Mind Association

The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea. by A. O. Lovejoy
Review by: John Laird
Mind, New Series, Vol. 46, No. 183 (Jul., 1937), pp. 400-405
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Mind Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2250227 .
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118 on Sat. On the otherhand. self-transcending Fecundity.whoseknowledgeof the eighteenth centuryis even moreextensiveand precise than his knowledgeof any other. Lovejoysays. On the one hand Plato believedin a self-sufficing on the otherhandin a Perfection. the second cannotbe bettered wouldbe pointless.72.was slow. His is a studyin metaphysical atmospherics ratherthan an accountof the sources studiedby particularauthors. beingnecessarily mustalwaysbe an inferior supplement. " than is rather" This is a syndromeof a generalpresumption " Thisprecisely is whatled to that". less perfect thananothergod. 'the GreatChainof Being' was the sacredphrase Qfthe eighteenth century. It therefore requiresmanypagesfromits commentator. 17s. who had two gods diametrically opposedto one another..indeed. Since Mr.[This wouldalso be true if creationwere essentiallya redemptiondrama. . Lovejoy.Harvard UniversityPress. forperfection. In otherwords. entitledto theprivileges ofthatparticular he is not boundto showthat the idea as it shapeditselfin so and so's writingshad such and such a provenance. 1936 (London: Humphrey Milford).As the Timaeussays.and consequently is a mineoffascinating information.sets out to recordthe rise. The rise.the zenithand the declineof this centralconceptionof his favourite period.400 CRITICAL NOTICES: The GreatChainofBeing: A StudyoftheHistoryofan Idea. 0."Mr.however. and Mr.and Mr." Beingdevoidof envy. According to Mr. " that the conceptionof the universeas a Chainof Being.and the principles whichunderlaythis conception-plenitude. gradation and acceptance. beingperfect. continuity.In theminethe galleriesthatare stillpartiallyactive are not less interesting thanthe disusedshafts.deliveredat Harvard University.and although the declinewas morerapidit also needs a certainspace. Next to the -attained theirWidestdiflusion word'Nature'. That thatoftheblessedword' evolution' in thelate nineteenth is the keynoteof the presentbook. by emanationsfromitselfand indeedthe totalitymustbe spoiled sincetheemanation.] Nevertheless. ix. 1933. worldly This content downloaded from 188. Lovejoy is studyingthe " historyof an idea " he is pursuit.playinga part somewhatanalogousto ".and involvedtwomillennia. PriceinEngland.392. If the firstwere true. the centralchaptersand the centraltheme.his book is most generouslydocumentedwith passages seldom hackneyed but nevermerelycurious. 21 Jun 2014 08:05:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . LOVEJOY.Lovejoy'ssuggestion. Plato and the Platonistsdevelopeda theoryof emanationor beto theirworshipof " othercomingwithan eagernessnot inferior " perfection. Pp. On the to the preambleand the appendixare subordinate whole. . The William James Lectures.net. The habitatof an idea deliberately andcross-currents arelikely is veryoftenin theairwhereitscurrents to be and to remaininvisible.126. Lovejoythe storybeginswithPlato. I think. By A. "IT was in the eighteenth century.

A. in the later scholastic phrase.72. Therefore maximumplenitudeis enjoinedwiththe sole limitation thattherecannotbe a secondGod.man's supposedcentralityon geocentric " servedratherforhis humiliation assumptions thanforhis exaltation". 401 shouldbe so faras possiblelikehimself Goddesiredthateverything ". The GreatChain of Being. the work and the scholastic went on duringthe patristic.Lovejoy'sargumentwould havebeenmoreimpressive ifhe hadnotignoredAquinas'sdistinction So far as betweenlibertyof electionand libertyof indifterence. Lovejoyjoins the notionof continuity (whosechiefsponsor.in the passageshe quotes.and it becomesthe principleofplenitudewhenit is pushedto its logicalextreme.accordingto our author.was responsible ratherthanCopernicus) did not greatlyalterthe standardsofthose who had " a classicaltaste in universes ".was Aristotle)and the kindred principleof gradation.he declares. AlongwithplenitudeMr.the view that " omne bonumest diflusivumsui ". He begins by explodingcertain prevalentfallacies. I think.however. His earthwas at the greatestdistancefromthe pure. And all that risesrise in due degree". For AquinasadmitsthatGod couldhavemadea betterworld. Again. What was muchmore was an acentric view. Mr.he shows. 