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Philosophical History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



After Christianity by Gianni Vattimo, translated by Luca D'Isanto (Columbia University Press) A leading figure in contemporary philosophy looks at the resurgence of Christianity today and examines its connections to the writings of philosophers of the twentieth century. When Vattimo was asked by a former teacher if he still believed in God, his reply was, "Well, I believe that I believe." This paradox of the certainty of faith and opinion sets the stage for a brilliant exposition on Christianity at the millennium - an age characterized by a deep uncertainty of opinion - and the paradox of how Vattimo himself recovered his faith through Nietzsche and Heidegger.

What has been the fate of Christianity since Nietzsche´s famous announcement of the "death of God"? What is the possibility of religion, specifically Christianity, thriving in our postmodern era? In this provocative new book, Gianni Vattimo, leading Italian philosopher, politician, and framer of the European constitution, addresses these critical questions. When Vattimo was asked by a former teacher if he still believed in God, his reply was, "Well, I believe that I believe." This paradoxical declaration of faith serves as the foundation for a brilliant exposition on Christianity in the new millennium -an age characterized by a deep uncertainty of opinion -and a personal account of how Vattimo himself recovered his faith through Nietzsche and Heidegger. He first argues that secularization is in fact the fulfillment of the central Christian message, and prepares us for a new mode of Christianity. He then explains that Nietzsche´s thesis concerns only the "moral god" and leaves room for the emergence of "new gods." Third, Vattimo claims that the postmodern condition of fragmentation, anti-Eurocentrism, and postcolonialism can be usefully understood in light of Joachim of Fiore´s thesis concerning the "Spiritual Age" of history. Finally, Vattimo argues for the idea of "weak thought." Because philosophy in the postmetaphysical age can only acknowledge that "all is interpretation," that the "real" is always relative and not the hard and fast "truth" we once thought it to be, contemporary thought must recognize itself and its claims as "weak" as opposed to "strong" foundationalist claims of the metaphysical past. Vattimo concludes that these factors make it possible for religion and God to become a serious topic for philosophy again, and that philosophy should now formally engage religion.

Vattimo's "After Christianity" could be titled "After Blumenberg". Of course I am referring to Hans Blumenberg's "The Legitimacy of the Modern Age". Blumenberg's thesis, as I found it relevant for the philosophy of relgion, is that the secularization that occurs in Modern philosophy is a direct result of William of Ockhams'emphasis upon radical divine omnipotence combined with a form of realist skepticism. Hence, secularization is the result of Christianity's internal incoherence. The modern age is hence a legitimate construct independent of Christian theology.

Vattimo argues almost the exact opposite. The secularization of European culture, YES! European Culture, is the result of the kenotic emptying of the Christian God in Christ. The increased generalization, abstraction, and emptying the concept of God that characterizes Modernity is not the result of Christianity's internal incoherence. Just the opposite, not only is Modernity's secularization and its emptying all the content from the concept of God coherent with Christianity, but also the "postmodern" (here Vattimo means nihilism) condition is a coherent development of the workings of Christianity's kenotic God.

I'll leave you to "After Christianity" to figure out how Vattimo pulls this off and what he thinks its implications are. The signficance of Vattimo for contemporary philosophy of religion cannot be overrated. Certainly his works raises major questions about theological movements like "Radical Orthodoxy" and the theology of John Milbank.  

The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Postmodern Culture by Gianni Vattimo, illustrations by Jon R. Snyder (Re-Visions of Culture and Society: Johns Hopkins University Press) Gianni Vattimo is a member of the European Parliament. He teaches hermeneutic philosophy at the University of Turin. His books in English include The End of Modernity, The Transparent Society, Consequences of Hermeneutics, Beyond Interpretation, and Belief

Gianni Vattimo was born in Turin in 1936. He studied under Luigi Pareyson, and graduated from Turin University in 1959. He studied at Heidelberg with Karl Lšwith and Hans Georg Gadamer, and introduced the latter's works to Italy. From l964 he was assistant professor and from 1969 full professor of Aesthetics at Turin. He has been Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the same University since l982. He has been visiting professor to various universities in the United States. He is editor of "Rivista di estetica" (Aesthetic Review); member of the scientific committees of various Italian and international journals, and fellow of the Accademia delle Scienze (Academy of Sciences) of Turin.

In his works, Vattimo has proposed an interpretation of contemporary hermeneutic ontology, emphasising its positive link with nihilism, understood as a weakening of ontological categories arising from the metaphysics and criticism of Nietzsche and Heidegger. This weakening of being is the central concept for understanding the characteristics of man's existence in the late-modern world and - in the form of secularisiation, the passage to democratic political regimes, pluralism and tollerance - represents the guiding thread of any possible emancipation.


  • Il concetto di fare in Aristotele, Giappichelli, Turin, 1961;

  • Essere, storia e linguaggio in Heidegger, "Filosofia", Turin 1963;

  • Ipotesi su Nietzsche, Giappichelli, Turin, 1967;

  • Poesia e ontologia, Mursia, Milan 1968;

  • Schleiermacher, filosofo dell'interpretazione, Mursia, Milan, 1968;

  • Introduzione ad Heidegger, Laterza, Rome-Bari, 1971;

  • Il soggetto e la maschera, Bompiani, Milan, 1974;

  • Le avventure della differenza, Garzanti, Milan, 1980;

  • Al di là del soggetto, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1981;

  • Il pensiero debole, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1983 (edited by G. Vattimo e P. A. Rovatti);

  • La fine della modernità, Garzanti, Milan, 1985;

  • Introduzione a Nietzsche, Laterza, Rome-Bari,1985;

  • La società trasparente, Garzanti, Milan, 1989;

  • Etica dell' interpretazione, Rosenberg & Sellier, Turin, 1989;

  • Filosofia al presente, Garzanti, Milan, 1990;

  • Oltre l'interpretazione, Laterza, Rome-Bari, 1994;

  • Credere di credere, Garzanti, Milan, l996.

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