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Gianni Vattimo

Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, University of Turin

Gianni Vattimo is an Italian philosopher and university professor who served in the European Parliament. He has been a leading member both of the 1960s turn in continental philosophy to a relativistic view of religion, art, and sexual freedom and the espousal of postmodern secularism and anticapitalism.

In the 1980s, Vattimo returned to his Roman Catholic roots. He wrote widely on how the “death of God” still allowed for the essence of Christianity—charity, solidarity, and irony—to be reconciled with pluralism, secularism, and sexual diversity, an important issue for Vattimo as an openly gay activist for homosexual rights.

His philosophical work has been based in a revival of Nietzsche and Heidegger, whom he has found to offer the most effective philosophical systems with which to break down traditional metaphysical viewpoints. He said that this philosophical and political deconstruction process leads to “emancipation.” The process is a good “nihilism,” which he later elaborated with the concept of “weak thought.” In his return to Christianity, Vattimo thus spoke of “weak theology” and in his latter-day espousal of communism “weak Marxism”—both theology and Marxism are “weak” in the sense that they undermine strong dogmatic structures, ideologies, or institutions.

Vattimo was born in 1936 in Turin, where he studied philosophy at the university. He pursed graduate studies at the University of Heidelberg. His most influential instructor there was Hans-Georg Gadamer, who showed him the value of “philosophical hermeneutics,” a way of interpreting truth that rejects scientific positivism and the metaphysical categories of traditional philosophy: it instead sees all claims to truth as relative and conditioned by historical, cultural, and personal stances. His first advanced research was on aesthetics, and he concluded that the way art is interpreted—with avant-garde poetry as his chief example—is superior to the ways that science and classical philosophy approach “truth” or value judgments.

Vattimo began teaching at the University of Turin in 1964. He became dean of the Faculty of Humanities in the 1970s at Turin, where he has remained through the twenty-first century as emeritus professor. Vattimo became active in politics after the May 1968 social revolution in Europe. He was eventually a member of the Radical Party and of the Democrats of the Left, for whom he led the homosexual-rights wing. On breaking with the Democrats of the Left, he joined the Italian Communist Party. An early supporter of the push for a European Union, Vattimo was first elected to be a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) by the Democrats of the Left, and later by the Italian Communist Party. He served as an MEP from 1999 to 2004, sitting on several commissions related to education, cultural, and human rights.

Vattimo edited the Journal of Aesthetics and has contributed to many international magazines. He is a member of the Academy of Sciences of Turin. He has received honorary degrees from several universities and was awarded the Official Great Merit of the Italian Republic in 1997. Most of his books are in English translation and include A Farewell to Truth (2011), Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx (2011), Responsibility of the Philosopher (2010), Christianity, Truth, and Weak Faith (2009), Not Being God: A Collaborative Autobiography (2009), After the Death of God (2006), The Future of Religion (2005), Nihilism and Emancipation: Ethics, Politics, and Law (2004), After Christianity (2002), Beyond Interpretation: The Meaning of Hermeneutics for Philosophy (1994), Art’s Claim to Truth (1985, 2008), Nietzsche: Philosophy as Cultural Criticism (1985), The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Post-modern Culture (1985), and The Adventure of Difference: Philosophy after Nietzsche and Heidegger (1980).