On Giambattista Vico’s ‘The New Science’​ : Part Ten — Fool step! Aletheometry? Or just zoot doon floon?

So many needles to ponk out to as many noodles as are company, they noddling all about it tutti to tempo, decumans numbered too, (a) well, that the secretary bird, better known as Pandoria Paullabucca, whom they thought was more like a solicitor general, indiscriminatingly made belief mid authorsagastions from Schelm the Pelman to write somewords to Senders about her chilikin puck, laughing that Poulebec would be the death of her, (b) that, well, that Madges Tighe, the postulate auditressee, when her daremood’s a grownian, is always on the who goes where, hoping to Michal for the latter to turn up with a cupital tea before her ephumeral comes off without any much father which is parting parcel of the same goumeral’s postoppage, it being lookwhyse on the whence blows weather helping mickle so that the loiter end of that leader may twaddle out after a cubital lull with a hopes soon to ear, comprong? © becakes the goatsman on question, or whatever the hen the bumbler was, feeling not up to scratch bekicks of whatever the kiddings Payne Inge and Popper meant for him, thoughy onced at a throughlove, true grievingfrue danger, as a nirshe persent to his minstress, devourced the pair of them Mather Caray’s chucklings, pante blanche, and skittered his litters like the cavaliery man in Cobra Park for ungeborn yenkelmen, Jeremy Trouvas or Kepin O’Keepers, any old howe and any old then and when around Dix Dearthy Dungbin, remarking scenically with laddylike lassitude upon what he finally postscrapped, (d) after it’s so long till I thanked you about I do so much now thank you so very much as you introduced me to fourks, (e) will, these remind to be sane? (f) Fool step! Aletheometry? Or just zoot doon floon?

Nut it out, peeby eye! Onamassofmancynaves.

- James Joyce, (1882–1941), ‘Finnegans Wake’

Closing time at last.

Needle, as in a compass as an indicator of direction noodle, simpleton, a stupid or silly person; the head, noddle, to nod the head quickly or slightly tutti (Italian), all, tempo (Italian), decuman, very large, immense, usually of waves the tavern is turning into a ship at this point), and Roman Antiquity, belonging to the tenth cohort, and decumanus (Latin), of the tenth part, and East-West line of Roman surveyors… someone’s number two, a person appointed to work closely with and support someone in an important job in particular if he leaves or becomes ill, number two, a person second in importance or rank to a head of a department, and so on, a second in command, Document no. 2, Edward de Valera’s, (1882–1975), alternative to Treaty Ports something to do with Ireland having control over its own foreign policy I believe, Irish history not my area of expertise in fact most of what I know about it I know because of Joyce … secretary bird, a young woman employed as a secretary, secretary bird, African bird that eats snakes … Pandora’s box, the gift of Jupiter to Pandora, a box enclosing the whole multitude of human ills, which flew forth when the box was foolishly opened by Epimetheus, according to a later version the box contained all the blessings of the gods, which, on its opening, escaped and were lost, with the exception of hope, which was at the bottom of the box. ,, well that explains a lot .. Poll an Phuca (poulafuke) (Gaelic), Hobgoblin’s Hole, a chasm on the River Liffey south west. of Dublin, anglican: Poulaphoooka, and paula bucca (Latin), little mouth…. Solicitor General, a law-officer who takes the part of the state or crown in suits affecting the public interest …

In an indiscriminating manner make believe autosuggestion suggestion originating from oneself specifically in psychology the subconscious realization of an idea suggested to oneself for adoption … schelm, a rascal (a term of abuse attributed to German speakers) and Shem… Christopher Louis Pelman founder in 1899 of the Pelman Institute for the Scientific Development of Mind, Memory and Personality in London, used attributively to designate the system of memory training taught by this Institute, and penman … chicken pox, the common name for Varicella a mild eruptive disease bearing some resemblance to small-pox, and chiefly attacking children … Poll Beig (poul beg) (Gaelic), Little Hole, lighthouse, Dublin Bay, and poule (French), hen, and bec (French), beak. …will be the death of to make the speaker laugh so much he or she might die of laughing … postulate, claimed, required, and post auditress, auditress, a female hearer or auditor, and postulated addressee, and Diarmaid is Grainne (d’ir mid’ is grani) (Gaelic) hero and heroine of Toraidheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghrainne, Diarmaid and Grania…. ‘Halt! Who goes there?’ as a sentry would say .. ‘T’ cup of tea, a tea stain on a letter plays a significant role in the Wake .. one can see significance where there isn’t any a capital cupital tea .. ephemeral, of insects, flowers, and so on, existing for one day only, or for a very few days .. come off , off a play, film, and so on to reach the end of a run ….

General Post formerly the post or mail that was sent from the General Post Office in London originally on certain days latterly once a day to all the post offices in the kingdom opposed to the local penny or two-penny post … so mickle o much twaddle … cubital of the length of a cubit (forearm) and cubitalis (Latin) pertaining to the elbow and lul (Dutch) penis and hieroglyphic sign of the cubit is represented by a section of the forearm assuming the outline of the recumbent sign of the Neter (Egyptian for God) in English the sign would be ‘L’…. comprends? (French) understand? because gentleman bumbler, a blunderer one who makes gross mistakes by incompetence or negligence up to scratch up to the standard expected or demanded and to scratch one’s back to gratify one by favours or flattery pen, ink and paper and Amalia Popper, (1891–1967), inspired James Joyce’s ‘Giacomo Joyce’ (and maybe was the inluence for Molly Bloom too) … true love …. grieving Thomas Moore, (1779–1852), song ‘The Irish Peasant to His Mistress’:

THROUGH grief and through danger thy smile hath cheer’d my way

Till hope seem’d to bud from each thorn that round me lay;

The darker our fortune, the brighter our pure love burn’d,

Till shame into glory, till fear into zeal was turn’d;

Yes, slave as I was, in thy arms my spirit felt free,

And bless’d even the sorrows that made me more dear to thee.

Thy rival was honour’d, while thou wert wrong’d and scorn’d.

Thy crown was of briars, while gold her brows adorn’d;

She woo’d me to temples, whilst thou lay’st hid in caves,

Her friends were all masters, while thine, alas! were slaves;

Yet cold in the earth, at thy feet, I would rather be

Than wed what I lov’d not, or turn one thought from thee.

They slander thee sorely, who say thy vows are frail —

Hadst thou been a false one, thy cheek had look’d less pale.

They say, too, so long thou hast worn those lingering chains,

That deep in thy heart they have printed their servile stains.

Oh! foul is the slander — no claim could that soul subdue —

Where shineth thy spirit, there liberty shineth too!