0. one. LOVEJOY. The universeof the fifteenth century. I can see.was a walled but not a small affair.since that author. like Mr. The fuller elaborationof these ideas was morePlotinianthan Platonicand was likenedby Macrobiusin the fifthcenturyto " Homer'sgolden chain"-although the chainwasn'tHomer's.Lovejoymakesa nearerapproachto hiscentraltheme.incorruptiblewallsofthe cosmosand was in factsupposedto be " a dim and squalid cellarof the universe". the prescholastic centuries.succeedsin conand thatquitea diflerent victingAquinasonlyofone contradiction. Lovejoy himself. Bacon said as muchand Cusa took unsettling the theory(and with it the staggeringproblemsof infinity and This content downloaded from 188. For the same reason optimism Mr. Moreover. Againthe heliocentric hypothesis(forwhichKepler. For Platonistsit givesthe reasonforall becoming. It was stimulatedby Augustine[" non essentomniasi essent aequalia "] as well as by the pseudb-Dionysius. Lovejoy has muchto say in praiseof Abelard. whichwouldbe impossibleif the creationwerein fullaccordwith the principleof plenitude.118 on Sat. As Pope put it.that this part of Air.Lovejoyseverelycriticises of Aquinasforacceptingtheprinciple plenitude[" God willsthingsto be multiplied inasmuchas he wills and loves His own perfection "] and yet denyingnecessitarianism. The morethatemanatesthe stronger the proofthat God is not jealous. and Mr. Indeed he treatsof certainmattersdownto the timeof Kant.126. 21 Jun 2014 08:05:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . That is the principleof emanationism or. believedthat the principleof plenitude logicallyimplies" necessitarian ". Lovejoy. In his fourthchapteron " Plenitudeand the New Cosmography" Mr. " figures thatare now evenifit was ignorantofthe " astronomical so gliblygiven. " All must full or not coherentbe.

accordingto Mr.this at once follows. there must be countless individuals such as .and the GreatChain of Being upon the other. The essentialcharacteristics of the universeare forhimplenitude. . It was fittedindeedto inculcateman'sinsignificance.that thereexiststhat seriesof thingsby whichas manyof themas possibleexist. the Earth. " From the conflictof all the possiblesdemandingexistence.402 CRITICAL NOTICES: relativity)seriously. In debatingthisquestionhe allowshimself severalexcursions intotheviewsofotherauthors.that the sufficient reason (forexistence)is ultimatelyan exigentiaessendiinherentin everyessence. Lovejoy's entireessay is concerned. and hisviewsare a sort ofstandard" control" of Mr." Mr. " it is in thatof Leibuizthatthe conception of the Chainof Being is mostconspicuous.trivialor mean servesto complete the splendourof the whole.infiniteand infinitelypopulous universe". and Brunois one of Mr.72. . mostdeterminative and mostpervasive.evolved compensatory" rationalisations "."Mr.the maximalseries of possibles"." " Whateveris small.butin themainis concerned to show that Leibniz oughtlogicallyto have been a necessitarian(there beingno intelligible meaningin an inclination that does notnecessitate). however. Infinity plusplenitudebecamea headymetapliysical brew." AlthoughDescartes." Mr. The human spirit. Bruno illustratesthe change-overfrom medikvalismmore precisely.and that the limitation to compossibles insteadof merepossiblesis a minorconsideration. Leibnizwas a greaterphilosopher thanBruno. 21 Jun 2014 08:05:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Furthermore.however. Lovejoy'sheroesand the immediateprecursor ofthetheodicy-mongers. He was also the chiefexponentofan optimism ofplenitude.althoughalways in the serviceof his docta ignorantia. . Hence the paradoxicalresult that " it was not in the thirteenth centurybut in the nineteenth that homosapiens bustledabout most self-importantly in his infinitesimal cornerofthe cosmicstage".118 on Sat.was verylargely the attitudewithwhichMr.among others.Lovejoy'sinterpretation ofthe Chain ofBeing. As Leibnizhimselfsaid. in otherwords.indeed. " Amongthegreatphilosophic systems oftheseventeenth century. Lovejoyexplains: and the principleof plenitudedoes the rest." the actualuniverseis the collectionof the possibles qui formentle plus riche compose". Lovejoy. This content downloaded from 188.continuityand lineargradation.126. Bruno'sattitude.is chiefly concernedwiththe relationbetweenLeibniz'sprincipleof sufficient reasonon the one hand.But Bruno was "the principalrepresentative of the decentralised. Lovejoy. " A merepossibleis a thingfrustrate. Lovejoy says [and Leibniz survivedthat century]. and Descartes. and.had probablythe greatestdirectinfluence upon the late seventeenthand eighteenth-century speculationsupon the pluralityof inhabitedworldsand the problemsof infinity. again. " Whyshouldorhowcan wesupposethedivinepotencyto be idle? " " Because of the countlessgradesof perfection in whichthe incorporeal divineexcellencemustneeds manifestitselfin a corporeal manner.so interpretedit.

