Vico Giambattista

Vico Giambattista

(1688-1744) Italian social theorist, whose New Science (1725) is widely seen as the forerunner of the view that social science should not simply adopt the methods of the physical sciences. What men had made they could understand in different ways from their understanding of the natural world. Vico suggested that human civilization had developed through three stages – ‘divine’ and dominated by religion, ‘heroic’ and militaristic, and ‘humanistic’ and rational. However, he cautioned that cultural variations between different societies and different times were likely to preclude any simple developmental account of human societies. He also suggested

that much historical change was ‘cyclical’. Despite similarities between Vico's thinking and many ideas in modern sociology, there are few, if any, direct continuities with his work, which was for long largely forgotten.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vico Giambattista


Born June 23, 1668, in Naples; died there Jan. 22-23, 1744. Italian philosopher.

In 1698, Vico was appointed professor of rhetoric at the University of Naples and in 1734, court historiographer. Polemicizing with R. Descartes, Vico contrasted collective reason with individual reason and set forth the idea of the objective nature of the historical process. Proceeding from the premise that we can know only that which we have made, Vico regarded the study of history as mankind’s comprehension of its own actions. He propounded a “cyclical” theory of historical development according to which all nations pass through cycles consisting of three epochs: the divine (stateless and with subordination to priests), the heroic (with an aristocratic state), and the humanistic (with a democratic republic or a representative monarchy). Each cycle ends in a general crisis and social disintegration.

The transition from one epoch to another is accomplished through social upheavals—conflict between fathers of families and members of the household in a patriarchal society and, later, through conflict between feudal lords and the common people. The state as such came into being so that the fathers might control the household members and servants struggling against them. Vico believed that the agricultural laws in the ancient world arose out of the struggle of the slaveowning democracy against the landed aristocracy. Al-though he ascribed a primary significance to human actions in the realization of the historical process, Vico nevertheless considered the historical laws themselves to be providential. Vice’s historicism enabled him to interpret more adequately than did his contemporaries, the French philosophes, the role of archaic periods in the evolution of culture and to approach an integrated interpretation of art, religion, law, and the forms of socioeconomic life in their mutual interrelationship and unity of historical development. In the words of Marx, “Vico contains in embryo Wolf (Prolegomena ad Homer-urn), Niebuhr (Romische Geschichte), the fundamentals of comparative philology . . . and in general quite a few brilliant flashes of genius” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nded., vol. 30, p. 512).

Vico’s ideas played a prominent role in the formation of historicism, to a considerable degree anticipating the historical philosophy of J. G. Herder and G. Hegel, and they were disseminated in the works of V. Cousin and the French historians of the Restoration period, notably J. Michelet.


Opere. Milan [1959].
In Russian translation: Osnovaniia novoi nauki ob obshchei prirode natsii. Introduction by M. A. Lifshits. Moscow [1940].


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Maksimovskii, V. “Esteticheskie vzgliady D. Viko.” Literaturnyi kritik, 1935, no. 11.
Croce, B. Bibliografia vichiana, vols. 1-2. Naples, 1947-48.
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Nicolini, F. Vico storico. [Naples, 1967.]


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.