I wish to make most grateful acknowledgment to Professor Edgar A. Singer and to Associate Professor Francis Clarke of the University of Pennsylvania, to whom this dissertation owes more than I can explain. The helpful criticism of these two scholars has clarified my ideas about it, and their patient interest has given me courage to present them in written form.


Chapter Page

I Introduction 1

II The Concept of Fortune in Boethius 7

III Solutions of the Problems of Fortune: Boethius 10

IV The Relation of Fortune to Matter 17

V Infinite Providence and Irreducible Matter 19

VI The Concept of Matter in Giordano Bruno 20

VII The Concept of Fortune in Giordano Bruno 30

VIII Relation of the Concept of Matter in Bruno to the Problems of Fortune in Boethius 32

IX Conclusion 45

Bibliography 47



Thru the ages the De Consolatione Philosophiae of Ancius Severinus Boethius has held a position of prestige in the field of consolatory literature. Men of the greatest mentality and of the loftiest stations of life have sung praises to its wisdom and beauty. Some, indeed, have questioned its less important teachings but the majority have been too absorbed in its easeful persuasions to investigate and judge impartially of the consistency of its fundamental argument. This dissertation dares to undertake such a task.

It is no overstatement of the case to say that all the conclusions of the De Consolatione Philosophiae concerning the reconciliation of Fortune with Providence rest upon the invalidated assumption that Providence is an infinite unity, “the single, all embracing source of all things and of all generated natures.” Boethius overtly assumes that all things are reducible to this infinite, single source, and, on the strength of this mere assumption asserts infinite Providential control. [1] In other words the teleological principle by which he illustrates the ways of Fortune to be one with the ways of Providence is not substantiated by the unsolved dualism of his ontology. The supposed infinity and unity of the ultimate source of things is then an invalidated conception for the following reason: Boethius never reconciles the assumed unity and infinity of this ultimate source of things with the existence of matter, [2] the “malleable mass" (fluitans ma-

1 “Omnium generatio rerum cunctusque mutabilium naturarum progessus et quidquid movetur modo, causas, ordinem, formas ex divinae mentis stabilitate sortitur . . . . Haec in suae simplicitatis arce composita multiplicen rebus regendis modum statuit. . . . . Providentia namque cuncta pariter quamvis diversa quamvis infinita complectitur. . .”; De Consolatione IV., p. VI., 23 ff.

The generation of all things and all the proceedings of mutable natures and whatsoever is moved in any sort, take their causes, order, and forms from the stability of the divine mind. . . . This, placed in the castle of its own simplicity, hath determined manifold ways for doing things. . . . Providence embraceth all things together though diverse, though infinite. (All translations of the De Consolatione by “I. T.” 1609) (revised by H. F. Stewart in Loeb edition 1926) unless otherwise stated.

2 The important passage on matter and its relation to the ultimate origin of things is the following:

O qui perpetua mundum ratione gubernas
Terrarum caelique sator qui tempus ab aevo
Ire iubes stabilisque manens das cuncta moveri,
Quem non externae pepulerunt fingere causae
Materiae fluitantis opus: De Consolatione Philosophiae III metr. IX.

This sums up Boethius’ very limited account of the nature of matter. It is Platonic just as the passage in its entirety is an abridgement of the Timaeus. The Neo-Platonic conception of matter as “infinite potentiality” or “unlimited productivity” is not found in the De Consalatione.


teria) eternal with and ever-resisting his ‘creator and ruler of heaven and earth’. The significance of this in its full effect appears only when it is realized that the very Fortune which is to be subsumed under Providence has its ultimate ground in matter, and this latter element in preventing both the unity and infinite control of Providence at the same time precludes the subsumption of Fortune under Providence. The reconciliation of the First Principle (for Boethius, Providence) with matter must precede that of Providence with Fortune and the former reconciliation must be the foundation of all conclusions concerning the purposive nature of Fortune.

The argument is not that the conclusions of Boethius are absolutely false, but that he never considers the problem of matter and its relation to the infinity and unity of the First Principle of things. Therefore, all contentions of infinite teleological control stand in need of validation. This failure, however, does not relegate his masterpiece to philosophic worthlessness. Moreso than any preceding thinker he brings ancient philosophy to grips with the problem of Fortune. He points out her several aspects: the Causa per accidens of Aristotle, the blind and ambiguous goddess of the Stoics and Epicureans (Good Fortune and Adverse Fortune) and, at times he all but strikes the heart of of his difficulty when he envisions Fortune as bound up with that non-purposive element which makes the changes of the terrestrial realm so different from the uniform, circular motions of the aetherial. This last shows him at the very threshold of recognizing Fortune to be ultimately a problem of matter.

The solutions of the above mentioned aspects are effected generally by stating the traditional answers. The treatment of the ‘Causa per accidens’, however, is not only distinctive in its employment of Christian and Neo-Platonic principles but is in itself the summation and climax of the arguments presented for the solution of each of the three remaining aspects. The substance of it is found in the following: Providence is God in his simplicity and unity, the First Principle of the universe, infinite in foreknowledge, [3] infinite or eternal as to time and infinite in his power to envelop all possible causes; [4] nothing exists temporally prior to it nor beyond the orbit of its knowledge and purposes; if Providence is truly infinite and one then the ‘Causa per accidens’ falls beneath it and is ascribable to the Will of God. If this argument be applied to each aspect of Fortune

3 “Wherefore, since every judgment comprehendeth those things which are subject unto it, according to its own nature, and God hath always an everlasting and present state, His knowledge also surpassing all motions of time, remaineth in the simplicity of His presence, and comprehending the infinite space of that which is past and to come, considereth all things in His simple knowledge as though they were now in doing. . .”; De Consolat. V., pr. VI., 59 ff.

4 “For Providence embraceth all things together through diverse, though INFINITE. . .”: De Consolat. V., pr. VI., 59 ff.


(and it is the only one in Boethius applicable to each of the four aspects) it becomes briefly: the infinity of Providence precludes the existence of Fortune.

But in his discussion of the infinity and unity of Providence Boethius omits, among other things, a factor of extreme importance for all his conclusions i. e., the ontological relation of Providence to matter. This, as before mentioned, is a serious neglect, for not only does matter as an eternal irrationality ever oppose Providence or the First Principle but the true nature of Fortune herself is not fully understood. An ontological dualism blocks the way to true infinity and to unity, and the teleological solutions of Fortune carry with them the same unresolved elements.

The contention of Boethius then, which amounts to an annihilation of Fortune thru the concept of infinite Providence, stands as an unsubstantiated, though true, assertion. It lacks a thoroughly worked out ontology that relates matter and Providence cosmically. This deficiency is investigated and an attempt to supply the requirements made by Giordano Bruno in the dialogue ‘De la Causa, Principio e Uno.’

A little more than a thousand years separate the martyrs, Severinus Boethius and Giordano Bruno, and yet these kinsmen in a common misfortune are very much alike in their philosophies of Fortune. Bruno too seeks to harmonize the ways of Fortune with those of Providence but, profiting by the mistakes of predecessors, he does not fail to attack the problem of chaotic matter Whether taken as the Platonic ‘Space’ or the Aristotelian ‘Substratum’. Thus he proposes to clear the path to true unity and infinity and to provide an adequate basis for infinite teleological control.

Bruno contends that immediately after the infinity and unity of God, the single and absolute principle of all principles in the dialectical hierachy, comes the infinity and unity of the universe. [5] The infinite universe mirrors God’s essence though it is less than God, and yet as ‘the first born’ (L’unigenita) of God it has precedence over all other beings in that it embraces all such beings within its being. [6]

Since the universe mirrors the essence of God, there must be a sense in which the universe is infinity and unity; but; since the universe is secondary to God there must also be a manner in which this inferiority reveals itself. God as the principle of all principles and the cause of all causes must be at once the infinite possibility and the infinite actuality of all being. He, therefore, embraces all being in His infinity, His unity, His simplicity. The absolute truth of the universe then is to be found in the universe as it reveals this divine infinity.

5 Observe that for Bruno, God is unknowable in his proper essence but he is still thought as the ‘inexhaustible, infinite world—force', as the ‘natura naturans’ which in eternal change forms and ‘unfolds’ itself purposefully and in conformity with law into the ‘natura naturata’—

6 The universe as universe, the natura naturata.


unity and simplicity. The universe as universe is indeed an entity inferior to the divine nature if we see it as embracing an infinite totality of objects in space and time. These objects appear then as parts and their disparateness is indicative of discrepancy between the universe as the infinite possibility of all being numerically and the actuality of all being. In the universe as universe there is no equality of animating principle and animated things. Things must realize their infinity by number and succession. These things of the universe, however, and the universe as universe must find their absolute truth in the universe viewed from the standpoint of the infinite simplicity and unity mirrored in it. The infinity and unity of the universe is so far an ontological postulate. The essence of all things must be identical with the Principle and Cause of all things.

There must be then no irreducible matter obstructing the infinity, unity and simplicity of the First Principle of this universe. What becomes then of the ‘fluitans materia' of Boethius? Bruno envisions the origin of all corporeal being in a cosmic Material Principle which is not essentially different from the Formal Principle (the Platonic Demiurgos) since his conception of the simplicity of the universe necessitates that both have a common ground in this simplicity. [7] Prior to all material things that appear in the life cycle such as ‘stone, earth, cadaver, man, embryo, blood, logic demands that there be a Material Principle from the infinite fecundity of which all things arise. Nor does this Material Principle exclude or stand irreducible before an opposing Formal Principle. Both are only different aspects of the same infinite universe for not only may we see all particular forms as arising either from a single ‘perfect species’ or coming forth from the bosom of an infinite Matter, but the simplicity of the unIverse precludes a duality of principles which have no common cosmic ground.

The clearest statement of Bruno’s position is found in a closing passage of Dialogue III of the ‘De la Causa’:

7 Bruno contends that the divine nature is the Substance (la Sustanza) or Simplicity la simplicita of the univcrsc—Plato’s Substance finds itself confronted with a form resisting element and hence his talk of matter as non-being is mere chatter while Aristotle’s entelechies, though posited as true substances (with matter degraded to a mere condition), yet perish and are survived by matter. Plato denies corporeality altogether; Aristotle exploits it in the favor of Form and tries to subsume it entirely under Form as Substance. Bruno recognizes that Plato has not faced the issue and that Aristotle’s entelechies are still of the phenomenal world. Prior to cntelechies there is a Formal Principle, prior to corporeality a Material Principle, but since the universe in its simplicity, in its substantial nature has the unity of the divine essence then these two principles (the Material and Formal) must find unity in this simplicity.


“. . . although a twofold substance, one spiritual, the other corporeal, descends thru the scale of nature, yet ultimately they become reduced to one being and one root”. [8]

The primary significance of Bruno for our discussion then lies in his recognition that the ultimate nature of matter is not an indeterminate mass but a Material Principle, infinite and one, sharing a common being with the Formal Principle and, as will be shown, capable of being taken as the First Principle, itself, of the universe. It will be interesting to see just how the concept of a cosmic Material Principle improves upon Boethius’ solutions of the four aspects of Fortune.

In the first place the irrational nature of matter is destroyed and thus, the source, the ontological basis of irrational Fortune. Hence, Bruno is quick to recognize the error and short-sightedness of those who, like Boethius, assert that Self-Preservation precludes Fortune from the cosmological realm and providentially directs all being toward unity.

Bruno definitely points out that such a viewpoint remains still in the phenomenal world. Self-Preservation is not the ultimate cosmological principle, it is merely the ‘nisus’ of being in its modal form, in the transient, material form of the moment. The reality of this form is not to be found in its own individuality; nor is the truth of its striving to be found in it as a closed system or as it is related to other finite systems. Its truth is to be found in seeing it as coming forth from the cosmic matter containing all possible types. Over and above its own striving, its will to Self-Preservation there is a Will to Infinity, the vital principle (il principio vitale) driving all life to fulfill temporally the Final Cause of the World, to live the life of infinity under an infinity of forms.

In the second place the concept of a cosmic Material Principle provides an adequate basis for the contention of Boethius that the infinite foreknowledge and unity of Providence precludes Fortune as a Causa per accidens. The ‘sports’ of an indeterminate matter do not exist primarily because no such matter exists, and secondly, because a First Principle truly infinite must embrace all possible causes in unity. Thus the Causa per accidens, too, must fall within the domain of Providence.