Fru (German dialect) wife, woman. …. nice present … mistress a sweetheart lady-love a woman who illicitly occupies the place of wife and min (Dutch) love. … Carey, Mother in sailors’ use, an anglicization of Mater Cara, an epithet of the Virgin… her chickens are the stormy petrels. … chuckling a little chuck chicken, fowl or chick a young chicken … point blank direct, plain, straightforward straightly, altogether and pante (French slang) — name given by swindlers to prospective victims and carte blanche (French) blank card, full discretionary power … skitter to skip or skim along a surface, with occasional rapid contact, in various senses, with reference to the impartation of a rapid or sliding motion and scattered his letters. … cavalier a horseman in particular a horse-soldier a knight … Cabra district, North-West Dublin. The Joyce family lived at No 7 St Peter’s Terrace (now St Peter’s Road), Cabra, in 1902–04. Mrs Joyce died there. Cabra Park is a residential circle just North of the Joyce home but built since that time. Cabrach, (Irish), bad land. … unborn not yet born still to be born also in a figurative context ungeboren (German) unborn unge børn (Danish) young children … born gentleman … any old — any…whatever and any old how anyhow and howe, valley, hollow, depression and dix the lowest trump in Bezique and other card games and Dorothy Dix (Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, (1861–1951)), one or more females who advised the lovelorn and Dear Dirty Dublin… scenically in theatrical manner cynically… ladylike befitting a lady, resembling what pertains to a lady sometimes with depreciatory sense effeminately delicate or graceful .. lassitude the condition of being weary whether in body or mind a flagging of the bodily or mental powers … postscript to put a postscript to, to furnish with a postscript dear thank you ever so much .. four forks well remain to be seen remind to be sane full stop fool, step! theometry measurement or estimation of God and aletheometreia (Greek) and truth-measuring, truth-measurement.. doon down (obs.olete) and sit down fool and shut, door, flood…. nut to think, to use one’s head cut it out to stop, refrain from, halt (the twelve customers in the tavern/boat … the manservant appears ,, it is closing time) .. peepy — drowsy, sleepy characterized by peeping and P.B.I. (World War I Slang) Poor Bloody Infantry .. onomasia (Greek) name onomatomancy divination from names, and naves (Latin) ships and onomastics the study of proper names and their origins. Onomancy or onomamancy or onomatomancy is divination based upon a subject’s given name Joyce presents both whereby we begin with the fourth syllable ‘of’ which contains the letter f but the sound v ans we can leave the sound but move the letter replacing the m of mancy with the f leaving the m floating and as we moved the f forward to the next syllable now we move the m forward to replace the v of naves moving the v of naves back to replace the f that we took from of and so we get ‘on a mass ov fancy names’ and no element has been lost except perhaps the tics of ‘onomastics’ which is not directly in the text anyway. … so you can nut it out with your peeby eye!

Alethiology, that part of logic dealing with truth and error, the use of the word is somewhat rare, unlike epistemology with which it is perhaps synonymous, I never came across it in my years of studying philosophy, in fact it was the Wake that introduced me to it. So I did some research and read that it was first coined by Henry Longueville Mansel, (1820–1871), but couldn’t find it in his books on logic so I dug a little deeper and found it appears in a work he merely edited, lectures by Sir William Hamilton, (1788–1856) never take what you find on the internet at face value:

‘MODIFIED LOGIC falls naturally into Three Parts. The First Part treats of the nature of Truth and Error, and of the highest laws for their discrimination, — Alethiology. The Second treats of the Impediments to thinking, with the Means of their Removal. These impediments arise, 1-, from the Mind; 2-, From the Body; or, 3- , From External Circumstances. In relation to the Mind, these impediments originate in the Senses, in Self-Consciousness, in Memory, in Association, in Imagination, in Reason, in the faculty of Language, in the Feelings, in the Desires, in the Will. In relation to the Body, they originate in Temperament, or in the state of Health. In relation to External Circumstances, they originate in the diversities of Education, of Rank, of Age, of Climate, of Social Intercourse, etc. The Third Part treats of the Aids or Subsidiaries of thinking; and thinking is aided either, 1 -, Through the Acquistion, or, 2 -, Through the Communication of Knowledge’.

- ‘Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic’

Did Joyce have alethiology in mind with aletheometry given the obscurity of the reference. I am ready to believe so, in any case he would have known aletheia was Greek for truth and later popularised if that is the right word by Martin Heidegger, (1889–1976). although he employed the word in the sense of disclosure contending that it was distinct from common conceptions of truth the focus being upon elucidating how it is that an ontological world is disclosed or opened up whereby things are made intelligible for human beings in the first place as part of a holistically structured background of meaning. I have been disclosing and opening up the ontological or perhaps I should say philological world of the Wake but here is an interesting question.. ok .. I just made a mistake there I know better usually never say something interesting is coming up .. let the reader decide how interesting it is .. I have been presenting Giambattista Vico’s, (1668–1744), theory of an ideal eternal history, how are we to decide upon its truth? Or even its plausibility for that matter? Logic? From the facts of history? But which facts? And how are we to interpret them? After all we are being asked to regard history as ideal, never perfectly actualized, and eternal. And I am well aware, from applying a philosophical theory to a work of literature to see what I can come up with, which I like to do, there is always the danger that looking at a text through the lens of a particular theory I may be seeing things that are just not there.

Surf, surf riding, when the billows are right

Surf, surf riding, oo it’s so outta sight

Antedated antedeluvian

I guess you could call us barbarians


Surf, surf riding, keen on the keel

Surf, surf riding’s got a far-out feel

Hydro heroes, Valhalla bound

You gotta admit that we git around

What is the logical status of Giambattista Vico’s, (1668–1744), ideal eternal history as presented in ‘The New Science’? The ideal eternal history according to the interpretation I have presented in this series of articles is in effect a theory concerned with a sequence of stages of the development of both consciousness and institutions which must be exemplified in particular circumstances by the actual history of all nations, and a question then arises as to why the history of all particular nations must follow this sequence for we may with perfect justification suppose there to be a set of individuals for instance who are so self-centred and vicious, so oblivious to what is in their best interest, that they act in ways completely contrary to the sequence laid out in the ideal eternal history, to which Vico might with perfect justification respond by conceding that there could indeed be such a set of individuals but they could hardly be considered a set of human beings albeit they are described in terms that he himself appropriates, namely vicious, self-interested, and so on, but to grant the suggestion any amount of coherence such a description would have to be ascribed one additional feature which is to say a complete disregard for their own self-preservation and a complete refusal to accede to whatever in particular situations they recognise that this requires. There are indeed single individuals like that I have had the misfortune of encountering some but we assuredly cannot envisage any kind of a community composed of such individuals for according to the theory such a regard for self-preservation is one of the cohesive elements of a society hence if we envisage such a set of individuals they can neither be members of a society nor can they have any of those attributes that necessarily only members of a society can possess, at the most they can be a set of pre-societal isolated units bereft of almost all the elements that go to make up the notion of a human being, and were we to even entertain the possibility of such a set of individuals this would in no way rub up against the contention that the history of all recognisably social communities have to go through the phases of the ideal eternal history.

