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From later antiquity down to the close of the eighteenth century, most philosophers and men of science and, indeed, most educated men, accepted without question a traditional view of the plan and structure of the world. In this volume, which embodies the William James lectures for 1933, Arthur O. Lovejoy points out the three principles - plenitude, continuity, and graduatio From later antiquity down to the close of the eighteenth century, most philosophers and men of science and, indeed, most educated men, accepted without question a traditional view of the plan and structure of the world. In this volume, which embodies the William James lectures for 1933, Arthur O. Lovejoy points out the three principles - plenitude, continuity, and graduation - which were combined in this conception; analyzes their origins in the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists; traces the most important of their diverse ramifications in subsequent religious thought, in metaphysics, in ethics and aesthetics, and in astronomical and biological theories; and copiously illustrates the influence of the conception as a whole, and of the ideas out of which it was compounded, upon the imagination and feelings as expressed in literature.


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From later antiquity down to the close of the eighteenth century, most philosophers and men of science and, indeed, most educated men, accepted without question a traditional view of the plan and structure of the world. In this volume, which embodies the William James lectures for 1933, Arthur O. Lovejoy points out the three principles - plenitude, continuity, and graduatio From later antiquity down to the close of the eighteenth century, most philosophers and men of science and, indeed, most educated men, accepted without question a traditional view of the plan and structure of the world. In this volume, which embodies the William James lectures for 1933, Arthur O. Lovejoy points out the three principles - plenitude, continuity, and graduation - which were combined in this conception; analyzes their origins in the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists; traces the most important of their diverse ramifications in subsequent religious thought, in metaphysics, in ethics and aesthetics, and in astronomical and biological theories; and copiously illustrates the influence of the conception as a whole, and of the ideas out of which it was compounded, upon the imagination and feelings as expressed in literature.