Thirdly, the concept of a cosmic Material Principle takes away the stigma which traditional philosophy generally had attached to all material things. This has a two-fold result: first, it enables Bruno to consider the material goods of Fortune no longer as essentially ir-

8 “Valet: dunque che, benché descendendo per questa scala di natura, sia doppia sustanza, altra spirituale, ultra corporale, che in sommo l’una e l’altra se riduca ad uno estere e una radice . . . . .”: De la Causa, Principio e Uno, dialogo, Ill; op. it. I 224 (references to the opere italiane are to the Gentile edition of 1925).


rational and evil but as a positive element in man’s ‘summum bonum’; secondly, it discloses the inconsistency of the ‘summum bonum’ of Boethius since that Goodness or unity which composes it is qualitatively different from the material goods (Fame, Sufficiency, Power, Respect) which he tries to incorporate in it.

In the fourth place whereas Boethius never attacks evil at its source Bruno obviously does so by his concept of a Material Principle. The former thinker points out the evil nature of Fortune and then seeks to reduce this to non-being by showing that Providence steps in to turn all evil to a good effect. This teleological makeshift fails when it is realized that if evil were truly non-being there would be no need for the control of it. The solution of the latter thinker is ontological; evil is traceable to no defect in the ultimate principle of things. It cannot then have being in the sense of a positive existence opposing Providence. It is a phenomenal relationship existing, only between things of the world of appearances and it possesses all of the mutability of this world. It is therefore no set relationship but one relative to place and time. It is non-being since as an event of the world of becoming, it, as all events, must find its true meaning in the world of infinity, in the world of being.

Finally, there is in Boethius a tendency to assert the superiority of man to Fortune. He improves upon the negative superiority which the Stoics claimed to achieve thru indifference to externals, and, likewise, upon the asceticism of Socratic ‘self-contemplation.’ He lauds Hercules and Ulysses as examples of Fortitude that conquered Fortune. He exhorts man to seek ‘a reward for his labor,’ to hope not for too much nor to accept too little, to master Fortune thru a pursuit of ‘the mean,’ to frame what Fortune he will.

Giovanni Gentile observes in these thoughts of Boethius the ‘rude beginnings of the Renaissance conception of man’s superiority to the blind forces of nature.’ Gentile points out further that this latter principle is prominent in the writings of Bruno. The concluding sections of the discussion will trace out this relationship between Boethius and Bruno.




It is true that Boethius is interested in Fortune mainly as a power affecting the practical affairs of men yet this question leads him to ask the why of purposeless change in the entire terrestrial realm. Fortune is, therefore, primarily a problem of change, of that mutability which envelops the stars, nature, and the acts of men. The universality of change is clearly pointed out; it is definitely stated that the form of the world itself does not tarry, the world (mundus) including sun, stars, winds, seas, plants and all things born. [9] Fortune, however, does not rule change in its universality; the universe is governed by no Epicurean Chance. Boethius is quite sure that the changes of heaven and nature are under Providence, but of a third sphere of this universal change (human activity) [10] he is in doubt. Without proceeding to the purely practical concept of Fortune which will be a later development she appears now metaphysically as a sphere of irrational and non-purposive change in a system of universal change otherwise orderly. Boethius calls her by divers names: “fors” [11] “mutabilitas”, [12] “volvens rota”, [13] “lubrica fortuna.” This is designated aspect one of Fortune.

The second aspect of Fortune in Boethius is the ‘Causa per accidens.’ This is best illustrated by the author’s own picture:

“Suppose one digs the ground with the intention of tilling it and finds a hidden treasure, the event is thought to have occurred thus by Fortune. It is not to be taken as a spontaneous event having no cause for ‘from nothing, nothing comes.’ Rather is it the result of peculiar causes whose unexpected and not foreseen concourse seems to have brought forth a chance. For unless the husbandman had digged up his ground, and unless the other had hidden his money in that place, the treasure had not been found. These are the causes, therefore, of this fortunate accident which proceeds from the meeting

9 De Consolat. II, metr. III.

10 Boethius is more interested in the actus hominum but he is also concerned with the contrast between the heavenly realm with its aether and uniform circular motions and earth with its accidental and purposeless changes. Hence he asks God to rule earth as he rules heaven:

Et quo caelum regis immensum
Firma stabiles foedere terras
                  De Consolat. I Metr. V 47-8

11 De Consolat. II p. II 62.

12 De Consolat. ll pr. I 48.

13 De Consolat. II pr. I 60.


and concourse of causes and not from the intention of the doer.” [14]

Fortune as ‘Causa per accidens’ then is a power that so joins the purposive acts of two or more independent agents as to act a result beyond the prescience and, therefore, the intention of the agents. It is a cause seemingly accidental to purposed ends.

Fortune as the blind goddess ruling human afiairs is, as has been said, the major concern of Boethius. This idea contains two aspects for the blind goddess has a dual nature. To men she appears as Good Fortune and as Adverse Fortune. ln the former role she dispenses, without regard for reason, and justice certain material goods (Riches, Fame, Power, Glory, Marriage [15] and Children for the sake of pleasure, Nobility, Bodily Beauty and Pleasure) relevant to human happiness; in the latter she deprives men of the same goods with like injustice. The double nature of Fortune as ‘the blind goddess’ appears likewise in each aspect taken separately. Good or Prosperous Fortune is (1) evil, a monster possessed with a deceitful wickedness [16] and unjust, and (2) at the same time cosmically good. Boethius definitely says, ‘All Fortune is good.’ [17] Adverse Fortune is apparently (1) evil in that by depriving man unjustly or punishing him undeservedly she stirs up such ‘pertubations’ of mind as grief and anger; [18] but (2) she is good and more truly good Fortune than Good of Prosperous Fortune since she does not “imprison the minds of men with falsely seeming goods” but “sets them at liberty by discovering the uncertainty of them.”

The dual nature of the ‘blind goddess’ is expressed also in her inconstancy. Good Fortune quickly passs into calamity and Adverse Fortune is ‘just cause to hope that better is near.’ The goddess is ceaseless in her activity, and delights in turning “highest to lowest and lowest to highest.”

Fortune as ‘the blind goddess‘ then has two aspects: Good or prosperous Fortune which is both good and evil and Adverse Fortune which is the same. Thus the ethical problems of the Good and

14 De Consolat. V pr. I.

15 “That pleasure which proceedeth from wife and children should be most honest; but it was too naturally spoken, that some tormentor invented children whose Condition, whatsoever it be, how biting it is, I need not tell thee. . . .”: De Consolat. III pr. VII, 12 ff.

16 “I know the manifold illusions of that monster, exercising most alluring familiarity with them whom she meaneth to dcoeive . . . .. .”: De Consolat. II pr. I, 6.

17 “Omnis Fortuna bona est. . . .”: De Consolat. IV pr. VII, 3.

18 “But because thou art turmoiled with the multitude of affections, grief and anger drawing thee to divers parts, in the plight thou art now, the more forcible remedies cannot be applied unto thee. . .”: De Consolat. I pr. V. 38-41.


the Evil emerge as the difficulties to be overcome. They must be reconciled with the cosmic nature of the universe. The relation of the Good to the goods of Fortune is treated in the later discussion of Boethius’ summum bonum; [19] the Evil of adversity and how Providence turns this into good effect is also traced out in the sections dealing with solutions of the problems of Fortune.

19 See page 16 of dissertation.




To solve the problem of Fortune as a sphere of irrational change in a world process otherwise orderly Boethius resorts to an eclectic cosmology compounded of Empedoclean and Stoical principles. The ‘amor’ [20] which governs and restrains the opposite principle in the fighting seeds of things is remindful of the ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ of Empedocles. It is the principle of Love that rules earth, sea, and heaven; it tempers the elements in just ways so that “the fighting moist yields to the dry and piercing cold keeps friendship with flames, so that fire rises to the highest place while earth sinks into the deep.” But the stoics have influenced Boethius more than Empedocles for this ‘Amor’ becomes for him an ‘Amor manendi’, the principle of Self-Preservation [21] that drives all being to the unity which is the source of all being. Levity lifts up flames and heaviness weighs down earth because these places and motions conserve them. Herbs and trees grow in places favorable to their survival ‘as far as their constitution permits.’ The ‘natural intention’ of human beings too leads them to preserve health and eschew death and detriment. The preservation of self means likewise a preservation of unity as in living creatures so long as the body and soul remain united, the living creature remains—but when the unity is dissolved by separation it is manifest that it perishes. Stones cling to their parts, air and Water though easily divided yet are easily joined; fire flies all division. All things desire unity for that which seeks to continue (susistere) and to remain (permanere) desires to be one.’ The only true unity, however, is that principle of Goodness which contains within itself all the partial goods for which men strive, [22] that principle of which Fame, Sufficiency, Power, Respect, etc., are imperfect images. [23] This principle of Goodness then must be God, the perfect which must precede the imperfect and is thus the source of all goodness. [24] It is, finally, the cause which has given being to all things. [25]

20 “Terras ac plagus ct caelo imperitans amor. . .": De Consolat. II metr. V, VIII.

21 De Consolat. III pr. XI sqq.

22 De Consolat. III pr. XI 110.

23 “Wherefore these things seem to afford men the images of the true good, or certain imperfect goods, but they cannot give them the true and perfect good itself. . . .”: De Consolat. III pr. IX 91 ff.

24 De Consolat. III pr. X., 9

25 “De Consolat. IV metr. VI.
Line 36 describes God as “Rex et dominus fans et origa”.


The foregoing discussion shows that the aim of Boethius is to ground all being in a perfect unity which by nature will preclude any other existence as source of irrationality or imperfection in the universe. To do so he carelessly compounds the results of his cosmological, ethical and theological inquiries. The argument is exposed when it is placed in the following form: all types of being seek self-preservation; unity of the particular type of being is indispensable to its preservation; all types therefore seek unity (cosmological); but God alone can assure unity to each particular being for in the practical life of man the pursuit of all other goods (ethical) save that principle of Goodness which is the substance of God [26] (theological) leads to self-diremption and evil hence God is the single principle toward which all things strive. He is more than this for Boethius assumes also that this single principle is the source of all things. Not only is God their final cause, he is “the cause which has given them being”. Boethius argues that since all being seems to strive in a common manner that this very principle thru which their striving seems identical likewise postulates identity of purpose and of source. He would reach ontological unity by coupling a random cosmological principle with an ethic which itself must admit a duality of principles.

From the inadequate argument stated above Boethius proceeds to make the grand inference which he hopes will exclude irrational change from the universe. If a single, all inclusive substance, Goodness or God, is the source and the power embodied in all things, determining them hack to itself, then there is no such existence as Fortune appearing as a sphere of irrational change in a system otherwise orderly. All change seeks Self-Preservation which is the force by which God determines all to unity and eventually to Goodness and to God, Himself.

The ontological unity of all being is thus far an inference, partially from the cosmological assumption that all being seeks the same end, and partially from the ethical conclusion that material goods cannot afford happiness. But if the source of all things is Goodness alone whence the appearance of the ‘not good’, the evil? Whence the cause of motions not directed toward the good? What of the confused motion (animal motio) [27] which acts over and above the ‘natural intention’? The answers of Boethius are all insufficient because he never reaches the true conception of the unity of all being. He can only say (1) that Nature excludes irrational motions for her ‘knots are irre-

26 “We may then securely conclude that the substance of God consisteth in nothing but in goodness. . . “: De Consolat. III pr. X, 142.

27 “Adeo haec sui caritas non ex animali motione sed ex naturali intentione procedit. . . . De Consolat. III pr. XI, 96-7.


solvable, [28] (2) that evil is nothing since (a) God cannot do evil [29] and since (b) the more evil a man succumbs to the less effective he becomes in the world of true being, in the world process where all strive toward the good. Boethius does not realize the significance of admitting a dual source of motions in the soul of man. When he asserts that ‘the voluntary motions of the understanding soul’ [30] may act above the natural intention, in reality he is admitting a non-natural principle beside that of Nature and more powerful than it, a non self-preservative principle besides that of Self-Preservation, a principle not good beside the Good.

Boethius does not realize that the ground of such a principle and the motions inspired by it is matter. [31] Since he never relates matter to the divine essence in such a way as to assure us that the former is no impediment to the perfect unity and all embracing Providence of the latter, and since his cosmological principle of Self-Preservation fails in that the very self contains a duality of contradictory principles it must be concluded that Fortune as a limited sphere of irrational change still remains in his universe.