A more awkward issue is raised by the question why any actual history should exemplify the stages of the ideal eternal history given that this brings to the forefront the question of the logical status of the ideal eternal history itself. This is the kind of question that can have an interesting or an uninteresting answer, for of course any actual history has to exemplify the stages of the ideal eternal history in virtue of the latter representing the nature of the nation and something that failed to do so would hence lack the nature of a nation and thereby not be a nation. But of what use is such a response? Does it amount to know more than the evidently dubious claim that we designate as nations only those communities that have gone through the proposed sequence. Or is the evidently ungrounded proposal being adduced that we ought so to designate only those that have gone through it as nations? Either way what is presented is a merely nominal answer to a question of pressing philosophical import.

Perhaps the question can be split into two component questions and rather than asking why any nation should go through the specific phases of the ideal eternal history instead ask why any nation should have a nature of a kind such as is exemplified by the ideal eternal history and why if it should have such a nature the latter should be that which is explicated in the ideal eternal history, hence we can then distinguish the formal from the substantive claims involved in the ideal eternal history. To ask why any nation should have a nature of a kind such as is exemplified by the ideal eternal history is in effect to ask whether the most general philosophical presuppositions involved in it are unobjectionable given that it is a basic feature of the ideal eternal history that it is composed entirely of social entities and kinds and not of individuals as such, for instance it incorporates an account of the three kinds of natures, religions, customs, natural law, jurisprudence, languages, and so on, in the development of which the development of the nation is said to consist. Even were we to put aside Vico’s contentions concerning the substantial content of all this it is apparent enough that in offering this kind of account he is committed to the contention that it is a necessary feature of the conception of the nature of a nation that it should have related forms of institutions that together undergo a necessary process of development. One may compare this with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), although there are significant differences in their respective philosophies of history as I have been at pains to point out, in that Vico’s theory also does not imply that in the actual world social entities can exist without individuals, nonetheless from the fact that he presents an account of the manner through which institutions are mutually related and his insistence on the fact that the nature of nations is such as to require developments in them that occur without reference to the contribution of individuals as such albeit there is reference to kinds of individuals demonstrates that he accords priority to the social type over the individual, and this does mean that the connections traced in an ideal eternal history have to be necessary.

For the deal eternal history makes mention of no individuals at all and hence when it is exemplified in actual histories the pattern that is disclosed cannot be affected by such contingencies as which actual individuals were kings or which were jurists or politicians and the like albeit in actual histories some individuals have to be kings, others jurists and so on, but the point is that nothing will hinge upon their particular character as individuals. What will count in the explanation of the development of an actual history is only what social kinds they are for it is this alone that is mentioned in the ideal eternal history and this is necessarily connected with all the other institutional and social developments that are essential to the nature of the nation. Hence it transpires that it is a presupposition of the particular account of the ideal eternal history that Vico presents that one must conceive of a nation as consisting at the very least in part of certain sets of institutions so related that changes in one cannot occur without correlative changes in the others and the most fundamental form of explanation in any actual history that involved this presupposition would consist in tracing these necessarily linked changes:

‘Governments must conform to the nature of the men governed. This axiom establishes that the public school of princes is, by the nature of human, civil things, the morality of the peoples’.

- ‘The New Science’

So far so good, historians are rather inclined to warn against eliminating the role of the contingent or accidental in history yet not so many would go so far as to contend that it was contingent what form for instance a given institution took in the society of which it formed a part, and the manner by which such a contention would be rebutted would be by demonstrating how the form of an institution related to other aspects of society at the time. Hence for instance the form of government that would be related to such things as the foundation of the belief upon which its authority rested, the class or classes from whom its members might be drawn or to whom it was responsible and so on, ands in this manner it would be demonstrated that it cannot be contingent that within a given society its government assumes a form that will differ from that which it will take in later periods, for to cite Vico’s own example governments of the form of the aristocratic commonwealths can exist only when there exists belief in the natural nobility of a certain class, the members of which are both the mediate possessors of all property and the only people eligible for membership of the sovereign body, for then the form of government is determined by the right of the nobility to protect their great private interests. The possibility that in such a context a government could be democratic in form is ruled out by one’s conception of the relationship between the nature of a government, and its relation to the law of the nation and the level of its self-understanding.

However, such a minimal claim has about it an air of plausibility but what of another thesis that presupposes this, namely, that there is a necessary pattern to the development of the human nature upon which the historical development of the nation depends? One may concur for instance that it is necessary that governments in agricultural societies should differ in form from those in industrial societies without accepting that it is necessary that agricultural societies must develop into industrial societies or, more generally speaking, that any one kind of human nature as expressed in the institutions of a society must be followed by some particular specifiable successor. The question that arises is not whether or not Vico is correct in his own account of the substantial content of this necessary sequence but rather whether he is correct in supposing that there must be any necessary sequence at all, for we may want to ask why should it not be the case that while some countries advance from, for instance, a slave economy to a free economy by way of the intermediary stage of a feudal economy, others should make the change without the intermediate stage as for instance occurred in the U.S.A in the nineteenth century? Is not a counter-example such as this sufficient to demonstrate that there need not be one necessary sequence?

Vico’s contention is of course concerning a necessary pattern in the ideal eternal history while the counter-example is drawn from an actual history, nonetheless given Vico’s contention concerning the ideal eternal history’implies the proposition that there is one necessary sequence in the development of all nations to which the history of the U.S.A. presents a counter-example the objection must be confronted. We can but speculate upon how Vico himself would have responded to it. Vico aware of the fact that a number of actual histories did not satisfy the specifications of the ideal eternal history, for instance he informs us that philosophy arose in Greece in its barbaric period albeit according to the claims of the ideal eternal history it should arise only in the human era of a nation’s history when the mind has developed the capacity to grasp abstract universals. And yet he presents no explanation as to how this could be possible if his general case were correct, did he not realise just how damaging it was to own up to the existence of such a counter-example?

As far as Greek philosophy is concerned it is evident enough that a reconsideration is required on Vico’s part over his account of the history of Greece in order to demonstrate that the conditions under which according to his account of the ideal eternal history philosophy was possible actually obtained, or a reconsideration over his account of these conditions. In the case of the abolition of slavery in the U..S.A the option to deny that the U.S.A. was a nation is ready to hand, for Vico could have maintained that the ideas that inspired the abolition of slavery would have a history in some other nation or maybe in a number of them and granted the extent of migration from such countries where the stage of feudalism had been experienced it would then be natural enough that that experience and the consciousness developed through it should bring about a more abrupt change in the U.S.A. than that which according to the ideal eternal history would have transpired had the U.S.A. been an independent self-sufficient nation not affected by a large intake of immigrants from European.

