Logic Croce mentions Kant’s revolution: “Nevertheless the critic of pure reason is the unwitting promoter of a logic of history to which he gives the renewed concept of judgment and with the a priori synthesis an identity that is philosophical and historical identity. This is so because the revolution in logic which he accomplishes can be summed up in this concept: that to know is not to know in the abstract as a concept, but to think of the concept within intuition, and therefore to think is to judge. Thus the theory of judgment takes the place of that of the concept, it is in fact the theory of the concept in as much as it transforms itself in concept within judgment.”

It is worth remembering here that to talk of judgment, is not to talk of moral judgment, or at least not only of that, but judgment in general as a form of knowledge, as a synthesis of the universal and the particular within the becoming of history. And not only this; the Kant of The Critique of Judgment will go even further with the consideration of the cognitive function of the judgment on taste.

But the philosopher to which Croce makes the most references is Vico. The long quote below is necessary to understand the import of the Crocean interpretation. In his classic The Philosophy of G.B. Vico (1912) Croce writes that “Aesthetics can be considered a discovery of Vico, even with the reservations assigned to all discoveries and discoverers, and even if he did not treat of it in a special book, neither did he give it an appropriate name as genially given by Baumgarten later on…But in the final analysis the name is of no great importance; what really matters is that Vico unveiled an idea about poetry and the poetical, which was at the time, and would remain for a while a new enterprising idea. The philosopher reminded us that the old pragmatic pedagogic idea which goes back to antiquity, through Medieval times, namely that of poetry as a genial popular addressing of sublime philosophical and theological concepts, was reborn in the Renaissance, and together with this, even if in a minor way, the other one which considered poetry a way of expressing eroticism and pleasure.” We are not going to repeat all the quotes, which from Croce’s first Aesthetics of the 20th Century to his latest writing trace Croce’s long philosophical journey. What interests us here is to elucidate his anti=positivism and anti-decadentism for which he can rightly be called a philosopher of complexity, as interpreted by Giuseppe Gambillo in his book Croce as Philosopher of Complexity (2006).


Alexander Baumgarten’s Aesthetics written in Latin in 1758

In his Contribution to my Self-Criticism Croce writes that “It was in those vicissitudes, that, as I said, Aesthetics generated for me that I was able to overcome naturalism and Herbartism which still enslaved me: that is to say, I overcome naturalistic logic thanks to spiritual gradation and development, being unable in any other way to understand the nexus between word and logic, imagination and intellect, utility and morality; and so was able to overcome naturalistic transcendence through the critique which I was slowly but surely performing on literary genres, on grammar, of the arts in particular, of rhetorical forms, almost touching with my hand that, in the spiritual world of art, nature itself is introduced as the very construction of man’s spirit; thus having negated reality to nature within art, the road was open to deny it everywhere, rediscovering it not as reality, but as a product of the abstracting spirit.”

Of course Croce does not deny, as some banal interpreter has proposed, the nature of nature, that is to say the concrete existence of what is natural as the living and essential part of man and of history. What he denies is that naturalistic procedures, linear, reductionist, deterministic and mechanistic, can be the guide to understanding art and its true nature. What remains necessary material and perhaps as preparation for judgment  is within a naturalistic or philological realm. But the judgment is something else and has to do with what is proper to art which is beauty. And then beauty itself, as Croce will demonstrate in hundreds of pages, ought not to be considered a pinchbeck or a mere game of imagination, but it constitutes imagination in the new sense which is Vichian and Baumgartenesque, and for certain aspects Kantian, as we have pointed out. Art is a form of knowledge which is not contradictory with but complementary to that of philosophy. It is neither less nor more rigorous than philosophy.

This is so even when artistic representation, in giving form to chaos and unifying substance to the infinite multiplicity of sentiments, operates a reduction of the real flux with a precise individual representation. This is a complex form of knowledge since it invades abstract generalizations which is typical of some scientific forms. Thus, even while it is individual knowledge, art still knows the complex aspects of the same individuality.

Edgar Morin, in his book on method dedicated to ethics individuates the ability of art to understand and represent the complexity of life: “We understand that Coppola’s Godfather is not only a mafia chief, but a father motivated by feelings of affection for his family. We feel compassion for the jailed one while, outside the movie we only see them as common criminals deserving punishment from justice. Literature, the novel allow us to understand Jean Valjean and Raskolnikov because they are described within the context of their existences, with their subjectivity, with their feelings. This is comprehension so alive in imaginary life is missing in our everyday life…It is missing in the world of media information wherein as Alain de Botton imagines it the newspapers heading would look upon Otello as an ‘immigrant blinded who blinded by jealousy kills the daughter of a senator,’ while it would look upon Oedipus the king as ‘a king implicated in a scandalous incest story,’ and would look upon Madame Bovary as ‘an adulterous woman, compulsive consumer, who drinks arsenic after having fallen into debt.’” This complex understanding is banal and limited.