In order to solve aspect (2) of Fortune (Causa per accidens) Boethius must again assume the unity and simplicity of the source of all being (God or Providence). Two definite improvements are made, however. Fortune and Fate are demonstrated in cosmic relation one to the other and to Providence, the ‘hinge’ of all things; secondly, the problem of the unity and simplicity of Providence is partially recognized as involving the problem of infinity. These are speculations brought forward to substantiate the contention that the ‘Causa per accidens’ is not accidental since it falls beneath the will and infinite understanding (intelligentia) of God.

There is obviously a variety of motions among things; human nature, for example, is mutable, inclining now toward good now toward evil. But this variety forms no chaos for all seemingly inde-

28 “Quantas rerum flectat habenas
Natura potens, quibus inmensum
Legibus orbem provida seruet
Stringatque ligans inresoluto
Singula nexu. . .”: De Consolat. III metr. 11, l-5.

How the first reigns of all things guided are
By powerful Nature as the chiefest cause,
And how she keeps, with a foreseeing care,
The spacious world in order by her laws,
And to sure knots which nothing can untie,

29 Num igitur tlcus facere malum potest?” “Minime,” inquam. “Malum igitur,” inquit, “nihil est cum id facere ille non possit, qui nihil non potest. . .”: De Consolat. III pr. XII, 73-82.

30 “For the will many times embraceth death upon urgent occasions, which nature abhorreth. . .”: De Consolat. III pr. XI, 35 ff.

31 See note 2.


pendent motions fall beneath a more simplified yet moveable principle, Fate. Fate puts every particular thing in motion, distributing each according to places, forms, times. Above Fate is Providence in its stability and simplicity. It embraces all things together though diverse, though infinite (cuncta pariter quamvis diversa quamvis infinita complecitur); [32] so that the unfolding of the temporal order being united into the foresight of God’s mind is Providence and the same uniting being digested and unfolded in time is called Fate. This world or change is not merely subject to the control of Providence but more than this, Providence or the simplicity of the divine essence is the source of all things. Boethus says:

“The generation of all things, and all proceedings of mutable natures (multabilium naturarum) and whatsoever is moved in any sort, take their causes, order, and forms from the stability of the divine mind.”

Had he but definitely included matter under the “mutable natures" and had he related it to Providence in such a way as to render the simplicity of the latter unassailable he would have anticipated the Material Principle of Bruno.

Thus far there have been considered Providence or the divine mind as the immutable source of the infinity of mutable natures and Fate as the principle by which Providence unfolds temporarily what is already possessed in its foresight. What then is Fortune? If Providence be pictured as the center of a great orb then just beyond it but hinged to it is Fate, still farther out is Fortune ‘wheeled with a greater compass.’ Providence embraces the orb in its entirety, however, heaven, the stars, the mutual changing of the elements, the renewal of all rising and dying things, and most of all the actions and FORTUNES of men. [33] Fortune, Fate and Providence are pictured in cosmic relationship. Boethius confesses, however, that he does not know just how Fate is made manifest. [34] The agents of Fate, whatever they be, bring order throughout all the orb, and all the seemingly confused motions far out on the rim of destiny are subject to the divine Providence which is the hinge of all. [35]

The discussion of the cosmic relationship of Providence, Fate and Fortune has introduced the concept of infinity in connection with the

32 De Consolat. IV pr. VI.

33 Haec actus etiam fortunasque hominum indissolubili causarum conexione constringit. . . .”: De Consolat. IV. pr. VI., 56 ff.

35 Observe that this picture of the orb of Providence makes no provision for matter unless we include it under the ‘Mutable Natures’. But Boethius does not show us how the corporeal element can be subsumed under the infinite principle of things.


first mentioned of these three. Providence or the divine mind is taken as the ultimate source of the infinity of mutable natures; it, likewise, controls all such natures ‘though diverse, though infinite;’ it is infinite as to time [36] and possesses, by its infinite foresight, [37] all that Fate unfolds according to time. The first of the above mentioned phases of the infinity of Providence amounts only to a mere assertion since it is never reconciled with an irreducible chaotic matter; the infinite control is about equally vacuous since the author admits that he does not know what instrumentalities Fate uses to carry out the designs of Providence. The eternity of Providence and its infinite foreknowledge is thoroughly discussed in a section dealing with the nature of the divine understanding. This faculty will be considered first, in itself, and, secondly, as it affects the problem of the Causa per accidens.

There must be a perfect being since ‘if in any kind we find something imperfect, there must needs be something perfect also in the same kind.’ The existence of a divine and perfect being may be inferred from the manifest existence of imperfect beings. The divine mind then must be that perfect mind whose perfections are to be inferred from the imperfections of the minds of imperfect beings. The knowledge of the divine mind must be preceded then by an analysis of the imperfect human mind. In the epistemological process the human mind employs Sense which judges the figure as constituted in the matter (subjecta materia); there is also the Imagination which judges figure as apart from matter, and Reason which surpasses this and considers universally the species in the particulars. In the act of knowledge the mind is never passive; things do not press their reality upon mind but mind possesses an active vigor. [38] The passion of the external body only incites the mind to action and she joins the external shapes to forms included in her nature. This idealism of Boethius surely does admit here that mind has a powerful spontaneity and contains within itself a wealth of forms which are true. Thus the mind can ponder its own contents and having pushed its powers to the limit can speculate consistently concerning that mind beyond its limit. Reason is the highest faculty of the human mind but she is finite in her knowledge; she does not possess all of the space of her life at once but ‘lives no more in this days’ life than in a mobile transitory moment.‘ Beyond Reason (Ratio) there must be an infinite

36 See note 3.

37 See note 4.

38 “Haec est efficiens magis
Longe causa potentior
Quam quae materiae mode
Impressas paritur notas . . .”: De Consolat. V., metr. IV., 26-29.
Translation (Author)
This is an efficiency more powerful by far than the cause which suffers the impressions of matter.


faculty belonging to the perfect existence above man. This faculty is understanding [39] (Intelligentia) belonging to the mind of God and crowning a dialectical hierarchy which has already moved thru Sense, Imagination and Reason. Understanding is infinite as to time and in foreknowledge; she is in perfect possession of an endless life, always present to herself and having an infinity of moveable time present to it. No part of the past has escaped it; none of the future is absent from it. It is not in time; it is prior by virtue of the simplicity of its nature not by quantity of time. On the contrary Reason may think and calculate well but its chain of causes cannot possibly include the infinity of causes past, present, and future which might affect a desired result. It is true that Reason may judge of its object without a consideration of the material subject yet its narrow vision remains within the bodily members which cover the soul. [40]

Reason then may by its spontaneity raise itself up to a faculty more perfect than itself and see in it an infinity of Understanding embracing all causes for all time and all existence. And, therefore, such a point of view destroys the ‘Causa per accidens.’ The husbandman probably never knew him that hid the treasure, perhaps one preceded the other by ten generations; but it is conceivable that there is a mind which has known always the purposes of the one and the other and that such a mind has actually determined the concurrence of the two seemingly ‘independent lines of causation’ in accordance with a principle governing the whole for good.

It has been stated that Good or Prosperous Fortune and Adverse Fortune have their solutions bound up with the problems of the Good and the Evil. The thesis of Boethius is that which he employs generally: the ontological unity and perfection of the first principle of all things postulates infinite providential control. Good Fortune and Adverse Fortune in all their seeming irrationality are yet methods of Providential control bringing all toward the ultimate Good. Such control is needed since the fallen soul of man is covered with bodily

members and errors lead him to seek human felicity i. e., to seek the ultimate good in the imperfect images of it such as Fame, Sufficiency, Power, Respect, Riches, Bodily Beauty, Sensual Pleasure and the like. The resulting kingdom of human activity then seems to be a kingdom of Fortune. It consists of individuals striving for the highest good, (2) individuals deluded by divers partial goods, and (3) a force distributing these partial goods without regard for effort or merit. The confusion becomes clarified, however, when it is understood that Providence is interested in the partial goods only in so far as the bestowal or deprivation of them brings souls closer to the highest good. She ‘mixes sour and sweet according to the disposition of

40 “mens caecis obruta membris. . . .”: De Consolat. V., metr. III, 8 ff.

41 “But reason belongeth only to mankind as Understanding to things divine. . . .”: De Consolat. V., pr., V., 173.


souls.’ [41] When Good or Prosperous Fortune, seemingly undeserved, suddenly visits an individual the event is called unjust and irrational only on the false hypotheses that the goods of Fortune are of ultimate value, that they are due the deserving and are the highest good toward which all men strive, the ‘summum bonum’. But these hypotheses must fail since no good of Fortune in itself affords happiness, no one good pursued for the sake of another or others, nor any form of human felicity at all, because:

“The nature of human felicity is doubtful and uncertain and is neither ever wholly obtained nor ever lasts always.” [42]

When Boethius has exhausted the transitory goods as possible summa bona affording lasting happiness he then reasons from the imperfect to the perfect to establish a ‘fount of all goods’ (fons omnium bonorum). For if in any kind we find something imperfect, there needs must be something perfect of the same kind; otherwise we must judge the nature of things to have begun from the defective and incomplete. This ‘fons omnium bonorum' is itself all Goodness in perfection and hence God. [43] It alone is that abiding good which never leads man into the distractions of evil nor disillusions him, It is, therefore, true happiness, the summum bonum. Boethius equates happiness, Goodness and God. To one who envisions God as happiness and the goal of all striving the visitations of God or Prosperous Fortune are valued not as goods in themselves, nor as affording true happiness. They are merely instruments which divine Providence employs as it mixes sour and sweet according to the disposition of souls.

Just as Good Fortune was fused into Providence when fragmentary goods were related to the all-inclusive eternal Good and to the purposeful dispensations of Providence, so, too, Boethius solves the problem of Adverse Fortune as evil. To deprive an obviously good man or a number of such men of certain goods of Fortune is no ground for assuming that human affairs are ruled by a blind goddess. Who knows the course that will drive these men to the highest Good? Who knows that they are good men? Who knows the complexion of their souls? Perhaps they are not good men and God alone knows it. The ravages of Adverse Fortune do not make a ‘kingdom or Fortune’ and evil but are instruments of the kingdom of Providence and good. All evil or Adverse Fortune, corrects the soul, disciplines it or punishes it. [44] It serves to bring all back to the ‘fons omnium bonorum.’

41 De Consolat. IV., pr. Vl., 146.

42 “Anxia enim res est humanorum condicio bonorum et qual vel numquam tota proueniat uel numquam perpetua subsislat. . . “: De Consolat. II., pr. lV., 43 ff.

43 De Consolat. III., pr. X., 132 ff.
See note 26.

44 “omnis enim quae videtur aspera nisi aut exercet aut corrigit punit. . .”: De Consolat. IV., pr. VlI., 54-55.




The four aspects of Fortune and their solutions have been presented. The next task is to show that Boethius definitely connects each aspect with the problem of matter but fails to reconcile the existence of matter with his conception of the infinity and unity of the ultimate origin of things. It will be seen that the great failing of the ‘De Consolatione’ is its inability to base its theory of infinite teleological control upon a valid theory of ontological unity.

Wherever Fortune appears in Boethius, matter appears as her ultimate source. When she is seen as a sphere of irrational change in a system otherwise orderly her source must be the ‘fluitans materia’ which Boethius leaves outside of the sphere of divinity and soul. It is the Platonic ‘malleable mass’, the ‘Indeterminate’ resisting the activity of the Demiurgos. The ‘Causa per accidens’ must be traceable to the same source since it exists only for minds whose judgment and prescience cannot know the infinity of causes while such minds are imprisoned in the body. The ‘goods’ of the blind ‘goddess’ show matter at its worst. They have in them nothing at all of native goodness; [45] they generate evil; they play upon the material side of man, the ‘affections’; they are more debased than body itself. [46]

In the solutions the question of matter is equally manifest. Boethius, however, seems always willing to trace Fortune to some defect in man for then he can display the infinite divine control against a background of human weakness. He can avoid as much as possible the problems of divine creation and their relation to human imperfection.

In each solution it is obvious that the mind of man is obstructed by some material element. To see that there is no ateliological sphere of change ‘Philosophia’ first tells Boethius that ‘he must be free of the affections’, must turn away from material goods, must turn his gaze inward to the immaterial image of God. [47] The solution of the ‘Causa per accidens’ is effected thru positing a divine prescience to which human Reason approximates as it contemplates the subject of that prescience or the ultimate, divine non-corporeal nature. In other words human Reason becomes divine by sloughing off the hindrances of body. The problems of Good and Adverse Fortune

45 “Postremo idem cle tota concludere fortuna licet in qua nihil expetendum, nihil natiuae bonitatis inesse manifestum est. . . .”: De Consolat. II., pr. VI., 67.

