On Giambattista Vico’s ‘The New Science’​ : Part Eight — Of I be leib in the immoralities?

‘I just don’t care what my thwarters think. Transname me loveliness, now and here me for all times! I’d risk a policeman passing by, Magrath or even that beggar of a boots at the Post. The flame? O, pardone! That was what? Ah, did you speak, stuffstuff? More poestries from Chickspeer’s with gleechoreal music or a jaculation from the garden of the soul. Of I be leib in the immoralities? O, you mean the strangle for love and the sowiveall of the prettiest? Yep, we open hap coseries in the home. And once upon a week I improve on myself I’m so keen on that New Free Woman with novel inside. I’m always as tickled as can be over Man in a Surplus by the Lady who Pays the Rates. But I’m as pie as is possible. Let’s root out Brimstoker and give him the thrall of our lives. It’s Dracula’s nightout. For creepsake don’t make a flush! Draw the shades, curfe you, and I’ll beat any sonnamonk to love. Holy bug, how my highness would jump to make you flame your halve a bannan in two when I’d run my burning torchlight through (to adore me there and then cease to be? Whatever for, blossoms?) Your hairmejig if you had one. If I am laughing with you? No, lovingest, I’m not so dying to take my rise out of you, adored. Not in the very least. True as God made my Mamaw hiplength modesty coatmawther! It’s only because the rison is I’m only any girl, you lovely fellow of my dreams, and because old somebooby is not a roundabout, my trysting of the tulipies, like that puff pape bucking Daveran assoiling us behinds. What a nerve!’

- James Joyce, (1882–1951), ‘Finnegans Wake’

Taken from a chapter in the wake featuring Shem (Jockit Mic Ereweak) setting for Shaun (Mac Irewick) a quiz of twelve questions, a ‘nightly quisquiquock of the twelve apostrophes’, (quisquiquock: who’s who), questions addressing the several Wake characters and characteristics including the book itself and the dream state. It was composed late, in the Spring of 1927, and inserted into an already well-fleshed-out and more-or-less rigidly structured Book I, and it disrupts the otherwise smooth transition from the end of Chapter 5, the invocation of Shem, to the beginning of Chapter 7, a portrait of him as scribe, a basically static episode that does not constitute an active component in the ongoing narrative which Joyce described as a ‘picture gallery.. The above passage is part of an answer to question 10 the content of which is regarding sister Issy:

’10. What bitter’s love but yurning, what’ sour lovemutch but a bref burning till shee that drawes dothe smoake retourne?’

Or to put it another way: what is love but mourning, what is desire but a self-burning, till she that hates doth love return?

Shaun responds with a private and intimate conversation incorporating a wealth of Provençal words that Issy conducts with her image in a mirror (this is a dream remember) she observes her hands feeling quite confident they are exquisite but if only her nails were not so gnawed she must take care to mind the wind doesn’t ruin them well creamed thrice a day after her shower after her clean-up and, of course prior to retiring it was her Irish accent, she says, that won his admiration the footballer she knows as it did all the other mauling full-backs and champion hurley-stars, batsmen, and egg-and-spoon racers the current subject of her attention and favours is seeking an opening and wants her to be his belle she must play jealous besides which she thinks peering into her looking-glass, what does she care for him anyhow? Shit! She wouldn’t give three halfpence for the whole lot of them! And, O, she must remember to pick up a pair of those fashionable new red shoes and snappy garters, and also a pair of gloves she has to laugh she was always one for charm even if he was umpteen times her age soliciting her, and a reverend at that creaking about like a corncrake on his old bicycle.

Loving and home-making their business in life are suggested by a metaphor of hearth and fire recurrent flames in the long answer bring to mind the Prankquean who however watery, set fireland ablaze and Shaun and Isabel albeit brother and sister are seemingly lovers is only tobe expected in a family so ensectuous as for father as ensectuous as his children Issy despises him now as much as she despises her mother whose cosmetics she helps herself to for Issy H.C.E. is an ‘old somebooby’ a ‘rubberend … fleshmonger’ who solicited ‘unlawful converse’ with her in vain through Mother Browne a procuress ‘Holy bug, how my highness H.C.E.]would jump to make you flame your halve a bannan compare ‘Havvah-ban-Annah’ Issy is as half of Eve perhaps allusions to Tristan and Isolde, Dermot and Grania, Lancelot and Guinevere put H.C.E. in the place of King Mark, Finn MacCool, and King Arthur, of the love the young lovers make the less said the better ‘O mind you poo tickly. Sall I puhim in momou. Mummum. Funny spot to have a fingey’ fruit and flowers provide the setting for such amours and popular tunes such as ‘Cuddle Up a Little Closer’ the accompaniment.

