Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monograph #2 Vico Giambattista

The Age of gods and the Language

As Vico pointed out, the language is an important source to examine certain ages. He says in his book “New Science(1744)” that “In harmony with these three kinds of nature and government- the age of gods, the age of heroes, and the age of men, three kinds of language were spoken which compose the vocabulary of this Science.” It means to say that three kinds of nature and government had their own language that reflects the characteristic of each age. Then he has also stated the characteristics of the languages of three ages that; the age of gods- That of the time of the families when gentile men were newly received into humanity. This, we shall find, was a mute language of signs and physical objects having natural relations to the ideas they wished to express. The age of heroes- That spoken by means of heroic emblems, or similitudes, comparisons, images, metaphors, and natural descriptions, which make up the great body of the heroic language which was spoken at the time the heroes reigned. The age of men- Human language using words agreed upon by the people, a language of which they are absolute lords, and which is proper to the popular commonwealths and monarchical states.” In order to carefully examine the theory of Vico, I think that it is really helpful us to look into the characteristics of languages used during each ages.

So I would like to discuss about the Inscription on bones and tortoise carapaces, or Oracle bone, the language or scripts, which was prevalent during ancient time of China which we may call the age of gods. It will clearly show us how the language is related to the each age, and how it reflects the characteristics of “the age of gods” which are proposed by Vico.

Oracle bones (Chinese: 甲骨; pinyin: jiǎgǔ) are pieces of bone or turtle plastron (that is, the underside of the shell, not the harder, thicker shell on top) bearing the answers to divination chiefly during the late Shang Dynasty. They were heated and cracked, then typically inscribed using a bronze pin in what is known as oracle bone script. The oracle bones are the earliest known significantcorpus of ancient Chinese writing, and contain important historical information such as the complete royal genealogy of the Shāng dynasty. These records confirmed the existence of the Shāng dynasty, which some scholars, until then, had doubted ever existed.

The vast majority of the inscribed oracle bones date to the last 230 or so years of the Shāng dynasty; oracle bones have been reliably dated to the fourth and subsequent reigns of the kings who ruled at Yīn (modern Ānyáng)—from king Wǔ Dīng (武丁) to Dì Xīn (帝辛). However, the dating of these bones varies from ca. the 14th -11th centuries BCE to ca. 1200-1050 BCE because the end date of the Shāng dynasty is not a matter of consensus. The largest number date to the reign of king Wǔ Dīng. Very few oracle bones date to the beginning of the subsequent Zhōu Dynasty.

In this Shang Dynasty oracle bone (which is incomplete), a diviner asks the Shang king if there would be misfortune over the next ten days; the king replied that he had consulted the ancestor Xiaojia in a worship ceremony.

The oracle bones are mostly tortoise plastrons (ventral or belly shells, probably female) and ox scapulae (shoulder blades), although some are the carapace (dorsal or back shells) of tortoises, and a few are ox rib bones, scapulae of sheep, boars, horses and deer, and some other animal bones. The skulls of deer, ox skulls and human skulls have also been found with inscriptions on them, although these are very rare, and appear to have been inscribed for record-keeping or practice rather than for actual divination]; in one case inscribed deer antlers are reported, but Keightley (1978) reports that they are fake. Neolithic diviners in China had long been heating the bones of deer, sheep, pigs and cattle for similar purposes; evidence for this in Liáoníng has been found dating to the late fourth millennium BCE. However, over time, the use of ox bones increased, and use of tortoise shells does not appear until early Shāng culture.

Since divination (-mancy) was by heat or fire (pyro-) and most often on plastrons or scapulae, the terms pyromancy, plastromancy and scapulimancy are often used for this process. Divinations were typically carried out for the Shāng kings, in the presence of a diviner. A very few oracle bones were used in divination by other members of the royal family or nobles close to the king. By the latest periods, the Shāng kings took over the role of diviner personally.

During a divination session, the shell or bone was anointed with blood , and in an inscription section called the 'preface', the date was recorded using the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, and the diviner name was noted. Next, the topic of divination (called the 'charge') was posed, such as whether a particular ancestor was causing a king's toothache. The divination charges were often directed at ancestors, whom the ancient Chinese revered and worshiped, as well as natural powers and Dì (帝), the highest god in the Shāng society. A wide variety of topics were asked, essentially anything of concern to the royal house of Shāng, from illness, birth and death, to weather, warfare, agriculture, tribute and so on. One of the most common topics was whether performing rituals in a certain manner would be satisfactory.

