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Metaphysical narration, science, and symbolic form.

This essay addresses two questions: (1) Is the search for scientific truth a self-sufficient activity? or (2) Does scientific right reasoning depend upon a form of truth-telling that lies beyond the limits of scientific investigation? Put differently, is there a sense of metaphysics as a form of human culture that is the embodiment of this general sense of truth-telling?

The answers to these questions involve the relationship of science, philosophy, and metaphysics. As a means for answering them I wish first to examine Ernst Cassirer's conception of science as a symbolic form. Then I wish to join this conception with Giambattista Vico's conception of metaphysical narration. Cassirer understands science, like culture, as arising from the distinctively human power to form the world through symbols. Scientific truth depends upon a particular use of this power of symbolic formation that exists within that system of symbolic forms we call culture.

Vico understands the "civil world," or culture itself, to arise from a special sense of imagination (fantasia) that forms universals within its narrations. Within these narrations are stated the primordial truths of human culture upon which science is later to depend. My aim is to put Cassirer's conception of science together with Vico's conception of metaphysical narration. It is a long-standing point that scientific thinking involves metaphysical presuppositions. My interest is not in the interconnection of science and metaphysics as a traditional logical or epistemological question, but in their interconnections as cultural activities. I wish to approach this through Vico's original association of metaphysical knowledge with the basic human act of narrating a truth.


Science as Symbolic Form. Cassirer's notion of the symbol is a transformation of the Kantian notion of the "schema," that is, the notion of a "sensuous-intellectual form" that lies at the basis of knowledge. Kant reaches this notion of a schema through a process of making distinctions within his transcendental analysis of the elements of experience. Cassirer wishes to find this schema in experience as a phenomenon. He does so in his discovery of the symbol as the medium through which all knowledge and culture occur. Cassirer understands his philosophy as an idealism that he, in fact, traces back to the problem of form in Plato, but he insists that the object of which he speaks is truly "there." It is not a creation of the mind of the knower. This is a point on which he insisted in a lecture to the Warburg Institute in 1936, "Critical Idealism as a Philosophy of Culture," and later, to his students at Yale in the 1940s.(1) The notion of the perceptual object as something "there" being pregnant at the same time with something that is "not there" Cassirer connects to Leibniz's term praegnans futuri, as well as to the psychology of perception.

In his full phenomenology of knowledge (Erkenntnis), which Cassirer claims derives most directly from Hegel rather than Kant or Husserl, he distinguishes three basic functions of consciousness.(2) These might be thought of as basic ways in which sensory content is symbolically pregnant for the knowing consciousness. The expressive function or Ausdrucksfunktion does not separate knower and known. It forms the object mimetically. It is the object "felt" and portrayed as a benign or malignant force. Culturally this function is developed in the symbolic form of myth. The representational function or Darsteuungsfunktion enacts a separation of knower and known. It is typified by the analogical power to "liken" things into groups, to develop a referential relation between knower and known and attain a logic of classification of objects. Cassirer sees this as tied to the powers of language, of logos as separated from mythos. This is the power of language to organize the world as a system of discrete objects. The significative function or Bedeutungsfunktion is the power of the knower freely to construct symbol systems through which the known can be ordered and which themselves can become elements in wider systems of symbols. This is dominated by what Cassirer calls the purely "symbolic." This function has its shape in the symbol systems of modern logic, in mathematics, and in the theoretical structures of modern science. Here the thought of the knower constructs worlds of pure meaning that have their own coherence of form, and which in the modelling, empirical, and experimental activities of science find loci in experience and provide consciousness with a formal articulation of what is there.

Cassirer claims that "the symbolic process is like a single stream of life and thought which flows through consciousness, and which, by this flowing movement produces diversity and cohesion, the richness, the continuity, and constancy, of consciousness."(3) Thus in metaphysical terms Cassirer regards the symbol as that which bridges the gap between life (Leben) and thought, or--as he often uses as the opposite of Leben--Spirit or Geist.(4) To exist as a human is to be at the juncture of life as it is formed or flows into one of the various directions of the mind or spirit. In his essay of the early 1920s, "Der Begriff der symbolischen Form im Aufbau der Geisteswissenschaften," Cassirer gives perhaps his most fundamental definition of symbolic form: "Under a |symbolic form' each energy of spirit should be understood through which a spiritual meaning or content is joined to a concrete sensory sign and is inwardly adapted to this sign."(5) Each Energie des Geistes is an act in which consciousness internalizes the sensory content in a certain way such that this content can ultimately be formed as an object of knowledge.

