Difference between revisions of "Great Chain of Being"

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The author then discusses the influence of the microscope and the resulting field of microbiology, which had first confirmed the principles of continuity and plenitude, showing life to go on to the infinitely small.
 
The author then discusses the influence of the microscope and the resulting field of microbiology, which had first confirmed the principles of continuity and plenitude, showing life to go on to the infinitely small.
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Up to Kant, the Chain of Being was recognized as the basis of  the research program in biology. In the Kantian scheme on the possibilities of knowledge, Man could never know the full reality, but the law of continuous scale of Beings, was a respectable 'Ideal of Reason'.
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Chapter IX turns it attention to temporality, pointing out that until that time, the traditional interpretation of the Chain of Being excluded Time and any notion of progress, and even evolution; since the latter implied the distinction of species, and not their immutable presence in Eternity. Those that reacted against these static views, argued that the principle of Plenitude, i.e. the Realisation of all possibilities of Life, was only realized in the fullness of time, nont in any particular instant. The absence of hope, due to the law of conservation of evil, and the impossibility of individual progress, since each station in life was necessary (and thus 'moving up', could only come thrugh the moving down of somebody else), became intolerable. In the new conception, the Chain of Being came to be considered as a ladder to be climbed by the individual soul, in this life and after, closer and closer to perfection. The Platonic identification of the good as the cessation of desire, was replaced by the conception of a perpetual process of possible betterment
  
 
[[Category:Bauwens Reading Notes Project]]
 
[[Category:Bauwens Reading Notes Project]]
 
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[[Category:P2P Hierarchy Theory]]

Revision as of 05:18, 7 November 2020

* Book: The Great Chain of Being. By Arthur O. Lovjejoy.

URL =

Review

Michel Bauwens, 2003:

This is the book that has often been cited by Ken Wilber as a key summary of the history of a complex of ideas, related to the hierarchical nature of the universe as a "chain of being" culminating in the Absolute It was delivered as a series of lectures in Harvard during 1933, as a "William James Lecture", and the author says that 'just one hundred years ago', this was still the domimant philosophical idea in the Western world.

The first chapter distinguishes the specificity of the discipline of the 'history of ideas' from the general history of philosophy.

The second chapter discusses the genesis of the idea in the work of Plato, after first contrasting the 'otherworldlines' from 'thisworldlynes' and the idea of a perfect self-sufficient Being from one that creates all possible living things in its image (the principle of Plenitude).

Plotinus wrote: The One is Perfect, it seeks nothing, and possesses nothing, and, being perfect, it overflows, and thus, in its overAbundance produces the Other.

Aristotle was more modest, in his view of the necessity of the world: his unmoved Mover did not create things, or only as a final cause because of its attraction. Within Aristotle's work we find a contrast between his belief in classification, and his reputation as the father of logic, and his insistence on continuity, that there are no sharp distinctions in nature, only gradations. This it was he, rather than Plato, who explicitely mentioned gradations and rankings in beings, whether dependent on scale (the degree of development at birth, from zoophytes to the human), or in terms of the 'powers of the soul': "ech order possessing all the powers of those below, plus an additional differentiating set of its own". This is the root of the later conception of the 'Great Chain of Being', whih was first explicitely formulated by Plotinus, and neo-Platonism, in the doctrine of emanation, which fuses the principles of plenitude, continuity, and gradation.

Chapter 3 is on the chain of being in medieval thought and some of its contradictions. The christian implications of the neoplatonic doctrine of plenitude, being first formulated by St. Augustine and by the unknown 5th cy author "Pseudo-Dyionisius". Augustine states clearly that "ifall things were equal, all things could not exist.",i.e. equality precedes diversity. A first contradiction is between the creative and generative power of God, which necessarityl creates things, and the opposite stress on his freedom and discretion in that process of creation, i.e. the divine Will, "the world contains whatever the Maker has wanted to put in it"; thus he can conceive of anything, but can will the non-existence of things as well. Another contradiciton in medieval thought was that between God as the Idea of the Good, the self-sufficient Absolute Being, to which all should aspire (through initiation, contemplation, absorption), i.e. the ASCENDING process for Man; and God as Goodness, i.e. te creative emanation in the plenitude of Creation, the delight in existence, the DESCENDING phase.

