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By Diego Fusaro and Italo Rebecchi

"The postmodern experience of the truth is an esthetic experience " (The end of modernity, 1985)



A student of Nietzsche and Heidegger, pupil of Pareyson and later of Gadamer, Gianni Vattimo was born in Turin in 1936 where he studied and where he graduated in Philosophy. He obtained his specialization at the University of Heidelberg. From 1964 he has been teaching theoretical philosophy at the University of Turin, where he has also been President of the Faculty of Letters. He has taught as a visiting professor in various universities in the United Sates. He is director of the "Rivista di estetica" (Review on Esthetics) and he is a member of the scientific committees of many Italian and foreign reviews. He is affiliated in a partnership with the Academy of Sciences of Turin. He has taught for a few semesters in some American universities (Yale, California, Los Angeles, New York University, and The Sate University of New York). He has also held seminars and conferences in great universities throughout the world. In the fifties he has been director of the catholic students and has actively participated in the debate on the "apertura a sinistra" (Opening to the left") which resulted in his forsaking of the "Azione Cattolica" (Action Catholic) in order to found a group named after Emmanuel Mournier. During the same years he has worked, even as master of ceremonies, for the cultural programs of the RAI. His ideas on religion and on politics have produced a philosophy alerted to the problems of society. His thought is a "pensiero debole" (weak thought) which views the history of the human emancipation as a progressive reduction of the violence and of the dogmas and which favors the overcoming of those social stratifications which derive from them. With the determination of combating these aspects of reality, Vattimo became involved in politics, initially following the "Partito Radicale" (Radical Party) and consequently joining the "Alleanza per Torino" (Alliance for Turin) and the victorious electoral campaign of the "Ulivo" (Olive Tree), of which he is a strong supporter, recognizing that, today, it is in the Democrats of the left, where the political battles have to be fought. Presently he also participates as permanent envoy to the national directorate of the Homosexual Coordination DS (CODS). The positions of Vattimo are very much diffused, with shadings and differences of meanings, in the Italian (and international) philosophical culture, but they have generated the polemics of some of the most famous figures of the laity and of the neoilluministic movements: and in particular of Viano, his colleague in Turin, and of Paolo Rossi, the famous historian of the philosophy of Florence. Much discussed has been his "apologia" (apology) of maestro Heidegger who has been accused of Nazism: " ... the problem is not that of establishing up to what point Heidegger might have been a Nazi sympathizer, but to demonstrate, something that up to now nobody has been able to do convincingly, his political choice as a consequence of his thought. I think therefore that one cannot be a Nazi sympathizer and at the same time be a follower of heideggerian philosophy". The main works of Vattimo are: "Il concetto di fare in Aristotele" (The concepts of doing of Aristotle) 1961; "Essere, storia e linguaggio in Heidegger" (The Existence, the history, and the language of Heidegger) 1963; "Ipotesi su Nietzsche" (The hypothesis on Nitzsche) 1967; "Poesia e ontologia" (Poetry and ontology) 1968; "Schleiermacher, filosofo dell'interpretazione" (Schleiermacher, philosopher of the interpretation) 1968; "Introduzione ad Heidegger" (Introduction to Heidegger) 1971; "Il soggetto e la maschera" (The subject and the mask) 1974; "Le avventure della differenza" (The adventure of the difference) 1980; "Al di la' del soggetto" (Beyond the subject) 1981; "Il pensiero debole" (The thought weak) 1983 (by G.Vattimo and P.A. Rovatti); "La fine della modernita'" (The end of modernity) 1985; "Introduzione a Nietzsche" (Introduction to Nietzsche) 1985; "La societa' transparente" (The transparent society) 1989; "Etica dell'interpretazione" (Ethics of the interpretation) 1989; "Filosofia al presente" (Philosophy of the present) 1990; "Oltre l'interpretazione" (Beyond the interpretation) 1994; "Credere di credere" (Believing of believing) 1996. He also publishes through Laterza a philosophical annual in a monographic style ("Filosofia '86 e sgg).


