Volume 16, 1998
Nancy du Bois
Vico’s Orations on Paideia and Humanitas
This essay on the themes of paideia and humanitas in Giambatista Vico's inaugural orations is excerpted form a chapter of a larger study on Vico and Plato. I focus on Pico della Mirandola's Oration of the Dignity of Man because it illuminates Vico's humanistic ideals. For Vico, self-knowledge is the axis of the sphere of the liberal arts. Self-knowledge for human beings is twofold. The divinity of the human mind is a central theme in Vico as well as Pico, and human dignity is strongly stated. So one aspect of self-knowledge establishes confidence in human abilities. The other side is the recognition of human ignorance and misery. How does Vico reconcile the divinity of the human mind with the observation that most human beings are fools? The same way Pico does. Humanitas is the goal of paideia, not a given. Education makes us into human beings. We become who we are through the cultivation of virtue. Vico inspires in his students the confidence to undertake the heroic effort to rule their passions and dispel ignorance. This confidence in human potential Vico learned from Renaissance thinkers such as Pico. Vico is most impassioned when he treats educational themes, and his words are inspiring today for students and teachers alike.