Evolutionary Order

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Michael Kleineberg:

"During the 18th century, a "temporalizing of the Chain of Being" (Lovejoy 1936, 244) takes place as a reaction of paleontological findings and early evolutionary hypotheses that are questioning the idea of nature as a static order where every being finds its fixed and final god-given place.

While the traditional order of emanationism descending from the most complex to the most simple is still to some extent echoed in the work of naturalists like Carl Linnaeus's (1758) Systema Naturae with its kingdoms of animals (e.g., mammals — birds — amphibians — fishes — insects — worms), plants and minerals, or Charles Bonnet's The Contemplation of Nature (Anderson 1976), the new temporalized chain of being or scala naturae follows the evolutionary order ascending from the most simple to the most complex, as stressed, among others, by Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck ([1809] 1914, 128):

- I do not hesitate to say, however, that our general classifications of animals up to the present have been in the inverse order from that followed by nature when bringing her living productions successively into existence.

Therefore, in his Zoological Philosophy, Lamarck ([1809] 1914, 131) proposes six "stages of organization" according to what he considers as natural order and its progress of complexity (e.g., polyps — worms — insects — mollusks — fishes and reptiles — birds and mammals).

This kind of inversion and dynamization of the hierarchy reflects the Zeitgeist at the end of the 18th century in which various classification schemes in the natural sciences and also in academic libraries move human beings from the beginning to the end of the sequence (Šamurin [1955] 1977).

Among philosophers, this turn becomes obvious if one compares, for example, Nicolas de Condorcet's essay Example des méthodes techniques that is concerned with classification theory and still represents more or less the old "reverse order" (Whitrow 1985, 92), with the new progressive order articulated in Johann G. Herder's Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man (1800, 108, emphasis his):

- The more elaborate the organization of a creature is, the more its structure is compounded from the inferiour kingdoms. This complexedness begins underneath the earth, and grows up through plants and animals to the most complicated of all creatures, man.

In German idealism, the idea of a hierarchical order of reality is further elaborated, again in terms of both levels of being in the philosophy of nature as well as levels of knowing in the philosophy of mind or transcendental philosophy. In the attempt to combine both approaches, Friedrich W. J. Schelling's ([1800] 1978, 125–26) System of Transcendental Idealism describes the "scale of organization" simultaneously as "orders of intuition" culminating in absolute abstraction and the self-determination of intelligence.

Based on the same dialectics of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, the idea of integrative levels is foreshadowed in Georg F. Hegel's ([1830] 1970, 20, emphasis his) Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences:

- Nature is to be regarded as a system of stages, one arising necessarily from the other and being the proximate truth of the stage from which it results: but it is not generated naturally out of the other but only in the inner Idea which constitutes the ground of Nature.

This kind of speculative thought is overcome by more empirical explanations, particularly in evolutionary biology during the 19th century, a period known for celebrating the notions of evolution, development, and progress (Blitz 1992).

One of the most influential approaches is presented by Auguste Comte's ([1830-42] 1974) Course in Positive Philosophy in which he offers a two-sided strategy for the classification of human knowledge based on the idea of both levels of being as well as levels of knowing. Comte rejects the Baconian tradition of encyclopedic ladders of knowledge that is oriented on the faculties of human mind like memory, reason, or imagination because human understanding, for him, employs all of them more or less simultaneously.

Instead, he proposes a hierarchy of fundamental sciences (e.g., astronomy — physics — chemistry — physiology — sociology) corresponding to the investigated objects or phenomena that are arranged according to their affiliation (Comte [1830-42] 1974, 53):

- The order is determined by the degree of simplicity, or what amounts to the same thing, of generality in the phenomena, resulting in successive dependencies and consequently greater or less difficulty in study.

Additionally, Comte's famous law of three stages regarding the development of the human mind states that each branch of knowledge develops through a necessary order of three phases from a theological state to a metaphysical state up to a positive state, even though these developments do not need to take place synchronously and allow the coexistence of different states at the same time within a society. Moreover, Comte ([1830-42] 1974, 21) claims that since the starting point for both individual and collective education is necessarily the same "the principal phases of the individual represent the epochs of the species."

Inspired by Comte's work and contemporary Darwinian thought, Herbert Spencer's ([1862] 1915, 246) First Principles presents an all-inclusive concept of evolution covering astronomical, geological, biological, psychological, and sociological phenomena in terms of a "progressive integration of Matter" (e.g., inorganic — organic — super-organic) which means an increase in structural complexity from an indefinite and incoherent homogeneity to a definite and coherent heterogeneity."