For a long time we have talked of "pensiero debole" (weak thought), that is of a particular type of knowing characterized by a profound rethinking of all the notions that served as foundations of western civilization in every field of culture. According to this view the traditional values became such only because of precise historical conditions that do not exists anymore; for this reason their pretension of truth must reach a state of crisis. At the root of the "pensiero debole" (weak thought) lies the idea that the thought is not capable to know the state of being and therefore it cannot even determine values which are objective and valid for all men. The major interpreter of this nature of the problem is Vattimo. According to him, the very task of philosophy is not that of self-interrogation of the truth, but that of bringing to its extreme consequences the epochal crisis which expressed itself through the process of secularization. Vattimo takes to deep levels the attack to the philosophies which presuppose a "fondamento" (foundation) to the illuminism, the logocentrism, the Marxism, and in total to the "pensiero forte" (strong thought) and to the totalitarianism of modern times. Vattimo theorizes the advent of a new era, governed by a "pensiero debole" (weak thought), which is neither demonstrative nor aggressive, but directed towards the "pietas" with respect to the historic values left to us in legacy and governed by the realization of a subject, neither unitary nor subordinate to logical selfconsciousness, but many-faceted. It's easy to argue that Vattimo sustains a nihilistic position which is not however of a radical form as the one of the deconstructivists, but "morbido" (soft) and disposed also to the comprehension of the traces of the old values. Obviously, the idea of history as a continuous renewal and a journey with a logic sense is invalidated; in even stronger terms, the postmodernistic dissolution of the new is greeted as the "fine della storia" (end of history). The model of the "pensiero debole" (weak thought) is found above all in the arts, where a model of "verita' " (truth) is presented which is mobile and susceptible to an infinite number of interpretations; and more to the point, Vattimo asserts in "La fine della modernita' " (The end of modernity) (1985), " the postmodern experience of the truth is an esthetic experience". For Vattimo, the thought has arrived at the end of his metaphysical adventure. Now, a philosophy that requires certainties and unique fundamentals for the theories on man, on God, on history, and on values cannot be proposed any longer. The crisis of the fundamentals has made vacillate the same idea of truth: The evidence which was clear and distinct has become obfuscated. Philosophy, in its more authentic core, from Aristotle to Kant, is first of all knowledge. With Nietzsche and Heidegger the idea of philosophy as foundational knowledge has vanished because:

1) The world of knowledge has become so complex that the existence of a science that would sustain all the others in a unitary fundamental way is unthinkable.

2) There is a strong specialization of the spheres of existence;

3) The means of mass communication bring us in continuous contact with other cultures and it is always more difficult to reduce everything to only one matrix;

4) The evidence does not have to be considered as a sign of truth, for the reason that it is produced by customs, social pressures, conventions, and plays of language.

The philosopher from Turin is convinced that the contemporaneous philosophy, following Nitzsche and nihilism, presents itself as thought without foundations, as reflection which is not anchored anymore on the solid bases of metaphysics and on the Cartesian certainty. The period of the systems and of the strong ideologies has set: this the epoch of week structures. Reason is not central anymore, it is as if it had lost its power, it has entered in a dark zoned and has taken therefore unclear contours, just as if it had eclipsed. The pilaster of "pensiero debole" (weak taught) is built on the idea that man interprets the world within linguistics horizons, not fixed but historical. In the light of these presuppositions, what gets dissolved is:

1) The fundamentals which are certain;

2) The idea of a total knowledge of the world;

3) The idea of a truth that is certain and of which we are not capable to reach.