Chapter 3 is on the chain of being in medieval thought and some of its contradictions. The christian implications of the neoplatonic doctrine of plenitude, being first formulated by St. Augustine and by the unknown 5th cy author "Pseudo-Dyionisius". Augustine states clearly that "ifall things were equal, all things could not exist.",i.e. equality precedes diversity. A first contradiction is between the creative and generative power of God, which necessarityl creates things, and the opposite stress on his freedom and discretion in that process of creation, i.e. the divine Will, "the world contains whatever the Maker has wanted to put in it"; thus he can conceive of anything, but can will the non-existence of things as well. Another contradiciton in medieval thought was that between God as the Idea of the Good, the self-sufficient Absolute Being, to which all should aspire (through initiation, contemplation, absorption), i.e. the ASCENDING process for Man; and God as Goodness, i.e. te creative emanation in the plenitude of Creation, the delight in existence, the DESCENDING phase.

Medieval Christendom would clearly choose the former. But, always in fact holding on to the contradiction of both principles, and thus not, like Eastern systems such as Vedanta, accepting the doctrine of 'illusionism' ('Maya' as illusion).

The conflict between good and goodness, held in check in the Middle Ages, would explode in the Renaissance. Another contradcition concerns holding at the same time the otherworldly position that the created world is something to escape from, and that the universe, as is, is an expression of divine goodness. The possibilities to escape would have been the Hindu position, that the sensible world is an illusion ; or the Gnostic-Manichean position that this world is wholly evil, and finally the Buddhist position, to refuse any speculation and to insist on escaping from it.

In examining the transition to modern conceptions, Lovejoy denies that it were Copernicus and Kepler which were the most important.


Instead he lists ive other challenging achievements:

- 1) that other planets may have other living and sentients beings

- 2) the shattering of the idea of an other wall with fixed stars attached to it

- 3) the conceptions of stars as suns with planets

- 4) the supposition that these planets may have conscious inhabitants

- 5) the assertion of the physical infinity of the universe


Lovejoy then discusses the evolution of the doctrine in the Renaissance through a discussion of Giordano Bruno, and the general acceptance of the notion of a plurality of worlds with its potential inhabitants, also based on the principle of "Plenitude", much more than the astronomical ideas themselves. He concludes that the zeitgeist preceded the scientific revolution.

This is followed by a complex exposition of Spinoza and Leibniz and the principle of sufficient reason, which says that God, the only principle and Being where essence and existence coincide, makes it a logical necessity for all possible beings to exist (or, that all existing beings owe their full existence to it). This extreme interpretation of what is also the principle of plenitude, eliminates time altogether, as 'everything exists now'.

Despite the growth of science, which completely shunned this sufficient reason for the complex chain of empirical causes, it was the 18th cy, which gave the Chain of Being its utmost popularity. The 18th cy. writers reacted strongly to those who had, especially the century before, seen man as 'central in the universe', for which all other beings were made. No , all beings were made for themselves, due to the principle of plenitude, and though Man was in the 'middle', the link between the sensible and intellectual being, the links below him were finite, but those above him were infinite. Thus, humility was required. But one change is that this conception was 'naturalized', with angels being replaced by the hypothetical intelligences from other planets, as aruged even by Kant. In the 18th cy, one of the dominating tendencies was optimism, not in the sense that everything was good, but in the sense that everything had its place in the natural order and that wanting to change man and society, was not only futile but dangerous.

The author then discusses the influence of the microscope and the resulting field of microbiology, which had first confirmed the principles of continuity and plenitude, showing life to go on to the infinitely small.

Up to Kant, the Chain of Being was recognized as the basis of the research program in biology. In the Kantian scheme on the possibilities of knowledge, Man could never know the full reality, but the law of continuous scale of Beings, was a respectable 'Ideal of Reason'.

Chapter IX turns it attention to temporality, pointing out that until that time, the traditional interpretation of the Chain of Being excluded Time and any notion of progress, and even evolution; since the latter implied the distinction of species, and not their immutable presence in Eternity. Those that reacted against these static views, argued that the principle of Plenitude, i.e. the Realisation of all possibilities of Life, was only realized in the fullness of time, nont in any particular instant. The absence of hope, due to the law of conservation of evil, and the impossibility of individual progress, since each station in life was necessary (and thus 'moving up', could only come thrugh the moving down of somebody else), became intolerable. In the new conception, the Chain of Being came to be considered as a ladder to be climbed by the individual soul, in this life and after, closer and closer to perfection. The Platonic identification of the good as the cessation of desire, was replaced by the conception of a perpetual process of possible betterment