Monday, March 8, 2010

The 'Great Chain of Being'

The Great Change of Being
For centuries the ‘great chain of being’ held a central place in Western thought. The Great Chain of Being is a classical and western medieval conception of the order of the universe, whose chief characteristic is a strict hierarchal system. It was first coined by Aristotle and later adopted by Christian philosophers. This view saw the Universe as ordered in a linear sequence starting from the inanimate world of rocks. Plants came next, then animals, men, angels and, finally, God. It was very detailed with, for example, a ranking of human races; humans themselves ranked above apes above reptiles above amphibians above fish. Women were low on this chain of power, and men were on top. In fact, women were below horses; you couldn't live without a good horse, but, you could live without a wife. [Above: 1579 drawing of the great chain of being from Didacus Valades, Rhetorica Christiana]
It is a conception of the world's structure that was accepted, and unquestioned, by most educated men from the time of Lucretius until the Copernican revolution and the ultimate flowering of the Renaissance. The emergence of modern science and the Copernican Revolution is often considered to have dismantled The Great Chain of Being as a worldview. Nonetheless, certain rational metaphysicians, such as Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) and G. W. von Leibniz (1646-1716), created alternate versions of the Great Chain of Being. The Chain of Being is composed of a great, almost infinite, number of hierarchal links, from the most base and foundational elements up to the very highest perfection - in other words, God (in the form of a European Man sitting on a throne).

This curious belief is based on the assumption that God is a spirit and that as the spirit descends further into the ‘chain of being’ the less present it becomes. They believed that rocks ranked lower than other beings because rocks were without spirit or life and thus furthest removed from God. This is most likely the origin of European view of the earth as evil and that nothing restrained (European) man from destroying and exploiting it because it was essentially godless.


Based on this scheme it was interpreted that the purpose of the existence of the lower beings of the chain was to serve the higher beings: therefore, plants were used by animals, higher animals ate lower animals, men ate animals and had power over them, and a god had power over men.

In 1677, Dr. William Petty of England announced in a paper to the Royal Society that the missing link between "man" and beast consisted of "savages", beings that fit between Caucasian men and other organisms. Thus, he also naturally concluded that since they were lower on the Great Chain, they were brought into being to serve and follow the will of the beings superior to them. At the time, his contemporaries did not pay much attention to his idea. But fifty years later, Swedish biologist Charles Linnaeus revived his notion (1). Linnaeus came up with this “ highly scientific” chart:

1. Americanus. Native American males were supposedly red; had black hair and sparse beards; were stubborn; prone to anger; "free"; and governed by traditions (3). Thus, this form of Homo sapiens was definitely inferior and uncivilized.
2. Asiaticus. The male Asian was said to be "yellowish, melancholy, endowed with black hair and brown eyes...severe, conceited, and stingy. He puts on loose clothing. He is governed by opinion." Thus, like the aforementioned type of Homo sapiens, the Asiaticus could only be a mediocre prototype (2).
3. Africanus. The male of this subset, according to Linnaeus, could be recognized by his skin tone, face structure, and curly hair (2). This kind was apparently cunning, passive, and inattentive, and ruled by impulse. The female of this kind was also apparently shameless, because "they lactate profusely." (3)
4. Europeaus. The males of this subset were supposedly "changeable, clever, and inventive. He puts on tight clothing. He is governed by laws." (2)
Before Linnaeus proposed the ideas mentioned above, "race" had been used to distinguish between different nationalities. But after he proposed the system above, Europeans began to identify themselves with a larger group: "white" people.

The power of the Great Chain of Being to dehumanize non-Europeans by linking them to lower
forms of life proceeded largely unaffected by the emergence of Darwinism. Some pre-Darwinians, such as the French naturalist Julien-Joseph Virey (left), placed Europeans,
Africans, and apes in a series and casually connected the dots.


"The theorization of the great chain of being was not just for “science” or “fun.” It was a central tool in justifying efforts to colonize, enslave, and even exterminate people. If it could be established that certain kinds of people were indeed less than, even less than human, then it was acceptable to treat them as such." ~ Lisa Wade, Phd.