46 De Consolat. II., pr. VI., 21 ff.

47 De Consolat. II., pr. V., 75 ff.


really center around the relation of the non-material soul to the possession or deprivation of certain material goods, whether happiness is to be found in them or in a non-material good, Goodness or God. Every aspect and every solution then leads to the irresolvable problem of matter.




As has been said previously the solution given the ‘Causa per accidens’ is applicable to all others. It assumes the infinity and unity of the essence of Providence and, consequently, its infinite foresight and power of control. The solution of aspect (1) shows that cosmologically all things strive toward the unity which is their source. Good Fortune and Adverse Fortune have been shown to disappear in the kingdom of Providence when referred to the ultimate principle of Goodness which is the very substance of God, and the unity which is the origin of the infinity of things in the universe. The solutions of Boethius then all hinge upon the assumed infinity and unity of Providence and are valid only on the ground that this basic hypothesis is valid.

Boethius calls Providence ‘the immovable and simple, form of things’ but just how this ‘simple form’ contains in its essence the ‘flutans materia’ is never stated. If Providence were an infinite essence, the simple source of all being, then corporeal being would be deducible from it. On the contrary matter stands ever beside it, an obstruction to simplicity and infinity. Error, evil, and irrationality of all sorts are admitted to have their origin in matter. If these things have their ground in a ‘malleable mass’ which ever resists the formative power of the so-called infinite source of things then our faith in the infinite control of Providence begins to be dubious. It can only be said that God does His best under the circumstances and it is hoped that matter will take no queer turn which He cannot straighen out. For now it is certain that God or Providence (used interchangeably) is not infinite in essence and hence not true unity. He is not infinite in power for outside His formative power stand motions that resist Him; [48] He is not infinite in wisdom for such wisdom must be the unity prior to and enveloping knowledge of all else; He has not an infinity of moveable time before Him for outside Him are the motions of an intractable matter. If then this supposed First Principle is not infinite in essence, nor in wisdom, nor in power, nor in time span then it remains in Boethius merely as an assumption. His solutions then, are therefore, subject to completer explanation.

48 The mechanical causes and side workings of Plato and Aristotle.




In the dialogue “De la Causa, Principio e Uno” Giordano Bruno expounds the theory of his cosmic Material Principle. This does not stand unreconciled with the Formative Principle but is purposive and harmonious with it. In fact, the two are of one being (essere) and root (radice) since their duality must find unity in the infinite First Principle of the universe.

The Nolan argues that everything which is not a First Principle and Cause must have a first Principle and Cause. He tells us in another work, the Spaccio, that this dialectic of Principles and Causes must have its end in that which is “above all, with all and after all,” in the single absolute Truth [49] which is identical with being. The knowledge of this ultimate One is closed, however, to human eyes; we can know only the vestiges as they appear in nature. These are, however, brilliant in their declaration of the existence of this One. The innumerable worlds proclaim it with their countless voices; they predicate in infinite space the infinite excellency and majesty of the first Principle and Cause. [50] There is of all things then a Principle (that which intrinsically conduces toward the constitution of a thing and remains in the effect) and a Cause (that which makes for the production of a thing externally and has being apart from the composed thing). God is the Principle and Cause.

In this dialectic of Causes and Principles then, particular Causes and Principles are dependent, and any system which confounds them with the ultimate misses its quest for the substance of things. Such is the fault of Aristotle. There are no particular entelechies [51] realiz-

49 “Dunque la verità è avanti tutte le cose, è con tutte le cose, è dope tutte le cose; e sopro tutto, con tutto, dopo tutto; ha raggione di principio, mezzo e fine. Essa è avanti le cose, per modo di causa e principio, mentre per essa le cose hanno dependeza; è nelle cose ed è sustanza di quelle istessa, . . . .”; Spaccio de la Bestie Trionfante, dialogo II, op. it. II, 83.

50 “. . . monstrano e predicano in uno spacio infinito, con voci innumerabili, la infinita eccellenza e maestà del suo primo principio e causa. . . .”: De la Causa, dialogo, II, op.

51 “Che è la sustanza come forma? —Rispondeno alcuni: —La sua anima.—Dimandate:—Che cosa è questa anima?——Se diranno una entelechia e perfezione di corpo che può vivere, considera che qucsto è uno accidente. Se diranno che è un principio di vita, senso, vegetaziane e intelletto considerate che, benché quel principio sia qualche sustanzia fundamentalmente considerate, come noi lo consideriamo, tuttavolta costui non lo pone avanti se non come accidenta; perche esser principio di questo o di quello non dice raggione sustanzialle e assoluta, ma una raggione accidentale e respettiva a quello che è principiato . . .: De la Causa, dialogo III, op. it., I.


ing their potentialities within an ‘indeterminate matter.’ Entelechies are merely false definitions of things in terms of the passing form of ‘composed being’; they are accidents, not substance, things of a principle, not the principle itself. The source of all forms is not the

transient form of the moment but the inexhaustible fount of forms, the Principle and Cause which must be ultimate and prior by the fact of dialectical priority.

Likewise is the theory of an indeterminate, chaotic matter founded upon the shallow observation of matter as it appears in ‘composed things’ not upon the concept of a Material Principle revealing matter in its noumenal reality. All particular and dependent Causes and Principles in the universe then must have a universal Cause and Principle and as much for the purely formative or psychic nature of things as for the material. This cause as the formative power of the universe may be viewed as efficient, the causative intellect which as ultimate in the dialectical scale of being must fill all things, illumine the universe, and direct nature to produce her various types—working extrinsically upon matter as cause upon effect and intrinsically shaping matter from within. It may be seen also as formal, the plan by which the efficient produces the species and arouses them from the potency of matter into actuality; and last as final Cause it is the perfection of the universe which consists in bringing all forms to actual existence in the divers part of matter. It is obvious that these three Causes are activities of the same universal Cause.

Now this Cause may be seen as intrinsic or extrinsic. As intrinsic it shapes matter from within. As extrinsic we see it abstractly, in its own being, distinct from the substance and essence of the effects. But since it is the ‘sinè qua non’ of all forms of the universe it must not only be Cause (that which makes for the production of a thing externally and has being apart from the composed thing) but also principle (that which intrinsically conduces toward the constitution of a thing externally and has being apart from the composed thing.) If it be asked how might the same subject be Cause and Principle Bruno replies that it is possible just as a captain guiding a ship is Cause, and as he is moved along with the ship he is Principle. Since there is a universal causative power producing all particular forms according to a plan and end, this same power must be also the formative principle in the universe and in all of its parts. The universe then must be animated. To support this contention, Bruno advances among others, the following arguments: (1) that just as the human soul (a lesser Principle and Cause) animates the human body so on a grander scale the world soul (the ultimate Principle and Cause in the dialectical scale of being) animates the universe; (2) the divine goodness and the perfection of the First Principle necessitates that this world and all of its parts be animated for this world (the universe) is the ‘simulacro ’of the divine One and God’s good-


ness does nor admit of envy, hence his perfection is imaged in this world; (3) all things of the world of becoming, even gems whose brilliance quickens the spirit and roots which revive the spirits, howsoever small these things be, have in them matter and form, and their forms must be the result of the animation of the all enveloping formative essence.

There is in the universe then a vital principle, a soul of the world, which presides in matter, rules in composed being and effects the consistency of its parts. But it is not always joined with matter for just as the form of the human body, the soul, may be separated from the material nature so the Formative Principle of the universe may exist apart. There is then a Formal Principle distinct from the Material Principle, a perfect species (specie perfetta) filling all things, not dimensionally, but as a voice in a room filling the whole and every part.

Having thus far discussed only the Formal Principle, we turn now to the Material Principle keeping in mind that Bruno’s intention is to show that the two are of one ‘being’ and one ‘root.’

To arrive at the true nature of matter, Bruno points out first of all the phenomenality of sensible, corporeal things. They are not ultimate in the dialectic process, are not Principles but ‘things of Principles’; are not ‘natural but artificial.’ Such artificial matter, the artists employ as the wood used by the carpenter, the stone by the lapidary, the gold by the goldsmith, etc. This matter has already been formed by nature; and the arts, consequently, act in the ‘superfices' of matter not by virtue of the Material Principle itself. Nor is the true nature of matter found in the elements for in their transformation no one element receives the form of another but there is a ‘tertium quid’ that, for instance which was in ‘earth’ and has remained in the resulting water. Likewise, the dry does not receive the form of the moist but a third subject drives out dryness and introduces moistness and that third something is the subject of one and the other contrary.

Beyond the sensible forms of matter such as stone, earth, cadaver, man, embryo, blood, there must be something ‘after which was blood, is made embryo, receiving the being embryo; after which was embryo receives the being man, making itself man. This natural matter is known only by reason. [52] It is the insensible subject from which nature produces the infinity of forms just as artists create forms from the artificial form of matter. Nature, however, does not act in the superfices’ but from the center (dal centro del suo soggetto o materia) hence while the arts employ divers artificial sub-

52 “. . . . Cossi questa materia di cose naturali non può essere evidente se non con l’intelletto. . . .”: De la Causa, dialogo III, op. it. I, 209.


jects Nature or the Formal Principle employs but one.

There is then a noumenal matter, a Material Principle, which as yet has been considered only in its relations to corporeal existence. We are now to see how it is connected with the Formal Principle.

Bruno says that there are in the universe two principles, a Formal which gives form to everything and a Material Principle, a matter, ‘the receptacle of forms’ (ricetto de le forme), that of which all becomes made or formed. It is admitted that he attempts to mark off the separate activities of each and then states just how the two coordinate in the production of the innumerable species. The Formal Principle is not mixed in matter as inhering in it but (inesistente), associated with, assisting (assistente). These statements are as vague as that which affirm a mutuality between the two such that ‘the one is the cause of the limitation and determination of the other? This indeed points to a mutuality of purpose but not yet is it certain that the two are ultimately one. Truly there is a Formal and a Material Principle but duality still exists since there is no positive knowledge of the substance of this latter Principle. It has been distinguished from the formal and from the sensible and there is, seemingly, nothing that will afford it reality.

The above is the very intellectual impasse that confronts Dicsono Arelio in dialogue III when he asks of Teofilo if the system which accounts for all reality in the universe by means of a union of the Formal and Material Principle is compatible with that of those who do not separate the principle of efficiency from the nature of matter and hold it to be a thing divine. The answer of Teofilio is not immediately given in his ‘non facilmente’ for a few pages beyond he definitely says:

“Concerning the method of philosophizing it is just as easy to explicate the forms from a material source which contains them as to separate them out of a chaos, to distribute them as from an ideal fount (una fonte ideale) as to bring them into actuality from a possibility.”

The mention of the term chaos in connection with matter is probably a result of verboseness for Bruno surely does not mean it. The opening pages of dialogue IV are bitter in denunciation of such a view:

“The matter of the Peripatetics no less than that of the divine Plato and others is called ‘chaos’, hyle, sylva, peccati causa, indeterminatum and divers other names until finally it is subsumed under the name ‘woman’.” [53]

The meaning of the first passage quoted above (that of Teofilo) is rather found in what Bruno immediately sets out to do, i. e.,

53 An obvious reductio ad absurdum.


to see in the Material Principle the First Principle of the universe itself, the infinite source explicating from itself the forms contained within. Immediately it is asked what of the Formal Principle which was said to delimit the Material. The answer lies in the fact that the Material Principle when taken as First Principle of the universe must likewise contain in its infinite being as First Principle the Formal principle also. Formal Principle and Material Principle are indeed one in being and root. The thorough substantiation of this last contention, however, necessitates a discussion of the following problems: the infinity and unity of the First Principle of the universe, the applicability of the Material Principle to incorporeals, how the Material Principle contains a principle of efficiency, and, finally, the ontological unity of the Material and Formal Principles.

The infinity and unity of the First Principle of the universe is for Bruno an inference from the infinity and unity of the ultimate One. Such a One must exist for the dialectic of knowing and being proceeds, the one from multiplicity to unity, the other from that same unity thru the multiple levels of being. [54] This is seen in the mathematical sciences since the mind in employing them turns away from the infinite variety of the imagination toward figures which embrace multiplicity in unity. Thus its end is the one truth, true being, which is before all, with all and in all.

The existence of this One is also declared by the beauty and magnitude of the heavens, for these innumerable worlds are not ultimate principles but obviously composed beings, dependent things. They have a first Cause and Principle and are not it themselves.

