Reviews of Giovanni Vailati's works

Giovanni Vailati wrote around 250 works so the extracts of reviews of his works that we present below represents a very small part of what is available.


1. Sull' Importanza delle Ricerche relative alla Storia delle Scienze (1897), by Giovanni Vailati.

Review in: The American Journal of Psychology 9 (2) (1898), 241-242.

This introductory lecture to a course on the history of mechanics emphasizes the need and the value of researches into the history of human thought, as seen in the development of the various branches of science. Dr Vailati compares the disdain with which certain Greek philosophical schools looked upon such researches with the position of Malebranche, and those who held the Scriptures to contain all knowledge, and Adam to have been all perfect before the fall. The history of human opinions, bad or good, false or true, old or new, is of paramount importance. Every error indicates some reef to be avoided, though every discovery does not always indicate a path to be followed. The "science" of times gone by is as human as the science of the century in which we now are. From the knowledge of the development of science comes a true concept of the evolving human mind. Philogeny and ontogeny receive light from such investigations. Their pedagogical value is also very high. As scientist, to use the noble phrase, one can belong "to the masters of those who know," but as teacher, he must be the masters of those who know not." Dr Vailati points out that at the University of Berlin there are courses in the history of chemistry and of medicine; at Breslau, in the history of medicine, of mathematics and of botany; at Konigsberg, in the history of astronomy; at Graz, in the history of ancient Greek scientific literature; at Wittenberg a special course in the history of chemistry, gen, Bonn, Vienna and Turin, courses in the history At Vienna, too, Dr Mach gave a course on the history of the mechanical theory of heat.
2. Le speculazioni di Giovanni Benedetti sul moto dei gravi (1898), by Giovanni Vailati.

Review in: Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 7 (1) (1899), 6.

In this note, presented to the Academy of Sciences of Turin, the author highlights the merits and the historical importance of Benedetti (1530- 1590), the precursor of Galileo. He was the first who showed that all bodies fall with the same speed in a vacuum, while Aristotle professed that their speed is proportional to their weight. He discovered that the speed of a weight in a resistant medium is proportional to its apparent weight in this environment, not in inverse ratio to the density of the medium, as Aristotle believed. Finally he knew the principle of inertia, and thus explained the acceleration of bodies subjected to a constant force, such as gravity; while Aristotle explained uniform motion by the continuous action of a constant force, and Hipparchus believed that the falling speed is constant, and the initial speed runs out! It is true that Benedetti has yet admitted some scholastic prejudices and some traditional errors. But does that not prove better then the ubiquitous absurd theories when it took the spirit of independence and strength of character of innovators of Renaissance to overcome the harmful tyranny of Aristotle.
3. Distinction entre connaissance et volenté (1905), by Giovanni Vailati.

Review by Wilmon H Sheldon in: The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 2 (23) (1905), 641-642.

Difference of opinion between specialists is found to a greater or less extent in most of the sciences, but it attains the extreme, perhaps, in philosophy. A thesis should, therefore, be especially welcome to philosophers, and hardly distasteful to scientific men, which would enable us to understand how two opposing views may often be equally correct. Such a thesis is advanced by M Vailati. While it contains nothing very new, being roughly in accord with the humanistic point of view, we do not remember that any one has used that point of view to promote philosophic peace and toleration just as M Vailati has done. The thesis is that many statements of opinion are not so much pronouncements of what is true or false as they are expressions of personal taste, ideal or interest. Thus the owner of a valuable vase or goblet will say to a guest who handles it, 'This object is fragile.' The fragility is here not an observed fact, but is a term used to express the desire of the owner for careful handling on the part of his guest.
4. II Metodo della Filosofia (1957), by Giovanni Vailati.

Review by Philip Ginnetti in: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 18 (4) (1958), 571-572

Giovanni Vailati (1863-1909) was a student, and later a teacher of mathematics, at the University of Turin, under the tutelage of Giuseppe Peano. In another sense, when his interests in philosophy came to the fore, he was a student of Charles Peirce and Ernst Mach. These essays, edited by Prof Ferruccio Rossi-Landi of the University of Milan, give the scope of Vailati's preoccupation with philosophic method, and do not dwell upon his more technical contributions to the mathematical sciences. But his interest in mathematical logic and the pragmatism of Peirce led him to see a number of points on which they could agree on how to make our ideas clear. Vailati tended to see philosophic method in terms of scientific experience, and he did not care to distinguish between the two. He dismissed as an "unreal" problem the notion that philosophy could render an 'adaequatio' of reality, however given. Thus he could convince himself that "real" problems have a solution; "unreal" problems do not. In his own day Vailati's defence of the pragmatic character of ideas was looked upon as too positivistic. Today he would share many of the ideas of logical positivism and philosophical analysis, as well as many of the battles surrounding scientific method. He had little interest in metaphysics, naturalistic or otherwise.
5. II Metodo della Filosofia (1957), by Giovanni Vailati.

Review by Roland Hall in: The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-) 10 (41) (1960), 372.

Our picture of Italian philosophy has been seriously distorted by two historical accidents: first, that Giovanni Vailati was born as early as 1863 (three years before Croce), and second, that he died so young (in 1909, at forty-six). That his friend and follower Calderoni died in 1914 at the age of thirty-five has also contributed towards the impression generally current outside Italy that Croce and Gentile are representative of all modern Italian philosophy. Vailati believed in philosophy as analysis or methodology, without social and political overtones; he worked on the history and philosophy of science and on mathematical logic; he distinguished between real problems and pseudo-problems and said that the difference was concealed by "similarity in verbal form or in grammar"; and propounded a theory of meaning being dependent on the relevance of some particular experience. But it was too early for these ideas to catch on; moreover, after a series of subordinate posts, he abandoned university life, to teach in schools and technical institutes; and though he wrote a vast number of articles and reviews, he never attempted to write a book. He called himself a 'pragmatist' in honour of C S Peirce, but his 'pragmatism' was mainly a matter of a methodical approach to philosophy, of following some rules, and had nothing to do with the views commonly understood by this label. The neglect into which the small group of Italian pragmatists have hitherto fallen - other associates besides Calderoni were E Regalia, E Juvalta and L Limentani - is indicated by their failure to get a mention in Passmore's '100 Years of Philosophy', where the Jamesian Papini is regarded as the central and only significant figure of pragmatism in Italy.

JOC/EFR October 2016

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