About Italian philosophy

An interview with Giorgio A. Pinton on Vico, Garin, Betti

Giambattista Vico
Giambattista Vico
29 APR 2017

Giorgio A. Pinton is an Italian-American scholar specialized in the translation of philosophical works from Latin and Italian to English. Especially, he studies the thought of Giambattista Vico so much so that we can consider him like the most important translator of Vico’s Latin books. He taught at Laconia State School in New Hampshire, then philosophy at the University of Hartford.

Pinton has a long list of scientific publications in the history of philosophy, as well as a long series of translations; we report here, just to mention a few: Giambattista Vico’s inaugural orations, a book published in I993, with the title On Humanistic Education and Vico’s Institutiones Oratoriae, a book published by Editions Rodopi, B. V. in I996, with the title The Art of Rhetoric (both in cooperation with Arthur W. Shippee). With Pierre Wolff, he translated The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, A New Translation from the Authorized Latin Text, in I998. With Margaret Diehl, he translated Vico’s Diritto Universale that Rodopi published in 2000 with the title Universal Right. Then he translated Vico’s Le Gesta di Antonio Carafa (De Rebus Gestis Antonii Caraphaei) that was published in 2004 by Peter Lang Publisher, with the title, Statecraft: The Deeds of Antonio Carafa. In recent years he has dedicated himself to propose to the English-speaking public his version of Emilio Betti’s General theory of interpretation. However, personally I consider his most important work the English translation of the History of Italian Philosophy wrote by Eugenio Garin, the most important modern scholar of the Renaissance philosophy. This book is a majestic retrospective of the great thinkers of the Italian peninsula from the fall of the Roman Empire to the present day. It’s a fundamental tool, I suppose the only one, for everyone who wants to study and examine in-depth without knowing Latin or Italian this part of history of philosophy, which is one of the most important cultural heritage of the Western civilization.

Prof. Pinton, which place occupies the Italian philosophy in the international debate today?

Given that the larger numbers of the most famous senior Scholars, at least in the Americas, have an understanding of the Italian Philosophy still formed by Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile, or Gramsci, I do not see any strong new Italian participation or contribution to the Western civilization. It seems that the younger scholars of the 21st century, in order to escape the old trend, are trying in their preferred field, to research and study late 20th century authors that made spectacular success in their European countries. It is in them that they are discovering pertinent presence and participation. Regrettably, science fiction is even more preferred in the 2lst century than it was in the last two decades of the 20th century, so that Umberto Eco seems to return to be more known than any other contemporary Italian thinkers.

Nowadays, many of the classics of Italian philosophy were translated into English, especially the works of Vico. In this regard, in the last 50 years we have witnessed an explosion of publications in the field of Vico’s studies, not only in Italy, but especially abroad. From this point of view, which is the impact that effectively the greater availability of texts gave? Is really there a greater cultural interest in Vico in Italy and in the rest of the world?

My direct and immediate answer to your full question is “Yes.” In Italy, the most important contribution to Vico’s studies, starting from the last 2 decades of the 20th century and thealmost two decades of the 2lst century, has focused, more than on special topics, on the professional and technical work on the texts of Vico. Expert philologists, historians, critics, linguists, classicists have cooperated in producing definitive and official texts of Vico, under the shield of scientific centers created by the Italian Republic (CNR). In a word, in Italy Vico has been submitted to the art/science of ecdotica, that is, the critique of a text in order to bring it to the level of being foremost as near as possible to its original form: the one wanted by the author.

In recent years you have been involved in a complex translation of the work of Emilio Betti, an important Italian jurist of the 20th Century. I suppose that you are primarily attracted to his theory of interpretation and its evident philosophical implications. In this regard, what is the spring that triggered your interest?

My interest in Betti was due to two main factors, one practical and one intellectual. A copy of the Teoria Generale dell’Interpretazione of 1955, around I967 was going to be removed from the shelves of the Library of the Hartford Theological Seminary and the librarian asked me, who was then a student there, if I cared to have it. When the time to prepare my Ph.D. thesis came, then it became easy and manifest that such work could be the topic of a challenging thesis, especially for its epistemology being fundamentally related to the theories of Vico. The thesis was done and finished in 1972 and Betti’s name by that time was circulating in the highest levels of hermeneutics together with that of Heidegger, Bultmann, and H. Georg Gadamer.

Is there a specificity of the Italian philosophy? It plays only a marginal role in the contemporary philosophical debate or, farther than what was said above about Vico, thinkers like Machiavelli, Guicciardini, Leopardi, Croce, Gentile, and Gramsci etc. may still be of interest to the Anglophone scholars?

The individuals you mentioned, they are present in their spirits in the different universities faculties and they are studied, but Vico studies seems to be preponderant, “Vico” is certainly no longer marginal. Vico’s presence is almost an omnipresence, he is considered in all the branches of humanistic studies, without neglecting the arts and the sciences of psychology and sociology. The universalism of Vico, especially in the U.S., began around I970 with Giorgio Tagliacozzo and the Fondazione Cini of Venice, where the best American and European minds were invited to participate for several days to discuss their essays on Vico. Tagliacozzo, out of three great symposia, offered several volumes of essays on various aspects of Vico’s philosophy: Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium (1969), Vico and Contemporary Thought (1976); Giambattista Vico‘s Science of Hurnanity (1979), Vico: Past and Present (1981), Vico and Marx: Utopia and History (1983); and, at last, Giorgio wrote his prophetic ideas on Vico in Arbor Scientiae reconceived and the History of Vico’s Resurrection (1993). Colleges and Universities began to offer the first courses on the Italian philosophy and Vico. In the 1980, Tagliacozzo reached out to universities through the journal New Vico Studies. Few years later, with Phillip Donald Verene of Emory University, Tagliacozzo founded the Institute for Vico Studies, New York and Emory. From this moment on, Vico had a solid based in the Anglo-Saxon speaking world and continued so for a quarter of a century. By the time Tagliacozzo died, in I996, Vico’s system was present within Encyclopaedias of Philosophy and Philosophical Dictionaries or in compendiums of Psychology, Sociology, and Physics, in Academia.Edu, in Google etc. [1] Recently, I found myself reading a page from a chapter of the Universal Right on Google and it was offered by an agency propagandizing “take a book at your public library and read it in the sanctuary of your home.” I know of one professor, Alexander Bertrand of Niagara University, who was instructed at the Institute for Vico Studies, and dedicated himself to learn Italian in order to be able to read Vichian texts in the original language.

Prof. Verene of Emory University, was so convinced that Giambattista Vico had reached his official status in at least all faculties of humanistic or philosophical studies that he considered the New Vico Studies yearly journal to have become superfluous. In the last 20 years, a good thing has been that a considerable number of young professors have been formed at the Institute for Vico Studies of Emory University.

[1] You can find the works of Giorgio Pinton about Vico, Garin and Betty here: independent.academia.edu