Vico's New Science and a New Poetic Psychological Science

This review essay discusses Giambattista Vico and the New Psychological Science, which contains seven essays that challenge traditional anthropological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions that define psychology as a social science and instead interpret it as an embodied understanding of human cultural activity. The authors use Vico's New Science to support this endeavor because, they suggest, it traces the creation of human existence from a prehuman animal state with the agency of poiesis, an embodied meta-phoric language and social practices that are inseparable from that language. This effort is a potentially transformative reinterpretation of Vico, whose verum factum principle scholars interpret as challenging Cartesian epistemology. Identifying the true with the made, Vico's principle limits human knowing to what humans make—that is, their historical world. The authors rightly emphasize the embodied nature of making with poetic language and social practices. However, they undermine the significance of that embodiment by assuming that knowing what is made with poiesis is, like traditional understandings of knowledge, epistemic. Thus, they implicitly retain humanism's metaphysical assumption that grounds epistemology: humans know intelligible reality because they are dualistic beings who possess rational, subjective natures. By contrast, I claim that Vico's poetic humanism is a more radical move from traditional humanism's belief in epistemology toward a culturally active anthropology. For Vico, bodily skills of perception, memory, and imagination create a metaphoric language based on random perceptions, images, and sounds. This metaphoric language is inseparable from social practices and physical skills, creating a meaningful human world. The making achieved by embodied poetic language cannot lead to epistemic knowledge; it can only lead to the self-referential hermeneutic understanding that humans are the creators of their human existence. Vico's verum factum is not an epistemological principle in the Cartesian tradition but an ontological unity of knowing and making through sociophysical skills that are inseparable from poetic language. Humans make their ontologically real, meaningful human world and know themselves as its creators.