VICO AND HERDER by Isaiah Berlin


Two Studies in the History of Ideas
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Vico, the great philosopher and legal theorist of the Enlightenment who lived and died in obscurity, was among the first to sound the prevailing modern theme. In The New Science, he marvels "that the philosophers should have bent all their energies to the study of the world of nature, which, since God made it, He alone knows: and that they should have neglected the study of the nations or civil world, which since men had made it, men could come to know." Attacking Cartesian rationalism as well as questioning the Platonic tradition; developing the comparative studies of mythology, anthropology, archaeology, philology, linguistics; historical in one sense (man's cultural adventures constitute "the ideal eternal history") and ahistorical in another ("progress" is only the rising and falling of cyclical patterns); deciphering the origins of civilization through its primitive riddles, "crude beginnings," "frightful superstitions"--these are some of the recognitions which made no sense to the savants of Vico's day but which are brilliantly annotated in his works. Sir Isaiah Berlin, an articulate expositor and fervent Viconian, has written a dazzling monograph celebrating his hero's immensely protean mind. Like Vico himself, however, he now and then gives the effect of chasing both the hounds and the hares, so that the reader not previously acquainted with the Italian's often contradictory, bizarre, darkly poetic genius may find the journey a bit rough. The complementary study of Herder--whose belief that "we live in a world we ourselves create" became a shibboleth of nationalism, populism, and romanticism--is far easier to grasp. The essays do not overlap, but are presented in stimulating contrast to and concert with one another.
Pub Date: May 20th, 1976
ISBN: 0670745855
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1976


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