it seemsperfectly plainthat if per- This content downloaded from 188.fishes. lookingback.as Mr.A.of course. He also showsthat thisconsequence was not invariablydisregarded." Had God made onlyone speciesof animals.Bolingbrokeand someothers.] Further.at any rate in the neighbourhood of the terrestrial ball.Lovejoy'sstoryreachesits highnoon Withtheseexplanations in the eighteenth century. [The trouble. Lovejoyshowsby citingAddison.in thedog. muchread in his time. Mr. 0. As he shows. 403 "Just as thereis no vacuumin thevarietiesofthe corporealworld. The Great Chain of Being. witha supplementary chapterconcerning biology.72. but Kant-in 1755 cheerfully concludedthat it was very nearlycertainthat "the entireextentof the perfection of thinking naturesbecamemoreand morecompletein proportion to the remoteness of theirdwelling-place fromthe sun ". Accordingto Jenyns. 21 Jun 2014 08:05:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . And Law said the same.where. Indeed.126.themonkey.everycapacityofbeing".the metaphysical necessityfor the chain was really an argumentagainst man's hegemonyin nature-forthe Whole was the thing. and Soame Jenyns." God cannotinstructa mole in oran oysterin music".he had no particularreasonforvaunting himself.Lovejoyis moreconcerned withthetwistsand turnstheidea took onceit may be said to have becomeestablished. the chimpanze. Accordingto Addison. althoughman was the highestinhabitantofthe earth. and his commentsabound in variedinterest.was to findempiricalcorroboration of thesemajesticconceits. so thereis no less varietyamongintelligent creatures ".to theconfines ofreason. Andlastlya metaphysics of man's ineluctablemediocrity was readilyinterpreted as an injunctionto mankindto remain mediocre. LOVEJOY. By the samelogicmenoflowly astronomy stationshouldnot attemptto changetheirrankor theirlot.if man occupiedan intermediatelinkin the chain.it unitesso closelywiththe lowestdegreeof that qualityin man.noneof the restwouldhaveenjoyedthehappinessofexistence.and not any particularlinkin the chain. fromAddisonandfromEdmundLaw enforce themoral Quotations that has alreadybeen made so abundantlyplain. and it is herethatthe passagesI quoted ofthisreviewoccur. " is at least of equal The relationof these ideas to " optimism interest. through innumerable speciesofinsects. he has therefore specified in hiscreationeverydegreeoflife. Mr.that theycannoteasilybe distinguished fromeach other". To us. " Whatthinpartitions sensefromthoughtdivide" was one of the thingsPope said.the principle of gradationpreventedany abruptdivisionbetweenhim and his animalkindred.Again. The situationis surveyedin at the beginning successivechaptersuponeighteenth-century thoughtand eighteenthcenturyoptimism.118 on Sat.birds and beasts. The laterchaptersdescribehowthe conceptionran almostliterally to romanticseed.it was quitecommonly heldthatthe grades ofintelligent beingsabovemanweremorenumerous thainthe grades below.remarkedthat " animalliferisesfromthislow beginning in the shell-fish.