This One, the absolute Cause and Principle must be that being by which all lesser Causes and Principles have being. The totality of being then is divided logically into that which is (the Principle and Cause of all Principles and Causes) and that which can be, or into that which is all at once the potentiality and actuality of all, and that in which actuality and potentiality are never equal. [55] The One then must be an absolute Principle, the absolute possibility which would not be absolute if it were not at the same time the absolute actuality. It is then the absolute possibility of all other possibilities, the absolute life and actuality of all other lives and actualities. It must therefore embrace all possible being within itself, must be infinite and one. [56]

54 “Prima, dunque, voglio che notiate essere una e medesima scala per la quale la natura dcseende all produzion de le cose, e l’intelletto ascende all cognizion di quelle; e che l’uno e l’altra da l’unità, procede a l’unita, passando per la moltitudline di mezzi. . . .”: De la Causa, dialogo V., op it. I., 256.

55 “La sustanza—-that which is, or being, lo essere, and the accidents or modes of being, i modi di essere, De la Causa, p. 251.

56 'Quello che è tutto che puo essere, è uno, il quale nell ‘esser suo comprehende ogni essere—-e la Causa, p. 219.


The universe is the ‘first born’ (l’unigenita) of this One and as such contains in greater measure than does any other existence its infinity and unity. But in spite of the fact that the universe embraces all types of being within its own being still in it potentiality and actuality are not equal. The parts of it do not possess actuality equal to potentiality and, therefore, the truth of the universe is not to be found in viewing it as an infinite aggregate. The infinity and unity of the universe are seen when we behold it in its simplicity, in that substantial unity which must be the essence communicated to it by the ultimate Principle the nature of which is to actualize to infinity its absolute potentiality. The infinity and unity of the universe follows then from the infinity and unity of the One. It is an ontological postulate. There is a sense then in which the perfect unity of the highest principle is found in its first born, the universe. A true knowledge of the universe then finds that duality must be reducible to unity, simplicity and infinity. Bruno means this when he says:

“There is a First Principle of the universe not more distinctly material than formal which can be inferred from the similitude of the aforesaid absolute potency and act.” [57]

The statement referring to the First Principle as ‘not more distinctly formal than material’ prognosticates the very result we are seeking. . . that the Material Principle may be taken as the First Principle itself. This is clear if we look upon Bruno with the eyes of Spinoza. The formalistic interpreters of Spinoza take the First Principle to be the infinite Substance. This is analogous to ‘la simplicita’ or better to say ‘la sustanza’ of Bruno while Spinoza’s two known attributes find their analogies in Bruno’s Formal and Material Principles. These latter are, consequently, aspects of the same substance and we may anticipate by saying that each is infinite and gives a complete picture of all reality. But before the Material Principle can be taken as the First Principle of the universe it must be shown that it is not only the Principle of corporeals but is likewise of incorporeals.

57 Onde vorrei inferire che—secondo tal proporzione quale è lecito dire, in questo simulacro di quell ‘atto e di quella potenza (per essere in atto specificio tutto quel tanto che è in specifica potenza, per tanto che l’universo, secondo tal modo, è tutto quel che puo essere), sic che si voglia quanto al l’atto e potenza numerale—viene ad aver una potenza la quale non e absoluta dal l’atto, una anima non absoluta da l’animato, non dico il composto, ma il semplice: onde cossi de l’unuiverso sia un primo principio che medesmo se intenda, non piu distintamente materiale e formale, che possa inferise dalla similitudine del predetto, potenza absoluta e atto. Onde non fia difficile o grave di accettar al fine che il tutto, secondo la sustanza, e uno, come forse intesse Parmenidc ignobilmente trattato da Aristotle—De la Causa, p. 223.


Bruno proffers several arguments to support this view. He argues that there are certain principles such as entity, unity, thing and others. . . . which as most universal terms comprehend as much the corporeal as the incorporeal. [58] The two types of being are not then utterly divorced since certain categories are equally applicable to one and to the other.

The second argument is taken from Avicebron:

“What hinders it, that before we recognize the matter of accidental forms, which is composed being, we recognize the matter of the substantial form, which is part of that? Thus, before we know the matter which is contracted to be under corporeal forms, we come to know a potency which might be distinguishable by the form of corporeal and of incorporeal nature.” [59]

The meaning is that of the accidental corporeal form and that of the substantial, intelligible form have a common potency.

The third argument is stated thus:

“If all that which is has a certain order and makes an hierarchy, a scale in which things rise from the composed to the simple, from these to the simplest and most absolute in such ways that all natures participate proportionally in one extreme and the other, according to the proper reason, then this connection, order and participation bind all things together.”

In other words the unity of the universe pre-supposes the participation, to an extent, of every nature in every other nature.

The most convincing argument however is the direct statement that there is no dissimilarity of a noumenal character between natural matter, or the Material Principle, and the intelligible world. It is stated besides if matter is not body (corpo) and according to its nature precedes bodily existence what makes it so foreign to the substance of incorporeals?

Bruno says finally:

“. . . if in the intelligible world there is a multiplicity and plurality of species it is necessary that there be something common beside the propriety and difference of each one of these: that which is common is the matter of these species, that which is private creates distinctions, is the form. Again the intelligible world with its plurality of species, has diversity, order, beauty and ornament and all these things presuppose and must be about (circa) matter, for such is the case in this world which exists in imitation of the intelligible world; therefore, this latter must have its matter which differs from corporeal matter just so much as intelligible being differs from the phenomenal.”

58 De la Causa, p. 232.

59 Ibidem.


To those who even yet are convinced that the simplicity of the intelligible world is incompatible with matter, Bruno replies that their fault lies in taking the phenomenal form of matter (corpo) as the substantial, intelligible form. Body and intelligible matter differ, the former finding its true being only in the latter. The Material Principle does not always Contract itself to corporeal existences. In making up the infinity of types it embodies itself sometimes as intelligible types sometimes as corporeal. Those types which do not become corporeal find such existences repugnant to them just as in animal being (nell ‘essere animale’) all are of a single genus but as for contracting that genus to a certain species, man finds the being of a lion repugnant to him, and likewise each species finds it repugnant to be any other.

Now if all corporeal being must find its reality in a substantial Material Principle and if the order and diversity of forms of the intelligible world necessitate a common subject, matter, and finally, if natural matter or the Material Principle has been shown to be of noumenal or intelligible nature, then it admits of being taken as the First Principle of the universe both because of its applicability to all being in the corporeal and incorporeal worlds and because of the noumenality of its nature. But the First Principle of the universe reveals the universe in its simplicity, in its infinity and unity, as a substance which contains all being within itself. The Material Principle then embraces all being within its being; in it possibility of being coincides with being (il posser essere concide con l’essere) absolute potentiality coincides with absolute actuality. It, therefore, has all the being which can be, possesses within itself all possible types and yet is none of these types.

“. . .. has all the measures, all the species of figures and dimensions and because it has all, has none.” [60]

It does not differ, therefore, from the Formal Principle [61] since in substantial reality potentiality and actuality, matter and form coincide.

Nor must it be argued that the Material Principle is powerless to produce its types. It is no ‘prope nihil’ no ‘shadow’ or ‘chaos’ such as the Platonists and Peripatetics thought it to be. It is fecund and like one pregnant bringing forth offspring from herself [62]. Since

60 “Quella materia per esser attualmente tutto quello che può essere, ha tutte le missure, ha tutte le specie di figure e di dimensioni e perche le ave tutte, non ne ha nessuna. . .”: De la Causa 236-237.

61 “Non differisce dunque de la forma? Niente ‘nell absoluta potenza ed atto’ absoluta. . . .”: De la Causa, 237.

62 “Cossi è. La dice privata de la forme e senza quelle, non come il ghiaccio è senza calore, il profundo è privato di Iuce, ma come la pregnante é senza la sua prole. . . .”: De la Causa, p. 239.


ultimate reality is infinite possibility realizing itself to infinity and since the Material Principle has been shown to reveal reality in its infinite simplicity then this principle has its own principle of actualization. Things come forth from it by separation (separazione) and effluxion; [63] and matter merely explicates what is already in it. It is therefore a thing divine, the excellent parent and generative mother giving very substance to things.

For Bruno then the truth of matter is to be found in a Material Principle. This is prior to the elements and, of course, to other types of corporeal and dimensional existence for all of these remain inexplicable without it as ground. It is applicable to incorporeal as well as corporeal natures for (1) both are intelligible or noumenal essences (2) the admitted diversity and beauty of the intelligible world pre-supposes a matter proper to intelligible things. It is, therefore, a principle applying to all corporeal and to intelligible being. As such it has functions as complete and lofty as the Formal Principle for it has been shown how this latter is related to formal or intelligible and to corporeal existence. The two principles are alike then not only in that they apply to intelligible and corporeal being but they are also one in substance. This is so because the infinity of God or the ultimate One, postulates an infinite First Principle of the universe. In this the Material and Formal Principle have ‘a common being and root.’ They may be taken as infinite First Principle and as such, either the one or the other reveals the universe in its completeness.

This theory of a Material Principal obviously destroys the dualism of matter and form and with it their acosmic relationship. Granted that a dualism remains between the potential and the actual as it appears in the universe, still, it is, as Bruno himself says, merely logical not ontological. Thus when Fortune appears in Bruno's world of the actual he knows, as Boethius could not know, that the source of her event is no irreducible matter, eternal with and embarrassing to the essence and Providence of the First Principle of all things. He knows that the sudden shifts of Fortune, of all time and change do achieve meaning only when referred to the one, true unchanging substance of things. He knows that the ‘blind goddess’ is the illusion of those who see only the purposes of modal beings. He knows finally that the logical dualism between the universe and things of the universe disappears when we see all things as parts in the infinite and not as parts of the infinite. [64] Things, modes or accidents are not only unreal in themselves but their true life is spent in service to the world purpose. The universe as

63 “ma la natura de la sua materia fa tutto per modo di separazione, di parto, di efflussione. . . .”; De la Causa, 242.

64 “Volete che per essere lo ente indivisible e semplicissimo, perche è infinto e atta tutto in tuttc e tutto in ogni parte (in modo che diciamo parte nello infinito, non pane dello infinito) . . . . .”: De la Caura, p. 255.


truly infinite is wholly in all and in every part, embodies all, and, hence, each infinitely embodied thing, differing from the universe which is all in eternity and identity, lives yet the life of infinity according to time and diversity. Change and loss of being is attributable to modes never to the infinite substance which ever contains all possible types and in which the modes themselves have true being. Bruno then destroys the acosmic relation between matter and the First Principle; and having achieved infinity and ontological unity within this First Principle proceeds to point out the significance of this for the concept of Fortune and the solutions of her problems.

Since the First Principle of the universe is indifferently matter or form, since in it the Material and Formal Principles exist in perfect unity then neither the one nor the other (and hence not their unity) affords a ground for ‘the irrational’ in the world process. In

Bruno’s system then Fortune is deprived of her ontological basis and hence all conclusions which he makes concerning her subjection to infinite teleological control rest primarily upon the argument for the infinity and simplicity of the First Principle. The unsolved problem of matter blocks the way to this conclusion in Boethius.




ls there then no such thing as Fortune in the system of Bruno? Most certainly there is. The Nolan devotes many pages of the ‘Spacio’ to a delineation of that concept. His picture of the blind goddess stands out in bold relief if we first, contrast and then compare her with the delineation of Boethius.

Fortune does not have her ground in a defective element which, of irreducible nature, ever resists the formative powers in the universe. For Bruno there is no such irreducible element. Fortune then is not to be a problem of ontology but rather of logic, of the logical distinction between the universe and the things of the universe. Of course when Fortune arrogantly intrudes upon the council of the gods [65] demanding a seat in their circle her argument would have it that the distinction itself between the universe and the things of the universe is a defect in the ultimate nature of all being. She argues that she must not be accused of injustice, of disturbing lots without regard to reason or justice, she merely turns the urn of mutation and presents it to all without discrimination. She shouts:

“From you, from you, I say, comes forth every inequality, every iniquity; because divine goodness is not given equally to all; wisdom is not communicated to all with the same measures; temperance is found in few; by very few is the truth displayed. Thus you other good powers are most partial, making the most extreme differences, the most immeasurable inequalities and confused proportions in particular things.”

