Friday, December 2, 2011

Hegel on Giordano Bruno


3. Bruno.

Giordano Bruno was of an equally restless and effervescent temperament, and we see in him a bold rejection of all Catholic beliefs resting on mere authority. In modern times he has again been brought into remembrance by Jacobi (Werke, Vol. IV. Section II. pp. 5-46), who appended to his letters on Spinoza an abstract of one of Bruno’s works. Jacobi caused great attention to be paid to Bruno, more especially by his assertion that the sum of Bruno’s teaching was the One and All of Spinoza, or really Pantheism; on account of the drawing of this parallel Bruno obtained a reputation which passes his deserts. He was less restless than Cardanus; but he had no fixed habitation on the earth. He was born at Nola in the province of Naples, and lived in the sixteenth century; the year of his birth is not known with certainty. He roamed about in most of the European states, in Italy, France, England, Germany, as a teacher of philosophy: he forsook Italy, where at one time he had been a Dominican friar, and where he had made bitter reflections both upon various Catholic dogmas — for instance, on transubstantiation and the immaculate conception of the Virgin — and upon the gross ignorance and scandalous lives of the monks. He then lived in Geneva in 1582, but there he fell out in the same way with Calvin and Beza, and could not live with them: he made some stay in several other French cities, such as Lyons; and after a time he came to Paris, where in 1585 he formally challenged the adherents of Aristotle, by following a practice greatly in favour in those days (supra, p. 112),. and proposing for public disputation a series of philosophic theses, which were specially directed against Aristotle. They appeared under the title Jord. Bruni Nol. Rationes articulorum physicorum adversus Peripateticos Parisiis propositorum, Vitebergæ apud Zachariam Cratonem, 1588; he was not successful in them, however, as the position of the Aristotelians was still too well assured. Bruno was also in London; he visited Wittenberg in the year 1586; he likewise stayed in Prague and other universities and towns. In Helmstedt he was high in the favour of the Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1589; after that he went to Frankfort-on-Main, where he had several of his works printed. He was a wandering professor and author. Finally he came back to Italy in 1592, and lived in Padua for some time undisturbed, but at last he was ,seized in Venice by the Inquisition, cast into prison, sent on to Rome, and there in the year 1600, refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake as a heretic. Eye-witnesses, and amongst them Scioppius, recount that he met death with the most unflinching courage. He had become a Protestant when in Germany, and had broken the vows of his order.

Among both Catholics and Protestants his writings were held to be heretical and atheistic, and therefore they were burned and destroyed, or kept in concealment. His complete works are hence very seldom met with; the greatest number of them are to be found in the University Library at Göttingen; the fullest account of them is given in Buhle’s History of Philosophy (supra, Vol. I. p. 113). His works are for the most part rare, and in many cases interdicted; in Dresden they are still included among prohibited writings, and are therefore not to be seen there. Lately 2 an edition of them in the Italian language was prepared, which possibly has never yet been issued. Bruno also wrote a great deal in Latin. Wherever he took up his abode for a time, he gave public lectures, wrote and published works; and this increases the difficulty of making complete acquaintance with his books. Many of his writings are for the above reason very similar in their matter, the form only being different, and in the evolution of his thoughts he never consequently advanced very much nor attained to any results. But the loading characteristic of his various writings is really to some extent the grand enthusiasm of a noble soul, which has a sense of indwelling spirit, and knows the unity of its own. Being and all Being to be the whole life of thought. There is something bacchantic in his way of apprehending this deep consciousness; it overflows in becoming thus an object of thought, and in the expression of its riches. But it is only in knowledge that spirit can bring itself forth as a whole; when it has not yet attained to this point of scientific culture, it reaches out after all forms, without bringing them first into due order. Bruno displays just such an unregulated and multiform profusion; and on that account his expositions have frequently a dreamy, confused, allegorical appearance of mystical enthusiasm. Many of his writings are in verse, and much that is fantastic finds a place in them, as for instance when he says in one of his works, entitled La Bestia Trionfante, that something else must be put in place of the stars. He sacrificed his personal welfare to the great enthusiasm which filled him, and which left him no peace. It is easy to say that he was “C a restless being, who could get on with nobody.” But whence did this restlessness come to him? What he could not get on with was the finite, the evil, the ignoble. Thence arose his restlessness. He rose to the one universal substantiality by putting an end to this separation of self-consciousness and nature, whereby both alike are degraded. God was in self-consciousness, it was admitted, but externally, and as remaining something different from self-consciousness, another reality; while Nature was made by God, being His creature, not an image of Him. The goodness of God displayed itself only in final causes, finite ends, as when it is said: “Bees make honey for man’s food; the cork tree grows to provide stoppers for bottles.”