"Pensiero debole" (weak taught) , in a few words, means that the foundational concept of philosophy has consumed itself, the ultimate foundations, the incontrovertible principles, the clear and distinct ideas, the absolute values, the primary evidence, and the ineluctable laws of history have dissolved. In conclusion, the image of rationality changes with the "pensiero debole" (weak thought), it must loose power, give up terrain without fear of retreating, become not paralyzed by the loss of the luminous Cartesian reference which has been unique and stable. This is how we start with a loss and a renouncement: renouncement of fundamentals which are certain and of ultimate destinies. Such renouncement is also the abandonment of an obligation, the removal of an obstacle. The "pensiero debole" (weak thought) is near to the "pietas" of the past; in the present, it gives attention to those sectors of the human experience which have walked over by a totalitarian view; in the future, the containment of the "pensiero forte" (strong thought) will serve to contrast violence and to construct a space always more ample to the truth, to the tolerance, and to the rapports with the other cultures. The "pensiero debole" (weak thought) is also the end of modernity, of that period that goes from Descartes to Nietzsche and which is dominated by the "idea-forza" (idea-strength) of human progress. As a matter of fact, modernity views history as a process of progressive emancipation in which man appears capable of a more and more perfect realization of his nature and an exercise always richer of his faculties. Modern man is distinguished by trust in himself as creator and protagonist of a new advanced civilization more democratic of any preceding epoch and in constant movement towards additional goals. The "idea forza" (idea-strength) of modernity is therefore a kind of progress, intended as an orientation towards a model of life and action, as an aspiration to ultimate values, founded on the capability of man to exercise reason. Vattimo, for some time now, has defined with the expression "pensiero debole" (weak thought) his philosophical positions, even though in the last few years he prefers to designate them with the term "ermeneutica", with the intent to place them in what he has often defined as the new "koine' " of our times: that is the postmodern philosophical culture, derived from the legacy of Nietzsche and Heidegger and which has found shelter and more depth in Gadamer, Ricoeur, Rorty, and Derrida. Vattimo, relevant exponent of the "ermeneutica" of today and strongly influenced by the thought of Martin Heidegger and of Friedrich Nietzsche, is of the opinion that the overcoming of philosophy leads to the ethics of the interpretation. Philosophy becomes "pensiero debole" (weak thought) because it abandons its foundational role and the truth ceases to be an adaptation to the thought of reality, but it is played as continuous interpretation. There exist, therefore, various reasons that contrast the pretenses of the foundational philosophy, but the reason of more weight is actually given by the "ermeneutica", art and technique of the interpretation that considers the rapport between language and existence. To exist means to live in relation to a world and this relationship is made possible by the fact that there is a language at our disposal. Things grow in existence only within linguistic horizons which are not eternal but which are qualified historically. Even language is not an eternal structure. Man is thrown into these linguistic horizons, he read and interprets existence and he relates to them. However, since they are temporal horizons, that are not eternal, it is clear that all pretenses of discourse or of eternal and absolute theories on God, on man, on the sense of history or on the destiny of humanity, disappear. Man finds himself always thrown into a project, in a language, in a culture which he inherits. Man opens himself to the world with the language that he speaks. To recur to these linguistic overtures, which allow a vision of the world, means to reflect and come to know of the multiplicity of prospectives and of cultural universes. Since the "pensiero debole" (weak thought) is the end of the stable structure of the existence, it is also the end of every possible way of enunciating that God exists or not. Nietzsche cry "Dio e' morto" (God is dead) is intended by Vattimo in the sense of the end of any metaphysical discourse that pretends to give us truths that are ultimate and definite. Truth becomes the transmission of a linguistic and historical patrimony which renders possible and gives an orientation to the comprehension of the world. In brief, modernity sees history as progress guided by laws that are meant to overcome. But, if for modernity, history is progress, a process of continuous overcoming, then the "pensiero debole" (weak thought) is the postmodern and the end of history. The postmodernity of Lyotard is of the end of the millennium and is characterized by the inadequacy of the great ideologies (illuminism, idealism, and Marxism) which formed the basis of the social cohesion and of the revolutionary utopias ("La condizione postmoderna" (The postmodern condition), 1979). It is the task of the philosopher, confronted by a human condition which has profoundly changed, to find criteria of judgment which have social and circumscribed values that have no pretenses of being global or total The increase of the means of communication does not render society more transparent, more conscious of itself, more enlightened: the mass media tend to reproduce what happens in real time, multiplying the complexity of reality instead of reducing it. The philosopher from Turin sees in the metaphor of the transparency the weakening of the existence, the ontology of the decline, the breaking through of reality and of every link that pretends to go beyond appearance. Simulation, faking, artificiality, superficiality of appearances show themselves shamelessly in place of true fundamentals, in place of the foundation. The thesis of Vattimo is that in this relative chaos lie our hopes of emancipation. The lack of transparency is a phenomenon to combat; on the contrary, it the symptom of a great turnabout, which includes the entire scope of the existence: the liberation of the minorities (punks, women, homosexuals, blacks . ) and the creation of a new soulfulness: a daily experience with a more fluid character which acquires the traits of oscillation, of footlessness, and of play. In the visual arts, in architecture, and in literature, we currently speak of post-modern to indicate a style that now distances itself from the dominant ideas of modernity. This, perhaps for the first time, appears to be a unitary phenomenon that, besides having a beginning, is on its way to conclusion. Vattimo in "La fine della modernita" (The end of modernity) (1991) declares that today we measure the distance from modernity above all in reference to one of its dominant ideals: that of progress, of the overcoming of criticism and, in the arts, of the avant-garde movements. But the phenomenon of the end of the modern epoch, if it has a goal, it has also social, economic, religious, and philosophical consequences ( they have talked for some time of a post-industrial era and that we are a post-Christian culture). Modernity declares closed an epoch anchored to the faith in the continuous progress of humanity which had embraced again, popularizing it, the Christian idea of salvation. It is the end of every philosophy in history that is of every unitary and compact vision of history, just as it possessed sense. The end of modernity opens a new phase however, a phase based on listening and on attention to that which, under the strong light of reason and history, could not be discerned or in any case it was unintelligible. It is a phase that starts to open and to communicate with "culture altre" (other cultures), and it characterized by a more tolerant and pacific vision of human coexistence.