In conclusion, art places next to man in general this or that particular man, and his whole world next to the general concept of death, next to the scientific description of the event called death, art will represent this or that particular death, and possesses, if we may say so, equal cognitive capacity. As Croce puts it at the beginning of his classical Aesthetics “Human knowledge has two forms: it is either intuitive knowledge or logical knowledge; one is for imagination and the other is for the intellect; one is knowledge of the individual and the other is knowledge of the universal; dealing with single things or their relationship; in other words it is either producer of images or producer of concepts. In our ordinary life we refer continually to intuitive knowledge. They say that we cannot define certain truths; that those truths cannot be demonstrated via syllogisms; that the best way to grasp them is through intuition. The politician will reprimand the abstract reasoned who has no intuition of the factual conditions; the pedagogue will insist on the necessity of solving everything by the education of the faculty of intuition; the critic will consider it his duty to put aside, when considering a work of art, the theories and abstractions and judge it by direct intuition; finally, the practical man will confess that he lives more by intuition than by reasoning.”

So Croce asks, how come only in philosophy, in logic, there is no space for intuition? Why is it blind, and it is the intellect that has to lend it its eyes? And then he answers: “The first point to be well established in our minds is that intuitive knowledge has no need of bosses; has no need to lean on anybody; has no need of others’ eyes, since it possess its own eyes and they are quite valid. Undoubtedly in many intuitions one can find concepts; but in many others there is no trace of this mixing; which proves that it is not necessary.”

Art as an essential form of knowledge, as being not inferior nor superior to philosophy or science, but distinct from them and complementary to them: this concept represents a fundamental acquisition of our contemporary world. Within it the thought of complexity lives twice, given that within aesthetics it thinks of art as essential intuitive knowledge of its individual aspects, a knowledge not reducible to mere empiricism of the so called sensations, neither is it re-constructible as an experiment, while under the aspect of logic it demonstrates that within the general environment of knowledge, one cannot reduce everything to philosophy or metaphysics, or science; neither can we reduce everything to pragmatic thought, which would be an obvious contradiction or a facile mode of alluding to the philosophy of pragmatism. The astute reader will not miss the point that his liberation of art from abstract schemas of rhetoric of yesterday or of today, is integral part of a more encompassing philosophy of liberation, of a complex thought, as infinite as is the struggle, on an ethical or political level, for freedom.



The Uniqueness of Giambattista Vico’s Philosophy of History
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella


Giambattista Vico’s New Science begins with an image, a frontispiece which Vico placed there so that the reader could recollect, at a glance, the whole opus. That image was not placed there for mere aestheticism, although aesthetics is integral part of Vico’s speculation. Such an image informs the whole of Vico’s poetic philosophy. The art of memory and recalling is indeed fundamental for a proper understanding of Vico’s speculation, one free of distortions, misrepresentations, misreading or subsuming. Within this image, very familiar to those who know anything about Vico, one soon notices that the universe within time and space has been divided into three observed and perceived phenomena: the divine, the human, and the natural world. Observed by whom? By Providence  represented as an all seeing eye, but most importantly by man who needs poetic wisdom (represented by Homer receiving the light of providence as reflected by metaphysics). Without these Man cannot ascend to Truth. That image holds all those elements together. Hence the first important observation of Vico’s thought is that it represents a philosophy of recollective universals generating philosophical understanding not from rational categories but from the image.

In other words, imagination becomes a new method, rather than mere subject matter for philosophical thought. A corollary to this observation is that were we to use the rationalistic method (that of the category) to understand Vico, we would ipso facto distort him and misunderstand him. Another way of putting it is this: Vico’s thought can only be understood from the inside. The human mind has to apply the same methodology that Vico uses to arrive at an understanding of itself. In his oration on “The Heroic Mind” (1732) Vico tells us that the heroic mind is the basis of a true education and in seeking the sublime has as its goal human wisdom oriented toward the common good of the human race. Not too dissimilar it would appear from Plato’s Republic. However, in his address of 1737 to the Academia degli Oziosi (The Academy of the Men of Leisure) Vico has recourse to Socrates as exemplary of someone who could reason about all parts of knowledge, human and divine.