It does have the whiff of plausibility about it albeit it involves having to admit that pure exemplifications of a single historical or developmental pattern involved in an ideal eternal history may be rather more scarce than Vico imagined nonetheless this is not so detrimental to his case in virtue of pure exemplifications of the connections involved in for instance the fundamental laws of physics being even scarcer but one can with justification point out that a response to the instance of the abolition of slavery in the U.S.A. could only be adduced by Vico if he were ready to extend the notion of an ideal eternal history to give an account of the principles that determine what transpires when nations at different stages of development come into contact, for if it is in the nature of a nation that certain necessary principles to do with the development of mind are operating in it these could not cease to function merely by being brought together as components in a new nation albeit they might be affected by such an occurrence.

As it happens Vico accepted this in principle for albeit he made little progress with this matter he imagined the concept of an etymologicon for words of foreign origin that would provide the principles by which to explain their changing history, just as the concept of an etymologicon for words common to all native languages that is a proper part of his own ideal eternal history is intended to give the principles that explain their development within the nation. Therefore the suggestion that the idea of necessary principles of development, that is involved in the notion of an ideal eternal history would commit Vico to an additional account of the operation of these principles in different circumstances turns out not to be a not so serious objection and rather to involve something that in one aspect of his science he explicitly endorses.

So far still so good. We have as yet encountered nothing to discredit the thesis that there must be a necessary sequence of phases involved in the development of the substantial content of the nature of a nation where this takes place in conditions that can be specified and a different but related sequence where this takes place in different specific conditions. Furthermore the discussion of the objections to it has demonstrated that the idea of an ideal eternal history is Vico’s way of making the point with which Hegel would have concurred that the development of a rational consciousness embodied in the life and institutions of a people is a matter neither of contingency nor chance but of a certain kind of necessity albeit the kind of necessity that is involved is very different in the case of Vico and Hegel for with the latter it is grounded in the logic of the concept whereas with the former it dwells within the capacity of the people of a community to improve upon the inadequacy of certain concepts and to accept rational improvements in virtue of it conflicting with their understanding of their self-interest not to do so. However, it is possible that the viability of this conception must still be reconsidered especially in the light of Vico’s account of how we can come to know of the substantial content of the sequence of necessary phases.

Which brings us to the matter of philosophy and philology. Vico was critical of both philosophers and philologists for the manner by which they had pursued their studies contending that each had in effect, erred by failing to take the other into account and the answer that he proposed and that is fundamental to the ‘New Science’ is to bring the two into a mutually supportive relationship. It may appear that one has little to do with the other for as Vico asserted philology is to do with the authority of human will, which is to say, that of which the will is author or creator, and this is the particular. Philosophy, on the other hand, ‘contemplates reason, whence comes knowledge of the true’, so why should philologists who are concerned with the particular products of human will, with what peoples have done or made, require the support of those truths which philosophy discovers by contemplating reason? And how can the truths which philosophy discovers by the use of reason be affected by knowledge of the particular things which men and women have done or made in the past?

Recall Vico’s account of the development of law when he contends that what is required is both an history and a philosophy of law at once involving the notion of a continuous and uninterrupted history of the facts written in conformity with a linked series of reasons or rights. Nonetheless the latter does not completely determine the former because as Vico insists we should take into account both ‘man as he ought to be’, that is, man as an emergently rational being, and ‘man as he is’, that is, man as a being who will always put his own self-interest first. Thus in the end what is created is a philosophy of the development of humanity, that is, a substantive theory of the principles of human development that demonstrates how human will dominated ultimately by self-interest can produce an increasingly rational world by humanity’s capacity to see that the implementation of new and improved procedures is the only way of securing his and her own self-preservation with whatever he or she takes that to involve.

The function of philosophy in all of this is to come up with a substantive theory of the manner through which will and thought interact in the development of a human nature which is necessarily both social and historical. And the function of philology? In the ‘New Science’ Vico emphasises that one of its principle tasks consists in providing the philologist with the principles for a new art of criticism that will enable him or to interpret historical evidence and, through that to create a ‘continuous and uninterrupted’ history of the facts whereby man’s humanity has emerged. It is certainly the case that Vico who was principally interested in the obscure or poetic era expended the greater part of his resources to the interpretation of evidence relating largely indirectly to that period but he nonetheless points out that his principles of interpretation apply also to ‘recent facts’, and in later editions of the ‘New Science’ there is an endeavour to interpret the period from the Dark Ages up to his own day by the use of the same principles.

The mutual collaboration of philosophy and philology can rectify two of Vico’s grievances, namely, that the philosophers Plato, (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 BC), Hugo Grotius, (1583–1645), Samuel Freiherr von Pufendorf, (1632–1694), and John Selden, (1584–1654), in the ‘New Science’ and René Descartes, (1596–1650) in earlier works had given an unacceptable, over-rational account of human nature the source of which mistake he located chiefly in their having mistakenly taken the rationality that obtains necessarily in the third period of historical development to be an essence which belongs to human nature throughout its career leading both to entirely erroneous accounts of human history and to entirely false expectations about the future because if Vico’s complete account were accepted this would involve a relapse into barbarism. Furthermore in the first ‘New Science’ Vico presents as one justification for his theory that it will enable us to recognise ‘the indubitable signs of the state of the nations’.

Nonetheless if philosophy can provide philology with a theory of the development of human nature that will enable philology to overcome its defects it will by so doing gain support for its theory. The philologists on the other hand have been criticised for having no systematic theory of the development of human nature by which to guide their interpretations of the evidence, and having no conception of the poetic and heroic mentalities their interpretations of evidence relating to these mentalities have been arbitrary, muddled and, frequently, anachronistic, leading to histories that have the same character. Hence what philology has to gain is a set of principles that will make possible a systematic interpretation of the evidence capable therefore of maintaining itself in the face of critical examination and of leading to histories of nations that will be ‘continuous and uninterrupted’, the introduction of this systematic set of principles will in effect reduce philology ‘to the form of a science’. In ‘An Introduction to Historical Thought’ B. A. Haddock suggested that on Vico’s view the function of philosophy is to produce a model of human nature that will assist in the systematic interpretation of human artefacts, hence: ‘Vico’s three ages of gods, heroes and men function as historical paradigms to describe the parameters of historical meaning which can be attributed to the artefacts of a particular epoch’. Such a view is not enough to account for why Vico believes that he can attain historical truth because all that it appears to guarantee is the coherence of historical interpretation but there must in addition be some answer to the question why we should accept this particular set of paradigms as those relevant to truth because many other sets of paradigms could create interpretations of equal coherence.

