Week 4: “On the Study Methods of Our Time”

“On the StudyMethods of Our Time” by Giambattista Vico illustrates the benefits and detriments of the study methods of the author’s time (early 18th century) in comparison to those of the ancients.  Vico looks to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of his own epoch in an attempt to validate the advantageous methods and counteract the disadvantageous with the useful methods of the ancients.  Although the language used is a bit finicky, the oration provides an inspiring position in favor of the development of the imagination before isolating one’s mind with the critical or judicious. 

Not only may one learn from the pedagogic aspects from the text (which I plan to discuss later), but from Vico’s thoughtful discourse in the introduction and conclusion.  For example, Vicoaddresses his audience with the following: “this theme is new . . . In hope of escaping censure, I ask you to give thought to the fact that my purpose is not to criticize the drawbacks of the study methods of our age or of those of antiquity, but rather to compare the advantages afforded by the study methods of the two epochs” (5).  Vico knows his audience and the dangers of presenting an overpowering criticism of his own audiences’ foundation in learning.  Thus, he addresses this issue first, follows it with his “new theme”, and concludes his oration.  In anticipation of opposition, Vico raises his own questions challenging the speech just given: “But someone will object, ‘You were certainly bragging when you said your theme was new'”.  To which he answers, “Not in the least.  The fact that the theme is new is not automatically a recommendation; monstrous and ridiculous things may also be novelties.  But to bring forwardnew things and to treat them in the right manner is worthy of praise”(80).  Thus, the audience leaves with their own questions answered.  By “coming full circle”, Vico provides and excellent example for future orators.

To examine Vico’s main argument, I would like to focus on the opening line of chapter seven which reads, “the greatest drawback of our educational methods is that we pay an excessive amount of attention to the natural sciences and not enough to ethics” (33).  According to Vico, if one becomes familiar withethics, developing a deeper understanding of human nature, they will develop a common sense education apace with their scientific dominance and the former will greatly lend itself to the latter.  It is Vico’s goal to be equal to “the ancients in the fields of wisdom and eloquence as we excel them in the domain of science” (41).  The author provides a refreshing look at politics when he quotes Madruzzi’scomment: “Rulers should see to it not only that their actions are true and in conformity with justice, but that they also seem to be so” (36).  Vico wants his era to learn the ability to make ethical judgements based on how something feels or seems, a talent I feel has been somewhat lost in our current state of corporatization, globalization, and individual advancement. 

To conclude, I would like to list two of my personal favorite lines from Vico’s text:

1) “failure to concern themselves with the opinions of others has not only been a source of blame, but has proved to be extremely prejudicial, not only to private persons but to eminent leaders and great rulers as well”

2) “From my childhood, I have imposed on myself this rule . . . to be as indulgent to the shortcomings of others as I would like others to be indulgent to my own, especially since others may have done many important things as well, and failed only in a few cases, whereas I have been guilty of countless errors in matters requiring but little ability”

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