Vico's New Science of the Intersubjective World by Vittorio Hösle
Often referred to as the inventor of the philosophy of history, Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) is known for his critique of the Enlightenment, his opposition to Cartesian thought and reductionism, and above all his insistence on the [End Page 257] importance of historical studies. In his magnum opus La Scienza Nuova, first published in 1725, Vico's erudition spans poetry, religions, language, and law, especially of Greek, Roman, and medieval cultures. In stark contrast to many of his contemporaries, Vico argued that different historical eras espoused different modes of thinking, hence it was vital to chart how the structure of thought had changed over time. La Scienza Nuova is now recognized as a bold and significant project with much relevance for later historical and historicist approaches, with notable respondents including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Isaiah Berlin, Hayden White, and Edward Said.
For all that is commendable about Vico he is also notoriously difficult to read, and the reception of La Scienza Nuova, especially amongst English readers, was gradual at best. In his introduction to the present volume, Vittorio Hösle describes Vico as 'inaccessible, enigmatic, and mysterious' (p. 1), and states that even a persistent reader 'could become discouraged when faced with this author's baroque learning, deliberately archaizing style of thought, and labyrinthine prose' (p. 1). These problems of accessibility and the challenges of transmission are rendered more complex when one considers that La Scienza Nuova was first translated into English only in 1948 (by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, Cornell University Press), with the majority of secondary sources on Vico published primarily in German or Italian.
With Vico's New Science of the Intersubjective World Hösle redresses the still muted reception of Vico, and offers a much needed and excellent introduction to his thinking. Hösle's book comes with its own layers of reception. When working with Christoph Jermann on the first German translation of La Scienza Nuova, Hösle's introduction became so lengthy that it evolved into a monograph that was published as Introduzione a Vico: la scienza del mondo intersoggetivo (Guerini, 1997): the present volume is a revised and translated version of this work by Hösle's former student, Francis Russell Hittinger. With Hösle's comprehensive and incisive treatment, Vico again becomes notable in the history of ideas for being eerily prescient of later developments in historical studies, and also for his interdisciplinary and empathetic approach to culture. This monograph is essential reading for understanding Vico's continued relevance.