But it is apparent enough that something more is needed to maintain such contentions. It is true for instance that if historical evidence is interpreted according to a systematic set of principles its results will themselves have a certain consistent character but it does not follow that they must be true. In the case of the man suffering from a persecution complex his interpretations of various events may be consistent with one another but it does not follow that they are true. Consistency is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of truth. The ‘New Science’ puts forward contentions concerning the development of human nature that cannot be maintained if the only argument in their favour is that they offered a consistent interpretation of the history of human nature rendered possible by the application of a systematic theory of its development, hence what is necessarily required are additional arguments that Vico presents for his theory but although when describing in general terms the need to relate philosophy to philology Vico talks as though they will be equal partners in the consequent relationship when talking about them in more detail he lays greater stress upon the role of philosophy drawing a distinction for instance between the philosophical and philological proofs for his science and asserting that of these the former are ‘absolutely necessary to attain it’ and hence that the philological proofs must therefore ‘take last place’. Furthermore the philological proofs are described as serving ‘to allow us to see in fact the things pertaining to this world of nations which were meditated in idea, according to Verulam’s method of philosophising, which is cogitare videre [think and see]…’, albeit he then goes on to assert that each kind of proof is confirmed by the other and therefore there is a definite suggestion of the priority of philosophy albeit this may be only a methodological matter rather than an epistemological one.

And what of the kinds of proof themselves? Vico mentions seven kinds of philological proof of various character but sharing particular claims. One, his historical interpretations are consistent with things ‘meditated in idea’. Two, they offer ‘natural, direct and simple’ interpretations of myth and appropriate interpretations of the phrases of the heroic era. Three, the etymologies of languages are ‘in accordance with the order of ideas (which … is the basis upon which the history of languages must proceed)’. Four, they enable Vico to develop a universal mental language, that is, ideas of social entities which are part of the history of all nations. Five, they enable him to strip the great traditions and the great literary fragments of the distorted interpretations that they have acquired over the centuries. Six, they allow him to explain ‘the effects related by certain history’.

With the exception of the last claim they amount to the two general claims that Vico’s interpretations of myth, literary remains and language are plausible and convincing in themselves and that they are consistent with ‘things meditated in idea’ in the work in general. Furthermore it appears that these amount to scarcely proofs at all were we to apply an appropriate amount of rigour to that notion, for instance it is merely an assertion albeit not necessarily a false one that Vico’s interpretations of myth, language and so on are correct or true while the claim that they are consistent with ‘things meditated in idea’ carries lies outside the realm of the provable if we have no prior reason for believing the things meditated. His philological proofs in effect come down to the claim that actual evidence can be interpreted according to the principles which he has presented but unless they attain some kind of epistemological progress because of this fact they are not proofs and taken independently of their connection with the philosophical proofs their power to prove anything is minimal. They are not of course intended to be taken independently of the latter given that they involve extensive reference to them and Vico appears to think that they attain considerable force of provability from their connection with and in fact dependence upon the philosophical proofs thereby implying the epistemological rather than merely methodological priority of philosophy.

There are also a number of philosophical proofs on offer. One, it is not possible that ‘In the series of possibilities which we are allowed to understand … we can think of more, less or different causes than these [which we have proposed] from which arise the effects of this civil world’. That initial qualification is needed to strengthen an otherwise weak argument for indeed Vico’s opponents as he himself conceded had demonstrated themselves capable of offering a series of interpretations of history different from those which he has produced, yet if the qualification is taken into account the contention becomes not that we cannot offer different interpretations but that they exceed ‘the possibilities which we are allowed to understand’. Vico evidently is implying here that there is something in his account which gives it a superiority in intelligibility over those of others.

Two, a form of philosophical proof whereby going back to the circumstances in which things are created or arise we discover both their nature and their ineliminable contribution to the subsequent character of the development of the nation:

‘[By going back to the starting points] we explain the particular mode of… [the] birth or, as it is called, “nature”, [of each kind of thing] which is the most characteristic feature of science; and, finally, we confirm the theological proofs by the eternal properties which [things] retain, which cannot have arisen other than from such births’.

- ‘The New Science’

The reference here to the discovery of the nature of the thing through its mode of birth is not hard to comprehend given that this consists in the conjunction of an occasion which is human will and a cause which is an emergent rational ideal and the reference to the effect of this upon the later properties of the nation demonstrates that for Vico institutions always retain some of their original character in the course of their development. Therefore the entire organisation of the heroic way of life depends upon the fact that an idea born in the poetic age, that God is the owner of all, is carried forward in human consciousness and continues to play its part. Ideas have a history in the course of which they change but they retain certain characteristics that can be identified and traced only by a knowledge of the circumstances of their birth.

The significance of this point dwells in the fact that it expresses Vico’s belief that the historical process must be thought of as having sufficient continuity such as this principle provides for accounts to be rejected on the grounds of lack of this continuity of which he frequently accuses his opponents. To put it another way albeit in a way that Vico does not we can say that history could not be a form of knowledge if we were to allow that anything could follow anything, that Einsteinian physics for instance could immediately follow Aristotelian physics, and to not make use of a principle to preclude this possibility, a requirement indispensable for any rational choice to be made between different competing historical accounts, hence if it is the case that actual histories written according to the principles of the ideal eternal history have more continuity than those written according to other principles this will provide us with greater reason for accepting the former.

Nonetheless this is simply a formal requirement whereas the ideal eternal history incorporates a substantive theory hence we are confronted with the issue of the nature of the continuity that the substantive theory of the ideal eternal history incorporates and that therefore should devolve upon actual histories written in accordance with it and not in accordance with others. It may well appear that the answer rests in the capacity of the ideal eternal history to demonstrate how by taking into account both ‘man as he is’ and ‘man as he should be’ a series of necessary phases of development of the same institutions can be engendered but this cannot be the answer to the present question for albeit it is true it is in addition a purely formal answer whereas what is now needed is some explanation why we should find the particular substantial sequence involved in the ideal eternal history compelling or to put it another way why we find the series of phases necessary rather than contingent.

‘Thou, Frick’s Flame, Uden Sulfer, who strikest only on the marryd bokks, enquick me if so be I did cophetuise milady’s maid! In spect of her beavers she is a womanly and sacret. Such wear a frillick for my comic strip, Mons Meg’s Monthly, comes out aich Fanagan’s Weck, to bray at by clownsillies in Donkeybrook Fair’.

- ‘Finnegans Wake’

To try and answer such a question we need to consider the sense of ‘necessity’ involved for it appears evident enough that the connection between the phases is neither logically not conceptually necessary, it is evident for instance that the earlier phases are not unintelligible except in connection with their successive phases, nor similarly are later phases unintelligible except in their connection with earlier phases and it is the sense in which we think that it is necessary for one phase to develop into another that is at issue and this cannot be a matter of conceptual necessity for the question cannot be posed without an adequate distinction between the two phases. However, neither can it be a straightforward causal connection of the Humean kind because it is clear that humanity’s capacity reflectively to alter his or her concepts in the light of his or her perception of their inadequacy to his or her situation is a fundamental feature of the situation and any straightforward causal connection would have to allow that the new ideals involved may not be improvements upon or even connected with a perception of the inadequacy of current conceptions because Humean causation is from the perspective of reason operating blindly.

