Vico and l'esprit geometrique

In the preface to his translation of Vico’s Le Méthode des études de notre temps, Alain Pons notices that Vico, in contrast to his opponent Descartes, recognizes the distinct cognitive and cultural and philosophical status of childhood and youth.

“. It is doubtlessly in their respective attitude to childhood that best reveals the depths that separate Vico from Descartes. Descartes could not console himself from the fact that “we have all been children before being men, from which it is almost impossible that our judgments are as pure and solid as they could have been, if we had had the entire use of our reason from the instant of our birth and had never been led but by it. The Research of the Truth is even more explicit: “One of the principle causes why we have so much pain in knowing” is that, with the child, “the best comes last, which is understanding”, and that before this, for years, we remain given to the senses, “which see nothing beyond the most vulgar and common of things,” to our natural inclination, which is “completely corrupted”, and to “impertinent nurses”. Vico, on the contrary, could be defined as the philosopher of childhood, of the world of the child as the childhood of the world. From his first inaugural discourse, he declares to the students, “Quivis vestrum puer maximo praelusit philosopho” – every child is the prelude to a great philosopher, because in him is spontaneously amassed a treasury of theoretical and practical wisdom that the speculative knowledge would have to “explain”, to deploy rationally. The child is not infans, he speaks, one must know how to listen to him. Vico reports, in the De Constantia philologiae, the phrase of one of his sons: My heart is always talking to me, and what a lot of things it tells me!” “

Pons is right to elevate the child – that evidence that maturity is, itself, but a phase – to the emblem of what Vico saw as the cultural decadence spread by the geometric spirit. He wrote his small tract on method at almost the same time Fontenelle was writing his on the utility of mathematics. It is a good contrast, since Fontenelle was resolutely on the side of the moderns, and Vico wanted to have his say about this quarrel. LI sees him as one of the primogenitive advocates of the imagination – leading the power of ingenium against a fundamental shift in the human limit. A shift that leads us, in the 19th century, into the building of the artificial paradise.

Pons quotes a letter Vico wrote to a friend concerning the education of the young man of his time: “It [Cartesianism] has filled their heads, Vico will say in a letter of 1729, “with such great words as ‘demonstrations’, ‘evidences’, ‘demonstrated truths’, thus preparing them to enter in a world of men who are composed of lines, of numbers, and of algebraic signs.”

That is our world now, of course, and we are ruled by those men.


Anonymous said…
LI, a quote, even if it may seem off-track. It's from a writer that Deleuze once called or labelled a Cartesian, though I do believe Deleuze here is in error, unless one were to take Descartes and Cartesian in another sense than the usual.

Comme si avait retenti, d'une manière etouffée, cet appel, un appel cependant joyeux, le cri d'enfants jouant dans le jardin: "qui est moi aujourd'hui?" "qui tient lieu de moi?". Et la réponse joyeuse, infinie: lui, lui, lui.

- Maurice Blanchot, Le Pas au-delà