What Vico deplores in modern education is the loss of the perspective of the whole. He always insists that the flower of wisdom is the grasping of the whole through the particular and the specific. What Vico is suggesting is that the reader of his work needs to be heroic too but in doing so he ought not consider The New Science something esoteric, reserved to a select few initiates into the mysteries, but rather exoteric in the sense that the human mind has certain common traits and can therefore narrate to itself The New Science and arrive at the same conclusions as Vico did; that is, discern within itself the ideal eternal history narrated by Vico and thus experience the same divine pleasure. For after all the story is the story of humankind (“storia” in Italian means both story and history) and Vico, as Virgil with Dante, is a mere guide for the reader to attain the “dilettoso monte.”

What are the ideas to which Vico guides the reader? Basically they are wisdom, heroism, tragedy, barbarism (of both sense and intellect), memory, providence, imagination, ingenuity. All ideas which the Western philosophical tradition considers superseded. And yet these ideas contain principles which are basic to the shaping of any modern humanistic thought.


The greatest danger to those who would correctly interpret Vico is that of placing his thought at the service of a position that is not his own by pigeon-holing him into a school of thought or a discipline. One such is the philosophy of history, another is cultural anthropology. Croce, for example, while attempting to promote Vico’s ideas tried to see Vico as an Italian Hegel. He went so far as devising an imaginary conversation between Hegel and a visiting Neapolitan scholar titled “An unknown page from the Last Months of Hegel’s Life” (The Personalist, 45 (1964), pp. 344-351). Thus Croce insured that for the first half of the 20th century Vico would be seen through the eyes of a philosophy of the idea, or Idealism. In turn, that inhibited an open reading of Vico’s own unique views.


Indeed Vico’s ship has been sailed under many banners: idealism, Catholicism, Marxism, historicism, modern methodologies galore, contemporary epistemology, emphasizing Vico as an influence, a mere precursor of more thorough philosophies; the most notable perhaps being Croce’s view of Vico as a precursor of Hegel. Thus Vico is robbed of his own originality. In his Autobiography Vico speaks of his hope to be an influential thinker but in Vici vindiciae he warns of the distortions of his thought already afoot (in the Acta Eruditorum where his book was reviewed). Later he writes to Abbè Esperti (1726) lamenting that the reception of his book was like that of an infant still born, then musing that indeed a book that displeases so many people cannot possibly have universal applause especially in a world dominated by the “chance” of Epicurus and the “necessity" of Descartes. Indeed, both are still alive and well in Europe. And how could Vico expect otherwise? His ideas were considered not modern enough, passé, anachronistic. His conception of “verum factum convertuntur” against which Croce argued could be traced back to St. Augustine’s doctrine that God creates by knowing or to Aquinas’ statement that “ens et verum convertuntur” (truth and reality are convertible), or the Renaissance Platonism of Marsilio Ficino, or the experimental method of Galileo (see Rodolfo Mondolfo’s Il verum factum prima di Vico (Naples, Guida, 1969).


To go from these antecedents to the principle of history made by humans, man who is his own history, was not an easy nut to crack within the prevalent Cartesian philosophical approach of the times. He was considered an anachronistic throw-back to the ancients, “the owl of Minerva of Renaissance humanistic culture” as Karl-Otto Apel defines Vico in his Die idée der Sprache in der Tradition des Humanismus von Dante bis Vico echoing Ernesto Grassi’s Macht des Bildes (Power of the Image. Cologne: 1970, p.194), where Grassi connects Vico’s thought to certain humanists: Salutati, Landino, Pico, Valla, Poliziano. But these men are usually regarded as mere literati and accorded little if any philosophical study.

Since Thomas Bergin’s translation of The New Science into English (1948, Cornell University), it has come to be regarded as a tool to confront the fragmentation of contemporary thought. But once again his ideas have been connected to seminal thinkers in semiotic, phenomenology, structuralism, genetic psychology, myth analysis, literary criticism, linguistics, and so on. In other words, there seems to be a post-modern concern to seek the foundations of knowledge through Vico’s thought. And here indeed Vico has been most helpful. In grasping what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect” as symptomatic of the deep solitude of spirit and will of modern man [“la somma solitudine d’animo e di voleri”] which Vico associates with the end of the third era of the ideal eternal history, the era of men where pure reason reigns uncontested; a sort of decadence when men “finally go mad and waste their substance” (N.S., 241 and 1106). This is what Vico defines as reflective thought devoid of what he calls “sapienza poetica.”(poetic wisdom).