Though Jove concedes that Fortune is powerful still he denies her the seat; and we must construe this to mean; first, that her imputations of imperfection to the divine source of all beings are invalid; and, second, that irrational powers such as Fortune are not to be found among the ultimate principles of things. The fallacy of Fortune lay in viewing the universe from the standpoint of the parts and not the parts from the standpoint of infinity. She saw only ‘parts of the infinite’; she could not see ‘parts in the infinite’ (parte nello infinito). The blind goddess had not the vision of Bruno the mystic. Thus she never realized that the individual differences and inequalities vanished in the principle which revealed the universe in its infinite simplicity. She never saw a star as like unto a man or man as one in substance with the stars. She saw the parts only in relation to their purposes and not as a ‘host’ enveloped by the world purpose.

Fortune and her effects then are imputable to no defects in the

65 Spacio, pp. 118-119.


ultimate principle of being on the ground that diversity and inequality of modal natures pre-suppose such defects.

Where are we to find Fortune then and how may we describe her? The judgment of Jove assigns her the entire sphere of change. He says:

“. . . . whatsoever is under the fate of mutation, all passes thru the revolution and hand of thy excellency.” [66]

But mutation for Bruno, applies equally to the celestial and the terrestial. The infinity of God and of space is an infinity of motion and energy. Fortune then is in all the stars no less than in the earth for those are no less worlds than the earth. [67] This world of time and change over which Fortune holds sway is obviously not the timeless world of incorporeals but the world of beings in their modal form, the world of accidents as opposed to the substance of all, the world of corporeals, of expressed, explicated being (l’essere esplicato). It must be true then that Bruno (as Boethius did unknowingly) links the nature of Fortune inseparably with the nature of matter and thus makes the solution of the former dependent upon those of the latter. The difference lies in the fact that corporeal being is not for Bruno an irreducible element, is not the prime essence of actuality but a consequence and effect of it. However, the two agree that materiality or corporeality is the category that best fits the nature of Fortune.

66 “. . . . per ciò che quanto è sotto il fate della mutazione, tutto tutto passa per l’urna, per la rivoluzione e per la mano de l’eccelenza tua.”: Spaccio, p. 122.

67 “. . . perche la Fortuna è in tutte quelle non meno the ne la terra, atteso che quelle non manco son mondi che la terra. . . .”: Spaccio, p. 122.




It has been shown that Fortune has a wider scope in Bruno’s philosophy and also that she cannot be traced to any ontological imperfections in the ultimate principles of things. So much for the differences of the Nolan and Boethius. Since they agree in centering their concepts of Fortune around the material and corporeal factors involved we can expect to find in the system of Bruno the several material aspects corresponding to those found in that of his predecessor. Thus we say Fortune appears as (1) a sphere of irrational change in an infinite universe otherwise orderly. This becomes clear if we consider substantial being or the universe in its simplicity as the sphere of orderly being, and the realm of ever-changing modes as the sphere of irrational change. We grant that this is not a true picture of things but only in this untrue picture does Fortune have being. It is the ambition of both thinkers to show that Fortune consists in this very illusion and that as one’s vision widens so does the irrational spectre disappear.

The ‘Causa per accidens’ provides aspect (2) of Fortune. While Bruno does not treat this at great length still we know he has in mind the same problem with which Boethius was concerned. In fact both take the same illustration from Aristotle’s ‘Physics’ i. e., the digging of the soil for tilling purposes and the unexpected discovery of a treasure. Bruno employs this example in the Summa Ter. Metaph. section VI.’ The statement of the ‘Spaccio’ that Fortune is an uncertain outcome of things [68] also shows her as ‘Causa per accidens’.

Fortune as the blind goddess dispensing worldly goods without a view to justice is pictured in her two-fold nature in Bruno just as in Boethius. She is both (3) Good or Prosperous Fortune and (4) Adverse Fortune. She rules over certain external goods of which riches and poverty are examples and thru these she may corrupt the affections of men. [69]

The discussion turns next to Bruno’s solutions of the above mentioned aspects and their significance for the conclusions of

68 “. . . . perche tal volta per la Fortuna non è altro che uno incerto evento do le cose; la quale incertezza a l’occhio de la providenza è nulla. . . .”: Spaccio, p. 115.

69 ln her farewell speech Fortune orders Riches to her right and poverty to her left; she next proceeds to mention the various material goods in her empire and the infinity of passions excited by them: Spaccio, p. 123.


Boethius. In the first place there can be no sphere of irrational change in the universe. The ontology of Bruno precludes such. If the infinity and simplicity of the ultimate one is the life of all lives, the soul of all souls, if it is the substantial essence of the universe imparting its unity and infinity to the very First Principle of the universe, then it is inconceivable that change and irrationality should exist in this divine essence. For both are imperfection: irrationality in that the One is no longer seen as the reason beyond which no reason can be conceived, and change in that it pre-supposes limitation. But as has been shown elsewhere, that which is Cause of all Causes and Principle of all Principles must be the infinite unity which embraces all possible being in its own being. It must be all the being that can be and therefore there is nothing into which it can change. Ontologically then there is no change for ‘la sustanza,’ the being of things, always remains the same.

But what of life from the point of view of modal being? Must it be supposed that modes themselves are actually spun topsy-turvy in the urn of Fortune? The answers to these questions show us how Bruno’s cosmology and teleology follow from his ontology. The infinite One which is Principle of all Principles and Cause of all Causes then is infinitely embodied and contains within itself the possibility of becoming every other possible being. Everything, every mode then is infinitely embodied and contains within itself the possibility

of becoming every other possible thing. The mode, regardless of its private aspiration, must live in its constant flux, and every transformation of it contributes toward an actualization of the infinity within it and also toward the Final Cause of the universe, the realization of all possible types. Cosmologically and teleologically there can be no sphere of irrational change in a system otherwise orderly. All motion has for its law, the law of infinity, the law of perfection, that each thing must become all things. Thus the change of the modal World, though a shadow of the world of infinity and stability, is a purposeful change governed by the internal powers of each infinitely embodied thing.

It is recalled that the ‘De Consolatione’ employs divers cosmological principles; the ‘proper place’ theory of Aristotle, and ‘Self-Preservation' (‘the love of remaining’). Boethius states that Providence (for him the First Principle) has given this faculty (desire for Self Preservation) to all her creatures; it is their innermost nature for it proceeds not from the will of the individual soul but from the principles of nature. This powerful force is the very Providence itself embodied in things bringing them back to itself as their unified source. Self-Preservation, then, says Boethius, is the force within things bringing all back to unity.

In criticism of the above one may say first that Boethius has no adequate concept of that unity toward which Self-preservation leads


all things. As said so many times before, an unresolved element, matter, blocks his way to true unity. Thus the duality which accrues to the nature of being, to his ontology, shows itself in his cosmology. The admission of Boethius stated above that within the being of the individual thing there are two powers, ‘the principle of nature’ and ‘the will of the soul’, and the absence of any reconciliation of this latter with the former shows that a deeper conception of unity must be supplied.

In the De ’l Infinito Bruno considers this very problem. Truly he believes that Self-Preservation is a powerful force in things but it is the natural inclination (l’ appulso naturale) of composite modes not the vital principle (il principio vitale) of being in its simplicity. It is the motive of those men who have not ‘the light of philosophic truth’ and who know no other being than that of the present mode. For they have not come to understand that ‘the vital principle’ consists not in the accidents which result from composition, but in an individual, insoluble substance, in which, since there is no confusion (perturbazione), neither the desire of conserving itself, not fear of self dissolution is possible. [70] For neither the spiritual substance which is the principle of union nor the material substance which has been shown to be one in ‘root and being’ with the spiritual is subject to any alteration or passion.

The fault of Boethius lies in singling out the dominant force common to each disparate mode and the inference that this force is an infinite, organic, and unified principle embodying all and governing all modes providentially. But a sum total of natural impulses even though common equals only a sum total of natural impulses, i. e., an aggregate of beings each seeking Self-Preservation. It can be mentioned again that each individual may act outside of and contrary to the Self-Preservative natural impulse. Such a confusion of motions presents a world ruled by anything but a single principle. In fact it smacks of a Schopenhauerian world of conflicting wills. The vital Principle of Bruno, envelops Boethius’ ‘voluntary motions of the understanding soul’ not in the sense of a rigid fatalism but in such a way as to bring it about that howsoever the individual turns in his freedom he fulfills the world purpose. God is ‘the soul of all souls, the life of all lives,’ the infinite embodiment determining all to live the life of infinity and unity because he is to begin with true unity and infinity. Self-Preservation is then a cosmological principle based upon an insufficient concept of the ultimate nature of modal being and of all being. The mode sees only the form in this present setting; but the play goes on behind its back for the life of

70 “Perche non son pervenuti ad intendere che il principio vitale non consiste ne gli accidenti resultano dalla compozione, ma in individua ed indissolubile sustanza, nella quale, se non E perturbazione, non conviene desiderio di conservarsi, ne timore di sperdersi . . . .”: De l’Infinito, dialogo III; op. it., I, 357.


all modes must consist of a constant influx and efflux of elementary principles ending not in preservation of the particular mode but in loss and transition. Thus in this seeming world of change there is no disorder for all serves a single end; all moves on in infinity.

The Causa per accidens is now to be discussed. A reiteration of Boethius’ solution will be followed by a criticism in the light of the position of Bruno.

By a dialectic of knowledge moving thru Sense, Imagination, Reason, and Understanding, Boethius ascribed this last faculty to the divine mind. It is recollected as prior to all minds by virtue of its simplicity, and as in perfect possession of an endless life, always present to itself and embracing all moveable time, past, present and future. This same divine mind situated in and identical with the highest principle was found to be the source of all mutable things ‘though diverse though infinite.’ It was also stated that this mind and principle employed Fate to connect all things in their due order and to distribute them according to places, times, causality, space and qualities. Such a divine mind and principle likewise seemed to embrace the so-called Causa per accidens an event confusing only to minds not embracing all possible events in infinity and unity.

All of the above conclusions, the infinite foreknowledge, the eternity of time, the infinite ability to generate and also infinite control are but so many invalidated assumptions if this highest principle is found to be limited in essence. It is called the ‘immovable and simple form of things’ but just how this ‘form’ contains in its simplicity the material side of the universe is never investigated. Boethius never goes beyond the ‘fluitans materia’ which ever embarrasses his ‘conditor’ of things. So long as this corporeal element stands unexplained, so long as it remains eternal with and obstructive to the ways of this so-called First Principle so long is this Principle not infinite in essence. Its essence is delimited by another essence which blocks its way to infinity and Unity. It is not infinite in power for it is resisted by an alien power; it has not an infinity of movable time before it for outside its essence stand eternally the irrational motions of intractable matter. If the supposed First Principle is not infinite, either in essence, or power, or in time span, then it is not possible to posit it as the mind which ever has before it all possible times, places and causalities.

The unity and simplicity lacking in Boethius is found in Bruno. No problem of matter bars his way to unity and infinity for corporeal nature is deducible from his First Principle which is indifferently formal or material. For Peripatetics and Platonists like Boethius this unity was only a logical assertion without foundation since in treating the problem physically they knew no single principle of reality, of the being of all that is. But the First Principle of Bruno is truly


one and infinite and, therefore, he may consistently hold of his first intelligence that it most perfectly comprehends all in a single idea; this divine mind and absolute unity, without any species, is at the same time that which understands and that which is understood. [71] It may be said then, that, it truly comprehends all times, places and causalities. Independent causal lines that concur are no problem to its all embracing mind and purposiveness. Lesser minds, however, must judge of multiplicity according to multiple ‘species, similitude and forms,’ successively according to time. They cannot foresee that the tilling of the soil will lead to a lost treasure, but the divine mind knows the plan of all treasure hiders and of all soil tillers and thus the concurrence of their plans, though independent, can never be a Causa per accidens.