118 on Sat. Mr.that the scale of nature was a ladderto be climbedalsomadeitsappearancebeforeand during the eighteenth century. Leibnizand others. however. Mr.126. miseryand aestheticeyesores. Addison. Lovejoy obviouslybelievesthat the logic of the theorywas on the side of thosewho held that plenitudewas immutable.neither normeliorism optimism sensesneedbe so muchas in theirordinary " we usually mean the doctrinethat suggested.Leibniz This content downloaded from 188.Law.and.virtueand beauty. Thesethings. Finite goodnessmightpossiblyhave been exhaustedin creating thegreaterbeings.butinfinite extendsto all ". and then holdingthatperfection alone is excellentand aloneis desirable.givesno hint of such a rosyfuture. his commentis " perfectly rationaland perfectly hopeless".he wouldundoubtedly have doneit. Lovejoy's chapterupon eighteenth-century biologycontains interestingquotationsregardingthe " missinglink" and other attemptsof the centuryto showhow the maximthat Naturedoes nothing persaltumshouldbe interpreted in a biologicalsense. The troublecomes fromidentifying perfection with fullness.I grantit. knowsverywell that the periodwillcomeaboutin eternity.are so veryclearthat theyhave onlyto be statedto be seen. Again.it seemsto me to be misleading to saywithMr.whetheror not it is interpreted statically. Thus King said.bymeliorism wemeana qualitativeimprovement of realityin respectof happiness. It does not even followfromthe premisesthat the wholemass shouldbe a paradisealthougheverypart of it is fullofvice. God mighthave omittedthe moreimperfect beings. " If you say.wretchedness and ugliness.indeed. whenthe humansoul shallbe as perfectas he himselfis now". Existenceis the fullerif it containssin. and if that had been best. " impliesthat" thedesirability Lovejoythatthistypeof " optimism of a thing'sexistencebears no relationto its excellence".72.piouslyremarkedthat the " Cherubim which now appearsas a God to a humansoul. nota doctrineof plenitude.404 CRITICAL NOTICES: fectionmeansfullness. But it is thepartofinfinite goodnessto choosetheverybest.thereis simplya failureto detectan ambiguity in the word perfection ".althoughnotwithoutsundryqualms. forit was agreeableto that. therefore. thatthemoreimperfect beingshaveexistence. I must hurryon. Lovejoy's narrative. Mr.happinessand beautymustpreponderate overvice. and if the best is simplythefullest. and eternal plenitude. of " optimism by King. fromthence it proceeds.not to omitthe veryleast good that could be produced. has thegreatmeritofshowingin detailhowthisgrimtype however. 21 Jun 2014 08:05:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .forexample. however. By " optimism virtue. In short. and the idea of the inevitableness of gradualcreativeadvance won a good deal of recognition.and herethe beginnings are made withhis chapterupon "temporalizing the chainof being". " was accepted.to his accountof the declineof the theoryof' plenitude. The idea. That is a doctrineof selection. On the otherhand.and romanticism came hard on its heels. withratherless plausibility.

Lovejoypursuesthistheme a straggling in an accountof Schiller. 'theworlditself. Lovejoy.In short. 21 Jun 2014 08:05:22 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Remembering.and theirstationsall may persevere. The climax.therelations are stillthe objectof modishdiscussionand willnot be silencedby the biographyof a dead idea.howevernear. JOHN LAIRD. Johnsonin his reviewof Soame highlydialecticalarguments thatin trueplenitudetheremustbe an infinity Jenynsto theeffect ofgradesbetweenanytwopoints. to give a roughindicationof the landscapethroughwhich Mr. On the otherhand. subjectwerean exaggerated way.] SimilarlyRobinet fantastic)in supportof the viewthat (sometimes gave illustrations of a singlestock.he concedesa certain "benignity" to the movement. Akensideas well as Kant believedin temporaladvance.the book is what a book should be-very goodto read.thatmaybe chosen of the series-and hencethat currentinterpretations in an infinite invaded principleof plenitudeare absurd. thelifeofthetheory. Theselessonsare perhapstoo easilydrawn.despite Such opinionsmayhave lengthened Voltaire'scriticismof the entireconception(on the groundthat Nature does make leaps) and-this is still more interesting-the of Dr. [As Akensidewrote. He thatthereis greaterhope fortheism concludeswiththe suggestion creditedto Whitehead)that God is in the idea (rathertentatively " than in the "infinitefecundityof a " principleof limitation emanationism".the principleof infinite plenitudebecame beganto oustall the others.A.but the detailis evenmore engrossing. in a sketchy report.in due season. The GreatChain of Being.giveninfinitetime. But whenromanticism diversification the conceptionof plenitude. I haveattempted.of whichtheyare but images".Schlegeland Schleiermacher." In To climbthe ascentof being. LOVEJOY.is thatthe" twogodsofPlato cannotbothbe believedin " and that " a worldoftimeand changeis a worldwhichcan neither be deducedfromnor reconciledwiththe postulatethat existence is the expressionand consequenceof a systemof 'eternal' and 'n ecessary' truthsinherentin the very logic of being".to honourWilliamJames.mightengenderan infinity variations.accordingto Mr.72.and a diversitatarian and a formless thing.126. O. If the GreatChain betweentimeand eternity ofBeingbe dissolvedto-day. came withSchelling'sview that God himselfwas in the making.118 on Sat.and the moral. This content downloaded from 188. approach.Forevernearerto the lifedivine".Lovejoyhas conductedhis readers. Mr.thisis a very and wouldbe littlethe worseif the death of its good biography. 405 like had said that rationalsouls " advance and ripencontinually.he goes on to say.