This is a thought that has forgotten its connection with the imagination of the whole, a loss of the human image of itself; the inability of the thinker to reflect its own wholeness into the products of his own thought. This barbarism of thought is a kind of human experience deprived of a cultural guide or center, without a perspective on the human mind. As Elio Gianturco used to comment in his magisterial lectures on Vico at New York University in the late 60s: we live in a Cartesian world dominated by procedures, efficient ordering and technological know-how as fix-all for whatever ails us.


From what we have said above, it would appear that using Vico’s thought to seek the foundations of social humanistic knowledge fits quite well with Vico’s own concerns as stated in his orations: to connect knowledge with wisdom, heroism and eloquence. We should remember that Vico was for most of his academic career an Assistant Professor of Eloquence at the University of Naples. This is all well and good, but there is a caveat of which Vico himself warns us about; namely that the human mind has a propensity to reduce what is unfamiliar and distant to what is familiar and at hand. And Vico goes pretty far back into the origins of the human world. In other words, the propensity is to merge the meaning of Vico’s ideas to those developed more fully by later thinkers. Donald Phillip Verene calls this propensity “Vico’s Achilles’ heel” thus identifying the facility with which Vico’s thought has been transformed into viewpoints that are not his. This is astonishing indeed when one thinks that Vico himself takes pains in his oration De Antiquissima Italorum Sapientia to declare that he belongs to no school of thought as such.

So the crucial question is this: How should the reader approach Vico? The simple answer is this: on his own merits, as the unique thinker he was and the originator of a new original orientation for philosophical thought. The originality of his philosophy consists in placing the image over the concept. For a tradition conceiving of its origins as Aristotle’s rationality this sounds topsy-turvy; for indeed “reason” continues to dominate it together with scientific thought. But let the reader pay attention to the title of Vico’s work: it is not a “New Philosophy” but a “New Science.” So Vico is far from abandoning reason and science as such, neither does he decouple them from the humanities and the liberal arts.

In any case the tradition begins with the Platonic quarrel with poetic images (which some have misguidedly resurrected as the quarrel between ancients and moderns); although it must also be said that Plato’s language remains ambiguous because it uses the poetical and the mythological and images galore when it best suits it. In fairness to Plato one ought to keep in mind that he made a distinction between “good poetry” (that which spoke of the gods and the heroes) and "bad poetry," everything else. Aristotle reinforces the rationalistic tradition by defining man a rational animal; that definition gives no clue that integral to reason, even at its most developed stage, are feelings and emotions from which it originally sprang. But in reality, despite Croce's brave attempt at integration through Hegel, Vico stands outside the Western philosophical tradition.

Cassirer who like Croce had a great affinity for Vico, also attempted an integration by distinguishing the philosophy of spirit (Geist) and the philosophy of life (Leben). This is a distinction that may prove useful for understanding Vico’s position vis-à-vis modern philosophy without subsuming him under the ancient philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. However, the fundamental model of the symbol in Cassirer remains cognitive. It is a brave attempt to extend a cognitive model of thought to other forms of experience: language, art, history, myth. Something that Plato would not have approved. Cassirer gives due credit to Vico by calling him “the true discoverer of the myth” [der eigentliche Entdecker des Mythos in Erkenntmisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neuern Zeit, 1973, IV, p. 300], as translated in The Problem of Knowledge by William H. Hoglam and Charles W. Hendel, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1950, p. 296), but he remains different from Vico because he discovers the myth through the rational concept and in so doing he has to necessarily to identify Vico with the philosophy of der Geist. As with Croce the attempt here is to try to incorporate Vico within the Western rationalistic tradition.

How so? In the sense that Cassirer sees philosophical idealism moving from Leibniz to Kant and Klaus Held within the philosophy of Geist all the way to his own conception of symbols (see his Introduction to The Symbolic Forms). He sees the role of the imagination in the outline of Kant’s Critique of Judgment as an important aspect of his thought. And indeed Kant has a great interest in the bond between intuition and the concept and the existence of the “unreflective judgment” (reflektierende Urteilskraft) and organic form pointing in the direction of a concrete philosophy of all areas of human culture. Cassirer also appreciates Hegel’s effects within the philosophy of the concept as something abstracted from experience in order to create by means of the speculative proposition [speculative Satz] a new sense of the concept as “concrete universal” [Begriff] within the Western tradition of reason. He transforms reason from simple understanding [Verstand] into reason as the inner form of experience [Vernunft] in his Phenomenology of Spirit. Cassirer himself point out that their transformation ends up as the reduction of the idea to the simple form of logic in Hegel’s Science of Logic.