Every symbolic form is at once a way of knowing the object and a way of the subject defining itself in relation to the object. These acts of consciousness do not just designate forms of knowledge. These forms of knowledge correspond to fundamental forms or directions of man's cultural activity. Thus myth as well as science, although polar opposites, are on Cassirer's view both forms of knowledge. Myth does not differ from science as a form of knowledge because myth and science employ different categories as a means to delimit the object. They share the same categories (which they also share with every other symbolic form) but they differ in the interpretation and employment of these categories. This leads to what Cassirer calls a difference in "tonality" (Tonung) among the symbolic forms.(6) Mythical thought and scientific thought both employ the category of cause, but what counts as a causal relation in myth differs radically from what counts as such in science. Each symbolic form has its own "inner form," and it is this innere Form that the philosophy of symbolic forms seeks to bring out.(7) Each form of culture is to be understood on its own terms, as having its own inner logic through which consciousness acts and in which knower is related to known.

In one sense Cassirer's conception of the symbol derives from the essay "Das Symbol" (1887) of the Hegelian aesthetician Friedrich Theodor Vischer, and from Heinrich Hertz's view of the symbolic character of knowledge in the introduction to Die Prinzipien der Mechanik (1894).(8) But even more than this, I think, Cassirer's notion of the symbol is directly derived from what caught his imagination in his first book of systematic thought, Substance and Function (1910).(9) In the first chapter of this work Cassirer advances a conception of the logic of modern science based upon the generalized notion of a mathematical function. Although he presents this as a conception of the logic of science that will provide a theory of concept formation that will actually fit with the workings of modern science, what he offers is a statement in purely formal terms of the interrelationship between universal and particular that is the inner form of the symbolic form itself

Aristotelian class logic has failed to offer an adequate theory of the concept for the way in which modern science works, because its universal is based upon a process of abstraction from the particular such that the universal loses its power to make specific determinations of the particular. Cassirer shows how, in the notion of a function, the principle by which a series is ordered can never be a member of the series it orders, yet it has the power to determine the next member of the series. Thus F (a, b, c, . . .) provides a model of the interconnection of the universal (F) and the series of particulars (a, b, c, . . .).(10) The bond that exists within the two logical levels of this sense of serial ordering is exactly what Cassirer later attributes to the notion of the symbol, which is at once something sensory and also the bearer of a meaning.

Cassirer can speak of science, as he does in An Essay on Man, as "the highest and most characteristic attainment of culture," because in science these two levels of the symbolic process are fully articulated and self-consciously developed.(11) In science, for Cassirer, thought or spirit truly becomes a function of itself. It can develop itself according to the basic power and principles of its own nature. The primordial bond between sense and significance that is achieved on the level of symbolic pregnance now becomes its own dynamic as Erkenntnis, scientific or theoretical knowing. What Hegel would attribute to the full activity of philosophical knowing, Cassirer attributes to the broad activity of modern science. In science so understood, consciousness becomes the conscious and deliberate owner of the symbol of the power to construct the world in symbols. The knower becomes the owner of the object. The spirit which Galileo articulates in Il saggiatore, that the language of nature is written in mathematical symbols, seems completely fulfilled.(12)

The other symbolic forms, although they too form the object, do not form the symbol. In myth or art or language, the knower's access to the world is attained through the particular symbolic process of the particular form, but that symbolic process is never fully commanded by the knower. In such symbolic forms the nature of the symbol is never fully articulated or penetrated. The process of symbolic formation always in some sense guides the knower in apprehension of the object. In myth, art, and the like, unlike in science, the knower never guides the symbol with the freedom of making systems of symbols that arise directly out of the power of the symbol. In science, thought creates systems of order that are fully and formally determinate and which can generate further systems. In science, thought seems truly to own itself and the world at once, because it owns the symbol in the way that no other form of knowledge or cultural activity does.