An intense heat source was then inserted in a pit until it cracked. Due to the shape of the pit, the front side of the bone cracked in a rough 卜 shape. The character 卜 (pinyin: bǔ or pǔ; Old Chinese: *puk; "to divine") may be a pictogram of such a crack; the reading of the character may also be an onomatopoeia for the cracking. A number of cracks were typically made in one session, sometimes on more than one bone, and these were typically numbered. The diviner in charge of the ceremony read the cracks to learn the answer to the divination. How exactly the cracks were interpreted is not known. The topic of divination was raised multiple times, and often in different ways, such as in the negative, or by changing the date being divined about. One oracle bone might be used for one session, or for many, and one session could be recorded on a number of bones. The divined answer was sometimes then marked either "auspicious" or "inauspicious," and the king occasionally added a “prognostication”, his reading on the nature of the omen. On very rare occasions, the actual outcome was later added to the bone in what is known as a “verification”. A complete record of all the above elements is rare; most bones contain just the date, diviner and topic of divination, and many remained uninscribed after the divination.

As we see, the ancient language of China, which we can consider as the age of gods, is clearly reflecting the age of gods.

The age of gods is defined by Vico that “The age of the gods, in which the gentiles believed they lived under divine governments, and everything was commanded them by auspices and oracles, which are the oldest things in profane history.”(Vico, 1744) The Oracle bone, or Inscription on the on bones and tortoise carapaces was used by people at the time to augur what will happen to them and to ask wills of god. Its usage was to communicate with god. This fact proves Vico’s thought that I have stated above. The characteristics and usage of the language is clearly reflecting aspects of the age of gods proposed by Vico.

The language implies its time. It corresponds with the time. Vico’s try to analyze the each age with languages was great and Historically reliable. Although I disagree with most of his theory, I admire his way and means of approach to analyze the certain period of History.


The Inscription on bones and tortoise carapaces, July 8, 2009 Retrieved from

Vico Giambattista (1744). New Science New York: Ithaca

Oracle Bone, July 8, 2009 Retrieved from

Position Paper # 2 Vico Giambattista


Rene Descartes vs Vico Giambattista

In the period before 1750 which we call the Early Enlightenment, the prevalent philosophy was rationalistic perspective of Rene Descartes who is considered as father of analytic geometry and the founder of modern rationalism. Descartes’ philosophy focused on the matter of realization which was epistemology. He insisted that every information or realization should be examined by rational perspective (or rational experimentation). This epistemology of Descartes has been applied in various areas such as mathematics, physics, geometry etc. Descartes has also tried to apply his view of epistemology in History like what he did in those areas. And Descartes devaluated History because the unlike mathematics and geometry, objects of history are not distinct because they come from experiences. So his epistemology excluded possibility of History being more than anecdotal for the reason that the History did not produce clear concepts. Therefore his point was that the History should not be valued in the matter of epistemology. This theory became more prevalent by success of Newton who succeeded to explain certain phenomenon by rational experimentation.

Vico Giambattista proposed a theory that opposed the Cartesian view on History at that time. He strongly disagreed with the devaluation of History made by Descartes. He argued that the epistemology proposed by Descartes must be supplanted by verum factum (Vico, 1744), a principle suggested by him which states that truth is verified through creation or invention and not, as per Descartes, through observation. He stated in his book, “New Science (1744)” that “the first men of the gentile nations, children of nascent mankind as we have styled them in the Axioms [209], created things according to their own ideas. (Vico, 1744)” This statement supports the idea that History is created by human. Therefore, according to the theory of verum factum (Vico, 1744), human can analyze and realize all about History because human being is maker of History.

It is really true that History can never be analyzed or realized by rationalistic means unlike mathematics and geometry. Descartes’ theory that conceived of human nature as fixed and static was truly anti-Historical. I highly value the attitude of Vico in treating the History. He admired the value of History with respect. He well pointed out that Descartes’ theory could not be suitable for the area of History.


The Three Stages – Age of gods, Age of Heroes and Age of Men

However, I disagree with three stages proposed by Vico that History repeats. Although his theory introduced many people the view on History and human nature which insisted value of History, there are several errors in his notions. I believe that it would be helpful for us to briefly look into his theory of three stages.

