Gianni Vattimo at the National Gay Pride march, Como, 1999
4 January 1936
Turin, Piedmont, Italy
|Notable ideas||pensiero debole (weak thought)|
Vattimo was born in Turin, Piedmont. He studied philosophy under the existentialist Luigi Pareyson at the University of Turin, and graduated in 1959. After studying with Karl Löwith and Hans-Georg Gadamer in Heidelberg he returned to Turin where he became assistant professor in 1964, and later full professor of Aesthetics in 1969. While remaining at Turin, becoming Professor of Theoretical Philosophy in 1982, he has been a visiting professor at a number of American Universities.
After being active in the Partito Radicale, the short-lived Alleanza per Torino, and the Democrats of the Left, Vattimo joined the Party of Italian Communists. He was elected a member of the European Parliament first in 1999 and for a second mandate in 2009.
Vattimo added his name to a petition released on February 28, 2009 calling on the European Union to unconditionally remove Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations and grant it full recognition as a legitimate voice of the Palestinian people.
His philosophy can be characterized as postmodern with his emphasis on "pensiero debole" (weak thought). This requires that the foundational certainties of modernity with its emphasis on objective truth founded in a rational unitary subject be relinquished for a more multi-faceted conception closer to that of the arts.
He draws on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger with his critique of foundations and the hermeneutic philosophy of his teacher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Perhaps his greatest influence though is the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose "discovery of the 'lie', the discovery that alleged 'values' and metaphysical structures are just a play of forces" (1993:93) plays an important role in Vattimo's notion of "weak thought."
Being as event
Vattimo rejects any notion of a transcendental structure of reason or reality that would be given once and for all. This does not imply the loss of truth, but a Heideggerean reinterpretation of truth as the opening of horizons. Such truth is deeper than propositions which are made possible by such openings. Philosophies then are always responses to contingent questions, they are ‘ontologies of actuality,’ a thesis that can be confirmed by the historico-cultural links of particular philosophies. For hermeneutics to be consistent with its own rejection of metaphysics, it must present itself, argues Vattimo "as the most persuasive philosophical interpretation of a situation or ‘epoch’" (1997:10). To do this, Vattimo proposes a reading of hermeneutics as having a "nihilistic" vocation.
Nihilism as the truth of history
||This section of a biography of a living person does not include any references or sources. (May 2011)|
To Vattimo, hermeneutics has become boring and vague - lacking any clear significance for philosophical problems. His answer is to insist on the nihilistic consequences of hermeneutics. The claim that "there are no facts only interpretations and this too is an interpretation" amounts to saying that hermeneutics cannot be seen as the most accurate/true description of the permanent structures of reality of human existence. Hermeneutics is not a metaphysical theory in this sense and so can only be "proved" by being presented as the response to a history of being, a history of the fabling of the world, of the weakening of structures, that is as the occurrence of nihilism.
This nihilistic reading of history involves a certain attitude towards modernity, whereby modernity is dissolved from within through a twisting, distorting radicalisation of its premises. Vattimo uses Heidegger's term Verwindung to capture this post-modern recovery from modernity.
Weak thought and ethics
History as a process of weakening (secularisation and disenchantment are other terms Vattimo uses) "assumes the form of a decision for non-violence" (1992:95). An ethics of communication along the lines suggested by Jürgen Habermas suffers, according to Vattimo, from finding itself in a substantially ahistorical position, while oscillating between formalism and cultural relativism (1992:117). For Vattimo it is only when hermeneutics accepts its nihilistic destiny that "it can find in ‘negativity,’ in dissolution as the ‘destiny of Being’ … the orientating principle that enables it to realize its own original inclination for ethics whilst neither restoring metaphysics nor surrendering to the futility of a relativistic philosophy of culture" (1992:119).
The revival of Marxism
In 2004, after leaving the party of the Democrats of the Left, he endorsed Marxism, reassessing positively its projectual principles and wishing for a "return" to the thought of the Trier philosopher and to a communism, rid of distorted soviet developments, which have to be dialectically overcome. Vattimo asserts the continuity of his new choices with the "weak thought," thus having changed "many of his ideas." He namely refers to a "weakened Marx," as ideological basis capable of showing the real nature of communism. The new Marxist approach, therefore, emerges as a practical development of the "weak thought" into the frame of a political perspective. His next political book, co-authored with Santiago Zabala, is Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx (2011).
Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx
The authors explain the book Hermeneutic Communism as follows "Although the material published here has never been released before, there are two books that have determined the production of this text: Gianni’s Ecce Comu: Come si diventa cio che si era (2007) and Santiago’s The Remains of Being: Hermeneutic Ontology After Metaphysics (2009). In the former, Vattimo emphasized the political necessity of reevaluating communism; in the latter, Zabala insisted on the progressive nature of hermeneutics. Hermeneutic Communism can be considered a radical development of both."
It is only thanks to God that I'm an atheist.
