Abstract: Vico insists throughout his opus that in order for Man to understand himself and avoid the danger of scientific objectification, he needs to attempt a re-creation of the origins of humanity. This is possible in as much as it was Man himself who created his own origins, and therefore he can return to them. In the beginning there is the end. Thus he can hope to understand the destiny and meaning of his striving in space and time, which is to say, within history.
Despite the fact that Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) published the first edition of his New Science in 1725, eighty-four years after the publication of Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, many who are unfamiliar with Vico do not think of him as a modern philosopher. This prejudice, as it exists among philosophers, is due in part to the fact that the canonical history of modern philosophy, which stretches from Descartes into the Nineteenth Century-tends to ignore the work done on the Italian peninsula. Further, this history does not recognize a distinct Baroque period of philosophy that had its own particular character. This leaves Vico without a home in the history of modern philosophy. Despite the fact that Vico was chronologically as much of a modern philosopher as Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1715) who was only thirty years Vico’s senior, Vico is viewed as an outsider looking in at the modern period from an ancient or renaissance perspective.
In Vico’s New Science wisdom is understood in a double sense. On the one hand, wisdom means the poetic wisdom that provides intelligibility for the peoples of the nations during their early stages of development. On the other hand, wisdom means the noetic knowledge gained by the Vichian scientist who contemplates concrete historicity in the light of the New Science. By means of an examination of three principle aspects of Vico’s science, and by looking to his conception of the origin of the most rudimentary institutions of humanity, primordial piety— fear of the mythic other— is shown to be the origin of poetic wisdom. And, by focusing on the necessity of surmounting the conceit of scholars and the conceit of nations for a science of universal history, philosophical piety— openness to the wholly Other— is revealed as the ground of philosophical wisdom. This paper sets out to show how Vico’s science of the principles of humanity is, at the same time, a science of the unity of piety and wisdom.