A funny spot to have a finger indeed may you never she scolds herself see me in my pelt and may your white hands rot leprous off you going around like a flirt you winking whore! Of course, she knows she her other is as considerate as could be and knowledgeable and all that and ever so fond of greens, but why is she crying so? Did a few get past the gates of her pride? Did she hear his tread on the floor? Buttercups, she sighs, I’ll kiss you back to life! Why, isn’t that what girls are for? And who could read her eyes now, all misted so in tears. And doesn’t she try to improve herself by reading a novel once a week. And scare herself silly with that Bram Stoker chap. She’s only any girl, of course, and can’t help a man ‘assoiling’ her behind that way … what a nerve he had, thinking that’s what that’s for! The lecher! She’ll show him how to wear his roman collar.

How vain’s that hope in cleric’s heart

Who still pursues th’ adult’rous art,

Cocksure that rusty gown of his

Will make fair Sue forget his phiz!

It is her tête-à-tête with herself, a person over whom she is incurably jealous and impossibly erotic. She hears church-bells toll and puts a pet name on each. The ringing makes her think of Lent. Fasting and absolution and the four-and-twenty blackbirds that were baked in a pie. But she must be careful with the lipstick: Close your, notmust look, now open, pet, your lips, pepette, like I used my sweet parted lipsabuss with Don Holohan. She is enjoying herself. She swears she is. And why is it she prefers it under the cover of darkness, she wonders. But hush, she hears a bat. She imagines herself courting by moonlight. No, sweetest, why would that annoy me? But don’t! You want to be slap well slapped for that. Your delighted lips, love, be careful! Simultaneously thinking about lipstick and male sperm, she asks her image/phantom lover to mind not to spoil her dress. And she’ll tell no one. No one. She wouldn’t, not for all the jewels in the world, not for all the stars in the Milky Way! I could snap them when I see them winking at me in bed. But, shshsh! Don’t start like that, you wretch! Dear, she mustn’t swear; but tell her, she asks, did you … did I really never, never in all a long life, speak so close to a girl before? No! Not even to a chambermaid? How marvellous! And why, yes, of course she believes it! But she must go, so till always, thou lovliest! Shshshsh! So long as the lucksmith. Laughs!

My, what a funny spot to have a finger! May you never, she scolds herself, see me in my pelt and may your white hands rot leprous off you, going around like a flirt, you winking whore! Of course, she knows she (her other) is as considerate as could be and knowledgeable and all that and ever so fond of greens, but why is she crying so? Did a few get past the gates of her pride? Did she hear his tread on the floor? Buttercups, she sighs, I’ll kiss you back to life! Why, isn’t that what girls are for? And who could read her eyes now, all misted so in tears. And doesn’t she try to improve herself by reading a novel once a week. And scare herself silly with that Bram Stoker chap. (Brimstoker … Dracula’s nightout’: Bram Stoker, (1847–1912), author of ‘Dracula’, lived on Ely Place, Dublin, near George Moore, (1852–1933), and Oliver Gogarty, (1878–1957)). She’s only any girl, of course, and can’t help a man ‘assoiling’ her behind that way … what a nerve he had, thinking that’s what that’s for! The lecher! She’ll show him how to wear his roman collar.

Her principle interest outside loving is clothing especially her ‘underworld of nighties and naughties’ and all her other ‘wonderwearlds’ and Shaun admirably adapted to her needs knows her ‘sighs in shockings’ and Shaun’s style like hers frquently parodies the ‘little language’ of Jonathan Swift, (1667–1745), ‘Journal to Stella’, (Esther Johnson, (1681–1728), for Shaun is Swift now as amatory decanus or dean more than a parallel to Shaun several sided Swift serves elsewhere as parallel to H.C.E. an older man with two girls and, as Cadenus, to Shem, the writer and Cad. More than simple Jonathan, Swift is ‘Trinathan’ as triangular as A.L.P. or the triumvirate and here, in the tenth answer not only Stella’s curious lover he is arbiter of impolite conversation and epigrammatist if the above verses are his.