Vico offers remarks on the subject seemingly favouring the suggestion that a blind Humean causation is in operation here in so far as he describes the various sequences of ideas as natural. In the first ‘New Science; for instance he devotes much space to ‘the natural order of human ideas of an eternal justice’, ‘the natural order of human ideas of a universal justice’, and ‘the natural order of gentile human ideas of God’. And yet this form of expression does not in fact support a Humean interpretation for in the first case for instance he goes on to contend that the natural law of the gentes is an ‘eternal law which traverses time’ and explains this in terms of a few eternal seeds of justice implanted in humanity that ‘as the human mind develops gradually according to its true nature from the childhood of the world, develop into demonstrated maxims of justice’. Yet this is not a mistake on Vico’s part for what he means by a ‘natural order’ is an order which belongs to man ‘by nature’ rather than ‘by convention’, hence if an order is natural there must be some sense in which its phases are necessary.

Perhaps Vico is thinking of a kind of rational necessity, that is to say, a necessity that rests upon the capacity of human beings to reflect upon the inadequacy of their concepts and upon the basis of this to alter them in a direction that enables them progressively to meet the real needs of the situation albeit always under the stimulus of their sense of self-preservation, and it follows from this that there must be ‘real needs of the situation’ yet this need not constitute a difficulty for the latter are not independent ideals which inadequate concepts fail to satisfy, au contraire they are needs that follow from the inadequacy of the concepts themselves and they should disappear when ‘man recognises that all are equal in respect of their rational nature, which is the proper and eternal human nature’.

And so to the thorny issue of the philosophy of the self and society as a self, a necessity grounded in Vico’s conception of human nature as inherently and progressively rational, a substantive account of the development process involved on offer our acceptance of which Vico situates it in our capacity for self-reflection hence it is a ‘truth which is beyond all possible doubt: that the civil world itself has certainly been made by men, and that its principles therefore can, because they must, be rediscovered within the modifications of our own human mind’.

And furthermore, why men and women have concentrated upon the natural sciences rather than a science of humanity is because ‘the human mind, immersed and buried in the body, is naturally inclined to have a sense of bodily things, but requires overmuch effort and work to understand itself, like the physical eye, which sees the objects external to itself, but needs a mirror to see itself’. A principle frequently reiterated in various forms. ‘First men [have a] sense [of things] without [conscious] consideration, then they consider [them] with a perturbed and agitated spirit, finally they reflect [upon them] with a pure mind’. And: ‘The human mind is inclined naturally to see itself through the senses outwardly in the body and with great difficulty to understand itself by means of reflection’.

The capacity of mind in some form or other to reflect upon itself underlies Vico’s claim to be able to ground the connections in his substantive theory and he makes continuous appeals to knowledge that we have or can gain of the manner through which in social circumstances children mature and undergo a process of development from an imaginative nature which he assimilates to that of poetic man, to the rational nature of the adults of his own day, which is not to imply that by any form of self-reflection of this sort we could come to an understanding of why for instance the first agrarian law must develop into the second and so on because for the latter an interpretation of evidence is needed whereas all that Vico can attain through this kind of argument is at best knowledge of the necessary principles of the development of the human mind that in conjunction with evidence would facilitate our conferring necessity upon the sequence of development of the various actual laws.

Can we acquire knowledge of the necessary principles of the development of the human mind by self-reflection and if we can must they constitute necessary substantive principles of the development of the mind of nations? Vico entertained a conception of a necessary substantive pattern in the history of the nation so he indeed thought so and it is the case that we are able by reflection to see in our own lives the three Viconian stages, for example we are able to recollect our first beliefs stuffed with improbabilities and superstitions and to see how such imaginative conceptions constituted the world for us and furthermore we can see how at a later stage we are dominated excessively by authority taken in a very literal sense whereby things are taken to be true for instance simple because of being written so that upon such a foundation a different world of beliefs arise. And finally we arrive at a stage wherein no matter how we come by our beliefs we take them as true in the last analysis only if they can bear up against critical scrutiny (well some of us arrive at such a stage anyhow).

However is not this just at bottom a matter of memory and that self-reflection is playing no part in it? We may recollect our beliefs from childhood by noting those of other children albeit memory is notoriously unreliable yet simply remembering them will not of itself inform us that they were a creation of the imagination and that many of them were indeed completely false. To know that the world of childhood is a world of fantasy, imagination and falsehood, we cannot take it simply on its own terms as we do when we remember it but must make judgements upon it, judgements that presuppose conceptions of truth and standards of warrant that are in the end susceptible only of a philosophical defence. Self-reflection that enables us to trace the development of our own nature from the imaginative to the rational and that teaches us according to Vico that reason is a development of imagination is itself philosophical in virtue of it requiring that we use our capacity to philosophise to account for the process whereby we have come to be able to do so. As Vico might put it we employ pure mind to explain how it must itself arise from bodily or corporeal mind.

Pure mind or fully developed human rationality is for Vico primarily social in character and it consists in the capacity to utilise modes of reasoning and thinking that can come about only in a society and albeit it is the case that it is individuals who think and reason the standards that they must meet are those appropriate to and supported by the nature of the society, hence self-reflection is not mere reflection upon one’s individual self, a sort of philosophical introspection, but reflection upon the development of the rational self as a social entity. I myself alone have access to the subjective side of my self, (well that may be open to discussion but I won’t go into it here), and I cannot simply generalise from myself to other selves (although this is something we do) rather what is needed is a philosophy of the self as a social product, that is, a philosophy of the self as a kind. Does Vico furnish us with an account of this kind? Well his observations concerning the principles that characterise people at different ages and concerning the principles that determine their development through these different ages have more of the nature of astute generalisations than of a systematic philosophy of the developmental phases of the self, nonetheless by way of exception to this he does claim that imagination must precede rationality for only by the use of imagination can we synthesise or construct those beliefs on the basis of our criticism of which we come to develop our rational capacities. Therefore we must begin for instance with an imaginative conception of God before we can come to a rational appreciation of God but the latter is however simply one example of the way in which in general the imagination must both logically and historically precede reason.

Albeit Vico does not do much more than point towards the need for a philosophy of the development of the self many of his generalisations are such as to command an almost instinctive consent and this suggests that he is not simply putting up some entirely a priori theory of the self demanding that we take up an asocial viewpoint but is drawing upon a content that is available to us as social agents even if it has not been thought through sufficiently to provide a systematic philosophy of the development of the rational self. And yet granted this point what of the claim that such a philosophy of the development of the rational self within society can lend support to the principles of the necessary development of a rational society as such? Difficulties present themselves here, those of you having completed a philosophy 101 course may well slap the fallacy of composition on the table (attributing to a group or to a whole some characteristic that is true only of its individual members or its parts) and ask why for instance should it not be the case that even if Vico is correct in his account of the development of the individual self within society entirely different principles determine the development of societies as such?

