Giambattista Vico

Article

July 6, 2022

Giambattista Vico or Giovan Battista Vico (June 23, 1668 – January 23, 1744) was an Italian political philosopher, rhetorician, historian and jurist, recognized as one of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment period. he was relatively unknown outside Naples, but from the 19th century onwards his ideas aroused interest and began to influence Western philosophers and social scientists.

Childhood

Vico was born as the sixth of eight children to Antonio Vico and Candida Masulio. He was given this name after Saint John the Baptist, and he was baptized into the Catholic Church, to which he remained loyal all his life. From early childhood he combined a keen and broad intellect with an insatiable love of knowledge, and much of his education took place in his father's bookshop. At the age of seven he fell from the top of a ladder - perhaps one of those used to reach books in the store - and severely fractured his skull. During the five hours that he remained completely unconscious and immobile, the local doctor declared that he would either die or become stupefied. Although his convalescence took three years and his constitution remained delicate throughout his life, he made a full recovery and entered school at the age of ten. Vico surpassed his peers so quickly that he was soon transferred to a Jesuit school. Within a year, however, he saw his teachers returning him to his former self, and he left school to study on his own. A chance visit to the university drew his attention to Roman law, at a time when jurisprudence involved knowledge of ethics, theology, politics, history, philology, languages, and literature. Although he listened to the detailed lectures of Don Francesco Verde, a distinguished professor of law, he realized that the basics were easily lost in the minutiae, and he returned to self-study once more. At the age of sixteen he tested his skills in court by taking on a case in defense of his father. He did well but decided not to pursue the costly practice of law. He found his poor health, the noisy courts, the tedious cases, and his poetic mind too restricted in that profession, although he found in jurisprudence the keys to a new understanding of humanity and society.

Studies and career

A door was opened for Vico when the Bishop of Ischia, impressed by his views on teaching jurisprudence, recommended him to his brother, the Marquis of Vatolla. For nine years Vico enjoyed the lush landscapes of the Cilento and the great library of the castle of Vatolla. He read ancient authors and Italian writers from Cicero to Boccaccio, from Virgil to Dante Alighieri, from Horace to Petrarch. He appreciated Plato and the Epicureans annoyed him because they taught "a morality of solitary," an individualistic ethic that ignored the immutable laws that governed collective humanity. He looked at Cartesian philosophy and immediately recognized in it the foundations of emerging sciences, but he discovered error and danger in Descartes. In 1694 he found Dante ignored, Ficino and Pico sidelined, and Cartesianism at the forefront of intellectual debate. Vico became impoverished in a city that cared little for his views. He was reduced to composing inscriptions and writing encomiums to order, something sometimes demeaning, which he continued to do after being appointed professor of rhetoric at the University of Naples in 1697. Two years later, he married Teresa Destito. and finally he was the father of several children. Although he had no taste for academic politics and his position was one of the lowest paid at the university, his brilliance and eloquence often led him to deliver the opening speech of the academic year. In 1710, Vico published De Antiquíssima Italorum Sapientia (The Ancient Sa