‘Of I be leib in the immoralities? O, you mean the strangle for love and the sowiveall of the prettiest?: Of (Dutch), whether, if, or, Leib (German), stomach; body, and believe in immortality, struggle for life and the survival of the fittest, that is, the struggle for life, a description of evolutionary natural selection that was coined by Herbert Spencer, (1820–1903), after reading Charles Darwin’s, (1809–1882), ‘On the Origin of Species’.

Elsewhere in the Wake we find:

‘The thing is he must be put strait on the spot, no mere waterstichystuff in a selfmade world that you can’t believe a word he’s written in, not for pie, but one’s only owned by naturel rejection. Charley, you’re my darwing! So sing they sequent the assent of man. Till they go round if they go roundagain before breakparts and all dismissed. They keep. Step keep. Step. Stop. Who is Fleur? Where is Ange? Or Gardoun?’

- ‘Finnegans Wake’

One can discern a point of contact between the complexities of nature and the complexities of the linguistic system of the Wake. According to Louis O. Mink, (1921–1983): ‘Joyce has created a world, though it is a word-world, which like the natural world has indefinitely many levels of organization and patterns of relationship’. Incidentally the story goes that Mink ran seminars on the Wake that drew both faculty and students in interactive examinations of Joyce’s work and was known for both the range of his knowledge and his wit which could be self-deprecating, for when a student informed that he was dropping out of the seminar because he was not ready for the Wake Mink responded: ‘Brian, if you are ever ready for Finnegans Wake’, pausing to draw on his pipe, ‘it is a pretty good indication that you have wasted your life’.

There is more here however than a mere relation of analogy between a post-Darwinian conceptualization of nature and the linguistic complexities of the Wake which furthermore takes us beyond the political climate in which it was penned, rather there are to be found in the Wake particular as it relates to the production of language, one can read the Wake as literary expression of a Darwinian ‘word-world’ and not merely one that is amenable to a Baconian uncovering of the facts of nature (Francis Bacon, (1561–1626)), but to an especially textual reconfiguration of both nature and language as fundamentally inexhaustible. Upon the publication of ‘The Origin of Species’ the ideal body of natural theology disappeared to be replaced by an accretion of traces some in the process of expunging for example the human coccyx others rendered functionally useless for example male nipples. And along with the vanishing of the ideal body completely steeped in the anonymous workings of natural processes,went the capacity to represent the body in in its entirety, for eyes and ears have histories as do teeth, tongues, genitalia, each of which are temporal aberrations endowed with temporal names, bodies thereby converted from categorical expressions of kind into parchments to be written over and flesh-and-bone registries of a random organic process.

Darwin essentially rendered the body as well as mind and culture a locus of play while at the same time something that could not be evaded language itself was incorporated into a process of biological signification as he explains:

‘[No] philologist now supposes that any language has been deliberately invented; it has been slowly and unconsciously developed by many steps…. The frequent presence of rudiments both in languages and in species is still more remarkable. The letter m in the word am, means /; so that in the expression I am, a superfluous and useless rudiment has been retained. In the spelling also of words, letters often remain as the rudiments of ancient forms of pronunciation. Languages, like organic beings, can be classed in groups under groups; and they can be classed either naturally according to descent, or artificially by other characters. Dominant languages and dialects spread widely, and lead to the grad ual extinction of other tongues. A language, like a species, when once extinct, never, as Sir C. Lyell remarks, reappears. The same language never has two birth-places. Distinct languages may be crossed or blend ed together. We see variability in every tongue, and new words are con tinually cropping up; but as there is a limit to the powers of memory, single words, like whole languages, gradually become extinct. As Max Miller has well remarked: ‘A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and grammatical forms in each language. The bet ter, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue’. To these more important causes of survival of certain words, mere novelty and fashion may be added; for there is in the mind of man a strong love for slight changes in all things. The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the struggle for existence is natural selection’.

