On the Study Methods of Our Time

Giambattista Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, trans. Elio Gianturco (Ithaca, NY: Cornelll University Press, 1990).

I recall a conversation with aphilosophical acquaintance.  A man of much wisdom and much social grace, he was aware that a poor, young scholastic such as myself might not know of Vico.  I think I surprised him that I had a sliver—truly, only a molecule—of awareness of VicoI knew of him from a remark in Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, giving a generally negative remark regarding his outlook on truth, namely the semi-famed expression that that truth is made.

Well, without worrying about questions of relativism or pan-social-construction, I knew the time had come to read some Vico.  Eventually, I'll trudge through his New Science.  For now, I just am trying to get into a mind who has considered matters of truth that are more "practical" (in the Aristotelian sense).

Law / moral thought is primary here.  Important points, given the nature of practical truth.  Of course, much is spotty, as one expects from a work such as this. 

Some very interesting remarks early on (and occasionaly later) regarding the ars topica.  I suspect that a renaissance of a more traditional form of logic would arise from a good treatment of topical matters.  Recall Vincent Edward Smith's remarks about the search for definitions and modern thought.  We spend most of our time searching for middle terms.  A good definition, searched for in the midst of dialectics, is a true work of the mind.

Good counterpoint to the geometric manner of modernity.

One is struck by the fact that Thomism—because of its theological bent—doesn't present a robust and detailed theory of law (no matter what one might say in protest).  Law and moral thought are interwoven in some important ways—creations of and reflections on prudential reasoning.

One senses Vico's own bent of mind: "There is only one 'art' of prudence, and this art is philosophy" (48).  And again: "But the greatest drawback of our educational methods is that we pay an excessive amount of attention to the natural sciences and not enough to ethics" (33).  This is true today; it is true, in another way, of traditional Thomistic bents.  We are a people of the speculative intellect, we Thomists (and for many good reasons).  Yet, I remember a very thoughtful person once saying to me, "Yes, well, I haven't really thought very much about ethics."  It should give one pause!  A careful reflection must be given to the nature of Thomistic "intellectualism" so that it does not, however, end up in this sort of outlook.  The whole order of things is turned upside down in modernity—practical intellect rules.  While ultimately wrong, it does help to reorient one's mind to issues that the Thomist may overlook.  In any case, note the moral focus of Vico.  If he is a constructionist, his legal training bends his mind to the moral order, not the technical.

If understood aright—but only if understood aright—there is truth in the expression: "Therefore, it is an error to apply to the prudent conduct of life the abstract criterion of reasoning that obtains in the domain of science" (35).

What joy!  A shout-out to Cajetan: "Similarly, today the jejune and aridly deductive reasoning in which the Stoics specialized is followed by the moderns, whereas the Aristotelians of the recent past are characterized by the varied and multiform style of their utterance.  An argument presented by Pico della Mirandola, which a learned modern would contract into a single sorites, is rebutted by Cajetan in a string of one hundred syllogisms" (17).

He sees it to be an advantage for law to be at once theoretical and practical.  See the whole latter half, though he says this at p.60.  His vocabulary differs from the peripatetic, but one senses that a resonance regarding the nature of practical-moral knowledge of any kind whatsoever.  Recall what Aristotle states about the kinds of arguments made in moral philosophy.  Counsel is not the same as moral philosophy.  However, it is also true that a speculative practical "science" is a science in a very different manner from a purely speculative one.

See his remarks on imitation, genius, etc. on p.70 and following.  While not the deepest of reflections, it is important to recall that all making and doing is in fact making and doing something new in the world that need not be, were it not for us.  Here, so many Thomists fall short, not knowing the meaning and implications of ars et prudentia.

A good counterpoint to others in modernity: "The Ancients should be read first, since they are of proved reliability and authority.  Let us take them as standards by which to gauge the quality and validity of the moderns"  (74).