Abstract: Contemporary scholars have focused on two concepts in Vico's tkinking: the imaginative universal and the sensus communis. For Vico these concepts emerge from the human race's first experience of religion. For over a century Vico scholarship has been divided over how to view this experience. This division falls along Aristotelian lines: that is, the primitive religious experience can be seen either as poetic—God and religion are made by the human imagination—or it can be viewed as rhetorical—God and religion are discovered. Vico derives his idea of natural law from the concepts of the imaginative imiversal and the sensus communis, and their relation to religion will affect decisively the status of Vico's theory of natural law. As a matter of fact, Vico's thinking on this issue is better understood, first, within the context of Rudolph Otto's The Idea of the Body, and second, in the context of the Baroque rather than in the context of Aristotelian categories of religion and poetic. Viewed within these contexts, the origin of religion is a theophany that is neither made nor discovered but witnessed, and the development of natural law is an historical process only understood in retrospect. Vico thus differs radically from other Enlightenment thinkers, especially Hume, in his account of primitive religion and provides a basis for natural law that is neither superstitious nor rationalistic, but religious.
- Copyright 1997, The International Society for the History of Rhetoric