- ‘ The Descent of Man’

‘The Birth of the Milky Way’, 1636/37, Peter Paul Rubens

One of Darwin’s principal rhetorical strategies here may be identified as a simple albeit rather effective substitution of ‘words’ in place of ‘species’ thereby generating a syntactical surface structure from a set of deeper presuppositions grounded upon what happens to all objects be they ankles or adjectives noses or nouns veins or verbs when subjected to selective pressures over time and he binds together the processes of organic history and philology, that language is modified over time, that it develops through struggle as well as a desire for novelty, which also connects language to aesthetic concerns, that it is subject to extinction, that language also contains useless rudiments marking its passage through time, all of which serves to demonstrate that language, with its structure, its enabling analogies and metaphors, its deceptively simple grammar of Darwinian evolution, allows other disciplines to emerge within a powerful biological/linguistic space. And this being so in given the principle of natural selection, philologists may look at language in terms of competition, survival, variation, selection, use, and disuse and regard language not only as a product of evolution but as an object of investigation ultimately accessible only through the specific language of Darwinian evolution.

According to Michel Foucault, (1926–1984), in ‘The Order of Things’, such an alignment of words and things long served as a pivotal strategy of the natural historian, indeed the discourse of natural history is made possible by the ‘common affinity of things and language with representation’ and the classificatory system developed by Carl Linnaeus, (1707–1778), in its idealized form anyway according to Foucault, ‘permits the visibility of the animal or plant to pass over in its entirety into the discourse that receives it’ and yet as Foucault insists language and species, thing and word, ultimately remain separate, since the classificatory system of natural history in the eighteenth century started by stripping away ‘words that had been interwoven in the very being of the beast’ in order to transform it, the animal, the plant, the mineral, into a representation of its position in a divinely constructed framework. Gilbert White, (1720–1793), for example ‘The Natural History of Selbourne, made himself clear enough on his insistence that ‘one [takes] his observations from the subject itself, and not from the writings of others’, in virtue of the fact that the goal of the natural historian is to see a bird, a sedimentary layer, a flowering plant apart from language and prior to naming and then to name it according to its coordinates within the vast surface structure of nature. Nonetheless White also insists that a good botanist should ‘by no means be content with a list of names’ but should ‘study plants philosophically, should investigate the laws of vegetation, should examine the powers and virtues of efficacious herbs’ and so along with the need to name there is in addition a desire to disrupt the process of naming lest the object should actually disappear into language all together.And one means by which to maintain the visibility and physicality of the object apart from its expressability in words is to saturate the intervening gaps between word and thing with yet more words, law, philosophy, virtues, thereby anticipating and precluding he totalizing impulse of taxonomy. Darwin on the other hand grants the development of languages and bodies to function according to common principles, to exist within a single system of biological signification, and unlike White Darwin in ‘The Origin of Species’ confronted the difficulty not of bringing language and nature together but rather of how to create a workable taxonomy when both language and species are subject to a complex play of differences:

‘Certainly no clear line of demarcation has yet been drawn between species and sub-species?that is, the forms which in the opinion of some naturalists come very near to, but do not quite arrive at the rank of species; or, again, between sub-species and well-marked varieties, or between lesser varieties and individual differences. These differences blend into each other in an insensible series; and a series impresses the mind with the idea of an actual passage…. From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term species, as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual dif ferences, is also applied arbitrarily, and for mere convenience sake’.

- ‘The Origin of Species’

Darwin was certainly not ready to dispense with classification entirely for as arbitrary as a convenient taxonomy sounds when compared to the radicalizing notion of a constantly shifting and truly continuous affinity between all living organisms, Darwin still required a degree of control over his subject and his language. The process of reading(or rewriting the book of nature along Darwinian lines demands a delicate suppression of the infinite series of finely wrought differences at points of classificatory and narrative interest though there has to be some allowance to construct a taxonomy, to order experience on a manageable scale without reintroducing older notions of a priori design. There is also a sense nonetheless that Darwin has to maintain a degree of narrative control and that he cannot permit his language to become completely entangled in the natural processes he describes, albeit as Gillian Beer, (1935- ), points out this does indeed happens:

‘The multivocality of Darwin’s language reaches its furthest extent in the first edition of the Origin of Species. His language is expressive rather than rigorous. He accepts the variability within words, their tendency to dilate and contract across related senses, or to oscillate between significations. He is less interested in singleness than in mobility. In his use of words, he is more preoccupied with relations and transformations than with limits. Thus his language practice and his scientific theory coincide’.