As to his reflections, Jacobi has by his recent [1805-6] exposition of them made it seem as if it were a theory specially characteristic of Bruno that one living Being, one World-Soul, should penetrate all existence, and should be the life of all. Bruno asserted, in the first place, the unity of life and the universality of the World-Soul, and, in the second place, the indwelling presence of reason; but Bruno in so saying is far from being original, and in fact this doctrine is a mere echo of the Alexandrian. But in his writings there are two specially marked features. The first is the nature of his system, based as it is on his leading thoughts, or his philosophic principles generally, namely the Idea as substantial unity. The second, which is closely connected with the first, is his use of the Art of Lullius; this is specially emphasized and highly esteemed by him, the art of finding differences in the Idea it he wished to bring into special recognition.

a. His philosophic thoughts, to express which he sometimes made use of Aristotle’s concepts, give evidence of a peculiar, highly strung and very original mind. The substance of his general reflections is found in the greatest enthusiasm for the above-mentioned vitality of Nature, divinity, the presence of reason in Nature. His philosophy is thus on the whole certainly Spinozism, Pantheism. The separation of man from God or the world, all such relations of externality, have been superadded to his living idea of the absolute, universal unity of all things, for the expression of which idea Bruno has been so greatly admired. In his conception of things the main points are that, on the one hand, he gives the universal determination of matter, and, on the other hand, that of form.

a. The unity of life he thus determines as the universal, active understanding (nous), which manifests itself as the universal form of all the world, and comprehends all forms in itself; it bears the same relation to the production of natural objects as does the understanding of man, and moulds and systematizes them, as the human understanding moulds the multitude of its concepts. It is the artist within, who shapes and forms the material without. From within the root or the seed-grain it makes the shoot come forth; from this again it brings the branches, and from them the twigs, and from out of. the twigs it calls forth the buds, and leaves, and flowers. All is planned, prepared and perfected within. In the same way this universal reason within calls back their saps from the fruits and. blossoms to the twigs, and so on. The universe is thus an infinite animal, in which all things live and move and have their being in modes the most diverse. The formal understanding is thus in no wise different from the Final Cause (the Notion of end, the entelechy, the unmoved principle, which we meet with in Aristotle); but these are just as truly also active understanding, the efficient cause (causæ efficiens), this same producing force. Nature and Spirit are not separated; their unity is the formal understanding, in which is contained the pure Notion, not as in consciousness, but as free and independent, remaining within itself, and at the same time exercising activity and passing beyond itself. The understanding working towards one particular end is the inward form of the thing itself, an inward principle of the understanding. What is continually produced is in accordance with this form, and contained. within it; what appears. is determined as the form is in itself determined. With Proclus in the same way the understanding, as substantial, is that which includes all things in its unity: life is the outgoing, the producing force: and the understanding as such similarly includes the returning force, which brings all things back into unity. In dealing with Kant’s philosophy we shall have again to mention this determination of final purpose.

