The latest book from renowned parliamentarian and philosopher Gianni Vattimo is not only an excellent introduction to his own particular brand of ‘weak thought’ but also a provocative exploration of the vital nature of hermeneutics as well as a lifelong engagement with the nature of reality. Structurally, the book is divided in two, grouped around two sets of lectures that Vattimo has delivered over his career. First comes the section passed on the Leuven lectures from 1998 followed by a section based on his popular Gifford Lectures from 2010. The lectures are presented alongside other essays from the same years but even so the collection forms two distinct halves rather than a more systematic whole.
The principal aim of the whole work is Vattimo’s attempt to argue against a complacent acceptance of reality. Rather Vattimo focuses on the centrality, importance and essentially political nature of interpretation. Despite our desire for an external and reliable reality somewhere “out there” Vattimo sees truth as completely entwined with interpretation — socially and historically determined. This scepticism towards normative claims lends itself toward nihilism, but rather than seeing nihilism as something to be overcome, Vattimo seeks to engage with it. His discussion of truth as well as Tarski’s truth principle maintains truth is contingent, always bound up in social and historical circumstances. What is “reasonable” is always bound to the contexts of history and thus, truth is never completely objective.
To conclude, Vattimo returns to his philosophical passion which is Heidegger — conducting a long and sustained exploration of Being and Time. If reality has been dissolved, so has traditional notions of Being. Rather than describing Being, Vattimo seeks a participatory philosophy of Being rather than a descriptive one. As Vattimo puts it, I am not proposing any return to reality—to foundations, to the solidity of an ontology that has its feet on the ground,’ This kind of totality is controlling and deeply conservative, and thus for Vattimo something to be resisted. The dissolution of reality is thus an ethical one, as an engaged hermeneutic ontology allows for some degree of freedom and even revolutionary political action. The book closes with an appendix of short essays where Vattimo provides a critique of metaphysics and violence that ‘truly constitutes an unavoidable preliminary problem’ for philosophy in general. Moving through thinkers such as Adorno, Heidegger and Marx, Vattimo argues for a philosophy that is committed to hermeneutics and politically engaged. As the close of the book expresses it, ‘making the effort to remember Being as projectality and freedom means choosing to stand with those who project more because they possess less.’