Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One Context

Filippo Bruno


(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Giordano Bruno’s Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One is the work of one of the most brilliant and courageous philosophers of the Italian Renaissance. He was a man of faith with an independent and creative mind. His views did not win favor with the Dominicans with whom he had allied himself, and he was forced to leave the Order. He moved from place to place, provoking criticism wherever he settled. In France and England, he produced some of his most famous works, but he finally had to move on. He spent some time in Germany and Switzerland. When he went to Venice in 1591, he became a victim of the Inquisition. He was tried, imprisoned in Rome, and finally burned at the stake because of his refusal to recant.

His philosophy of the universe is in the grand tradition of metaphysics and theology in that it describes an infinite universe that is God, and it attempts to explain how a world that presents a bewildering number of aspects to those viewing it from various perspectives can nevertheless be regarded as a unity. Perpetuating Neoplatonic ideas and showing the influence of Plotinus, Bruno used his philosophic and poetic resources to build an image of a universe made perfect by the light of God that affects the existence and nature of everything. God is the principle, the cause, and the unity of the infinite universe.

Bruno, like seventeenth century philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, used the idea of the unity of body and soul, or monad, and a manifestation of divine energy. Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One prepares the way for the idea of the monad by describing God as the world soul pervading all being.

The first dialogue of the work introduces Filoteo, a philosopher who serves as the figure of Bruno. It presents a good-humored defense of philosophy, but not without suggesting the difficulties that come to one who has the courage of his convictions. The conversation is with two friends, Heliotropio and Armesso. Bruno, in the “Introductory Epistle,” describes the first dialogue as “an apology, or something else I know not what, concerning the five dialogues of Le cena de le ceneri,’” The Ash Wednesday Supper, one of his satirical dialogues.