The Mind in Giambattista Vico's 'New Science'

Hepburn, Winthrop Brent (2011). The Mind in Giambattista Vico's 'New Science'. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is a reading and interpretation of Giambattista Vico's model of the human mind in the New Science. It focuses on the mind because understanding Vico's account of its origin and development is the key to assessing his overall claim of having discovered a new science of humanity. I contend that when the following three broad questions have been addressed the New Science will reveal a deeper and more complete dimension. The first is how Vico arrives at his thesis that the mind's development is a product of natural, social, and linguistic elements, rather than the emergence of innate faculties. Is this formulation coherent, and are there elements whose functions are not explained? The second is how he believed that a science of humanity was possible. Vico thought that true knowledge, or science, consisted in a synthesis of the esoteric and the practical. Was it realistic for him to suppose that these very different paradigms could coalesce and provide a backbone for scientific research? The third question is whether the accounts he gives of sacred and profane history are consistent and do not compromise his main thesis that history is human directed. Was Vico's explanation of the identity of the mind compatible with both narratives? It is intended that the development of the answers to these three questions will yield a new interpretation of the way Vico's account of the mind is understood.

The originality of this thesis lies in two main points. The first is that it proceeds with a description, in toto, of the phenomenon of mind that follows the unfolding of the phases of the ideal eternal history. Previous studies have treated the characteristics of mind in separate phases, but none to my knowledge takes the present approach of viewing the mind in its entirety as it persists throughout universal history. The second is that it explains that Vico's position throughout the New Science was that the persistence of mind is due to somatically-based activity. I point out that Vico was establishing a new paradigm for the mind in which meaning is created through connectedness to social and physical activity. This position is in stark contrast to computationist and rationalist theories of mind in which, theoretically, rational consciousness could exist apart from a physical platform. I have made use of many references to historical and contemporary sources about the mind and cognition in general. The purpose of these are, firstly, to provide an orientation to where Vico's ideas belong in the history of philosophy and, secondly, to indicate where those ideas may be situated or find resonance in contemporary theories of mind.

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