First is what we call the age of the gods (Vico, 1744), in which the gentiles believed they lived under divine governments, and everything was commanded them by auspices and oracles, which are the oldest institutions in profane history. This is much similar to view of Mircea Eliade that archetypal messages were from above. (Steven Kreis, 2001)

Second is the age of the heroes (Vico, 1744), in which they reigned everywhere in aristocratic commonwealths, on account of a certain superiority of nature which they held themselves to have over the plebeians. In this stage there will be clear classes among people according to power and wealth they have. (Steven Kreis, 2001)

Third is The age of men (Vico, 1744), in which all men recognized themselves as equal in human nature, and therefore there were established first the popular commonwealths and then the monarchies, both of which are forms of human government. In this stage high cultural institution emerged for first time. There was the rise of democratic republics. But such liberty and democracy was not stable because differentiation doesn’t end and this instability led to civil wars. (Steven Kreis, 2001) And at the end of this stage, people cease to think about public good and are only concerned about their private interest. Selfishness, greed, and ambition are prevalent among people. At this point, the culture and civilization are destroyed and there will again be the time of barbarian. People will lose their well developed civilizations which they had before.

This theory of Vico is almost the same with the cyclical conception proposed by Mircea Eliade. Eliade, in his book “Cosmos and History (1954)” insisted that “everything takes place cyclically.(1954)” Actually I agreed in my position paper on Mircea Eliade’s theory with the view of Eliade that History repeats certain patterns. What I mean by patterns here is fundamental feelings and experiences people normally have. And I mentioned about God’s providence (which is linear) on human History. I limited cyclical History as a view of Human being not God.

It seems to be a wild idea for me to explain whole History with these three stages. Vico suggested the perfection of the cycle which says the cycle of History can never be destroyed. In my opinion, Human History is cyclical but it is an imperfect cycle because there have been interferences of God on human History which were more on linear (and which could not happened in the cycle). And wheather Human like or not the History has been running as what God planned. Although Vico mentioned about providence of God in age of gods, his theory does not seem to really consider the being of God and His providence. What I mean here is that Vico does not really admit God’s work in History in fact.

And I also disagreed with the part of Vico’s theory that at certain point where people does not think of public good and become selfish and ambitious, the world will move to age of gods(primitive) from age of men (Vico, 1744)".. It would mean that well developed civilization can be destroyed or declined. Actually, in History, many civilizations have been built up and collapsed but it does not mean that we lost our civilization. After collapse of certain civilization, a new civilization which was more developed has come. Although there was confusion in a process of coming of a new civilization, it does not mean human being lost their civilization or when back to age of gods which is primitive. The time of confusion was just a transitional period.

The direction of human civilization is toward development. The human society has been developing as it has passed the time of establishment and collapse. It has never declined. Human society or civilization develops and never goes back to age of gods. The fundamental things human have never change. Those things appear cyclically from generation to generation. But the appearances of human nature (which refers to society and civilization) are different time to time. They are changeable and developmental.

I admire him about the fact he approached to History with respect and opposed Descartes’ anti-Historical view by pointing out that a matter of History cannot be analyzed and realized by rational approach. But his theory somehow denies God’s work and providence on Human History in fact. I strongly say that there can never be proper understanding unless we consider God as the maker and owner of History. Basically our History is cyclical in human’s perspective but with God, our History is no longer cyclical but linear.


Vico Giambattista(1744). The New Science New York: Ithaca

Mircea Eliade (1954). Cosmos and History New York: Harper Torchbooks

Steven Kreis(2001). The Vision of Human Progress: Vico, Gibbon and Condorcet Retrived 20:10 July 8, 2009 from

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Position Paper #1 Mircea Eliade


Rituals and Archetypes

“It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless.
You spend your life working, laboring, and what do you have to show for it?
Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same”

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

The King Solomon who has been known as most wise one began his Book ‘Ecclesiastes’ with this verse above. It is really true. And it is one of the reasons why I study History. History repeats itself. There has been some patterns therefore we can get something helpful for us to live our time from the past.

According to the view of Cyclical history proposed by Mircea Eliade things recur over and over again which means that there is nothing new in our world. And under this condition, there has been imitation and repetition of something that a divine model or an archetype had shown.

I partially agree on the views of Eliade except for the concept of Samsa-ra, transmigration of soul and the other concept now prevalent in Buddhism and Hinduism. Since the world began, there has always been famine, war, conflict, hopelessness, happiness, and satisfaction that people normally feel and experience. Those fundamental feelings or experiences have never been vanished on the Earth. Although the appearances of those things were always different according to the characteristics or aspects of different societies and periods, they have always been existed. What I mean here is that there are some patterns in our world which is not changed.