This imaginary ranking system is the source and at the very heart of racism. As a worldview, it is the antithesis to unity, oneness and the immanence of a creator that exists throughout all.


But in the end one has to wonder, have Europeans disproved their own self serving high ranking of nearness to a just, merciful God, if one were to consider all of the cruelties, crimes, abuses and injustices inflicted on the rest of humankind and the earth as a whole, in their expression of this desired superiority?

11 comments:

John said...

adidas uk
michael kors handbags
fitflops sale clearance
ray ban sunglasses
ugg outlet store
michael kors handbags
ray bans
ray ban sunglasses
canada goose
cheap jerseys
true religion
louis vuitton outlet
ray ban outlet
kate spade outlet
ugg outlet
abercrombie outlet
nike sb shoes
michael kors outlet
louis vuitton
uggs on sale
louis vuitton handbags
toms shoes
louis vuitton outlet
ray bans
coach outlet online
replica watches for sale
fitflops sale clearance
pandora jewelry
true religion outlet
coach outlet
louis vuitton outlet
jordan concords
louis vuitton
oakley sunglasses
coach factory outlet
ray-ban sunglasses
coach outlet
2016318yuanyuan

xumeiqing said...

20161021meiqing
coach outlet store
burberry outlet
coach factory outlet
yeezy boost 350
oakley sunglasses outlet
coach outlet
cheap jordans
cheap jordan shoes
kate spade outlet
louboutin

dong dong23 said...

toms sale
cheap jordans
oklahoma city thunder jerseys
rolex watches
louis vuitton outlet stores
coach outlet online
timberland outlet
uggs sale
mont blanc pens for sale
chanel bags
longchamp handbags
canada goose
ugg boots uk
christian louboutin outlet
ugg boots
oakley sunglasses
uggs australia
cheap jordans
polo ralph lauren
abercrombie and fitch
supra sneakers
ray ban sunglasses
louis vuitton outlet
michael kors outlet
coach outlet store online
oakley sunglasses
ed hardy clothing
louis vuitton handbags
rolex watches
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet clearance
seattle seahawks jerseys
mont blanc pens
ugg outlet
uggs for men
nike roshe run
burberry outlet
true religion jeans
christian louboutin sale
oakley sunglasses
201610.29wengdongdong

琐事 said...

michael kors handbags wholesale
cheap nfl jerseys wholesale
instyler max 2
nike huarache trainers
ed hardy outlet
pandora charms
michael kors handbags sale
tiffany and co outlet
lebron shoes
longchamp le pliage

LCc 03 said...

nike dunks shoes
michael kors outlet
chrome hearts
longchamp handbags
huarache shoes
hermes belt
michael kors uk
roshe run
jordan shoes
reebok outlet

dong dong23 said...

michael kors outlet online
vans store
true religion outlet
michael kors bags
louboutin sale
tory burch handbags
coach outlet
toms wedges
coach outlet
ray ban wayfarer
2017.3.14chenlixiang

Hua Cai said...

coach outlet online coach factory outlet
oakley sunglasses
cartier watches
oakley sunglasses
true religion outlet
hermes outlet
mulberry outlet
nike shoes for women
air max uk
cheap oakley sunglasses
20170329caihuali

raybanoutlet001 said...

oakland raiders jerseys
air jordan uk
cheap oakley sunglasses
carolina jerseys
michael kors uk
instyler max
michael kors handbags
michael kors handbags
redskins jerseys
san antonio spurs jerseys

R said...

thanks so much this post gave me a lot of important information on the great chain of being. very helpful

raybanoutlet001 said...

ugg boots
ugg boots
polo ralph lauren outlet
jordan shoes
cheap nfl jerseys
michael kors uk
chiefs jersey
oakley sunglasses
supra sneakers
jerseys wholesale

1111141414 said...

nike air force 1
yeezy
christian louboutin shoes
basketball shoes
hogan outlet
chrome hearts online
michael kors factory outlet
dior sunglasses
golden goose sneakers
michael kors outlet online