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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The Great Chain of Being makes its appearance in an emanated string of intellects between God and Man, associated with astral bodies.
What makes Netton's topic so important for Islamic studies (and ultimately for understanding the events in the Arab World today) is the role emanationism - and its cosmological association to the Great Chain of Being - played in undermining the political egalitarianism implicit in the concept of God as the imminent Lord directly sustaining every element of His creation.