What emerges from Cassirer's conception of science as symbolic form is that science is the master of the symbol. Science becomes the true possessor of the symbol, which is the power upon which all knowledge, as well as culture, depends. The other forms of culture, such as myth, religion, art, history, and, in a sense, language--what have been grouped together as the Geisteswissenschaften--are symbolic forms; but in them the knower is, in various ways, dominated by the symbol. The knower is dependent on the symbol. In such forms the knower is always attempting to attain knowledge of his own being, in contrast to knowledge of the object. These forms are always energies of the spirit toward self-knowledge. As Cassirer explains in the first chapter of An Essay on Man, one or the other of these symbolic forms, at various times and periods, becomes dominant as the basis for man's knowledge of himself. In the Geisteswissenschaften, the symbol is always something through which man is attempting to find himself, to find his own nature. The symbol is permanently problematic for the symbolic forms of the Geisteswissenschaften.(13)

When the symbol emerges as science, when it takes on the inner form of what we know as science, a change takes place between the knower and the symbol. Science, as Cassirer emphasizes, initially passes through a mythic stage and later through what he calls a linguistic stage--a stage of descriptive and classificatory thought. Even particular sciences progress through such stages in their own unique developments on Cassirer's view. But once science has emerged, once the purely significative function of consciousness has emerged, the knower takes a new and unprecedented command of the symbol, of the very process through which knowledge and culture are made. In what are traditionally designated as the Naturwissenschaften, the problem of self-knowledge is put aside. Science arises through the knower's shifting all attention to the formation of the object. This is true even of the behavioral sciences, which treat the self as an object for investigation and which have nothing to do with the problem of self-knowledge in the above sense.

With its attention on the known, on the object side of the knower-known relationship, science seems to transcend culture. Whereas we can and must speak of myth, art, religion, or language as imbedded in various actual cultures--and thus we speak of Chinese mythology, Greek religion, African art, American history, or the Indo-European languages--we can speak of science in no such terms. There is no such thing, in the proper sense, as Russian science, German science, or American science, unless we are speaking descriptively of the particular forms of social institutions that underlie the scientific community and vary according to historical group. Lysenkoist science or Nazi science are contradictions in terms because they were politics masquerading as science. True science is universal and is the same throughout all cultures. When science is done properly it is done the same, regardless of place. Although there is a symbolic form of art or myth that is articulated when the inner form of art or myth is articulated apart from its existence in particular cultures or periods, this unity is different from that of science as described above. Science is different because it appears to bring with it its own unity, to command its own standpoint apart from whatever culture in which its activity is actually taking place. Science appears this way because it seems to command the symbolic process itself and to be a form of thought solely of the object.


The "Science" of Metaphysical Narration. Cassirer wishes to conceive science as symbolic form in order to include it in culture. He wishes to show that it is one form of knowledge among many, all of which together comprise a system of symbolic forms that defines the limits and nature of human culture. But there is an unresolved tension within the system of symbolic forms itself since science seems to own the symbolic itself. The resolution of this tension, I think, is not possible within Cassirer's system. I wish to turn to the philosophy of Vico in an effort to discover how it is possible to have an adequate philosophy of science as symbolic form.

There can be no science of culture in the sense of science as described above. The power of science is to form the object or the knower as object. There is no science of the knower as knower. Another way to put this is that there can be no science of self-knowledge in the ancient Socratic sense. The most that can be attempted in this direction is to deny the meaning of any such knowledge, as B. F. Skinner has done in Beyond Freedom and dignity.(14) There is no meaningful way to turn scientific knowing back upon the humanities, upon humanistic knowing, and offer a knowledge of them. But the reverse is not true. There is no scientific knowledge of science itself, but there is a humanistic knowledge of science. That is, there is a humanistic knowledge of what science is and how such knowledge is part of human culture.

My thesis, with its roots in Vico, is that culture is where the self encounters itself, and that at the heart of culture is self-knowledge. It is my view that the essence of humanistic thought, of the humanities themselves, is narration. I count philosophy as one of the humanities. To follow Vico, philosophy is that part of the narrative approach to experience that constitutes the essence of humane letters, that attempts to make humanistic knowledge into a special kind of science.

Vico's Scienza nuova, his "principles of new science concerning the common nature of nations," is a science of culture; but what Vico means by "science" must differ from what has above been discussed as science.(15) Vico is Commonly called the founder of the philosophy of history. Cassirer adds to this appelation. Throughout his works Cassirer refers to Vico as the founder of the philosophy of the Geisteswissenschaften as well as the founder of the philosophy of mythology.(16) In the Problem of Knowledge Cassirer calls Vico the "true discoverer of the myth" (der eigentliche Entecker des Mythos).(17) The one truly original part of Cassirer's philosophy, and a feature that sets him off from all other major thinkers of the twentieth century, is his grounding of his theory of knowledge in a theory of myth. Directly at the base of this Cassirer places Vico. In his view, Vico is also the first to understand the way to conceive the humanities generally as forms of knowledge, the issue that occupied not only Cassirer but also Dilthey and influenced the development of hermeneutics down to Gadamer and beyond.(18) What Cassirer misses in Vico is Vico's conception of narration and the conception of the relationship between rhetoric and metaphysical knowledge, upon which all of Vico's New Science rests.