- ‘Darwin Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction’

Darwin essentially evokes the complexity of nature through providing a plethora of examples and through the effusiveness of his narrative, and the degree of difference among the continuum of living organisms, the very comprehension of nature itself, is directly dependent upon the degree of linguistic play that Darwin and those who follow in the wake of Darwin are willing, or able, to effect. Is Joycean narrative also a Darwinian narrative then? This is not the same as to suggest as Anthony Burgess, (1917–1993), does that the Wake can be read as the closest linguistic approximation there is to the complexities of nature, or as Mink puts it as the closest word-world there is to that non-word world out there. The issue at present is not to do with nature as such nor with the creation of a natural narrative bur rather in how Darwin in both his scientific theory and narrative practice offers Joyce not only a model of nature as-narrative but also a system wherein natural and linguistic development, biology and philology, word and flesh are created and shaped by identical processes albeit Joyce consumes Darwin’s texts much as he consumes the texts of Homer, (c. 8th cent, BC), William Shakespeare, (1564–1616), Dante Alighieri, (1321–1321), Karl Marx, (1818–1883), Sigmund Freud, (1856–1939), and so on but in addition he partakes of the Darwinian system in its most disruptive form and celebrates by means of a radical narrative technique the principle of Darwinian variation of language and life without limits of worlds without end.

After Prometheus has created man out of mud, Athena breathes life into him, imparting reason and understanding. Painting by Christian Griepenkerl, 1877/78

Which brings us back to Giambattista Vico, (1668–1744), and the ‘New Science’, emergent rationality and the ideal eternal history, for Vico who had conception of a science that is ‘both a history and philosophy of humanity together’, the proposal being that one of its aspects will hence be an ‘ideal eternal history traversed in time by the histories of all nations’. In the first ‘New Science’ this is presented in connection with the claim that what is required is ‘a linked series of reasons’ and ‘a continuous or uninterrupted sequence of the facts of humanity in conformity with these reasons [rather] as causes produce effects which resemble them’. This implies that the ideal eternal history just is the series of linked reasons which is at least partially constitutive of the facts in that continuous and uninterrupted sequence for the links in the series are necessary links in so far as the stages in the series arise from the fact that in virtue of its inherently defective nature the objective of the first right can be fulfilled in any satisfactory or stable manner only after a transformation of the total situation attained through the mediation of other unsatisfactory concepts of rights. Thus the ‘philosophy of humanity’ would consist in this account of the necessary development of human consciousness which, while it laid down the phases of that development, laid down also the principles which partially determine the facts of the history of each nation.

Necessary development of human consciousness? Not selective pressures then? The links albeit necessary are not conceptually necessary and each stage follows from its predecessor only when people become sufficiently rational to recognise not merely that the earlier stage is deficient but to see through the false or unfounded claims which justified it. Until the plebeians can come to see the vanity or emptiness of the nobles claims to divine origin nothing can be done to alter their unsatisfactory situation. And how do they come to see that? Darwinian imagination? And further, in the second ‘New Science’ in which Vico endeavours to set out the basis of his system in axiomatic form it is evident from the propositions devoted to the ideal eternal history that the latter incorporates much more than just the series of rights that determine or partially determine the facts of the history of law. Here, all the axioms from 66 to 96 are said to be ‘principles of the ideal eternal history’ and their scope is quite extended. There are axioms stating principles of a necessary sequence of the springs of action in men, of a sequence of kinds of human nature, of kinds of governments, and of the natures and properties of the different forms of state. Certainly many of these axioms have a somewhat mixed nature in virtue of Vico ascribing their historical source to some historic figure or to vulgar tradition before proceeding to endorse them as elements in his science. And certainly there are others which could hardly be fundamental to any science at all but nonetheless when allowance has been made for Vico’s infamous facility to set out systematically what he explicitly claims is a systematically related body of propositions, (at one point he asserts of his basic propositions that ‘each is compatible with all’, nonetheless doubtless he is aiming to produce a systematic account of the development of man ‘s humanity albeit it is rather unlike what he actually produced), if one accepts that these principles stand to the facts of political and constitutional history as did the ‘linked series of rights’ to the facts of legal history, it will be evident that the ‘ideal eternal history’ is a body of principles which is partly constitutive of all of these areas of history as well. Which is to say, they are principles purporting to lay down the necessary sequence of stages through which human nature in the various areas of human life in which it expresses itself, develops the final rationality which is always potential within it.