Gianni Vattimo's intention with this dialogue is to retrace the personal itinerary for approaching the works of the German philosopher whose central point consists of critical opposition to any "Weltanschauung". Richard Rorty has defined Gianni Vattimo "an ironic philosopher". The "pensiero debole" (weak thought) of the intellectual from Turin represents, not only a serene acceptance of the ending of western metaphysics, which took place with the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, but also a conscious taking of position for the non-responsibility of the post-modern philosophy. Having a dialogue with Nietzsche means, more than anything, to realize the impact of the critical contribution of his thought and how profoundly it has influenced the philosophical debate of the last century. Vattimo intends to retrace with this dialogue his journey of approach to the works of Nietzsche of the last forty years and at the same time to present his own interpretation of a philosophy which is too often manipulated and reduced to myth. An adequate deciphering of the thought of Nietzsche has to begin with the concept of temporality. The anarchic humanism of the German philosopher has origins from knowing the rigid structure within which existence takes place. Man is a prisoner of the past and of the dogmatism of a history which weighs heavily and continuously upon life, limiting or impeding the access to the only form of liberty: the creation of the instant. Finality paralyzes man in his fear, in the insecurity, and weakens the intention of homogeneity in the future. There is no historic epoch that has not been nihilistic. The history of western metaphysics is not other than a continuous attempt to avenge the will with respect to the impossibility of the past. The knowledge that man has created and searched for is the arrogance of the defeated. Vattimo emphasizes that in Nietzsche extreme nihilism and the overcoming of the same are moments so close as to almost coincide. The former consists in the annulment of all mendacious values which form the world; the latter consists in the complete realization of man in the vacuity of the argument that might consider nihilism a historic process. Temporality for Nietzsche cannot have a rectilinear direction. The past would crush the future and the frustrated will would continue the futile search of self in the acquired knowledge; whether religious, moral, or Gnostic. Only the conception of time as circularity can nullify the spirit of vengefulness. Past and future fuse continuously in the instant, the infinite moment of creation which defines the flux of eternity. Vattimo remembers that the central point of the philosophy of Nietzsche consists in his critical opposition to every "Weltanschauung"; it does not have to have to limit itself to observe the world and to search for the truth, but it must be capable of overcoming the eurhythmic conventions which, starting with language, lead towards the homogeneity of appearances, weakening the same strength of self-doubt in a logical gnosis that is necessarily misleading. If philosophy has become fable then even Nietzsche has become a wizard. Different from "storicism", however, he does not close existence in the cage of determination. At the end of his myth, Nietzsche asks a question to man about man and only those who can answer can affirm a concrete desire for knowledge. Reality is a fruit of language and of the "poetic metaphors" through which man can create illusions as to the heuristic process of the truth. The study of Nietzsche the philologist allows a clearer approach to the critical development of his more mature works. By discussing the rigidly deterministic criterion of "storicismo" the German philosopher deduces the necessity of a truth not linked to factual data, but included in that open horizon which comprises the continuous flux of existence. Vattimo therefore sustains the centrality of the hermeneutic aspect of Nietzsche. If for Heidegger, the works by Nietzsche represent the complete conclusion of traditional metaphysics, it is more licit, according to Vattimo, to emphasize the postmodern aspects of the thought of the German philosopher, and in first place to consider the interpretative action as the most evident moment of that nihilism that contemporaneous hermeneutics, consciously or not, brings with itself. Vattimo, remembering one of his works of 1974 ("Il soggetto e la maschera. Nietzsche ed il problema della trasformazione" (The subject and the mask. Nietzsche and the problem of transformation)), takes into consideration the concepts of esthetics of Nietzsche. Viewed within the same framework of the platonic "alienazione di se' " (alienation of self), it poses his own principle in the fundamental impulse of the negation of the identity. Torn the veil of Maya, the Apollonian and the Dionysian are not only viewed as opposite poles of the appearance and of the existence, but as real historic moments through which man, with a founding symbolism, has followed his own existential path defined by lies and excesses. To survive falsification means, therefore, to expose oneself to a reality substantially hermeneutic, for which, emphasizes Vattimo, the weak part of the superman must be discovered. This part represent the esthetics of the existence of which the artists is symbol and that probably represents the only means remained to overcome the nihilism and the end of philosophy.


