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Vico's Historicism and the Ontology of Arguments STEPHEN H. DANIEL GIAMBATTISTAVICO has now become one of those figures who disrupts the historiographic impulse for classification. No sooner do we place him in one or another category than we see the need to realign our categorial schemes. The characterization of Vico as a historicist is a case in point. By emphasizing how meaning develops in exchanges that constitute history and that guide our interpretations of it, Vico points to central tenets of historicism. His verumfactum principle (in which the true is understood in terms of the process by which it is made) and his focus on etymology as the basis for interpreting both written and oral tradition identify seminal components in the development of the historicist tendency of modern thought.~ By indicating how different ages are intelligible only in their own terms, Vico warns against the anachronisms of totalizing interpretations of history. He thus subordinates history to historiography by showing how the depiction of the past is itself an expression of the values of particular epochs. Of course, this way of describing Vico's position glosses over the hermeneutic circularity that informs all historicism. For in saying that an epoch's mentality, paradigm, or episteme defines what can and cannot be said or thought, the historicist implies that the truth of such a statement is itself independent of all mentalities. Though the meaning of this historicist proposition may be embedded in the discursive practices of a mentality, the truth of the proposition can be independent of its historicity, even if what it means to say--that the proposition is true--is historically bounded. ' See,for example,ElioGianturco'sIntroduction to GiambattistaVico,On the Study Methodsof Our Time (Indianapolis:Bobbs-Merrill,1965),xxx;the Introduction byMaxH. Fischand Thomas G. Bergin to TheAutobiographyofGiambattistaVico(Ithaca:CornellUniversityPress, 1975),56; and B. A. Haddock, Vico'sPolitical Thought (Brynmill,Swansea:Mordake Press, x986), 87, 2o3. Cf. Leon Pompa, Human Nature and HistoricalKnowledge: Hume, Hegel, and Vico (NewYork: Cambridge UniversityPress, x99o), 177- [431] 437 JOURNAL or THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:3 JULY t99 5 Vico proposes just this way out of the circle when he invokes his doctrine of ideal eternal history. According to that doctrine, every culture's rise, development , maturity, decline, and fall enacts the corso-ricorsoestablished by divine providence." As that which provides the rationale for ideal eternal history, divine providence is not limited to any historical context. But because Vico has to describe the process by which providence is involved in history by appealing to the vocabulary of his own historical epoch, he invites the kind of problem that historicism embodies. However, the question raised by referring to Vico's philosophy as historicist does not deal with divine providence as such. Rather it concerns our knowledge of how divine providence functions in ideal eternal history. It is on this point that Vico appears to lend himself to a historicist reading in claiming that, because history itself is a human creation, its certainty and authority do not depend on anything other than its narrative formulation: "Indeed we make bold to affirm that he who meditates this Science narrates to himself this ideal eternal history so far as he himselfmakes it for himself.... For the first indubitable principle is that this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind. And history cannot be more certain than when he who creates the things also narrates them" (NS w also w Because the process by which we make history recounts the mind's modification of itself, the narration of history is at the same time the history of narration. Insofar as the order of the mind conforms to the order of human institutions, it is certain and speaks with (civil) authority. However, the truth, rationale, meaning, or significance of human authority depends on its conformity to the pattern of eternal reason (in terms of which it is intelligible).3 In narrating the operations of the human mind as a history, the New Science thus treats the history of the mind as the proper object of science itself. Validation of the knowledge...


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