‘The Phidian statue of Zeus at Olympia’, Jacob van der Ulft, (1621–1689)

The suggestion that Vico actually held such a view of human nature is debateable for was he not a philosopher that elevated the powers of the imagination over those of the intellect, and yet it is true that he placed great emphasis upon the original imaginative modes of experience in which man’s ascent to humanity originated it is evident enough that he regarded these as the corporeal origin from which a truly spiritual and rational nature can develop. Did Vico really regard history as a movement towards rationality in the manner of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831)?

Well there is in the first ‘New Science’ a distinction drawn between the linked series of rights and a history of the facts of humanity which would be in conformity with this series, thus leading to the idea of an ‘ideal eternal history traversed in time by the history of the nations’ which probably means that the facts are partially constituted by this series but how does this affect Vico’s theory? In his ‘Autobiography’ upon mentioning two of the four philosophers by whom he has been most influenced he writes:

‘Up to this time Vico had admired two only above all other learned men: Plato and Tacitus; for with an incomparable metaphysical mind Tacitus contemplates man as he is, Plato as he should be. And as Plato with his universal knowledge explores the parts of nobility which constitute the man of intellectual wisdom, so Tacitus descends into all the counsels of utility whereby, among the infinite irregular chances of malice and fortune, the man of practical wisdom brings things to good issue. Now Vico’s admiration of these two great authors from this point of view was a foreshadowing of that plan on which he later worked out an ideal eternal history to be traversed by the universal history of all times, carrying out on it, by certain eternal properties of civil affairs, the development, acme and decay of all nations. From this it follows that the wise man should be formed both of esoteric wisdom such as Plato’s and of common wisdom such as that of Tacitus’.

The connection of the notions of ‘man as he is’ and ‘man as he should be’ apprehended by Tacitus, (c. AD 56 — c. 120), and Plato, (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 BC), respectively foreshadows the notion of an ideal eternal history’, and furthermore Tacitus’ capacity to ‘descend’ into the counsels of utility is closely connected to his insight into ‘man as he is’, hence the ‘ideal eternal history’ must involve both of the notions which Vico recognised in the writings of Tacitus and Plato, and indeed in the third ‘New Science’, for instance, he tells us that ‘philosophy must raise and support fallen and weak man, not distort his nature nor abandon him in his corruption’. However this claim is advanced along with a critique of Plato who is rebuked for having failed to consider man with all his faults, (‘Philosophy considers man as he ought to be, and thus can profit only the very few who wish to live in the Republic of Plato and not wallow in the filth of Romulus’), in addition to some words of praise on the way in which legislation does consider man as he is and indeed puts his vices to good, social use:

‘Legislation considers man as he is, in order to create of him good practices in society: as, from violence, avarice and ambition, which are the three vices prevalent throughout the whole of mankind, it creates the army, commerce and the court, and thus the strength, wealth and wisdom of states’.

- ‘The New Science’

The conclusion to be drawn here is that we cannot ascribe to Vico the view that man is as he ought to be. The historical facts which trace the development of humanity must be in conformity with the linked series of reasons’ with its necessary culmination in an ultimate ideal, but cannot be wholly constituted by them. And in this case, neither can the Ideal eternal history’, even if it is temporarily thought of as no more than a pattern which is exemplified in all national histories, be identified with this linked series. To proceed beyond this it is necessary to turn to a further claim which Vico advances, still, fortunately, in connection with the development of law. If we consider the linked series involved in the first and second agrarian laws, as described earlier, it might seem that Vico is saying that the various changes which occur in the legal history of each nation are caused by a desire, on the part of the legally underprivileged, for an equal share in the necessities and utilities of life which society can provide. For, as we have seen, Vico certainly holds that such a struggle, amounting to a class struggle, goes on.