It is not possible here to recreate the rich and complicated features of Vico's total thought. I wish only to introduce Vico's views in an effort to suggest how the limits of science are to be understood. This can be accomplished, I think, first by attention to Vico's complaint against Polybius, a complaint that he reiterates in various places. He makes it prominently in axiom 31 of the New Science, where he says, "from this point begins the refutation of the false dictum of Polybius that if there were philosophers in the world there would be no need of religions. For without religions no commonwealths can be born, and if there were no commonwealths in the world there would be no philosophers in it" (par. 179). Vico's reference is to The Histories, where Polybius holds the view that the cohesion of the Roman state was due to the institution of religious superstition in public and private life.(19) Polybius believes that although this was successful, it might not have been necessary if it were possible to have had a state composed of wise men. The term "philosopher" (filosofo or sapiens) here is not intended in the narrow sense of someone schooled in philosophy as a particular discipline but more in the sense of the sapiens, the knower. Vico's point is that a society of thinkers or cognizers is an impossibility. A society of reasoners who are held together by their processes of evaluating arguments and good reasons for acting or not acting in certain ways (a dream held in high regard by all sorts of modern ethicists and cognitive scientists) is not meaningful or desirable.

Another way to put this is that a body of persons sharing the rational pursuit of truth, common conducting of experiments and investigations, and so forth, is not a culture. Such activity presupposes culture in order to occur; it is in no way at the heart of culture itself. Vico speaks of the boria de'dotti, the conceit or arrogance of scholars "who will have it that what they know is as old as the world" (par. 127). It is this boria that is natural to science's seeming possession of the symbolic process itself. Science is modest about how much it knows of the nature of things, but its propensity is toward immodesty about the method of right reasoning that will lead to truth. Science appears as a kind of independence from all else but its own aims, as that form of thinking toward which thought and culture have always been tending and in which much of the hope of the world of nations is to be placed. All of this is well known. It is the old division between scientific truth and values, with the emphasis placed on the need to discover some way to understand value so as to allow, if not for a science of values, then for the discovery of some method for proper thinking in values. The problem on this level is misconstrued, because what is required is not a new conception of values but a reconception of the ancient project of self-knowledge. To pursue self-knowledge requires a notion of knowing that is more fundamental than that of scientific thinking, and one that allows science to be kept in perspective.

Vico claims that there are three principles of his science which are also the principles upon which all nations are founded and which they hold in common. These are three human customs: religion, marriage, and burial (pars. 330-37). Religion, which Polybius would attempt to exclude, is the first of these. By religion Vico means those primordial orderings of the world upon which any society is founded, or what we would today call myth. Man lives in a mythical world before he lives in a logical, empirical, or scientific world. The first humans, for Vico, live in an age of gods--that is, the first humans organize their world in terms of gods; for them all things are full of gods. They first name the thunderous sky Jove, and once in possession of the first act of naming they name all things in the world as gods: the sea, the earth, flora and fauna, and so forth. The first power of language is that of the metaphor and the fable or myth, and, as Vico says, "every metaphor is a fable in brief" (par. 404).

In Vico's view, humans originally make their world through their power of fantasia (imagination). Fantasia is communal. It is responsible for the myths or fables made in common by any nation in its beginnings. It expresses the fundamental images upon which any nation is built. Fantasia, not ratiocination, is the primordial faculty from which all human institutions spring. Vico's notion of fantasia and the sense of universals (universali fantastici) that fantasia makes has close ties with Cassirer's conception of Ausdruck (expression).(20) Fantasia is the faculty by means of which we give form to the world as felt. Fantasia is a thought of the passions. In Vico's picture the first humans, who are simply giants roaming the great forests of the earth, experience thunder and lightning. They experience fear of this (spavento). They form this feeling of the thunderous sky as Jove, who is a kind of giant of a different order than they, and whose body is the sky itself. Jove is an Urphanomen in terms of which all their particularized sensations of the sky can be organized (Vico says every nation has its Jove).

Jove is an imaginative universal (universale fantastico), a kind of universal formed through the power of fantasia, not through intellectualization.(21) The fable or the myth is based in this power of the imaginative universal. A myth, Vico says, is always a vera narratio (par. 401). By this Vico means that a myth is always a true story, and it is a true story because a myth always states an arche. The myth is what is first, and is that from which all else must be drawn and developed. By its very nature it states a first truth. There could never be a society of intellectual knowers because what intellectual truths they formulate and seek could never derive directly from the world itself. Their intellectual truths always are implicitly framed by and traceable back to those original meanings first formed in fantasia that are embodied in what Vico calls religion.

