Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet
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
METAPHYSICS/ PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE
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
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
S. Greenberg, The
Infinite in Giordano Bruno.