Chain of Being


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Chain of Being

 

an idea widespread among 18th-century naturalists and philosophers of the hierarchical distribution of natural bodies, beginning with the most basic nonorganic bodies (minerals) and ending with the most complex living creatures.

In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle voiced the concept of the increasing complexity of forms of nature. In the second half of the 18th century C. Bonnet constructed a chain of being, placing man below angels, archangels, and so on. Bonnet’s theological constructions were sharply criticized by the French materialists D. Diderot and J. Robinet and by the Russian materialist philosopher A. N. Radishchev. J. B. Lamarck provided the first historic explanation for the existence of living bodies of varying degrees of complexity. He viewed the chain of being as the result of the evolution of organisms. C. Darwin conclusively established the idea of the development of the organic world from the simple to the complex.

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This method simplified the production of taxonomic manuals and textbooks--although it was not before the end of the eighteenth century that the concept of a continuous chain of beings was scattered and partially reordered into a new natural system of living beings composed of plants, animals, and humans.