It has been shown elsewhere how Fortune as the blind goddess involves the problems of good and evil, of the goodness and the evil in possessing or in being deprived of the goods of Fortune. It must be remembered, however, that goodness and evil apply both to Good or Prosperous Fortune as a single aspect and likewise to Adverse Fortune. [72] It is also clear by now that Boethius asserts the existence of an infinite and perfect God which is the source, substance and final cause of all things. This is so because he definitely says that the substance of God is ‘Goodness’ [73] and God is the supposed unity embracing all being within his being. The nature of the summum bonum also substantiates this interpretation for it is called Goodness, the unity which contains in its simplicity all partial and imperfect goods. The Good is the substance of God, the nature of all things. All strive for it and when they miss their mark, God distributes afflictions or joys according to the disposition of souls. But here, of course, is the ‘rub’ or better so say, the ‘rubs’ for if Goodness is the all enveloping unity the substance of all things, then how may the striver miss his mark? There must be a defective element in him and in his mark. There lies the answer, for man has within him a corporeal nature, the passions, and the ‘mark’ has about it a corporeal lure that calls to the fleshy passions. What of the origin of these weaknesses? Do they disappear in the infinite principle of Goodness: The answer of Boethius is ‘yes’ but it is an invalidated yes. The affections are corporeal, the goods of Fortune are corporeal and beside the ‘fount of all goods’ there remains ever for Boethius the seemingly irresolvable ‘fluitans materia.’ The dualism is ever with Boethius and forces him to contradictory statements concerning Fortune according to the side he surveys at the moment. Now when he sees her evil effect, her material side, she is ‘the vilest of things’, ‘a deceitful monster;’ but when he looks upon the other side, that of

71 De la Causa, 259.

72 See page—8— of Dissertation.

73 See note 26.


ultimate reality, divinity extracting a good from the ‘malleable mass’, turning evil into good, he proclaims ‘all manner of Fortune is good.’ This contradiction stands embodied in the summum bonum of Boethius. It is called Goodness, that substance which embraces in unity all the goods of Fortune as Fame, Sufficiency, Power, Respect, Pleasure, etc. Boethius did not realize that the aforementioned goods could not be subsumed under divine Goodness until the divine good and the corporeal be shown to be qualitatively the same (and this requires ultimately to relate matter and Providence in a cosmic unity.)

Needless to say again Bruno supplies the unity lacking in Boethius; and this not only gives validation to the insufficient assertion of the imprisoned consul but leads to conclusions significant in the history of ethical theory in particular, and to human thought, generally. The goods of Fortune are won from the realm of things essentially irrational; they are, by virtue of their rational nature, valid data for ethical theory and Bruno, rightly, includes them in the summum bonum. This reduction of the acosmic ground of Fortune to a cosmic world principle wins for human reason and opens up to human endeavor all of those ‘inscrutable’ spheres previously consigned to Fortune. It is no surprise then to hear Giordano Bruno asserting the superiority of man ‘to the blind forces of Natures’. The historic position of Boethius and Bruno with reference to this conception will now be treated.

It was Aristotle who, before Boethius, [74] asserted that the goods of Fortune in moderate possession were essential to happiness. The Stagirite in turn defined happiness as a rational activity of the soul but never reconciled this with the accidentality of the goods of Fortune. Hence, he placed these accidental goods ‘beyond human power’ even though essential to happiness. As Windelband observes:

“ . . . man’s happiness or well being which in Aristotle’s system is regarded as the supreme end of all endeavor is indeed dependent in part upon external fortune . . . but ethics has to do only with that which stands in our power, only with that which man gains by his own action.” [75]

The goods of Fortune then lie beyond human power, beyond the ability of human reason to obtain, and if accidentally possessed then one should frame one’s conduct toward them according to ‘the mean.‘ If ‘the mean’ is defined as a rational choice between two extremes and

74 Boethius’ statement of the mean:

“you skirmish fiercely with any Fortune, less either affliction oppresses you or prosperity corrupt you. Stay yourselves strongly in the mean! For whatsoever cometh either short or goeth beyond may well contemn felicity but will never obtain any reward of labor. . .”: De Consulat. IV pr., VII 45 ff.

75 W. Windelband—“A History of Philosophy,” tr. Tufts, New York, 1923, p. 151.


a choice relative to the chooser then we ask upon what grounds are the goods of Fortune amenable to a rational choice unless they have in them a nature harmonious with human reason. Both the concept of happiness and of Virtue in Aristotle stand in need of a rational relationship with the goods of Fortune. If these goods are held to be essentially corporeal and if the corporeal element is ultimately irrational then the system which shows that corporeal nature has its tnie being in a cosmic principle of true unity and the source of all, simultaneously, grounds the goods of Fortune in a rational essence. Therefore, Bruno says in formulating his summum bonum, pursue the goods of the soul, the goods of the body and, if you wish, the goods of Fortune. [76] He realizes that all of the sharp conflict of contraries in the principal affairs of men is grounded in that unity of unities in which all contraries coincide. Therefore, he says, strike the midpoint of the contraries but this is no Aristotleian ‘mean’ recognizing a realm of accidentality extraneous and beyond ethical inquiry. Let us illustrate this more fully as it is demonstrated in Bruno thru the virtue, Solicitude or Diligence.

The virtue Solicitude or Diligence is said to be the mid-point between the contraries TORPOR or QUIETUDE and FOOLISH OCCUPATION. [77] It differs from the Aristotelian ‘mean’ in that it is infinite in its range of applicability and, secondly, in that it conduces toward a happiness or summum bonum which contains those very goods that Aristotle declares to be beyond human power, irrational, and outside the scope of ethical theory. It is infinite in its range of applicability; for the corporeal element, which in Aristotle remains unresolved and irrational, is now grounded in the perfect unity of all things and thus the goods of Fortune too are grounded in the same cosmic principle. Wherever there are contraries there are mid-points to be struck but for Aristotle there are spheres in which man can discern neither contraries nor mid-points—the realm of the goods of Fortune beyond human power. Bruno realizes that there is no such extra-rational sphere; he has demonstrated that ontologically things are one; he has shown cosmologically that the vital principle of all things in this and in other worlds is their tendency to pass over into other things, to become their opposite and in so doing fulfill the final cause of the world; he now asserts in opposition to Aristotle that the science of Ethics has the universe for its field. [78] It has reference

76 “Sicguati l’acquisizione con le munizione sue, che son Bene del corpo, Bene de l’animo, e se vuoi Bene de la Fortuna. . . .”: Spaccio p. 136. Bruno also sanctions the goods of Fortune, Spaccio p. 16.

77 Spaccio, pp. 134-137—Concerning the mid-point, see Spaccio, p. l6—-Solicitude with her ministers puts to flight Torpor from one side and Inquietude from the other.

78 “. . . . l’Etica, quanti possono essere costumi, consuetudini, leggi, giustizie e delitti in questo ed altri tnondi de l’universo. . .”: Spaccio, p. 127.


to the ‘customs, laws, justice and crimes in this and in other worlds of the universe.’ By the universe Bruno of course means that which embraces all being within its being. His ethical theory treats the goods of fortune as things within the range of human reason and the ‘mid-point’ of the contraries is as universal in its applicability as the conflict of opposites is infinite in its extent. The science of ethics must consider the goods of Fortune not as essentially irrational and beyond human power but as opposites grounded in an all-embracing unity and admitting of a point of coincidence intelligible to man.

Since the goods of Fortune, are not beyond human power and are not essentially irrational and since they have their true being in a cosmic Material Principle then Bruno has valid grounds for including them in his summum bonum. Aristotle includes the goods in a moderate amount but no where in his system does he reconcile the irrationality of these goods with the ‘rational activity of the soul’ in which his summum bonum consists. This is so because he never solves the corporeality of these goods in such a way as to show that they are founded in a simple nature prior to the corporeal nature. Boethius also would include the goods of Fortune in the summum bonum but he seemingly recognizes the error of Aristotle in juxtaposing the irrational goods of Fortune and ‘the rational activity of the soul.’ Therefore, he makes his summum bonum that unified perfect good which contains all the goods of Fortune in a substantial unity. The goods of Fortune are the imperfect images of this substantial Goodness. But Boethius does not realize that this imperfection cannot be reconciled with the unity of Goodness until the source of the imperfection, matter, be subsumed in this Goodness. Bruno reconciles this imperfect element with the perfect and arrives at a true unity. The Nolan knowing, therefore, that all things have a purpose in this most purposeful of possible world urges man to pursue ‘the goods of the body, the goods of the soul, the goods of Fortune.’ These goods no longer belong to what Ciofarri calls:

“. . . the irrational residuum which remains to be explained when we have exhausted all those principles which may be grouped under Nature and those which proceed from freedom of the will or direct divine intervention.” [79]

Man has as his sphere of practical activity the great field of the universe. He needs only to think and to act; his virtues must be both contemplative and active. [80] The virtue Solicitude or Diligence recognizes no sphere as closed to her practical activity. She

79 Ciofarri—“Fate and Fortune from Democritus to Aquinas”, New York, 1935.

80 E per questo ha determinate la providenza, che vegna occupato ne l’azione per le mani, e contemplazione per l’intelletto; de maniera che non contemple senza azione, e non opre senza contemplazione. . . .”: Spaccio, p. 152.


keeps her attendant Consultation ever by her side and likewise the active attendants Exercise, Occupation, Perseverance, Industry, Force, Robustness, Invention (l’Invenzione) and Acquisition (l’Acquisizione). These bring her three vessels full of ‘the goods of the body, goods of the soul, goods of Fortune.’ Thus thru thought and action man wins by human power those goods which Aristotle declared to be beyond human power despite their value for human happiness. Diligence, Force, Inventive genius, Industry, the will to acquire, these are the virtues that dominate the blind goddess. They seize Fortune by the head. [81] Bruno not only justifies the inclusion of the goods of Fortune in the summum bonum but at the same time brings these within the range of human power.

To reclaim the goods of Fortune from that irrational residue which remained irresolvable to ancient thinkers is to subject these goods to the rational investigation and activity of man i. e., to human power. Now if in the infinite universe of things there is really no such irrational residue, neither in the practical world of human relationships nor in the infinite mutation of the universe as a whole then no sphere of nature is a closed book forever to the rational research and inventive genius (l‘Invenzione) of man. There are then no blind forces of nature, inscrutable and all crushing, which defy the reason of man to make a rational adjustment in his own favor. MAN IS SUPERIOR TO THE FORCES OF NATURE. This conception is important first of all because it announces in the distant sixteenth century one of the leading principles in the modern Weltanschauung: there is neither a kingdom of nature perfect beyond man’s power to alter it nor a ‘kingdom of Grace’ ruled exclusively by God. It is important in the second place for this dissertation since it follows the historical delineation as given by Giovanni Gentile and traces it from Bruno back to its rude beginnings in the De Consolatione of Boethius. The starting point in Boethius is his contention that man is superior to Fortune.

One finds it difficult to agree, however, with the particular citation of Gentile. Section II pr. 2 of the De Consalatione has but a single passage which even suggests man’s ability to cope with Fortune:

“Notwithstanding, lose not thy courage, and living in a kingdom which is common to all men, desire not to be governed by peculiar laws proper only to thyself.”

81 “. . . Apprendi la Fortuna pe’capelli . . . .”: Spaccio p. 136.

82 Gentile: Giordano Bruno e il pensiero del Rinascimento. p. 7O—Gentile cites Leon Alberti and Machiavelli as thinkers who exalted the freedom of man over and above the blind forces of Nature and of Chance. He also observes that this theory finds consummate form in Bruno. He points out the Spaccio pp. 152 sqq. as typical. Finally he observes that the tradition of this thought involves the reaching of Boethius regarding Fortune.


All other statements seem to laud the power of Fortune in overturning human affairs.

There is a passage, however, of a later book of the De Consolatione which supports Gentile’s contention. it is quoted thus:

“Skirmish fiercely with all Fortune lest either trouble oppress you or prosperity corrupt you. Stay yourselves strongly in the mean! For whatsoever cometh short or goeth beyond may well contemn felicity but never obtain any reward of labor. FOR IT IS PLACED IN YOUR POWER TO FRAME YOURSELVES WHAT FORTUNE YOU PLEASE.” [83]

This passage does assert the superiority of man to Fortune but what kind of a superiority are We to expect of this follower of Plato and the Stoics? Granted that Boethius tends to ground the imperfect goods of Fortune in the all embracing divine Goodness, granted that he asserts this divine state to be achievable”, [84] to be at the same time Happiness and indicative of the happy man’s superiority to Fortune still his is but a negative superiority. It may be independent of the externals of Fortune, while resting in the security of Stoic virtue, [85] in the Socratic self-knowledge, [86] or in the summum bonum, Goodness, which after all is but a Platonic Good with all its ascetic implications; but a positive mastery of the ‘blind goddess’ based upon a thorough understanding of her material nature and a subsumption of that nature within the unity which relates all things cosmically is a conclusion nowhere to be found in Boethius.

As for the laws of Nature he never calls them ‘blind forces.’ He dedicates a poem to their benignity and irrefragability. [87] He does not consider them in relation to man’s happiness. He is too much affected with the ethical bias of Socrates.

This negative superiority of Boethius, driven to its small ethical domain because it could not find the rational and the good in matter, becomes positive for Bruno by virtue of his solution or these very problems. For the Nolan then the good can be found in matter; thus physical and ethical problems are homogeneous. Democritus and Plato lose their respective biases and join hands in the infinite. This is the mood of Bruno when he proposes to himself the problem

83 De Consolat. IV pr. VII., 47-53.

84 De Consolat. III pr. 10—Boethius asserts that everyone who is happy is a God. He later describes the body of a holy man as composed of pure “ether.”

