The Philosophy Forum on the Vico in Heidegger
For Vico, the true nature of human beings is not that of the Cartesian homunculi, who sit, detached from the body, in some regally isolated solipsistic realm contemplating their own “clear and distinct” ideas; instead they are, rather like Heidegger’s Dasein, not only beings in the world, but beings in the world with others. The true nature of the individual can only be understood if seen in the context of that individual’s relations with the world of others. As A. Robert Caponigri says, for Vico,
… it is only through society that man finds the fulfilment and realisation of his nature… [O]utside these relations he is, at best a hypothesis, at worst, simple alienness and absence from himself. The proper study of mankind is, indeed, therefore man; not, however, man in the abstract individualism… but man in society, because here alone, in the social structure, is the reality and fullness of man discovered.
For Vico, the impulse which impels humankind to attempt to fulfil its ends, and which can only be achieved by “society as a whole and not by individuals alone, is the history of mankind”. Like Heidegger’s Dasein, Vico’s concept of the individual is that of one thrown into a historical world whose primary sensation or experience is fear (for Heidegger this fear is called angst). Heidegger describes anxiety as the uneasiness one feels when one intuits the instability of one’s existence. As he says:
Anxiety ‘does not know’ what that in the face of which it is anxious is…That which threatens cannot bring itself close from a definite direction within what is close by; it is already ‘there’, and yet nowhere… .
In other words, anxiety, for Heidegger, is the profound fear of that which we cannot understand. For Vico this anxiety derives from the fear of that which is ‘Other’ than man.