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Horst Steinke


on to singling out three concrete human “institutions”: religion,

marriage, and burial of the dead. In §§ 333 to 337, which are part

of the section on “Principles”, provides a justification for what

he calls «these three eternal and universal customs as three first

principles of this Science».

(§ 332) Vico does not leave it at this ethnographical ac-



; in the section on “Method” that immediately follows,

he endeavors to show what went on in the minds of men to

make them subject themselves to the countervailing institutions

of religion, marriage, family life, and ultimately human society at

large (§§ 338-341), all the more remarkable in view of the prem-

ise stated in § 340: «But these first men, who later became the

princes of the gentile nations, must have done their thinking un-

der the strong impulses of violent passions, as beasts do».

From an epistemological standpoint, these three «princi-



occupy a peculiar position; rather than arising “logically”,

necessarily, by inference from the theoretic framework of “phi-

lology”, they are ontologically independent of its theorizing.

Without using the term, Vico took them to be the



human life: «For these institutions […] give us the universal and

eternal principles […] on which all nations were founded and

still preserve themselves» (§ 332)


. In that respect, they are not

unlike the physical constants that must be incorporated in math-

ematical physics to yield correct results. Such constants are evi-

dence of the irreducible incommensurateness of constructs that

are purely theoretical.

In the same section on “Method”, Vico goes on to discuss

another “factor”, if that is the right term, that militates against

any theoretical constructs perfectly depicting and explaining (so-

cio-political) reality, namely, what he calls «divine providence»

(§§ 342-345). Stripped to its most basic connotation, Vico sees it

as an outworking «without human discernment or counsel, and

often against the designs of men» (§ 342)


. How ironic and

counterintuitive, that public


arise out of private