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2.37 Gianni Vattimo

Gianni Vattimo (Turin, 1936-2023) has developed his philosophy in opposition to those who think they can say “how things stand”. Whoever thinks this will sooner or later become a dictator, because he will tend to impose his idea on others; he is one who has an interest in mastering ideas first, and then, even unwittingly, men. At this point, however, Vattimo found himself in a difficulty: to oppose those who want to say “how things stand”, we must propose an alternative; but the alternative may in turn be accused of wanting to establish “how things stand”, albeit proposing a different view. How to get out of this situation? He gets out of it by calling his thought “weak”, which is equivalent to “relative”; it is a thought that is not stable, certain and sure, but instead it recognizes itself dependent on the past, the present, the complex of situations in which we find ourselves living today. In this sense his philosophy is above all negative, that is to say demolishing and therefore similar to that of Nietzsche; Vattimo, however, unlike Niezsche, recognizes that it is not possible to propose alternatives without relying, in some way, on what we want to oppose; as to say that it is not possible to show that a castle has fallen without using the stones that kept it standing; it is not possible to create a left party without exploiting tools provided by the right; it is not possible to oppose any enemy without exploiting, at least minimally, something that he himself gives us; we cannot fight evil without using tools provided precisely by evil and therefore, by themselves, at the outset created for evil; it is not possible to study the past without exploiting words and ideas provided by it; we can’t live in this world without getting dirty; what we can do is only trying to calibrate the inevitable compromises and trying to direct them towards goals that seem better to us.
Vattimo’s thought, as he himself states, is a hermeneutics, that is, a way of interpreting the world; indeed he, on the lines of Heidegger and Gadamer, maintains that it is not possible to know what the world is, neither if it exists nor what to exist means; what we are able to do is only handling our interpretations, trafficing them, comparing them.
Umberto Eco (1932 – 2016) argued in practice that however, this way, a lot of serious work done by serious people is questioned; to put it simply: it makes no sense to say that the work of a doctor is worthless because we don’t know if the patient exists. Therefore, according to Eco, we need to maintain a value to the sense of being, of existence, so that our work and thinking retains its value; Eco would say to Vattimo: if nothing exists, what is the value of thinking, albeit in a “weak” way? Vattimo would answer that we can think the same, just being humble. This is what every scientist does: he humbly studies what he thinks he can study, without pretending to be the last person to establish how certain things are.
Developing the line of Vattimo, I personally think that being is weak because it is becoming, it is a being that “walks” and therefore does not have the power to preserve a strong identity, as the words with which we indicate things would suggest us to think, so deceiving us. This idea of dynamism of things corresponds to that which we first encountered in Heraclitus and which more recently is found in Whitehead (1861-1947). From this point of view, the humility of the scientist is due to the awareness that both he and his object of study are part of the same world that is becoming. Then, if we don’t want to fall into the trap of turning ourselves into dictators, when we are tempted to say “how things stand”, it is enough to learn to think that things do not “stand”, but “become” and therefore the only thing we can try to say is how they transform, how they are progressing, how they are going, and not “how they are” or “what they are”. Here, however, Vattimo’s warning is important: it is impossible to eliminate the verb “to be” from our language (and so many other words having a “static” meaning), and therefore we must have the patience to use it anyway, as we are forced to use the stones of the fallen castle, because there are no other ones. Our thinking must then be a provisional synthesis, which needs to be updated day by day, collects the past and the present, makes every effort to welcome confrontation, self-criticism and seeks to move towards a future that we currently consider better. Therefore, it will also be first a self-formative thinking, an organization of projects that must always be reviewed, with the subsequent courage to assume human responsibility to make choices in the present and translate them into concrete behaviors, that should be able to say something to the world and to nature, as they appear us today.

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