Fantasia for Vico is above all a faculty of "making." It is certainly tied to the ancient conception of poiein (meaning both to make, and to compose poetry), upon which Plato plays in Republic 10, and which is preserved in the Latin poeta. The first wisdom of humanity was poetic, or what Vico calls sapienza poetica, and because this power of poetic making is concerned with the actions of the gods in the world Vico often speaks of the first thoughts of humanity as those of the "theological poets." Because human society is first of all made by men, it is possible in Vico's terms to have a true science of the principles of humanity. In the most famous lines of Vico's New Science this point is put thus: "But in the night of thick darkness enveloping the earliest antiquity, so remote from ourselves, there shines the eternal and never failing light of a truth beyond all question: that the world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and that its priinciples are therefore to be found within the modifications of our own human mind" (par. 331).

The anthropologist Edmund Leach has analyzed the similarities between this famous claim of Vico and Claude Levi-Strauss's conception of the role of myths in the origins of humanity. Leach concludes that Levi-Strauss's conception of his "science of mythology" is very close to Vico's. He says, "thus, in effect, Levi-Strauss, like Vico, affirms that |the principles of the world of civil society are to be found within the modifications of our own human mind'."(22) Among various statements of Levi-Strauss's position Leach finds the following to be closest to the point of Vico's claim. Levi-Strauss says, "thus there is simultaneous production of myths themselves, by the mind that generates them and, by the myths, of an image of the world which is already inherent in the structure of the mind."(23) Leach also reminds the reader of Levi-Strauss's principle concerning the communal and "archaic" nature of myths, which expresses a very Vichian point, namely, that men do not think themselves through myths but myths think themselves through men without their knowing it. Vico, like Levi-Strauss, holds that the "first science to be learned should be mythology" (par. 51). This is a point which Cassirer, in his own way, holds in his grounding of modern theory of knowledge in theory of mythical thought. Vico's conception of a science of mythology is quite modern. As Leach puts it, "In this discussion [that is, Vico's conception of imaginative universals as the logic of myth] Vico is really concerned with the same basic problem that repeatedly confronts the anthropologist when he meets with totemic phenomena. What is really meant when the Bororo Indians say that they are red parrots, the Dinka say that they are lions, or the Nuer say that human twins are birds?"(24)

Myth is the heart of all humanistic knowledge for Vico. The myth is the master key to how all human institutions and systems of thought are originally made. A sense of the myth and of the "made" hold the key to a science of human culture. This is a science which "science" as we normally understand it cannot provide, and which this "science" presupposes. Vico makes clear what he means by science in his early work, On the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians (1710).(25) There he formulates his famous principle that "the true is the made," or that the "true is convertible with the made" (verum esse ipsum factum or verum et factum convertuntur). Vico finds the principle of the convertibility of verum and factum illustrated in mathematics. What is true in mathematics is true because we make it. He makes a distinction between science (scientia) and consciousness (conscientia). The latter might best be rendered as "witnessing consciousness," thus preserving something of its meaning as both consciousness and conscience.

Natural science is not scientia but conscientia, because the object in nature that is the object of natural science is not made by the activity of natural science. Its truths are not made by the methods of investigation of natural science but are more properly "found" by it in nature. Science, then, in this view becomes a special kind of "witnessing" of nature--of that of which the knower is not the cause. God stands to nature as converter of true and made. But the natural scientist is in principle external to and not the maker of the object of his investigation. The role of experiment, Vico holds, is so important in natural science because it simulates the conversion of true and made. In the experiment we seem almost to be the maker of the object understood. Man stands to mathematics as God to his creation. Later, in the New Science, Vico expands his conception of scientia to the world of civil things (cose civili) or human culture. Here a science is truly possible because the objects of our investigation "have certainly been made by men," and thus men can make a knowledge of the principles inherent in these cultural institutions. Man stands to culture as maker to made.