That which has organic life, whose principle is formative, which bas its efficacy in. itself, and in the same only remains at home with itself and maintains itself, is nothing but the end, the activity determined in itself, which in its relation to what is different does not comport itself as mere cause, but returns upon itself.

b. Bruno, who asserts the final cause to be immediately operative, and the life immanent in the universe, asserts it also to be existent, as substance; he is therefore opposed to the conception of a merely extra-mundane understanding. To a certain extent Bruno distinguishes form and matter in substance, which itself, as the aforesaid activity of the Idea, is the unity of form and matter; thus matter has life in itself. The permanent element in the endless changes of existence is, he says, the first and absolute matter; although without form, it is nevertheless the mother of all forms, and receptive of all forms. Because matter is not without the first universal form, it is itself principle or in itself final cause. Form is immanent in matter; the one simply cannot exist without the other; thus matter itself brings about these changes of form, and the same matter runs through them all. What was at first seed becomes blade, then ear, then bread, chyle, blood, seed of animal, an embryo, a human being, a corpse, then once more earth, stone, or other substance; from sand and water frogs are produced. Here then we can perceive something which, although it transforms itself into all these things in turn, yet still in itself remains one and the same. This matter cannot be a body, for bodies have form; nor can it belong to the class which we term properties, attributes, or qualities, for these are liable to change. Thus nothing seems to be eternal and worthy of the name of a principle, except matter. Many have for this reason held matter to be the only reality, and all forms to be accidental. This error arises from the fact of their recognizing only a form of the second kind, and not that necessary first and eternal form, which is the form and source of all forms. In the same way the aforesaid matter, on account of its identity with the understanding which causes form beforehand, is itself intelligible, as the universal presupposition of all corporeality. Because it is everything in general, it is nothing in particular, neither air nor water, nor anything else, abstract or otherwise; it has no dimensions, in order to have all dimensions. The forms of matter are the inward power of matter itself; it is, as intelligible, the very totality of form. This system of Bruno’s is thus objective Spinozism, and nothing else; one can see how deeply he penetrated.

Bruno here asks the question: “But this first universal form and that first universal matter, how are they united, inseparable? Different — and yet one Being?” He answers by making use of the Aristotelian forms of dunamis and energeia: Matter is to be regarded as potentiality; in this way all possible forms of existence in a certain sense are included in the Notion of it. The passivity of matter must be regarded as pure and absolute. Now it is impossible to attribute existence to a thing which lacks the power to exist. Existence has, however, such an express reference to the active mode, that it is at once clear that the one cannot exist without the other, but that each of them pre-supposes the other. If therefore at all times a capacity of working, producing, creating, was there, so must there also have been at all times a capacity of being worked upon, produced, created. The perfect potentiality of the existence of things (matter) cannot precede their actual existence, and just as little can it remain after that is past. The first and most perfect principle includes all existence in itself, can be all things, and is all things. Active power and potentiality, possibility and actuality are therefore in it one undivided and indivisible principle. This simultaneousness of acting and being acted upon is a very important determination; matter is nothing without activity, form is therefore the power and inward life of matter. If matter were nothing but indeterminate potentiality, how would the determinate be arrived at? This simplicity of matter is itself only one moment of form: in wishing therefore to tear asunder matter and form, matter is at once established in one determination of form, but in so doing there is immediately established also the existence of the Other.

Thus the Absolute is determined for Bruno: it is not so with other things, which may exist and also may not exist, and which may be determined in one way or in another way. In regard to finite things and in finite determinations of the understanding the distinction between form and matter is thus present. The individual man is at every moment what he may be at that moment, but not everything which he may be in general and with reference to substance. The things which appear to be different are only modifications of one single thing which includes in its existence all other existence. The universe, unbegotten Nature, is, however, everything which it can be in reality and at one time, because it includes in itself the whole of matter, as well as the eternal, unchangeable form of its changing forms. But in its developments from moment to moment, its particular parts, qualities, individual existences, in its externality as a whole, it is no more what it is and may be; but a part such as this is only a shadow of the image of the first principle. Thus Bruno wrote also a book, De umbris idearum.

