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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


(1548 — 1600)



A soldier's son, Giordano Bruno was born at Nola, near Naples. In 1562 he studied humanities and logic at Naples University for a year before entering the Dominican Order; he was ordained in 1572. In 1576 he left Italy, having been accused of heresy, and travelled widely in Europe lecturing at Paris and Oxford and writing many books. Back in Italy he was arrested by the Inquisition in 1592, imprisoned, and burned at the stake.



[1] [See especially 'Cause, Principle, and the One'.] For Bruno philosophy essentially provides access to truth for the intelligent few — in contrast to religion [a] which is the means for educating and guiding the ignorant. His philosophy oscillates restlessly between a number of opposing positions: (1) in relation to God's transcendence and immanence; (2) unity and plurality; (3) the infinite and the finite. He sees Nature as a hierarchy of material and immaterial beings, extending from 'darkness' to 'light'. In his early writings he thinks of ideas or forms in the natural order, including those in man's intellect, as reflections of Divine Ideas [b] and as being represented in logic as concepts or symbols. God is the animating principle of the world, the 'primitive light' but transcendent and incomprehensible, the formal, efficient, and final cause of all things. But while we may observe 'traces' of Him in Nature, no actual knowledge of God as first cause is deducible from individual things [c], which although dependent on Him are distinct from Him. However, Bruno also puts forward the notion of an immanent world-soul, which is responsible for bringing about all that occurs in the world and is both material and universal form or intellect [d]. He thinks of matter not as a mere potential substratum but as pure act, a physical efficient agent [e].

Using his concept of a coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum) [f], Bruno regarded the universe as both a plurality of beings in constant flux and as an immobile infinite unity [see 'Infinite Universe and Worlds']. The universe, he says, is explicitly but not totally (explicatamente e non totalemente) unlimited (tutto infinito); that is, it has no edge or boundary (it is spatially without limit) but it is not completely infinite, because its constituent worlds are finite. God, however, is both unlimited and completely and totally infinite [g]. In an attempt to reconcile these views he postulates a basic or 'minimum' on three planes: the mathematical minimum is the unit (monas); at the physical level minima are animate monads, including immortal souls capable of perception and appetition; while, on the metaphysical plane, the minima of finite things (natura naturata) are envisioned as but 'microcosmic' accidents and 'mirrors' of the infinite substance (natura naturans)the One in All [h]. This 'macrocosm' as a whole is inherently beautiful as the manifestation of the Divine 'artist' [i]. As for the soul itself, Bruno rejects 'faculty' psychologies and emphasizes the unitary function of the imagination in the knowing process [j].

Our world and sun, and other associated heavenly bodies are considered to be but one of a multitude of solar systems making up the totality and engendered by the world-soul. In position they are all relative to each other, there being no absolute centre of the universe. Bruno also rejected the anthropomorphic view that intelligent life is to be found only on our planet.



Bruno's philosophy is eclectic, visionary, and often wildly speculative; and may be regarded as an original development of the thought of Nicholas of Cusa. While recognising God's transcendence he tends to place greater stress on His immanence and thus moves closer to pantheism. In response to accusations of heresy he seems to have made some attempt to separate theology from philosophy, but God as the complete and total infinite is a central concept in his metaphysics. However, throughout his writings the oppositions between Divine immanence and transcendence, the One and the many, and finitude and infinitude were never fully synthesized, despite his attempts at reconciliation. More generally, his speculative assumptions are not really supported by adequate logical argument. Nevertheless Bruno was an important Renaissance thinker whose writings probably influenced some later rationalists and idealists.



Bruno: Some of the key six Dialoghi Italiani (Italian Dialogues) are De la causa, principio e uno (1584) are 'Concerning the Cause, Principle, and the One'; De l'infinito universo e mondi (1584) ('Concerning the Infinite Universe and Worlds'). These essays are in English translation in, respectively, S. T. Greenberg, The Infinite in Giordano Bruno, and D. W. Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought. De gli eroici furori (1585) ('The Heroic Frenzies') is in P. E. Memmo, jr., The Heroic Frenzies.


D. W. Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Though.

F. A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.

S. Greenberg, The Infinite in Giordano Bruno.

J. Lindsay, Cause, Principle and Unity.






Note: The negative influence on Bruno of Aristotle was mediated generally through fifteenth century Aristotelianism and the writings of Aquinas (whom he admired — perhaps incongruously — as a great 'magus'); while such influences as Plotinus, Proclus, and Pseudo-Dionysius were transmitted through contemporary Neoplatonism and the thought of Nicholas of Cusa.


[1a] Philosophy and religion — different appeal






[1b] Nature as hierarchy (dark & light, material & immaterial ideas/ forms as reflection of Divine Ideas

   Nicholas of Cusa



[2e f]


[1c 3a 6a 6c]


[1c] God as transcendent cause (formal, efficient, final) and 'light', but no knowledge of him as first cause

   Nicholas of Cusa


[1b 2a c]



[1d] Immanent world-soul: material and universal intellect/ form


   Nicholas of Cusa






[1e] Matter: not potential but active agent    Aristotle [8d 14a b]


[1f] 'Coincidence of opposites'

   Nicholas of Cusa







[1g] Universe and God: limits and infinity; space


   Nicholas of Cusa



[2a e h j]



[1h] 'Minima': mathematical units; animate monads; finite things as 'microcosms' 'mirror' the infinite substance; natura naturans and naturata; God as the One in All


   Nicholas of Cusa



[2d g]


[2b e]

[2a c 6a]


[1i] Microcosm as beautiful — product of the Divine as 'artist'






[1j] Rejection of 'faculties' of soul; imagination as unitary cognitive factor    Aristotle [15d f]