What is the form of thought that will yield this science of culture that is more properly a science than is any science of nature? Vico is quite clear on this. It is a narrative science. Nothing else will do. In his presentation of "method" in the first book of the New Science, Vico makes it very clear that the "decisive proof," that which regna in questa Scienza (par. 348), depends upon the reader meditating and narrating to himself the "ideal eternal history traversed in time by the history of every nation in its rise, development, maturity, and fall" (par. 349). He reiterates the claim quoted above: "For the first indubitable principle posited above is that this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind. And history cannot be more certain than when he who creates the things also narrates them" (par. 349). Vico calls his new science a "new critical art" that is to be identified with metaphysics: "questa Nuova Scienza, o sia la metafisica" (par. 31). The new science is above all a metaphysics based in the human power of narrative truth-telling.

The details of human culture must be meditated, that is, they must be brought into the mind and digested, inwardized, and otherwise fully absorbed. These details (what Vico calls philology--the languages, deeds, laws, and customs of a people) must then be made into a narrative truth. This means, for Vico, that these details must be ordered so as to make a necessity, so that we have a knowledge per causas. We must have a knowledge "through the causes." The story must offer what Vico calls an ideal eternal history (storia ideale eterna), which Vico describes as fulfilling the conditions of a story that "had, has, and will have to be" (dovette, deve, dovra). In saying this Vico is quoting the ancient principle, attributed to the Muses and first stated by Hesiod in the Theogony.(26) The Muses govern the arts of humanity; their mother is Memory (Mnemosyne) and their father is Zeus (Jupiter Tonans). The new science, then, is based in an act of cultural memory (Vico says that memory is the same as imagination: la memoria e la stessa che la fantasia) (par. 819). This act of cultural memory must take the form of a narration in which events remembered are ordered in a pattern of necessity, of causes. In Vico's terms this is a science which reveals "what providence has wrought in history" (par. 342).

Ultimately Vico's ideal eternal history is a science based in poetic and in rhetoric. It is based in poetic because its narration is like a myth. Like a myth it claims (1) to relate a true story, and (2) to relate a complete story. It purports to be true and complete. Such narration is rhetorical because it is, above all, a speech. It must be eloquent, not in the sense that it is finely spoken or charming, but in the ancient sense of eloquence as the complete speech, the saying of all that can be said on a subject. As Quintilian says, "For the verb eloqui means the production and communication to the audience of all that the speaker has conceived in his mind."(27) We may add, in this case, that what the Vichian scientist has conceived in his mind is the whole of culture, the whole world of "civil things." The ancient impulse to the myth in order to produce a vera narratio now must become joined with rhetoric. The natural production of myths by the mind, of which both Vico and Levi-Strauss speak, must now be deliberately attempted by the Vichian scientist in his speech. This requires the well-known principles of composition of inventio (discovery of materials), dispositio (arrangement of them), and elocutio (formulation of them in language). Vico's science proceeds by these principles, which are compatible with the view that the true is the whole. Vico, like Hegel, holds to the view that the true is the whole. Only narration can provide adequate form for such a sense of truth.


Conclusion. Vico has his own way of making this speech, the details and adequacy of which I have examined elsewhere.(28) My concern is only to have gotten to the idea of such a speech itself, and to have suggested how it is connected to the idea of narration. Science as we ordinarily know it (what Vico calls conscientia) can have nothing to do with this sense of a "science of narration," because as Cassirer shows, science associates truth only with the object and, as we may now add, with the part. Scientific truth is always a search for the achievement of right reasoning about the nature of some part of what there is. The object of science is never the whole. There can be no science of the whole in this sense. A way that this can be immediately seen was mentioned earlier--science never is of the knower himself; there is no science of self-knowledge.

Another way I can put my point is in rhetorical terms. Science as we ordinarily understand it, as a specific activity that takes place within culture (a symbolic form), is essentially ratio. This is to say that it depends ultimately upon the drive of the mind to seek satisfaction in the "list," the "method," the ordering up of what is before the mind. Ratio has close connections with the abstractive power of language as logos. But over and against ratio is narratio.(29) Narratio is the drive of the mind toward satisfaction in the telling of something, that is, in the recreating of the thing in words, the representing of the genesis of the thing in question. This is connected to the metaphorical power of language, to mythos. Ratio is by nature an order of parts. Narratio is by nature a whole; a story is complete--beginning, middle, and end. A story fully told needs nothing further to be said, but it may, of course, be told again.

