Gian Teresio Vattimo, also known as Gianni Vattimo (born January 4, 1936) is an internationally recognized Italian author and politician. Many of his works have been translated into English.


Vattimo was born in Turin, Piedmont.

He studied philosophy under the existentialist Luigi Pareyson at the University of Turin, and graduated in 1959. After studying with Karl Löwith and Hans-Georg Gadamer in Heidelberg he returned to Turin where he became assistant professor in 1964, and later full professor of Aesthetics in 1969. While remaining at Turin, becoming Professor of Theoretical Philosophy in 1982, he has been a visiting professor at a number of American Universities.

After being active in the Partito Radicale, the short-lived Alleanza per Torino, and the Democrats of the Left, Vattimo joined the Party of Italian Communists. Between 1999 and 2004 he was a member of the European Parliament.

He is openly homosexual, and an avowed Catholic.

Vattimo’s Philosophy

His philosophy can be characterized as postmodern with his emphasis on "pensiero debole" (weak thought). This requires that the foundational certainties of modernity with its emphasis on objective truth founded in a rational unitary subject be relinquished for a more multi-faceted conception closer to that of the arts.

Vattimo draws on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger with his critique of foundations and the hermeneutical philosophy of his teacher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Perhaps his greatest influence though is the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche whose “discovery of the 'lie', the discovery that alleged 'values' and metaphysical structures are just a play of forces” (1993:93), plays an important role in Vattimo’s notion of “weak thought”.

Being as event

Vattimo rejects any notion of a transcendental structure of reason or reality that would be given once and for all. This does not imply the loss of truth, but a Heideggarean reinterpretation of truth as the opening of horizons. Such truth is deeper than propositions which are made possible by such openings. Philosophies then are always responses to contingent questions, they are ‘ontologies of actuality’, a thesis that can be confirmed by the historico-cultural links of particular philosophies. For hermeneutics to be consistent with its own rejection of metaphysics, it must present itself, argues Vattimo “as the most persuasive philosophical interpretation of a situation or ‘epoch’” (1997:10). To do this Vattimo proposes a reading of hermeneutics as having a "nihilistic" vocation.

Nihilism as the truth of history

To Vattimo hermeneutics has become boring and vague lacking any clear significance for philosophical problems. His answer is to insist on the nihilistic consequences of hermeneutics. The claim that “there are no facts only interpretations and this too is an interpretation” amounts to saying that hermeneutics cannot be seen as the most accurate/true description of the permanent structures of reality of human existence. Hermeneutics is not a metaphysical theory in this sense and so can only be "proved" by being presented as the response to a history of being, a history of the fabling of the world, of the weakening of structures, that is as the occurrence of nihilism.

This nihilistic reading of history involves a certain attitude towards modernity whereby modernity is dissolved from within through a twisting, distorting radicalisation of its premises. Vattimo uses Heidegger’s term Verwindung to capture this postmodern recovery from modernity.

Weak thought and ethics

History as a process of weakening, (secularisation and disenchantment are other terms Vattimo uses) “assumes the form of a decision for non-violence” (1992:95). An ethics of communication along the lines suggested by Jürgen Habermas suffers, according to Vattimo, from finding itself in a substantially ahistorical position, while oscillating between formalism and cultural relativism(1992:117). For Vattimo it is only when hermeneutics accepts its nihilistic destiny that “it can find in ‘negativity’, in dissolution as the ‘destiny of Being’ … the orientating principle that enables it to realize its own original inclination for ethics whilst neither restoring metaphysics nor surrendering to the futility of a relativistic philosophy of culture”(1992:119)


Selected works:

  • (1991) The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Post-modern Culture, Translated by John R. Snyder, Polity Press, 1991 Translation of La fine della modernità, Garzanti, Milan, 1985
  • (1992) The Transparent Society Translated by David Webb, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994 Translation of La società trasparente, Garzanti, Milan, 1989
  • (1993) The Adventure of Difference: Philosophy after Nietzsche and Heidegger Translated by Thomas Harrison and Cyprian P. Blamires, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993 Translation of Le avventure della differenza, Garzanti, Milan, 1980
  • (1997) Beyond Interpretation:The Meaning of Hermeneutics for Philosophy, Translated by David Webb, Stanford University Press, 1997 Translation of Oltre l'interpretazione, Laterza, Rome-Bari, 1994
  • (1998) Religion by Jacques Derrida, Edited by Gianni Vattimo, Translated by David Webb Stanford University Press, 1998
  • (1999) Belief by Gianni Vattimo, et al., Polity Press, 1999 Translation of Credere di credere, Garzanti, Milan, l996
  • (2002a) Nietzsche: Philosophy as Cultural Criticism Translated by Nicholas Martin Stanford University Press, 2002 Translation of Introduzione a Nietzsche, Laterza, Rome-Bari,1985
  • (2002b) After Christianity, New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • (2004) Nihilism and Emancipation: Ethics, Politics and Law, Edited by Santiago Zabala, Columbia University Press, 2004
  • (2005) The Future of Religion, Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Santiago Zabala, Columbia University Press, 2005
  • (2006) After the Death of God, John D. Caputo and Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Jeffrey W. Robbins, Columbia University Press.

Works on Vattimo

  • (2007) Weakening Philosophy. Essays in Honour of Gianni Vattimo, Edited by Santiago Zabala [1], Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007.
  • (2006) Martin G. Weiss, Gianni Vattimo. Einführung. Mit einem Interview mit Gianni Vattimo, Passagen Verlag, 2. Auflage: Wien 2006. ISBN 3-85165-738-1.

See also

  • Deconstruction
  • Postmodern Christianity
  • Weak theology

External links

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