Nevertheless, while maintaining this, he constantly denies that a desire for these necessities and utilities is the cause of the legal outcome at any particular stage, which he calls ‘the just’.57 On the contrary, the drive for the utilities of social life is described as the occasion but not the cause of the just, the latter being said to be ‘eternal reason which, in immutable geometric and mathematical proportions, distributes the variable utilities upon the occasion of different human needs’.58

When Vico says that the cause of the just is eternal reason, he certainly does not mean to refer to that notion of reason which, as used by Grotius and the other natural law philosophers, he constantly criticises. What he is talking about, rather, is a developing notion of reason, i.e., the linked series of rights. This is made clear in the following passage:

‘The natural law of the gentes is an eternal law which traverses time. But just as within us lie a few eternal seeds of truth, which are cultivated gradually from childhood until, with age and through [various] studies, they develop into the fully clarified notions which belong to the sciences, so, as a result of [human] sin, within mankind were buried the eternal seeds of justice which, as the human mind develops gradually according to its true nature from the childhood of the world, develop into demonstrated maxims of justice’.

The suggestion, then, is that while a desire for access to the necessities and utilities of social life is the occasion of legal change, the reason for the change which occurs is the developing concept of justice or equity. In a famous passage Vico makes it quite clear that the desire which is the occasion of the change springs from that aspect of man into which Tacitus could ‘descend’, the world of the Irregular chances of malice and fortune’:

‘But because their nature is corrupt men are tyrannised by self-love, whence they pursue first and foremost only what is useful for themselves; so that, desiring all that is useful for themselves and nothing for their fellows, they are unable to bring their passions under conatus in order to direct them towards justice. Whence we establish; that in the bestial state man desires only his own well-being; having taken wife and fathered children, he desires his own well-being together with that of the families; having come to civil life, he desires his own well-being together with that of the cities; when the powers of the cities are extended over several peoples, he desires his well-being together with that of the nations; when the nations are united by wars, peace, alliances and commerce, he desires his well-being together with that of the whole of mankind; [but] in all these circumstances man desires, first and foremost, what is useful to himself. Therefore by divine providence alone is he constrained to remain within these orders to celebrate in justice [the practices of] the family society, civil society and, finally, human society; for though man is unable to achieve all that he desires, he may at least expect to achieve all those utilities which he needs, and this is called “just”. Hence, that which regulates the whole of human justice is divine justice, which is administered by divine providence for the preservation of human society’.

Disregarding the reference to divine providence, to which I shall return later, several points stand out in this passage. First, Vico is adamant that, because of his corrupt nature, man seeks only what he takes to be for his own advantage. Second, however, the content of this changes as, in new institutional roles — father of the family, citizen, and so on — the concept of self alters and expands so as to include an identity of interest with others. Hence, when the individual demands ‘his’ rights, this will take the form of demanding the rights of his ‘family’ or of a certain class in society and so on. There is thus a movement from ‘his’ rights, understood as those of the particular individual he is, to those of the citizen or, even, to those of man as such. These demands provide the occasion of the changes, referred to earlier. They are not, however, the cause of the changes. The latter is a yet wider concept described in the above passage as ‘all those utilities which he needs’. This involves the notion of the distribution of utilities according to the needs of different situations. Thus, to take an example given already, when the first family societies have established themselves, others appeal to them for asylum, thus constituting, in effect, a class of serfs, the famuli. When they, in turn, seek the first minimal share of the rights of the family proper, i.e., bonitary ownership of the fields which they work, and succeed in winning it, they do so because it is recognised, on both sides, that it is right or equitable in the circumstances that, in return for this right, the famuli should be subject to the census and provide service for the family proper in times of war. This is part of the linked series of rights’ which arises from a sense of what is just in the circumstances, but which cannot be adequate to any situation until it culminates in a sense of what is equitable for man as such. Thus the notion of what is just or equitable in the circumstances has itself an historical career, the phases of which provide the cause, i.e., the rational ground, of the arrangements arrived at by the nation at different points of its career.

The occasion, we may say, is what is desired by man as his social being changes and develops, but the cause is an ideal which develops progressively in the light of its proven incapacity, in its earlier phases, to satisfy its aim. If this is correct, the linked series of reasons cannot wholly determine the constitution of the facts, for the latter requires also an account of the part played by human desire. It follows also that the ideal eternal history cannot be identical with the linked series because the ideal eternal history is an account of a path to be traversed by all nations, and, as argued above, such an account must include both occasions and causes. Hence the ideal eternal history must be an account of the necessary sequence of both occasions and causes and of the relationship in which they stand to each other.