In having said this I do not mean that narrative is not present within scientific thought. Narratives are certainly employed in scientific thought, for instance, in pathology, general medicine, life sciences, geology, cosmology, and so forth. Narrative thinking is no doubt important to every field of science at some points, even the so-called exact or mathematical sciences. In this respect scientific thought is itself deeply indebted to the primordial activity of the myth, the activity in which we first learn what a story is. My larger point is that science does not transcend culture; instead, science presupposes culture. We know what culture is only if we are able to make a narrative knowledge of the whole of it. This is tied to the pursuit of self-knowledge of the knower that can never be reached by ratio. The order achieved by ratio can be elegant. It can be elegant in the sense that logicians speak of the elegance of a set of propositions or of a proof, or in the sense that a scientific theory can be ascribed elegance. But only narratio can be eloquent, that is, only in relation to narratio can the complete speech be the aim. The "crisis of man's knowledge of himself" of which Cassirer speaks in the first chapter of An Essay on Man cannot be solved by any elegant set of understandings, by any reflective theories. It can be solved only by eloquence (eloquentia), by a form of thought that Vico called "wisdom speaking"--sapienza che parla. Sapientia understood as wisdom is always a grasp of the whole of things and eloquentia is the presentation of this grasp in speech.(30)

Finally, what is the role of narrative in science? I have tried to suggest that science, at least as conceived as symbolic form, because of its interest in the object and its separation from the role of the symbol in self-knowledge (the knower's interest in the knower), naturally resists narration. Science falls most naturally to ratio instead of narratio. My point is that whatever the precise role narration takes in science and in particular sciences or particular phases of their investigations, narration is a rhetorical form not generated by science. Narration itself must come from that sense of humanistic thinking that takes culture as both human wisdom and the project of man's self-knowledge writ large. At the origin of culture itself is the act of narrative knowing--the myth. At the point of humanistic or philosophic thought is again the narrative, as the natural form in which to grasp culture as a whole. Because narration exists as myth and as the form in which culture can be known, narration is available to scientific thinking, to play a role in its purposes.

Emory University (1) Ernst Cassirer, "Critical Idealism as a Philosophy of Culture," in Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer 1935-1945, ed. Donald Phillip Verene (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 64-91. Cassirer's statement to his seminar students regarding the external world is on pp. 193-5. See Donald Phillip Verene, "Cassirer's View of Myth and Symbol," Monist 50 (1966): 553-64; Donald Phillip Verene, "Kant, Hegel, and Cassirer: The Origins of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms," Journal of the History of Ideas 30 (1969): 553-46; Donald Phillip Verene, "Cassirer's Concept of Symbolic Form and Human Creativity," Idealistic Studies 8 (1978): 14-32; Donald Phillip Verene, "Cassirer's Philosophy of Culture," International Philosophical Quarterly 22 (1982): 133--44; and Donald Phillip Verene "Cassirer's |Symbolic Form'," Il cannocchiale: Rivista di Studi Filosofici (Jan.-Sept. 1991). (2) Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, 3 vols. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1953-54; 1923-29), 3:vi-vii; The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 3 vols., trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953-57), 3:xiv-xv. This will be cited hereafter as PSF, with the German edition's page numbers followed by the page numbers of the English translation. Cassirer's debt to Hegel and its relation to his Kantianism remains very poorly understood. I broached this question in 1969 in "Kant, Hegel, and Cassirer," and John Michael Krois has taken great care to explain fully the limits of Cassirer's Kantianism and neo-Kantianism in his Cassirer: Symbolic Forms and History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). (3) PSF, 3:235; 3:202. (4) Cassirer's most complete statement currently in print on the distinction between Leben and Geist is his essay, "|Geist' und |Leben' in der Philosophie der Gegenwart," Die neue Rundschau 11 (1930): 244-64; "|Spirit' and |Life' in Contemporary Philosophy," trans. Robert Walter Bretall and Paul Arthur Schilpp, in The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp (Evanston: The Library of Living Philosophers, 1949), 853-80. This essay, which due to Cassirer's death appeared in place of the customary "Philosopher's Reply" in the Library of Living Philosophers volume, contains much of Cassirer's view of Hegel.