On the other side of the spectrum of the Western philosophical tradition there is the philosophy of Leben, of life and existence and even the irrational which Cassirer sees as a reaction to Geist, an attempt to come to terms with the immediate. It is most apparent in the thought of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Scheler and Heidegger. Here one waits for the appearance of Being. Spirit (Geist) is seen not as a transformation of life but as alienation, an inauthentic relationship to Being. So, Western Philosophy presents us with a disjoint: either we pursue philosophical understanding in terms of the principles of evidence, the concept, the syllogism, the argument; or we think directly from the situation of life, we "transvaluate values" as Nietzsche suggests, or wait for Being, as Heidegger advices. Vico offers an alternative to both traditions because his thought begins outside this disjoint. It begins neither with Geist nor with Leben but with fantasia as an original and independent power of the human mind. Here images are manifestations of an original power of spirit which gives fundamental form to mind and life. Vico calls these images "universali fantastici" but they are not concepts in poetic cloaks as rationalists tend to assert. The image is not understood in relation to the concept but on its own terms.

By building his philosophy on fantasia Vico creates a position outside Western philosophy as traditionally understood. His is the kind of thought that teaches the art of memory and recovery. Unfortunately philosophers of memory have enjoyed no respectful standing in the general histories of philosophy. They are seen as literary, rhetorical, not philosophical in nature because they are not conceptual. What is not conceptual is simply denied philosophical standing. Within this rationalism imagination is at best conceived as the handmaiden of the concept, an element of the mind subject to investigation by a theory of knowledge (standing between perception and concept) or perhaps viewed as part of a theory of aesthetics. Within the latter imagination is seen as apart from the concerns of theory of knowledge; the image is free only apart from the concept seen as supreme achievement of reason fully developed ["ragione tutta spiegata," as Vico calls it].

In other words, imagination is considered a mere subject matter, never a mode of philosophical thought; at best the image and the metaphor become devices to illustrate conceptual philosophical meanings. Plato is exemplary here. In his dialogues, the image remains outside the form of philosophical thought to be used only when conceptual reasoning rises toward what he considers a view of the whole, or it is used as a simple instrument of communication to liven up the thought. Vico to the contrary insists that philosophy, astronomy, economics, morality, politics, history, even logic can be poetic (see book II of The New Science).

Paradoxically, without imagination, a view of the whole cannot be reached. See the image of the charioteer and the two winged horses in the Phaedrus and then read book X of the Republic where the rational idea is separated from the wisdom of Homer (a figure most prominently displayed in Vico's frontispiece). This contemptuous cavalier attitude toward the image considered inferior to the idea, has dogged Western philosophy for twenty four centuries. Vico proves that indeed there is no such thing as an individual called Homer: he is the representation of the oral poetical tradition of the Greeks and in that sense, despite Plato's esoteric opinion, Homer remains the exoteric "educator of Hellas."

In conclusion, I would like to propose that Vico's philosophy offers a fresh new starting point. It is not a question of siding with the poetic wisdom of Homer against the rational wisdom of Plato, but of interpreting wisdom (and therefore reason, too) in a new way as "sapienza poetica," (poetical wisdom). It is a sort of synthesis, a novantiqua; a blending of the two to arrive at a new understanding of both image and idea. That is what Vico shows the reader: he works his way back to the world of original thought (the myth) since for him "verum factum convertuntur," the true and the made are convertible and Man can return to origins via what he himself has made: history, institutions, languages, artifacts, etc., in fact he can do that more surely than with science observing a nature that he has not made. Through his discovery of the imaginative universal, of fantasia as a way of thinking and acting, Vico finds a new origin for philosophical thought. Heidegger calls it "originative thinking," without however giving much credit to Vico for this insight, but then he did the same disservice to Kierkegaard’s powerful critique of Hegel’s deterministic philosophy of history.

In any case, it is Vico who, with his conception of fantasia, creates a novantiqua outside of the above mentioned disjoint between Geist and Leben and the ancient Platonic disjoint between idea and image. I suggest that Vico in the 21st century ought to be accorded a fair hearing on his own merits as a Herculean hero of philosophy, culture and aesthetics. His message is urgently needed for a reassessment of the cultural identity of Western civilization in general and of the European Union in particular




Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -



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