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Why did Vico oppose Cartesianism?
Vico concluded that René Descartes (1596-1650) had been too enamored of mathematics and natural philosophy (science) to the neglect or dismissal of art, law, and history as valid fields of knowledge. Vico also did not think that Descartes was right in
What was unusual about Vico's autobiography?
Vico told the story of his life, Life of Giambattista Vico Written by Himself (1725-1728), in the third person, and he analyzed both the effect of his circumstances on his temperament and how his ideas developed before he began writing. His autobiography is thus his intellectual history. Here is how it begins:
Signor Giambattista Vico, he was born in Naples in the year 1670 of upright parents, who left behind them a very good reputation. The father was of cheerful humor, the mother of a quite melancholy temper; and both came together in the fair disposition of this little son of theirs. As a boy he was very lively and restless; but at the age of seven he fell headfirst from high on a ladder to the floor, and remained a good five hours motionless and senseless, fracturing the right side of the cranium without breaking the skin, hence from the fracture arose a shapeless tumor, and from the many deep lancings of it the child lost a great deal of blood; such that the surgeon, having observed the broken cranium and considering the long state of unconsciousness, made the prediction that he would either die of it or he would survive stolid. However, neither of the two parts of this judgment, by the grace of God, came true; but as a result of this illness and recovery he grew up, from then on, with a melancholy and acrid nature which necessarily belongs to ingenious and profound men, who through ingenuity flash like lightning in acuity, through reflection take no pleasure in witticism and falsity.
seeking the same kind of certain knowledge in science that mathematics yielded. In his first book, On the Ancient Italian Knowledge, (1710) Vico argued that Descartes was wrong in holding awareness of his own existence as a first philosophical principle, and in trying to prove God's existence through reason alone.
Vico's own view was that the mind does not make itself and for that reason cannot know how it has knowledge of itself. Concerning mathematical and even scientific certainty, Vico did not think we can arrive at it through clear and distinct ideas, as Descartes claimed. He claimed that mathematical knowledge is certainly true because the human mind has created the very standard for mathematical truth, or because we have made mathematics. However, God has made the physical universe, and only He can have certain knowledge about that. Vico did concede that when we do make things in nature, or through scientific experiment, we can gain knowledge from the confirmation of our hypotheses.
What was Vico's new view of history as knowledge?
Unlike the Cartesians, who dismissed history as a hodgepodge of fiction and unconnected facts, Vico thought that the historian can achieve more certainty than the scientist because he is studying the story of a world made by humans.
He disagreed with Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), and others, who began with the idea of a state of nature or some other way of positing a static, unchanging human nature. He was wary of what we would call "anachronism," or assuming that words had the same meanings in the past as they do now, or that people have always thought the same way. Vico believed that historical events change human ideas. Vico asserted that every theory "must start from the point where the matter of which it treats first began to take shape." According to Vico, the way the historian can discover the minds and feelings of those in past times is to decode their language, myths, and customs. For example, he believed that what are considered metaphors, myths, and fables at one time may have been the literal truth to people in the past.
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