The works gathered in this volume have as a conducting theme the concept of difference. The significance of such notion will be explained near the end of the text, as a conclusion to a long journey where all the previous stops acquire significance close to the arrival. It was only then that the words of Jaques Derrida, pronounced during a convention in 1968 on "La Difference" " and it seemed then a true and proper manifest of the thought of the difference", express explicitly the cardinal concept that has guided the work of the author until the end, says Vattimo. This is how Vattimo expresses Derrida's position: " for Derrida thought of the difference means to recognize that there has never been and there will never be a unique word to describe it because the difference comes before everything else. To mention a phrase that summarizes Derrida's position we can say that in the beginning the difference was the trace. Just trace, therefore, and never a presence to which the trace can relate; The differences in the field of human experience have already origin from a difference, which is at the same time divergence and indefinite deferment and in which we only give the trace but never the original" The difference intended as contraposition to coincidence; to the coinciding of subject with object, of being and entity. More simply, the dissimilarity between knowledge and effective being. The figures who dominate the three sections of the volume in question are Nietzsche and Heidegger, and sporadically and briefly, they are joined by other philosophers that do delineate, through the comparison of the theories, the reflection. The subtitle ("Che cosa significa pensare dopo Nietzsche and Heidegger" (What does it mean to think after Nietzsche and Heidegger) announces the comparison of two visions, a theme that will continue in all the chapters: Metaphysics "forte" (strong), and Metaphysic "debole" (weak); the former places the object, the entity (also considered physically), on the podium of the idea (a term that goes beyond of every temporal or nominal connotation), analyzing it with a scientific eye in every aspect and translating into categories; the latter, which is an opposite, reconsiders the value of the difference between entity and being. In other words, of the difference. In the first section, the two protagonists confront each other in the field of the interpretation of history with the hermeneutic conception of Hans-Georg Gadamer: how can history be read and interpreted? The goal of the chapter is to provide a parallel between two conceptions which reflected two diverse approaches ( and that arrived at two diverse conclusions) in the interpretation of the real in general and of the language in particular. In the first place the meaning the meaning that Nietzsche attributes to a historic disease is clarified, Vattimo says: "Nitzsche talks of historic disease first of all to underscore that the excess of historical knowledge that he sees to be characteristic of the XIX century is also, without doubt, incapacity of creating new history ". According to Nietzsche during the XIX century historiography tried to appropriate the tools of science and from that moment was not capable of extracting life from history or creating history from life. " The type of creativity and of historic productivity that Nietzsche tries to describe is somewhat characterized by an equilibrium between thoughtlessness and awareness, between pure response to the life's exigencies and objective reflection. Was Gadamer able to give back, with the hermeneutic ontology, "freedom of expression" to history? Such conception, whose main line of discourse, as Vattimo remembers, " starts from Heidegger, above all from the Heidegger of the late works and finds a home in the 'Verita' e Metodo' (Truth and Method) of Hans-Georg Gadamer () " is based on the hermeneutic circle, that is on the thesis that affirms the reciprocal belonging of subject and object of the interpretation to a single horizon (from which derives the famous expression "fusione di orizzonti" (fusion of horizons). The hermeneutic ontology refuses, like Nitzsche' s words above, a historic knowledge of an objective type ( intended in the value given to it by the positive sciences) enlarging