This fact urged people to find something meaningful, special and unique. They had realized that things happening around them are actually useless and meaningless. Because of the condition that something meaningful, special and unique is not found among themselves, people began to find something meaningful from archetype and myth. Mircea Eliade stated in his book "Cosmos and History(1954)" that “EVERY RITUAL has a divine model, an archetype; this fact is well enough known for us to confine ourselves to recalling a few examples. "We must do what the gods did in the beginning" (Satapatha Brahma^a, VII, 2, 1,4). "Thus the gods did; thus men do" (Taittirlya Brahmana, l y 5, 9, 4)”. It clearly tells us that every ritual in every aspect of human life is imitating and repeating an archetype. Desires of people to experience something unique lead them to imitate an archetype.

And this is also associated to their religious belief. According to John Calvin, in his book “Institutes of the Christian Religion(1559)”, every human being has been given desire toward divine being. It is proved by the fact that only human beings build a church. Monkeys do not build a church. People already knew that something meaningful was with a divine being.

Therefore, it is really true that people make rituals and practice them based on what their divine model and an archetype showed. And this tendency of people came from the awareness of that there is nothing new, and meaningful in their world(which is the cyclical conception) and belief that they would find it from an archetype, a divine model, a myth etc and their desire(or religiousness) to experience something an archetype had done.


Cyclical or Linear History?

A matter of a conception toward History is really important for Historians because how we interpret or analyze Historical events is based on our conception of History. There may be various interpretations on one specific event according to different conceptions of History.

Mircea Eliade in his book “Cosmos and History” discussed two important conceptions in History- the Cyclical and Linear conception. The main point of Cyclical conception is that History repeats itself and has particular patterns in its progression which means that one thing that is happening now is something that has happened before. The Linear conception says that human society, culture, and any other aspect of human life has been developing and each event happening is different from before so every event and part of History is unique and special. It has been an issue among Historians that which conception we must take toward History.

In my opinion, both conceptions should be taken to understand History properly. In my own view on History, History can be divided into two (History is actually one but this division is to help our understanding); History of God and History of Human.

I would like to talk about History of Human first. For History of Human, I take cyclical conception as what I have mentioned above. I do not deny the fact that each aspects of human life is developing and progressing as time goes but the fundamental factors that constitute human life have never been changed. More civilized people nowadays feel and experience the same as primitive people did in old time. Although modern people and primitive people contact different material and non-material culture, what they fundamentally think, experience, feel and act are the same. Those things are happiness, sadness, peace, war, greed etc which have always existed in human life. It is not hard to find something existing in both present time and old time.

An apple tree does not bear an orange. It bears an apple. There is no tree which bears two kinds of fruits. This is the reason why I consider History of Human as cyclical. Human being bears what they can possibly bear. They cannot produce something that they do not have. And things they have are limited. We have to admit the fact that we are a limited being. Because of this condition, Human History is repeating itself. So it is not a surprise that Human History is going with particular patterns and its events could not always be new and unique. That is why we have something to learn from past events. The appearance of output of human being can possibly different from time to time according to different background but essence of output is not changed. Therefore, History will go with some patterns and recur over and over again unless it is from human being.

However, there are questions left unanswered such as “why something unpredictable and we cannot control is happening around our lives?” Natural disasters such as typhoon, and earthquake or something unbelievable in human’s understanding have been happening in our History and even in present time. Those are not made by Human. My answer to this question is that God has been working on the world since He created it. Basically, the History of Human is cyclical but we have to see that God (some of people would name Him ‘Superpower’) is working on limited and cyclical History of Human to accomplish His will toward Human being and His work and History is linear because everything He does is new, unique and special.

It seems that History is made and managed by a human being but it is God who manages and superintends History not a human being. God has been working on the world with his omniscience and omnipotence. So even if we do not know, the world goes as God’s wants and will.

Therefore, I conclude that History is cyclical in human’s view but in God’s view it is linear. History is a work of God not human being. I am a beginner in studying of History, but if someone ask me to have my own philosophy of History, I will first make it sure that God is the owner and maker of History.

I would like to end this paper with two verses in the Bible that establish my philosophy. I hope we can see God’s work that is beautiful, unique, new and special even once in this meaningless world and our cyclical events and time.

“What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already---you can see it now!…

Isaiah 43:19


Mircea Eliade (1954). Cosmos and History New York: Harper Torchbooks

John Calvin (1559). Institute of the Christian Religion (Vol. I,II) Philadelphia: the Westminster Ecclesiates.

Good Newes Bible Today's English Version New York: American Bible Society