Truth, Socratic Dialogue, Internet Threads, and Giambattista Vico

Giambattista Vico was, from 1699-1741, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Naples, and I love the open way that he ended his speech, “On the Study Methods of Our Time” (1709). It represents well the spirit of Italian humanism that so obviously animated him:

I shall be greatly indebted to any one who wishes to criticize with pertinence and with concrete reference to their intrinsic purport, the points that I have brought up, so as to free me from eventual errors. He will be certain to enlist my gratitude by his mere intent to do so.

I especially like the ending: “He will be certain to enlist my gratitude by his mere intent to do so.” Wouldn’t it be nice if all contenders in the public square regarded their opponents in such dignified, and even noble, terms? Perhaps disdain is best reserved, not for one’s intellectual opponents—who, afterall, are at least animated by a regard for truth and dialogue equivalent to your own—but for those who cannot even be bothered to play. Unless you think that you are already in the full possession of the truth, might you consider, as a means to discover greater truth, welcoming vulnerable Socratic dialogue with strong opponents—as Giambattista Vico did? I think that Giambattista Vico would have liked Internet threads. I know that I do. I see them as part of the greater triumph, in global culture, of democratic humanism and the Enlightenment (not to mention Socrates). We are helping one another to think.

File:Socrates Louvre.jpg

Socrates bust image source: Sting at Wikipedia Commons.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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