such conviction to the metaphysic thought which reduces the entity to the object. The theory of Gadamer is of the opinion that " () every type of knowledge and experience of the truth is hermeneutic. Such generalization, however, also implies the generalization of the linguistic character of every experience and knowledge". From this derives an historic knowledge which, having as premise the identity of the existence and of the language, in its taking effect, increases the very being of history in the moment in which it interprets it. Such "fusion of horizons" does not satisfy, according to the author, the exigencies of Nietzsche: " this approach, discovering the 'true' and 'already present' structure of the historic knowledge, and then of every experience and of the existence itself since it exists in the being and in the language, is too similar to a new metaphysical 'theory' to correspond to the spirit of meditation of Heidegger to which it is linked more explicitly". The method with which this volume of works has been presented in a explicative way: the following chapters will retrace the same schematic motif and will follow, under different expository structures, the same objective. The concept of the difference, treated in every single work, resurfaces from time to time with the same trait: as in "setting of the subject and the problem of the testimony", the meaning itself of the term 'testimonianza' (testimony) assumes the interpretative attributes just considered. The testimony, that for the existentialism, beginning with Kierkegaard, was considered as a symbol of the " () unmatched existence of the single , its peculiar and very individualistic rapport with the truth ()", for Nietzsche is something different: " the blood is the worst witness of the truth", as Zarathustra said. The supremacy of the individual conscience of the subject, which determines the first conception, is negated by Nietzsche and replaced by a group of diverse layers, pulsations, and passions, that struggle among themselves determining equilibriums which are always temporary. This comparison, which will attract implications of psychoanalytical character and to which Vattimo refers, will not be dealt with in this context for reasons of space. "The notion of testimony", Vattimo concludes, "and in general the significance of the historic action of man to which it is linked, can find again a sense, after the disappearance of the subject, only in the measure in which succeeds to free itself of every objectivistic residue in the conception of the existence and, at the same time, in renouncing the thought that the bourgeois-christian individual is the sole possible subject of history and it is the center of all initiatives". With "Le avventure della differenza" (The adventures of the difference), work that gives the title to the entire collection, we close out synthesis. In this section, Vattimo wishes to express the sense that Heidegger has of the notion of the difference. " Heidegger, in his effort to think about an ontological difference, is influenced by the nostalgia of a rapport with the being which is different from that of the neglect which characterizes the metaphysical thought (). The term that Heidegger uses more often to indicate this type of thought is 'An-denken'. An-denken means mainly remembrance, memory, and the process of remembering. An-denken is the thought that since it reminds of the difference, at the same time, it reminds of the existence. The subject, the person is "thrown into the world" (using a typical heideggerian expression) and therefore the completeness of his state has to reverberate in the method in which the ontological speculation is constructed: " the importance that hermeneutics already has in "Sein und Zeit" and which becomes more and more important in the following works, is a clear indication of how Heidegger's effort towards a thought that reminds of the existence and of the difference: () is a thought that can replace metaphysics and define, once and for all, the structure of the existence". Thinking of the existence by remembering it, but always realizing that it is distant. To get near to the being (entity, subject), it is necessary to distance oneself to take a better look: it is to listen.