85 De Consolat. lV., pr. lV., the entire passage shows Boethius’ regard for the stoic ideal of virtue— “If thou apply thy mind to the better thou needest no judge to reward thee” is just one of a number.

86 “. . . . for this is the condition of man’s nature that it surpasseth other things only when it knoweth itself. . .": De Consolat. II, pr. V.

87 See note 28 of dissertation.


of the relation of the oppressive laws of nature to human happiness Here, too, is the Renaissance, its interest in nature, its regard for the individual and its general feeling of WORLD-IOY. The happiness of man has the ‘universe for its field;’ man may use reason and Diligence not only to win the practical ‘goods of Fortune‘ but if very Nature by her rigid laws seems to begrudge him happiness, he may use intellect and Hands ‘to act over and above her laws’ (fuor le leggi di quella). He can,

“. . . form other natures, other courses and orders with his genius and freedom.” [88]

But this is so because reason is the key to reality and since man possesses this peculiar embodiment entitling him to be ‘lord of the earth’. The ability of reason to see the universe in its unity and thru progress and time to discover its infinite purposiveness thru arts and industries proclaims man as superior to the blind forces of nature.

Having finished the several problems of the good the way is now clear to begin discussion of the evil.

Regardless of how Boethius attacks the problem of evil it inevitably leads back to the unsolved problem of matter. If he says that all adverse visitations ‘correct, punish or discipline’ then the fault of the corrected, punished or disciplined soul is ultimately traceable to matter. If it be said that evil is but error then ‘the dull members’ which obscure knowledge indeed are corporeal and hence of matter. If he employs the absurd argument that evil is no power since almighty God cannot do evil,’ then he must reconcile matter with a thoroughgoing concept of God’s omnipotence. Again if he argues that God turns all evil into good effect we ask if the existence of a 'fluitans materia’ side by side with God, and its continual appearance in the world of things, does not make dubious the extent of God’s powers of control? In other words if evil is not traceable to God it must be traceable beyond the creatures of God to a third element which embarrasses the infinite unity and perfection of God.

Bruno believes with Boethius that evil is centered in the corporeal element. In the De La Causa he cites it as the cause of ‘monsters, corrosions, death and vices.’ In the Eroici Furori he states that the mind of man is blind to the divine object because of ‘the weakness and insubstantiality of body which is in continuous motion and alteration.’ He asks further ‘what truth can become imprinted and impressed where the pupils of the eyes are covered with water, the water in vapor, the vapor in flame and this in one and another; the very subject of sense and cognition is whirled in the‘ wheel of mutation ad infinitum.’ Now Bruno differs from Boethius in that the

88 Spaccio, p. 152.


corporeal element in which evil is centered no longer remains irreducible and acosmic. Matter is one in being and root with the Formal Principle. They are both but different aspects of the single substance of the infinite universe. Matter thus may be taken as the First Principle of the universe, may be seen as ‘the divine and excellent source of all things.’ Corporeal matter is but a phenomenal expression of the Material Principle; it forms the realm of accidents the realm of modes which move about the true Principle, the substance. Evil then appears for Bruno in the realm of modes, in the relationship of one mode to another mode or modes. But modal being is ever changing, ever undergoing the influx and efflux of primary particles, therefore there is no one static relationship within this realm of modes. There is no evil event which holds unconditionally for all modes at a particular instant or for a single mode at different instants. There is no absolute evil. Poison is not harmful to the viper. Evil is evil only with reference to time, genus, species or definite individuals. Nothing is likewise anywhere evil to certain individuals which to others and at other times may not be good and excellent. But what of this evil of these modes since they live out by time that which ultimate reality is eternally? It points to no imperfection either in the universe as infinite possibility realized or in the modes themselves. If we look at reality from the standpoint of the relation of mode to mode or of mode to a finite system of modes then injustices, blasted hopes, and adverse visitations do come. But if we relate the life of each mode to the final cause of the universe we find that the life and death, and all the tribulations of the modes are the fulfillment of this purpose. Everything is perfect after its kind, each mode, regardless of its private aims, lives the life of infinity. The evil of the modes then is truly subject to the teleological control of God for their true life consists in actualizing the infinite embodiment within.

We say then that Bruno improved upon Boethius in that evil is no longer traceable to an element whose irresolvability precludes those very characteristics (infinity and unity) by which God is supposed to control evil. The reconciliation of matter with the infinity and unity of God leaves no place for evil save in the phenomenal life of the modes. Boethius says that the good and the bad strive toward the unity and perfection of God but, in truth, there is no such all perfect and all-embracing unity and indeed the evil-doers may be so overpowered by the material element within him that he may strive deliberately toward the imperfect. So long as matter remains a chaotic mass the ‘fluitans materia’, the power of Providence over it in certain spheres is a debatable question. The Epicureans threw Providence out altogether. Again when Boethius states that evil is nothing because God cannot do evil the answer is that evil is yet existent for matter can arouse it. And, finally, if it be said that all evil visita-


tions have the functions of disciplining, correcting, or punishing according to the disposition of souls then the defects of these very souls are traceable to a force which renders questionable God’s power so to discipline, punish or correct them. Thus for all the illustrations of teleological control we may counter with citations taken from the Epicureans or from Schopenhauer. The infinite power of teleological control must be based upon a thoroughgoing concept of the infinity and unity of God. This concept as it is related to the problem of matter has been found in the thought of Bruno.

As Boethius left the question evil is imputable to divine weakness; it is truly an ontological problem. Bruno swept evil from the ontological realm and reduced it to the status of a relative event existent only for modal being.




This dissertation has attempted to show that each of the four aspects of Fortune found in the De Consalatione of Boethius has its ground in matter; it has tried to point out too, that the solutions given these aspects are invalid since they are stated as if the problems of matter have been solved. Boethius does not prove but assumes that there is a single infinite Principle which is the source and final cause of all things, but the dualisms of his cosmology, psychology and ethics belie his assumption of a monistic ontology. Self-Preservation is not the sole cosmological Principle; besides it there exists in the human soul, for example, certain voluntary motions. Nor does Boethius ever reconcile these with Self-Preservation so as to make of this latter principle an infinite, unified, all-enveloping world force. Likewise the ‘members which cover the soul’ and the corporeal goods which stir up ‘affections’ within these members point ultimately to a form-resisting cause, a power obstructing the infinity and unity of the assumed First Principle. Boethius senses the problem of infinity; he introduces the concept into Latin prose but he is not aware of its relationship to the problem of matter. Bruno realizes this difficulty. He subsumes corporeality under a Principle which is indifferently material or formal and which is infinite because it is the simplicity of the divine nature itself. Fortune likewise is subsumed beneath this same Principle since her ultimate ground has been shown to be matter. From this vantage point of true infinity Bruno’s philosophy proceeds to correct and to validate the several contentions of Boethius concerning Fortune. The one true cosmological Principle is not Self-Preservation but that by which it and all other principles are enveloped— the striving for Infinity. The mind of God is truly infinite and precludes the Causa per accidens for there is no indeterminate element producing ‘side workings’ or causes which do not serve the final cause of the universe—the realization of all possible types. The goods of Fortune are neither wholly void of native goodness nor essentially irrational and insusceptible of rational ethical inquiry. These goods, it is true, are intimately connected with corporeality but this latter is not ultimate and irreducible; its reality is found in the simplicity and unity of the First Principle of the universe. As this First Principle is the grand point of coincidence of all contraries, so too the virtues are found by seeking the mid-point between the conttaries culminating at last in that substance in which all coincide. There is no sphere containing those goods of Fortune which Aristotle held to be outside the domain of rational inquiry; nor did the Stagirite ever tell us how to reconcile the rational activity of the soul called happiness with those irration-


al goods so essential to happiness. Of course he tells us that a moderate possession of these goods is sufficient but as these goods have been consigned to Chance he truly has no ground for this statement. If it be argued that he employs the mean then we say that the mean refers to things within our power never to the goods of Fortune which are beyond our power. The ‘mid-point‘ theory of Bruno assumes that the universe is rational and purposeful thru-out and what appears as Chance is only the sphere in which the opposites are thickest. Again the attempt of Boethius to subsume the imperfect goods under the summum bonum, Goodness, is shown to be a failure. He never reaches a true concept of the substantial nature of the aforesaid goods. The evil, which for Boethius is grounded in matter, Bruno sweeps from the ontological realm and reduces to an irrational relationship existent only on the illusory, modal plane of being. The negative superiority of man to Fortune which Boethius inherits from the stoic theory of indifference to externals, Bruno develops into a positive teaching of man’s superiority to the blind forces of nature. Both thinkers are indebted to the philosophy of Plotinus; one attempts to explain away Fortune thru the concept of a God of infinite goodness; the other attempts to clarify this position by exalting rather a God of infinite truth.




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SOURCE: Fontaine, William Thomas (1909 - 1968). Fortune, Matter, and Providence: A Study of Ancius Severinus Boethius and Giordano Bruno. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1936. Scotlandville, LA, 1939. [3], 49 pp.

Note: I have corrected obvious typos and slightly altered punctuation and formatting. – RD

See also:

Dumain, Ralph. Notes on Bruce Kuklick’s Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William Fontaine.

Fontaine, William T. “Avoidability and the Contrary-to-Fact Conditional in C. L. Stevenson and C. I. Lewis,” Vol. 48, No. 25, December 6, 1951, pp. 783-788.

_______________. “An Interpretation of Contemporary Negro Thought from the Standpoint of the Sociology of Knowledge,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 25, No. 1, January 1940, pp. 6-13.

_______________. “Josiah Royce and the American Race Problem,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 29, No. 2, December 1968, pp. 282-288.

_______________. “The Means End Relation and Its Significance for Cross-Cultural Ethical Agreement,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 25, No. 3, July 1958, pp. 157-162.

_______________. “The Mind and Thought of the Negro of the United States as Revealed in Imaginative Literature, 1876-1940,” Southern University Bulletin, 28 (March 1942), pp. 5-50.

_______________. “The Negro Continuum from Dominant Wish to Collective Act,” African Forum, Vol. 3, Spring-Summer 1968.

_______________. “The Paradox of Counterfactual Terminating Judgments,” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 46, No. 13, June 23, 1949, pp. 416-421.

_______________. “Philosophical Aspects of Contemporary African Social Thought,” in Pan-Africanism Reconsidered (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962), pp. 244-254.

_______________. “Philosophical Implications of the Biology of Dr. Ernest E. Just,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 24, No. 3, July 1939, pp. 281- 290.

_______________. “‘Segregation and desegregation in the United States : A philosophical analysis,” Présence Africaine, Nouvelle série, No. 8/10, Le Ier Congrès International des Écrivains et Artistes Noirs, June-November 1956, pp. 154-173.

_______________. “'Social Determination' in the Writings of American Negro Scholars,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 49 (1944), pp. 302-13. Reprinted in Philosophy Born of Struggle: Anthology of Afro-American Philosophy from 1917, edited by Leonard Harris (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1983), pp. 89-102, with rebuttal by E. Franklin Frazier, pp. 102-106.

_______________. Reflections on Segregation, Desegregation, Power and Morals. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishing Company, 1967. Front matter on this site.

_______________. “Vers une philosophie de la littérature noire américaine,” Présence Africaine, Nouvelle série, No. 24/25, Deuxième Congrès des Écrivains rt Artistes Noirs, February-May 1959, pp. 153-165.

Kuklick, Bruce. Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William Fontaine. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Bibliography, pp. 161-163.

____________. A History of Philosophy in America 1720-2000. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001.


"Going South: William Fontaine’s Trip to Virginia, 1948" (book excerpt) by Bruce Kuklick

William Thomas Valeria Fontaine 1909 – 1968 (University of Pennsylvania)

William Fontaine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fontaine, William Thomas (1909-1968) (Black Past)

Review of Bruce Kuklick’s Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William Fontaine by Andrew Hartman (USIH Review, November 2008)

The Mind and Thought of the Negro of the United States as Revealed in Imaginative Literature, 1876-1940
by William T. Fontaine

Reflections on Segregation, Desegregation, Power and Morals (Contents)
by William T. Fontaine

Notes on Bruce Kuklick’s Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William Fontaine
by Ralph Dumain

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On the Contributions of John McClendon and Stephen Ferguson to the
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