Giordano Bruno, ca. 1548-1600, Italian Renaissance philosopher and poet.
Bruno was born at Nola, near Naples and was originally named Filippo. He took the name Giordano when he joined the Dominicans, who trained him in Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic theology. An independent thinker, his writings brought him into conflict with the establishment, and he fled the order in 1576 to avoid a trial and condemnation on doctrinal charges. Thus began the role of the wandering scholar that characterized his life.
Bruno visited Geneva, Toulouse, Paris, and London, where he spent two years, from 1583 to 1585, under the protection of the French ambassador and in the circle of the English poet Sir Philip Sidney. It was a most productive period, during which he composed some of his best known works, which regrettably, are not very popular at all today. Briefly stated, he praised a kind of Platonic love that joins the soul to the godhead through wisdom.
In 1585 Bruno returned to Paris, then went on to Marburg, Wittenberg, Prague, Helmstedt, and Frankfurt, where he arranged for the printing of his many writings. At the invitation of a Venetian nobleman, Giovanni Moncenigo, Bruno returned to Italy as his private tutor. In 1592, for reasons that are not very clear and invite enticing speculation, Moncenigo denounced Bruno to the Inquisition, which tried him for heresy.
Turned over to the Roman authorities, he was imprisoned for eight years, while questioning proceeded on charges of blasphemy, immoral conduct, and heresy. It should be noted that in this sense, the term questioning, includes torture and other coercive practices. Refusing to recant, Bruno was burned at the stake in Campo dei Fiori on February 17, 1600.
Late in the 19th century, a statue was erected on the site of his martyrdom to the cause of free thought. Bruno advocated philosophical theories that blended mystical Neoplatonism and pantheism.
Girodano Bruno was far, far ahead of his contemporaries in his belief that the universe is infinite, that God is the universal world-soul, and that all particular material things are manifestations of the one infinite principle, or godhead. Bruno is considered a forerunner of modern philosophy because of his influence on the Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza and his anticipation of the theories of 17th-century monism, not to mention relativism.
Among the more remarkable things about Bruno is that he believed that our perception of the world is relative to the position in space and time from which we view it and that there are as many possible modes of viewing the world as there are positions for viewing it, which are essentially infinite. This, in its simplist form, is the basis for Einstein's relativism. Therefore, based on Bruno's hypotheses, we cannot postulate absolute truth or any limit to the progress of knowledge, which is absolutely anathema to the Church where there is the need to be authoritative in all things at all times.
Anticipating "modern science," he pictured the world as composed of individual elements of being, governed by fixed laws of relationship. These elements, called "monads," were ultimate and irreducible, and were based on a pantheistic infinite principle, or cause, or Deity, manifest in us and in all the world. Bruno's influence on later philosophy, especially that of Spinoza [Einstein's favourite], and Liebnitz was profound.