Well, we do frequently talk in terms of a similarity between the two processes, for instance others besides Vico talking of the birth, maturity and decline of a nation, historians have made use of such terms, nor would the objection that the terms are merely metaphorical be to the issue here because they frequently serve to indicate a structure which is fundamental to the account offered. In ‘Metahistory: The Historical Imagination In Nineteenth-Century Europe’ Hayden White, (1928–2018), advanced a stronger contention whereby metaphors are essential to the structure of all historical accounts which is an interesting theory but he also denies that the selection of metaphors depends upon rational grounds. And so one can in this case raise questions neither about the truth of different accounts nor about their compatibility or incompatibility in virtue of the notion of compatibility being only employed within a context in which one can make sense of the notion of truth, and this is to reduce historical works to the status of fictions, a status which would of course have made Vico bristle.

But wait a moment, the issue is not to do with what historians do or have done in actual practice but to do with a certain substantive sequence which must be presupposed in all acceptable interpretations whether or not it actually has been or ever will be, and Vico in particular could hardly deny this given that his disappointment with the work of other historians is well articulated in his impatient assertion that ‘we must proceed as if here were no books in the world’. It might appear that the matter could be resolved by showing that the sequence in question is basic to our conception of human development as such whether of the individual in society or of the society itself but such a suggestion is mere flocculence for even were it agreed that such a sequence is fundamental to our conception of human development this would provide no reason whatsoever why we should assume a priori that all nations must develop and hence that this sequence must be fundamental to the nature of a nation as such. The critical point here is that if we take such a sequence to belong to the nature of a nation we are committed a priori to the view that nations develop necessarily and to interpreting all historical evidence in the light of this presupposition and this would have the unhappy consequence of ruling out any possible falsification of the account, no matter how laboured our interpretation may become.

In ‘The Logical Status of Vico’s Ideal Eternal History’ W. H. Walsh, (1913–1986), alerts us to the fact that Vico appears more concerned with discerning confirmations than disconfirmations of his theory and it is the case that in much of his practice he rejects possible falsifying evidence such as travellers’ reports of non-theistic societies in an off-hand way but if nothing is to be permitted as at least a potentially falsifying piece of evidence allegedly confirmatory evidence cannot be confirmatory in any substantial sense (see Fenja and Menja and the mill Grótti above).

However, we are avoid the Scylla of not taking the sequence to belong to the nature of a nation but to treat it just as a set of categories to be used for the interpretation of evidence we would then have to confront the Charybdis about which Hegel complained whereby one history followed upon another without our having the capacity to decide which of two or more incompatible histories were true, and the issue here is that even when sets of categories created extremely comprehensive and coherent interpretations of evidence we would not be entitled to conclude that further to being coherent such interpretations were true for coherence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of truth. Consequently, Vico has not justified his claim that the ‘ideal eternal history’ constitutes the nature of nations for to do so he must be able to show that all nations must develop in accordance with its specific sequence of eras whereas thus far he has been unable to show that any must.

Is Vico suggesting that we need a substantive theory of the development of human nature for the interpretation of any historical evidence whatsoever as though like David Hume, (1711–1776), he were asking himself how we could come to formulate historical fact at all? Or, as Vico himself indicates, while the theory of historical development explicated in the ideal eternal history must provide principles leading to a ‘continuous and uninterrupted’ history of the world it gains a particular kind of intelligibility in virtue of its incorporation within itself of a theory of the development of the self in society, which is to say, we do not accept the truth of the theory of the historical development of societies because it contains the same necessity that we discover in that of the development of the self in society but we nonetheless discover it to be more intelligible because it incorporates some of the same principles, hence if successfully applied we would accept its results as true in virtue of their greater intelligibility over alternative accounts. What is involved here is a connection between the intelligibility of the ideal eternal history and that of its truth and indeed Vico himself talks of some of the claims that become part of the ideal eternal history in terms of a similar distinction. In one passage for instance having presented his own account of the Publilian Law he writes:

‘If we read further into the history of Rome in the light of this hypothesis, we shall find by a thousand tests that it gives support and consistency to all the things therein narrated that have hitherto lacked a common foundation, and a proper and particular connection among themselves … whereof this hypothesis should be accepted as true. However, if we consider well, this is not so much an hypothesis as a truth meditated in idea which will later be shown with the aid of authority to be the fact… This hypothesis gives us also the history of all the other cities of the world … This then is an instance of an ideal eternal history traversed in time by the histories of all nations’.

-’The New Science’

Vico is referring to something that eventually becomes part of an ideal eternal history by means of a series of progressively stronger claims whereby initially it is an hypothesis about Rome and uts success in enabling us to construct a consistent and connected history turns it into a true hypothesis and upon further consideration it is seen properly as a truth meditated in idea which with the aid of authority, that is, with the actual material supplied by the philologists,will be demonstrated to be true in fact. Finally since it is discovered to be true of all cities it is an instance of an ideal eternal history. So, this involves two claims. First, the hypothesis advances from applying successfully to one city to applying to all cities and it thereby attains universality in virtue of its success as a universal principle of interpretation. And second, prior to its application to all cities it becomes a ‘truth meditated in idea’ which means that even in its application in a single instance we discover in it a certain persuasiveness presumably in virtue of it containing an intelligibility grounded in the notion of emergent rationality, in other words we cannot given our notion of emergent rationality see in what other way the affairs of an emergently rational nation could have proceeded.

And yet this applies to Rome, can we conclude that the other nations are emergently rational until the same principles are shown to be applicable successfully to them? Emergent rationality henceforth becomes a constitutive principle in their history and therefore a part of an ideal eternal history, an instance, hat is to say, of something that shares the same nature and Vico in the above passage is connecting the intelligibility with the truth of an hypothesis, and yet it is hard to see in what way the theory of emergent rationality that endows the hypothesis with its intelligibility gains any of its special appeal from our prior knowledge of a theory of the development of the self in society. The hypothesis that Vico is here discussing concerns a change in the manner by which which laws were to be ratified, a change that put law-making in the hands of the plebeians and therefore changed the Roman state from its aristocratic to its popular form, but what could there be in a theory of the development of the self in society that would give us a particularly intelligible insight into this change? It may be that in the case of the law the change can be understood as the realisation that human beings are by nature equal and that the vaunted heroism of the nobility is a myth.

Similarly there may be in a theory of the social development of the self a stage in which one realises that one is equal as a person responsible for his own welfare to all others but even if this is so the principles that make this development intelligible to us must be properly grounded and the intelligibility that we discover in the case of the theory of the development of the social self cannot rest simply upon the fact that since we ourselves develop as social selves we find its principles familiar, for if mere familiarity were the source of our sense of the superior intelligibility of the principles we would be unable to distinguish the latter from many other contingent and inessential but frequent and familiar features of our experience. There has to be some special feature involved in the theory of the development of the social self that renders the latter intelligible to us but if this is the case and if it is the case that the same feature is in operation in a theory of the development of the nation in history then in virtue of it being this feature that we find intelligible we ought to find the theory of the development of the nation in history intelligible in its own right without requiring any support from its connection with a different theory involving that feature.