So when Vico asserts that a history of the ‘facts of humanity’ must be in accordance with the ‘linked series of reasons’, this must be understood to mean that the latter is partiallybut not entirely constitutive of the former. Putting this more generally, Vico’s insistence that a science of the development of man’s humanity should take into account both man as he is and man as he ought to be can be interpreted as involving an inherently dynamic relationship. ‘Man as he is’ is never man with a fixed and constant nature. It is always man at some stage in the historical development of his social being. This will involve the implementation, both in his consciousness and in his institutions, of certain earlier ideals, affecting his sense of self-interest. ‘Man as he ought to be’, on the other hand, will be a related series of conceptions of an ideal, which changes progressively when, as each earlier conception is applied in the world, it proves unable to fulfil its aim. The latter governs the direction, but not the occurrence, of the changes which take place in history. An account which is both an history and philosophy of the development of humanity must show, therefore, that the underlying reason why man has come to be what he is lies in the necessity to apply ideals which, because of his own undeveloped nature, cannot fail to be inadequate but which, when embodied in his consciousness and way of life, provide a basis for more adequate ideals.

A sudden thunderstorm in a forest landscape is portrayed by Jean Sibelius, (1865–1957), in his tonal poem Tapiola which depicts Tapia, an animating forest spirit frequently mentioned in Karelian and Finnish folklore. A mostly calm narration of the symphonic poem turns into a short storm that swoops in and rages well into the twelfth minute of the performance and the final section of the work contains very dynamic parts associated with the sound of a strong wind able to bend even the strongest of trees to its will.

‘How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man! how short his time! and consequently how poor will his products be, compared with those accumulated by nature during whole geological periods. Can we wonder, then, that nature’s productions should be far ‘truer’ in character than man’s productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?’

- ‘The Origin of Species’

One wonders what Darwin would have made of the Wake.

Walt Whitman believed that scientists are ‘the lawgivers of poets and their construction underlies the structure of every perfect poem’ and credits the scientist with generating the ‘fatherstuff’ that creates ‘sinewy races of bards’ but,being a poet, he also asserts that:’In the beauty of poems are the tuft and final applause of science’.

‘L. of G.’s Purport’

by Walt Whitman

Not to exclude or demarcate, or pick out evils from their formidable

masses (even to expose them,)

But add, fuse, complete, extend — and celebrate the immortal and the good.

Haughty this song, its words and scope,

To span vast realms of space and time,

Evolution — the cumulative — growths and generations.

Begun in ripen’d youth and steadily pursued,

Wandering, peering, dallying with all — war, peace, day and night


Never even for one brief hour abandoning my task,

I end it here in sickness, poverty, and old age.

I sing of life, yet mind me well of death:

To-day shadowy Death dogs my steps, my seated shape, and has for years —

Draws sometimes close to me, as face to face.


The eighth thunder word of ‘Finnegans Wake’:

A declarative sentence, the subject at the beginning is Pappa, the verb at the end is doodled with modifiers in the middle principally to do with the subject. Pappa father and daddy are in there but other than that it is very Irish:

Piaras an Ua Raghailleach na Tulaighe Mongain (pires un urayelokh nu tuli mungan) (gael) — Piers the Descendant of Raghallach (‘[strong-]fore-armed’) of the Hill of Mongan (diminutive of mongach, ‘hairy’); anglican Tullymongan, Co. Cavan.

TULLYMONGAN — Name of 2 townlands near Cavan, County Cavan, in ancient territory of Breffny; originally the name of a hill above Cavan Town. Called Tulach Mongain, ‘Hill of Mongan’, by the Four Masters. Mongan was the 7th-century reincarnation of Finn MacCool.

whackfalltherdebble: ‘whack-for-the-diddle’ (refrain in songs, a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, A-lop-bam-boom! a lyric filler) and fall there, and father.

Dublin dad doodled

‘Wind God Fujin (right) and Thunder God Raijin (left)’, Ogata Korin, (1658–1716)

Pappappapparrassannuaragheallachnatullaghmonganmac macmacwhackfallther debblenonthedubblandaddydoodled

To be continued …



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David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.