The Idea of Progress eBook

J.B. Bury
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 354 pages of information about The Idea of Progress.
on many sides by men like Telesio, Cardan, Ramus, and Bruno. [Footnote:  It has been observed that the thinkers who were rebelling against the authority of Aristotle—­the most dangerous of the ancient philosophers, because he was so closely associated with theological scholasticism and was supported by the Church—­frequently attacked under the standard of some other ancient master; e.g.  Telesio resorted to Parmenides, Justus Lipsius to the Stoics, and Bruno is under the influence of Plotinus and Plato (Bouillier, La Philosophie cartesienne, vol. i. p. 5).  The idea of “development” in Bruno has been studied by Mariupolsky (Zur Geschichte des Entwicklungsbegriffs in Berner Studien, Bd. vi. 1897), who pointed out the influence of Stoicism on his thought.] In particular branches of science an innovation was beginning which heralded a radical revolution in the study of natural phenomena, though the general significance of the prospect which these researches opened was but vaguely understood at the time.  The thinkers and men of science were living in an intellectual twilight.  It was the twilight of dawn.  At one extremity we have mysticism which culminated in the speculations of Bruno and Campanella; at the other we have the scepticism of Montaigne, Charron, and Sanchez.  The bewildered condition of knowledge is indicated by the fact that while Bruno and Campanella accepted the Copernican astronomy, it was rejected by one who in many other respects may claim to be reckoned as a modern—­I mean Francis Bacon.

But the growing tendency to challenge the authority of the ancients does not sever this period from the spirit which informed the Renaissance.  For it is subordinate or incidental to a more general and important interest.  To rehabilitate the natural man, to claim that he should be the pilot of his own course, to assert his freedom in the fields of art and literature had been the work of the early Renaissance.  It was the problem of the later Renaissance to complete this emancipation in the sphere of philosophical thought.  The bold metaphysics of Bruno, for which he atoned by a fiery death, offered the solution which was most unorthodox and complete.  His deification of nature and of man as part of nature involved the liberation of humanity from external authority.  But other speculative minds of the age, though less audacious, were equally inspired by the idea of freely interrogating nature, and were all engaged in accomplishing the programme of the Renaissance—­the vindication of this world as possessing a value for man independent of its relations to any supermundane sphere.  The raptures of Giordano Bruno and the sobrieties of Francis Bacon are here on common ground.  The whole movement was a necessary prelude to a new age of which science was to be the mistress.

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