But granted this Vico cannot contend that the intelligibility of his theory of national development is supported by a theory of the development of the self. The many references that he makes to alleged parallels between the development of the individual and that of the nation may be treated as having heuristic value but not as providing grounds of intelligibility and we may acquire helpful notions concerning the problematic principles that determine the development of nations from our knowledge of principles that operate in the development of individuals but when all is said and done the intelligibility of the theory of national development must stand or fall independently of any connection that it may have with the development of the self in society.

So, can Vico establish that the ideal eternal history constitutes the nature of nations? The general theory of emergent rationality has its appeal, but can he establish the necessity for the determinate sequence involved in the ideal eternal history or demonstrate that it is necessary that any nation should have such a nature? Which is to say, can he demonstrate that there is a necessary sequence in the history of any nation never mind that of all nations? May the failure of Vico’s project be better understood as resting upon completely different grounds from Hegel’s project (also thought by many to be a failure but I need to address that in a separate article)? The Hegelian project it is alleged requires recourse to the notion of the idea of freedom generating its sequence of conceptual phases a priori and independently of the historical actuality that it informed whereas Vico made no appeal to anything like the Hegelian notion of reason creating what some might consider to be a more plausible conception of the manner by which rationality can arise emergently under the double constraints of an increasingly socialised desire for self-preservation and an increasing insight into the false assumptions upon which previous institutional arrangements have depended.

Hegel, it is said, (see my articles ‘The Cunning of Reason’ — parts one to four) did not try to bring the notion of reason to bear upon the constitution of first-order histories while Vico’s concern was with the requirements of first-order history and with the need to introduce some set of structuring principles into historical practice, to liberate it from generating arbitrary and in the end fictitious results. His lack of success has its source in the fact that albeit he was aware that facts are not logically independent and that certain categories must be introduced in order to explain their reciprocal dependencies he presupposed that this could be achieved only by introducing the concept of a determinate necessary pattern as a presupposition of scientific history, for then he either ruled out the possibility of any falsification of his historical claims or were he to abandon the necessity for the presupposition was unable to demonstrate why it rather than any contenders should be the preferred pattern or why there should be a preferred pattern at all albeit there would be no theoretical difficulty in accepting the pattern that Vico adduced if this were claimed to be simply an empirical matter.

The quandary relates completely to its status as a presupposition of history for then the problem is to find a way of justifying it that does not have the consequence that it is either immune from any possible historical falsification or becomes just one among the many perspectives within which history can be constructed, and Vico himself appears to have been more concerned to protect it from the latter outcome than from the former. Like Hume Vico is also unable to give a satisfactory ground for his account of what remains constant and what changes in history, which is not to say that he does not give such an account, for he insists that human customs and practices do not change all at once but only by degrees and that they never cease to be affected by the circumstances of their birth, hence traces of earlier forms of belief, judgement, custom, language, law, government and so on are carried forward into the forms that they take on in later phases of their career.

And yet albeit this is a significant principle both of historical ontology and methodology for Vico his incapacity to establish either the necessity for the determinate phases of the ideal eternal history or the necessity for their application to the actual human past means that his theory is unable to assist in demonstrating, in any actual historical case what it is that a particular institution or aspect of consciousness receives from the circumstances of its birth, what it is that is carried forward and modified in its subsequent career, and over what span of time such features endure or are modified. Hence as far as actual historical accounts are concerned the historian is left to do the best he or she can on a purely empirical basis and according to Vico’s criticisms of any historical practice that is not supported by a body of systematic theory the results will inevitably be arbitrary. Things that have changed may well be assumed to have remained constant while things that have remained constant may well be assumed to have changed, and in the light of the incapacity of the ideal eternal history to deliver the determinate and necessary guiding principles that scientific history requires the interpretations involved in first-order historical accounts and hence the results generated cannot be put upon a defensible foundation and hence albeit an account of which features remain constant and which change and in what ways is to be discovered in the ideal eternal history itself this fails to provide an answer to the problem of how the historian ought to think of the relation between what remains constant and what changes when establishing historical knowledge itself.

Yet still more we milled! May Yrsa’s son,

Scion of Halfdan, avenge him on Frode;

He may be held her son, and also her brother.

We both know this.

The maids they milled with might and main,

Young they were, in giant-wrath;

The rafters quivered, the boom was lowered,

With deafening din the boulder burst.

So collapsed the former world.

Chanted the mountain-giant’s bride:

‘We have ground for you, Frode, as we were forced.

At the quern the women remained till the end!’

— ‘Grottasongr’ (‘The Song of the Mill’), translated by W.H. Auden, (1907–1973), and P. B. Taylor, (1930 -).

The tenth thunder word of ‘Finnegans Wake’ (Norse gods):

It’s the end of the world and we are only at page 424.

See my article ‘The Metaphysics of Memory’ — Part Eight.

Ull: a Norse archer god, and ull- (ul) (Gaelic), prefix great, huge, chief, monstruous, mighty.

tordenveir: (Norwegian), thunderstorm.

Midgaard: In Norse myth, the abode of the first pair, parents of the human race; it was joined to Asgard by the rainbow bridge Bifrost; and Utgard, (Utgaard), in Norse myth, the realm of giants, where Utgard-Loki had his castle.

Gungnir: Odin’s Spear in Norse myth.

Urd: a Norse Fate

Mjollnir: Thor’s hammer in Norse myth.

Fenrir: a wolf in Norse myth, the son of Loki, who, with his father, will attack the gods on Ragnarøkr. Odin is swallowed whole and alive fighting the wolf Fenrir, but Fenrir will in turn be killed by Odin’s son Víðarr.

Loki: a god or jötunn (or both). Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. With the onset of Ragnarök, Loki is foretold to slip free from his bonds and to fight against the gods among the forces of the jötnar, at which time he will encounter the god Heimdallr and the two will slay each other.

Baugi:a Norse giant who held the mead of inspiration in the cauldron Odreri.

Surtr or Surt (Old Norse ‘black’ or ‘the swarthy one’) is a jötunn. Surtr is foretold as being a major figure during the events of Ragnarök; carrying his bright sword, he will go to battle against the Æsir, he will do battle with the major god Freyr ‘and there will be a harsh conflict before Freyr falls’, and afterward the flames that he brings forth will engulf the Earth.

Grimnir: the Norse god Odin.

Ragnarøkr (Old Norse): Destruction of the Norse gods (‘Eddas’).

Thor will do battle with the great serpent Jörmungandr during the immense mythical war waged at Ragnarök, and there he will slay the monstrous snake, yet after he will only be able to take nine steps before succumbing to the venom of the beast ….


THE END (literally)



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

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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.