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  • 1/17/2004

Giambattista Vico

(6/23/1668- 1/23/1744)

Although considered by many contemporaries as a man with ideas that were far ahead of his own time, Giambattista Vico was not at all that well known until recently. This lack of popularity was mostly due to his anti-Descartes theories (Bizzel and Herzberg). Born in 1668 in the Italian city of Naples, a flourishing city by the late seventeenth century, he was the son of a bookseller. Although he recieved education from various Neopolitan clergymen as well as from the University of Naples under his father's influence, he considered himself self taught (Burke; Edwards). Partly due to an injury at an early age, he read a lot by himself and studied many of the works ofPlato, Tacitus, Bacon, and Grotius -- four writers whom he admited as most influential to him. Furthermore, he met noted scholars in salons and was far from being secluded from other's ideas (Burke).
LeavingNaples, Vico became the tutor of the bishop ofIschia's nephews in Vitolla. There, he develped a secret passion for his own student, Giulla della Rocca. Giulla married to someone else and died shortly afterwards at age 22. In 1695, Vico returned toNaples where he recovered from his infatuation and married Teresa Destito (Encyclopedia). In 1699, Vico was named professor of rhetoric at the University of Naples. However, Vico had his sights set on the more prestigious position of the chair of law, which he did not get (Burke; Edwards; Bizzell and Herzberg; Encyclopedia).
As chair of rhetoric, Vico gave many speeches, includingOn the Method of Studies of Our Time, his first speech as professor of rhetoric in which he denounced Descarte's philosophies. Later, he gave another speech calledOn the Most Ancient Knowledge of the Italians where he discussed the purpose of the single universal law (Edwards). However, Vico's most timeless masterpiece is his bookScienza Nuova, or New Science, a book he wrote in 1725. "TheNew Science is a book so full of ideas that it almost bursts at the seams," (Burke, 32). The book recieved very little recognition and Vico dwelled in a state of dissapointment at its initial failure. In reply to criticisms from scholarly publications, Vico wrote The Vindications of Vico. He was infuriated and frustrated to see mediocre thinkers get recognition in publications while he recieved criticisms (Encyclopedia).
Despite the public's blindness to his ideas, Vico continued to revise his book throughout the rest of his life, coming out with a second edition and a third edition. Vico had eight children. Three died and most of the others caused him a lot of trouble. One even got thrown in jail for debts. But the elderly Vico was proud that his eldest son Gennato was able to take his place as professor of rhetoric at theUniversity of Naples. Vico died in 1744 (Encyclopedia).

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