g. This is Bruno’s fundamental idea. He says: “To recognize this unity of form and matter in all things, is what reason is striving to attain to. But in order to penetrate to this unity, in order to investigate all the secrets of Nature, we must search into the opposed and contradictory extremes of things, the maximum and the minimum.” It is in these very extremes that they are intelligible, and become united in the Notion; and this union of them is infinite Nature. “To find the point of union is not the greatest matter; but to develop from the same its very opposite, this is the real and the deepest secret of the art.” It is saying much if we speak of knowing the development of the Idea as a necessity of determinations; we shall see later how Bruno proceeded to do this. He represents the original principle, which is elsewhere known as the form, under the Notion of the minimum, which is at the same time the maximum — One, which at the same time is All; the universe is this One in All. In the universe, he says, the body is not distinguished from the point, nor the centre from the circumference, nor the finite from the infinite, nor the maximum from the minimum. There is nothing but centre point; or the centre point is everywhere and in everything. The ancients expressed the same by saying of the Father of the gods., that he really had his dwelling-place in every point of the universe. It is the universe that first gives to things true reality; it is the substance of all things, the monad, the atom, the spirit poured out on all things, the innermost essence, the pure form.[1]

b. The second object to which Bruno devoted himself was the so-called Lullian Art, which received its name from its first inventor, the Scholastic Raymundus Lullus (supra, pp. 92-94). Bruno adopted this and carried it to completion; he termed it also his ars combinatoria. This art is in some respects like what we met with in Aristotle under the name of the Topics (Vol. II. pp. 217, 218), seeing that both give an immense number of “places” and determinations which were fixed in the conception like a table with its divisions, in order that these headings might be applied to all that came to hand. But the Topics of Aristotle did this in order to apprehend and determine an object in its various aspects, while Bruno rather worked for the sake of lightening the task of memory. He thus really connected the Lullian Art with the art of mnemonics as practised by the ancients, which has come into notice again in recent times, and which will be found described in greater detail in the Auctor ad Herentium (Libr. III.c. 17, sqq.). To give an example: one establishes for oneself a certain number of different departments in the imagination, which are, to be chosen at pleasure; there may be perhaps twelve of these, arranged in sets of three, and indicated by certain words, such as Aaron, Abimelech, Achilles, Berg, Baum, Baruch, etc., into which divisions due inserts, as it were, what has to be learnt by heart, and forms it into a succession of pictures. In this way when we repeat it, we have not to say it from memory or out of our head, as we are accustomed to do, but we have only to read it off as if from a table. The only difficulty lies in making some ingenious connection between the content in question and the picture; that gives rise to the most unholy combinations, and the art is therefore not one to be commended. Bruno also soon abandoned it, since what had been a matter of memory became a matter of imagination; which was, of course, a descent. But since with Bruno the diagram is not only a picture of external images, but a system of universal determinations of thought, he certainly gave to this art a deeper inward meaning.[2]

a. Bruno passes over to this art from universal ideas which are given. Since namely one life, one understanding is in all things, Bruno had the dim hope of apprehending this universal understanding in the totality of its determinations, and of subsuming all things under it — of setting up a logical philosophy by its means, and making it applicable in all directions .2 He says: The object of consideration therein is the universe in so far as it enters into the relation of the true, the knowable and the rational. Like Spinoza he distinguishes between the intelligible thing of reason and the actual thing: As metaphysics has for object the universal thing, which is divided into substance and accident, so the chief matter is that there is a single and more universal art which knits together and compasses round the thing of reason and the actual thing, and recognizes them both as harmonizing with one another, so that the many, be they of what kind they may, are led back to simple unity.

b. For Bruno the principle in all this is the understanding generally: None other than the understanding whose activity extends beyond itself, which brings into existence the sensuous world. It is related to the illumination of the spirit as the sun is related to the eye: it relates therefore to a phenomenal manifold, illuminating this, not itself. The Other is the active understanding in itself, which is related to the objects of thought in their various classes, as the eye is to things visible. The infinite form, the active understanding which dwells in reason, is the first, the principle, which develops; the process in some respects resembles what was met with in the Neo-Platonists. Bruno’s great endeavour is really now to apprehend and demonstrate the modes of organizing this active understanding.