I believe that I believe. (from Credere di credere)
- (1991) The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Post-modern Culture, Translated by John R. Snyder, Polity Press, 1991 Translation of La fine della modernità, Garzanti, Milan, 1985
- (1992) The Transparent Society Translated by David Webb, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994 Translation of La società trasparente, Garzanti, Milan, 1989
- (1993) The Adventure of Difference: Philosophy after Nietzsche and Heidegger Translated by Thomas Harrison and Cyprian P. Blamires, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993 Translation of Le avventure della differenza, Garzanti, Milan, 1980
- (1997) Beyond Interpretation:The Meaning of Hermeneutics for Philosophy, Translated by David Webb, Stanford University Press, 1997 Translation of Oltre l'interpretazione, Laterza, Rome-Bari, 1994
- (1998) Religion by Jacques Derrida, Edited by Gianni Vattimo, Translated by David Webb Stanford University Press, 1998
- (1999) Belief by Gianni Vattimo, et al., Polity Press, 1999 Translation of Credere di credere, Garzanti, Milan, 1996
- (2002a) Nietzsche: Philosophy as Cultural Criticism Translated by Nicholas Martin Stanford University Press, 2002 Translation of Introduzione a Nietzsche, Laterza, Rome-Bari,1985
- (2002b) After Christianity, New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
- (2004) Nihilism and Emancipation: Ethics, Politics and Law, Edited by Santiago Zabala, Columbia University Press, 2004
- (2005) The Future of Religion, Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Santiago Zabala, Columbia University Press, 2005
- (2006) After the Death of God, John D. Caputo and Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Jeffrey W. Robbins, Columbia University Press.
- (2008) Dialogue with Nietzsche, Gianni Vattimo, Columbia University Press.
- (2008) Art’s Claim to Truth, Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Santiago Zabala, Columbia University Press.
- (2009) Christianity, Truth, and Weak Faith, Gianni Vattimo and René Girard, Edited by P. Antonello, Columbia University Press.
- (2010) The Responsibility of the Philosopher, Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Franca D'Agostini, Columbia University Press.
- (2011) Hermeneutic Communism, Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala, Columbia University Press.
- Robert Savino Oventile. ""Mellow Nihilism": A Review of Gianni Vattimo's Nihilism and Emancipation". Sobriquet Magazine. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
- Matthias Riedl. "The Permanence of the Eschatological: Reflections on Gianni Vattimo's Hermeneutic Age,". in Discoursing the Post-Secular: Essays on the Habermasian Post-Secular Turn. Edited by Péter Losonczi and Aakash Singh. LIT: Münster 2010, pp. 111-126.
- Gianni Vattimo. Ecce comu. Come si ri-diventa ciò che si era. Fazi. Rome, 2007
- Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx Columbia University Press. 2011. Pg. VII
- Rossano Pecoraro, Niilismo e Pós (Modernidade). Introdução ao pensamento fraco de Gianni Vattimo, Rio de Janeiro-San Paulo, PUC-Loyola ED. 2005.
- Pireddu, Nicoletta, “Gianni Vattimo” in _Postmodernism. The Key Figures_, ed. by J. Natoli and H. Bertens (Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 2002): 302-309.
- Martin G. Weiss, Gianni Vattimo. Einführung. Mit einem Interview mit Gianni Vattimo, Passagen Verlag, 2. Auflage: Wien 2006. ISBN 3-85165-738-1.
- Giovanni Giorgio, Il pensiero di Gianni Vattimo. L'emancipazione dalla metafisica tra dialettica ed ermeneutica, Franco Angeli, Milano, 2006
- Davide Monaco, Gianni Vattimo. Ontologia ermeneutica, cristianesimo e postmodernità, Ets, Pisa 2006
- Weakening Philosophy. Essays in Honour of Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Santiago Zabala (with contributions from U. Eco, C. Taylor, R. Rorty, J-L. Nancy, F. Savater and many others), Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007.
- Enrico Redaelli, Il nodo dei nodi. L'esercizio del pensiero in Vattimo, Vitiello, Sini, Ets, Pisa 2008.
- Ashley Woodward, Review of Weakening Philosophy. Essays in Honour of Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Santiago Zabala", in "Colloquy" Issue 15 June 2008.
- Mario Kopić, Gianni Vattimo Čitanka (Gianni Vattimo Reader), Zagreb, Antibarbarus, 2008. ISBN 978-953-249-061-9
- Between Nihilism and Politics. The Hermeneutics of Gianni Vattimo. Edited by Silvia Benso and Brian Schroeder. New York: Suny 2010. ISBN 978-1-4384-3285-4
- Tommaso Franci, Vattimo o del nichilismo, Roma, Armando, 2011.
- Ricardo Milla, Vattimo y la hermenéutica política, en Isegoria (Madrid), 2011, julio, No 44, pp. 339-343.
- Personal website (in Italian)
- Nihilism and the postmodern in Vattimo's Nietzsche
- "Mellow Nihilism": A Review of Gianni Vattimo's Nihilism and Emancipation
- Vattimo in A parte rei Review
- Gianni Vattimo at Fotopedia
- Vattimo in a discussion on
- Articles of Vattimo in swif.uniba.it
- Interview with Gianni Vattimo: “Democracy is not possible with absolute truths about co-existence”, Barcelona Metropolis, 2011.
- Interview with Gianni Vattimo: "Only Weak Communism Can Save Us", MRZine, 2013
- Europe’s Times and Unknown Waters, Cluj-Napoca, Marga, Andrei (April 2009). "The Chaotic Society (Gianni Vattimo, The Transparent Society"