Vico, Giovanni Battista

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Vico, Giovanni Battista

Giovanni Battista Vico (jōvän´nē bät-tē´stä vē´kō), 1668–1744, Italian philosopher and historian, also known as Giambattista Vico, b. Naples. In 1699, Vico became professor of rhetoric at the Univ. of Naples, and in 1734 he was appointed historiographer to the king of Naples. Vico is regarded by many as the first modern historian; he was the first to formulate a systematic method of historical research, and he developed a theory of history that was far in advance of his times. For Vico, history is the account of the birth and development of human societies and their institutions. He thus departed from previous systems of writing history—either as the biographies of great men, or as the development of God's will. Opposing the antihistorical elements of the prevailing Cartesianism (see Descartes, René), he asserted that history is a valid object of human knowledge because man himself created history. Vico urged the study of language, mythology, and tradition as techniques for the investigation of history. As a philosopher, Vico believed that every period in history had a distinct character, and that similar periods recur throughout history in the same order. He departed from the old cyclical theories of history, however, in asserting that these periods do not recur in exactly the same form, but are subject to the modifications that new circumstances and developments impose. Thus the historian can never be a prophet. Vico also wrote on law, affirming an innate human sense of justice and natural law. Vico's major theories were developed in his New Science (1725), which he revised completely (1730; 1744). Vico's work was little known in his own time, and his importance was not recognized until the 19th cent.

See his autobiography (tr. by M. H. Finch and T. G. Bergin, 1944); G. Tagliacozzo and H. V. White, ed., Giambattista Vico (1969); H. P. Adams, The Life and Writings of Giambattista Vico (1935, repr. 1970); B. Croce, The Philosophy of Giovanni Battista Vico (1913, repr. 1970); F. Vaughan, The Political Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (1972); L. Pompa, Vico: A Study of the New Science (1975); C. L. Stephenson, Giambattista Vico and the Foundations of a Science of the Philosophy of History (1982); P. Burke, Vico (1985).

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