g. This is presented more in detail as follows: To the pure truth itself, the absolute light, man approaches only; his Being is not absolute Being itself, which alone is the One and First. He rests only under the shadow of the Idea, whose purity is the light, but which at the same time partakes of the darkness. The light of substance emanates from this pure First Light, the light of accident emanates from the light of substance. This we met with also in Proclus (supra, Vol. II. p. 446) as the third moment in the first triad. This absolute principle in its unity is for Bruno the first matter, and the first act of this principle he names the original light (actus primus lucis). But substances and accidents, which are many, cannot receive the full light, they are therefore only included in the shadow of the light; in like manner the ideas also are only shadows thereof. The development of Nature goes on from moment to moment; created things are only a shadow of the first principle, not the first principle itself.

d. Bruno continues: From this super-essential (superessentiale) — an expression which is also met with in Proclus (supra, Vol. II. p. 441) — advance is made to the essences, from the essences to that which is, from that which is to their traces, images and shadows, and that in a double direction: both towards matter, in order to be produced within her (these shadows are then present in natural fashion), and also towards sensation and reason, in order to be known by means of these. Things withdraw themselves from the First Light towards the darkness. But since all things in the universe are in close connection, the lower with the middle, and those with the upper, the compound with the simple, the simple with those which are more simple, the material with the spiritual, in order that there may be one universe, one order and government of the same, one principle and aim, one first and last; so, following the sound of the lyre of the universal Apollo (an expression which we saw used by Heraclitus, Vol. I. pp. 284, 285), the lower can be led back step by step to the higher, as fire was condensed and transformed into air, air into water, water into earth. Thus One Being is in all. That process is the same as this return, and they form a circle. Nature within her limits .Can produce all from all, and so the understanding can also know all from all.

e. The unity of opposites is explained more in detail as follows: The diversity of shadows is no real opposition. In the same conception the opposites are known, the beautiful and the ugly, the appropriate and the inappropriate, the perfect and the imperfect, the good and the evil. Imperfection, evil, ugliness, do not rest upon special ideas of their own; they become known in another conception, not in one peculiar to themselves, which is nothing. For this that is peculiarly theirs is the nonexistent in the existent, the defect in the effect. The first understanding is the original light; it streams its light out of the innermost to the outermost, and draws it again from the outermost to itself. Every Being can, according to its capacity, appropriate somewhat of this light.

z. The real element in things is just that which is intelligible, not that which is perceived or felt, or what peculiar to the individual; whatever else is termed real, the sensuous, is non-Being. All that comes to pass beneath the sun, all that dwells in the region of matter, falls under the notion of vanity (finitude). Seek to take from Ideas a firm basis for thy conceptions, if thou art wise. The pure light of things is nothing but this knowableness, which proceeds from the first understanding and is directed towards it; the non-existent is not known. What is here contrast and diversity, is in the first understanding harmony and unity. Try therefore if thou canst identify the images thou hast received, if thou canst harmonize and unite them; thus thou wilt not render thy mind weary, thy thoughts obscure, and thy memory confused. Through the idea which is in the understanding a better conception of anything will be formed than by means of the form of the natural thing in itself, because this last is more material: but that conception is reached in a supreme degree through the idea of the object as it exists in the divine understanding. The differences which are here given, are therefore no differences at all . but all is harmony. To develop this was therefore Bruno’s endeavour; and the determinations, as natural in that divine understanding, correspond with those which appear in the subjective understanding. Bruno’s art consists only in determining the universal scheme of form, which includes all things within itself, and in showing how its moments express themselves in the different spheres of existence.