The theme of Geist and Leben is the subject of a fourth volume of Cassirer's Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, which was left in manuscript, titled "Zur Metaphysik der symbolischen Formen." A German edition of this is forthcoming with Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg. An English edition is also forthcoming, The Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms, trans. John Michael Krois, ed. Donald Phillip Verene (New Haven: Yale University Press). (5) Ernst Cassirer, "Der Begriff der symbolischen Form im Aufbau der Geisteswissenschaften," in Wesen und Wirkung des Symbolbegriffs (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1956), 175. (6) PSF, 2:79, 3:17; 2:61, 3:13. (7) PSF, 1:4-5; 1:734. (8) See Verene, "Cassirer's |Symbolic Form'," 292-3. Also see Friedrich Theodor Vischer, "Das Symbol," in Philosophische Aufsatze: Eduard Zeller, zu seinem funfzigjahrigen Doctor-Jubilaum gewidmet (Leipzig: Fues's Verlag, 1887), esp. 169-73, 192-3; and Heinrich Hertz, Die Prinzipien der Mechanik (Leipzig: F. A. Barth, 1894), 1-3. (9) Ernst Cassirer, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff: Untersuchungen uber die Grundfragen der Erkenntnis (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1976; 1910); Substance and Function, trans. William Curtis Swabey and Marie Collins Swabey (Chicago: Open Court, 1923). (10) Cassirer, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. 22-34; Substance and Function, 18-26; see also PSF, vol. 3, pt. 3, ch. 1. (11) Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944), 207. (12) See Cassirer's discussion of this in Ernst Cassirer, "The Influence of Language upon the Development of Scientific Thought," Journal of Philosophy 39 (1942): 309-27. (13) See Cassirer, An Essay on Man, 21. See also the discussion of the difference between "nature-concepts" and "culture-concepts" in Ernst Cassirer, Zur Logik der Kulturwissenschaften: Funf Studien (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971), 56-86; and Ernst Cassirer, The Logic of the Humanities, trans. Clarence Smith Howe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), 117-58. (14) B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Knopf, 1971). (15) Vico wrote his work in two versions. The earlier is commonly referred to as the Scienza nuova prima (1725) and the later as the Scienza nuova seconda (published in 1730 and partially revised in 1744). Hereafter all references are to the paragraph enumeration of the so-called Laterza edition of the seconda (this enumeration is common to the English translation); Giambattista Vico, La scienza nuova seconda, vol. 4 of Opere di G. B. Vico, 8 vols. in 11 (Bari: Laterza, 1911-41); The New Science of Giambattista Vico, trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968). (16) Cassirer's references to Vico are traced out in Donald Phillip Verene, "Vico's Influence on Cassirer," New Vico Studies 3 (1985): 105-11. (17) Ernst Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit, (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1957), 4:300; Ernst Cassirer, The Problem of Knowledge, trans. William H. Woglom and Charles W. Hendel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950), 296. (18) A helpful account of this is Thomas M. Seebohm, "The Problem of Hermeneutics in Recent Anglo-American Literature," Philosophy and Rhetoric 10 (1977): 180-98, 263-75. (19) Polybius, Histories 6.56. (20) See Donald Philip Verene, "Vico's Science of Imaginative Universals and the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms," in Giambattista Vico's Science of Humanity, ed. Giorgio Tagliacozzo and Donald Phillip Verene (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 295-317. (21) For a statement of the logic of imaginative universals see Donald Phillip Verene, Vico's Science of Imagination (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), chap. 3. (22) Edmund Leach, "Vico and Levi-Strauss on the Origins of Humanity," in Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium, ed. Giorgio Tagliacozzo and Hayden V. White (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969),317. (23) Claude Levi-Strauss, Mythologiques: Le Cru et le Cuit (Paris: Plon, 1964), 346; Claude Levi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked. Introduction to a Science of Mythology, trans. John and Doreen Weightman (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 341. (24) Leach, "Vico and Levi-Strauss on the Origins of Humanity," 313. (25) Giambattista Vico, De antiquissima Italorum sapientia, vol. 1 of Opere di G. R Vico (Bari: Laterza, 1914), chap. 1; On the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians, trans. L. M. Palmer (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), chap. 1. (26) Hesiod, Theogony 36-39. (27) Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, viii, pr. 15-16. (28) See Verene, Vico's Science of Imagination; Donald Phillip Verene, "Imaginative Universals and Narrative Truth," New Vico Studies 6 (1988): 1-19; and Donald Phillip Verene, The New Art of Autobiography: An Essay on the |Life of Giambattista Vico Written by Himself' (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), esp. chap. 4. (29) A very fruitful treatment of this theme is John D. O'Banion, Reorienting Rhetoric: The Dialectic of List and Story (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992). (30) Vico declares at the end of his autobiography, "L'eloquenza altro non e che la sapienza che parla"; Giambattista Vico, Autobiografia, ed. Mario Fubini (Turin: Einaudi, 1960), 86. The greatest contemporary exponent of the tradition of wisdom-speaking is Ernesto Grassi. See his Rhetoric as Philosophy: The Humanist Tradition (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980).
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Author:Verene, Donald Phillip
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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