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  • Vico and Naples: The Urban Origins of Modern Social Theory
  • Thora Ilin Bayer
Barbara Ann Naddeo. Vico and Naples: The Urban Origins of Modern Social Theory. Ithaca, NYLondon: Cornell University Press, 2011. Pp. xii + 300. Cloth, $49.95.

This work concerns the development of the thought of Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) during approximately the first half of his career at the University of Naples, from his appointment as Professor of Rhetoric in 1699 to the appearance of his First New Science in 1725. It concentrates on Vico’s short history of the failed coup against Spanish rule in Naples, his series of inaugural university orations on pedagogy, and the three books of his work on universal law, the Diritto universale. Professor Naddeo’s work concludes with a few pages of remarks on the New Science of 1725 but excludes any discussion of the text for which Vico is most known and that accounts for his designation as the founder of the philosophy of history—the New Science of 1730/1744. [End Page 498]

The aim of Naddeo’s work is to counter the received view of Vico as a thinker whose ideas are independent of the social and political forces in Naples and his own time. This view of Vico as a politically disengaged, even naïve, thinker goes back at least as far as the interpretations of Benedetto Croce and Fausto Nicolini. Naddeo brings to bear an impressive analysis of archival and historical evidence to support her presentation of Vico as an engaged and informed thinker, reacting to the politics of Naples and to rising strains of Enlightenment social theory. She connects Vico’s pedagogical ideas in his university orations to a view of global citizenship based on Roman Stoicism, and she regards Vico’s historical reinterpretation of Roman law in the Diritto universale as forming an ideal of the polis to place against the Naples of his time. Naddeo views Vico’s interpretation of natural law as “a most sophisticated diagnosis of the wrongs inherent to the metropolitan community that was intended to rally the judiciary to the cause of social justice” (149). Naddeo credits Vico with a novel and early employment of “society” at the advent of modern social theory. Vico used the term only once in his third university oration, but in so doing, it introduced the idea of an all-inclusive collectivity of humanity.

Naddeo’s work is a welcome corrective to the view of Vico as a lone thinker completely out of his own time. It is a view to which Vico himself contributed when in his autobiography he claims he returned to Naples from his years of serving as tutor to the children of the Rocca family south of Naples as “a stranger in his own land” and that even after the publication of his New Science he remained quite unnoticed. Naddeo is clear that much of Vico’s presentation of his activity in Naples is not to be taken at face value, at least during the years her study covers. In large measure, Naddeo’s work is an intellectual biography, but one that does not offer any view of Vico’s development up to his appointment at the University. What were the factors in Vico’s early thought and education that led him into these political views? How did Vico pass from the deeply felt Lucretian sentiments of his first published work, the poem “Affetti di un disperato” (1692), to the Stoic conception of global citizenship of Naddeo’s account?

A question the reader may face is whether or not this corrective to the understanding of Vico is an over-corrective. Once Vico’s pedagogical philosophy and philosophy of law as well as his personal motivations and events of his professional career are interpreted solely in political terms, no other forms of explanation may seem significant. Vico comes forth just as a distinctive thinker of his own time and place. But what of the meaning of Vico’s views of human education and human nature as such? What of Vico’s views of the law as part of human wisdom—the knowledge of things divine and human—as such? As...


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pp. 498-499
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