h. The main endeavour of Bruno was thus to represent the All and One, after the method of Lullus, as a system of classes of regular determinations. Hence in the manner of Proclus he specifies the three spheres: First, the original form (uperousia) as the originator of all forms; secondly, the physical world, which impresses the traces of the Ideas on the surface of matter, and multiplies the original picture in countless mirrors set face to face; thirdly, the form of the rational world, which individualizes numerically for the senses the shadows of the Ideas, brings them into one, and raises them to general conceptions for the understanding. The moments of the original form itself are termed Being, goodness (nature or life), and unity. (Something similar to this we also met with in Proclus, Vol. II. p. 445.) In the metaphysical world the original form is thing, good, principle of plurality (ante multa); in the physical world it manifests itself in things, goods, individuals; in the rational world of knowledge it is derived from things, goods and individuals. Unity is the agent that brings them back once more; and Bruno, while distinguishing the natural and metaphysical world, seeks to set up the system of the above determinations, in order to show at once how the same thing is in one way a natural appearance, and in another way an object existing for thought.


Since Bruno sought to apprehend this connection more closely, he considers thinking as a subjective art and activity of the soul, representing inwardly and in accordance with the ordinary conception, as it were through an inward writing, what Nature represents externally, as it were, through an outward writing. Thinking, he says, is the capability both of receiving into one’s self this external writing of nature and of imagining and substantiating the inward writing in the outward. This art of thinking inwardly and organizing outwardly in accordance with the same, and the capacity to reverse the process — an art possessed by the soul of man — Bruno places in the closest connection with the art of the nature of the universe, with the energy of the absolute World-principle, by means of which all is formed and fashioned. It is one form which develops; it is the same world-principle which causes form in metals, plants and animals, and which in man thinks and organizes outside himself, only that it expresses itself in its operations in an endlessly varied manner throughout the entire world. Inwardly and outwardly there is consequently one and the same development of one and the same principle.

In his Ars Lulliana Bruno made the attempt to determine and systematize these various writings of the soul, by means of which also the organizing world-principle reveals itself. He assumes therein twelve principal kinds of writing, or classes of natural forms, to form a startingpoint: “Species, Formæ, Simulacra, Imagines, Spectra, Exemplaria, Indicia, Signa, Notæ, Characteres et Sigilli. Some kinds of writing are connected with the external sense, like external forms, pictures and ideals (extrinseca forma, imago, exemplar); these painting and other plastic arts represent, by imitating Mother Nature. Some are connected with the inner sense, where with regard to mass, duration, number — they are magnified, extended in time and multiplied; such are the products of fancy. Some are connected with a common point of similarity in several things; some are so divergent from the objective nature of things that they are quite imaginary. Finally, some appear to be peculiar to art, as signa, notæ, characteres et sigilli; by means of these the powers of art are so great that it seems to be able to act independently of Nature, beyond Nature, and, when the matter in question involves it, even against Nature?”


So far all, on the whole, goes well; it is the carrying out of the same scheme in all directions. All respect is due to this attempt to represent the logical system of the inward artist, the producing thought, in such a way that the forms of external Nature correspond thereto. But while the system of Bruno is otherwise a grand one, in it the determinations of thought nevertheless at once become superficial, or more dead types, as in later times was the case with the classification of natural philosophy; for Bruno merely enumerates the moments and contrasts of the system, just as the natural philosophers developed the threefold character in every sphere, regarded as absolute. Further or more determinate moments Bruno has done nothing more than collect together; when he tries to represent them by figures and classifications, the result is confusion. The twelve forms laid down as basis neither have their derivation traced nor are they united in one entire system, nor is the further multiplication deduced. To this part of his subject he devoted several of his writings (De sigillis), and in different works it is presented in different ways; the appearances of things are as letters, or symbols, which correspond with thoughts. The idea is on the whole praiseworthy compared with the fragmentariness of Aristotle and the Scholastics, according to whom every determination is fixed once for all. But the carrying out of the idea is in part allied with the Pythagorean numbers, and consequently unmethodical and arbitrary; and in part we find metaphorical, allegorical combinations and couplings, where we cannot follow Bruno; in this attempt to introduce order, all things are mingled together in the wildest disorder.

It is a great beginning, to have the thought of unity; and the other point is this attempt to grasp the universe in its development, in the system of its determinations, and to show how the outward appearance is a symbol of ideas. These are the two aspects of Bruno’s teaching which had to be taken into consideration.

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