30 review for The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea

  1. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    It has famously been said that all of Western philosophy constitutes nothing more than a series of footnotes to Plato. In this book, Arthur Lovejoy tries to take on the monumental task of charting the history of the Platonic idea that all the components of creation, both corporeal and non-corporeal, consist in an ascending chain, known as “The Great Chain of Being.” This chain starts from the lowliest component of creation and leads all the way up to the ultimate, which is none other than God. T It has famously been said that all of Western philosophy constitutes nothing more than a series of footnotes to Plato. In this book, Arthur Lovejoy tries to take on the monumental task of charting the history of the Platonic idea that all the components of creation, both corporeal and non-corporeal, consist in an ascending chain, known as “The Great Chain of Being.” This chain starts from the lowliest component of creation and leads all the way up to the ultimate, which is none other than God. This conception of the universe was considered natural throughout much of human history and helped easily answer the question of mankind’s role in creation. This is an arcane topic even under the best conditions. I have to say though that Lovejoy is a particularly bad writer. He writes in pivoting, meandering, byzantine sentences, compounding the difficulty by forging into French and Latin whenever the mood strikes him. After slogging through two chapters I figured out that he typically uses something like forty sentences to make a point that can actually be distilled in one. Realizing this made getting through the rest of the book much less frustrating, as it’s not necessary to agonize over every impenetrable run-on sentence to get to the core of what he’s trying to tell you. I will try and summarize some of the important points below. The Platonic idea of God, and subsequently The Great Chain of Being, embodied three key characteristics: plenitude, continuity and gradation. God is the all-encompassing supreme link in the chain. Being plentiful by nature, God could could not help but overflow into creation and give Being to everything that could possibly exist. Things that exist are given Being only because of the existence of God. God is also the Platonic form of The Good, and can be partly understood by us that way. The natural world is an unfolding and working out of this Goodness, which we can reflect on, if we wisely choose to do so. The things and beings which exist in this natural world are linked to each other in a continuous fashion, with no gaps between them. They are structured in a hierarchical manner in which the place and role of each is clear. All together, the components of existence structured gradationally constitute The Great Chain of Being. Understanding this chain leads us to rationally understand the necessary existence of God as the supreme link, as well as our own position somewhere in between the status of corporeal and spiritual beings. This is not simple subject matter to unpack. As difficult as it may be to comprehend today, however, its important to understand that this chain-based idea of reality was considered axiomatic for much of human history. It’s a worldview that rationally explains the existence of beings like angels, since humans, seeing themselves as one link in The Great Chain of Being can easily comprehend the necessary existence other links above themselves — more sublime and less corporeal — leading eventually up to God. Since the natural world is also an expression of God, overflowing with plenitude into creation, understanding and studying the world was thus a task not considered as divorced from “religion.” Apprehending the laws of nature was nothing more than reflecting upon the expressions of God and was thus a form of worship. Traditional scientific endeavor was therefore never considered a demoralized, purely secular sphere of activity in the epistemology of Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu philosophers, at least until the current era. It is easy to see how naturally accepting an idea like The Great Chain of Being would lend itself to accepting a hierarchically structured world with relation to not just plants and animals, but other human beings as well. It is an idea that chafes against the modern notion of progress, which of course is resolutely egalitarian. Reading this book, I was struck by how familiar the concept of The Great Chain of Being was from religious philosophy. This includes not just the hierarchical structure of creation, both corporal and non-corporeal, but also the traditional interpretations of how a human being can gain knowledge within this chain. According to the traditional view, knowledge can be gained either by ratiocinative activity, including the “scientific” study of the God-created natural world, or through what may be called “revelation.” The latter is knowledge that comes from reflecting upon and appealing to the ultimate link in the chain directly, which, of course, is God. The idea of The Great Chain of Being fell out of favor in Western philosophy in the 19th century, seemingly for good. This came about less due to any scientific advancement than to philosophical conclusions which decided that certain components of the idea were irreconcilable. Lovejoy gives a detailed history of the breakdown, but essentially the idea achieved a peak of popularity again in the 18th century before the concepts of plenitude and continuity were decided to be mutually exclusive. Since then society has largely stopped litigating the issue, as it has forgotten it ever existed in the first place. There may be lessons in the idea of The Great Chain of Being yet, however. According to the traditional belief, if any one link in the chain were to be severed and the gradation of the chain was thus rendered discontinuous and imperfect, all of creation would be collapse. This is a belief worth reflecting on in an era of mass extinction and environmental chaos. It also bears notice that without a clearly accepted concept of how human beings relate to both the natural world and the metaphysical one, which the chain provided, many people have been set adrift spiritually and psychologically. It's no longer clear to anyone why human beings, plants or animals exist, or what they exist for. True or not, people in the time of The Great Chain of Being never experienced the pain of believing their own existence to be superfluous. It’s quite impressive to reflect that this book, based on lectures given in the 1930s, was one of the first to take seriously the fact that ideas have distinct histories, and to attempt to map the history of one particularly consequential one. Despite that, it is hampered by its extreme deficiencies when it comes to form. Lovejoy seems to be willfully indifferent to the reader’s ability to comprehend the subject he's talking about, which is too bad. If I were not already familiar with the crux of what is discussed here through Islamic philosophy I would probably have been baffled by this book. It’s a dense and at times positively impenetrable work, but one that contains some useful insights for those prepared to confront it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    The Great Chain of Being is one of the foremost books of intellectual history, which is, as the subtitle reads, the study of the history of an idea. Here, in fact, the Great Chain of Being specifically refers to two complementary ideas first postulated by Plato and the Greeks, which the book then attempts to investigate over the succeeding millennia. The first idea (the principle of plenitude) stated that the Creator, being omnipotent, all-powerful, and faultless, could only create a world which The Great Chain of Being is one of the foremost books of intellectual history, which is, as the subtitle reads, the study of the history of an idea. Here, in fact, the Great Chain of Being specifically refers to two complementary ideas first postulated by Plato and the Greeks, which the book then attempts to investigate over the succeeding millennia. The first idea (the principle of plenitude) stated that the Creator, being omnipotent, all-powerful, and faultless, could only create a world which contained everything that could ever be conceived. The second idea (the principle of continuity) was a deduction of the first: if everything that could ever be conceived was to actually exist, the steps between each thing would be absolutely miniscule ... if not, there would be a gap within which some other conceivable thing could be placed. Together the two ideas form a plan and structure of a world composed of an infinite number of links ranged in hierarchical order from the least to the greatest, eventually reaching (to the point that infinity can be reached) the Creator himself, wherein which each link differs from its neighbor above and its neighbor below by the least possible degree. This is the Great Chain of Being. For most of its history, the idea of the Great Chain of Being was used to extol the virtue and greatness of the Judeo-Christian god, and its two constituent parts were seen as two sides of the same teleological argument in favor of the greatness of God. By the Enlightenment, however, some thinkers (Liebniz first, but Schelling most explicitly) recognized that, when extended to its logical end, the principle of continuity was incompatible with the principle of plentitude, as they resulted in two competing tenets: respectively, an admiration by man of God's creation for itself, and a constant striving by man to imitate God's goodness. Yet, recognizing man's unique and wholly necessary placement in the universe is mutually exclusive from attempting to upend such a place by striving to ascend to the next place in the line of creation. Schelling noted that the Great Chain of Being required of man both a piety towards the God of things as they are [including] an adoring delight in the sensible universe (so that man could better appreciate the fullness of life as created by God) and also suppression of the natural interests and desires (so that man could better prepare for whatever ascension he could attain), and Schelling's intellectual successors of the Romantic period concluded that the Great Chain of Being served as an argument against, and not for, the existence of God.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Uroš Đurković

    Istorija ideja je sinteza, ne konglomerat – njeni okviri podrazumevaju odabrane i povezane procese izdvojene iz povesti kulture. U potrazi za velikim lancem bića, njegovim objedinujućim izrazima od antike (Platon, Plotin) do romantizma (Šeling, Šiler), Lavdžoj obrazuje i jedan metodološki lanac – pokazuje kako treba promišljati u okvirima istorije ideja, odnosno, kako ostvariti sintezu. Iako je izuzetno temeljan, Lavdžojev uvid predstavlja samo uvod u istraživanje. Rezultat tog uvida/uvoda je da Istorija ideja je sinteza, ne konglomerat – njeni okviri podrazumevaju odabrane i povezane procese izdvojene iz povesti kulture. U potrazi za velikim lancem bića, njegovim objedinujućim izrazima od antike (Platon, Plotin) do romantizma (Šeling, Šiler), Lavdžoj obrazuje i jedan metodološki lanac – pokazuje kako treba promišljati u okvirima istorije ideja, odnosno, kako ostvariti sintezu. Iako je izuzetno temeljan, Lavdžojev uvid predstavlja samo uvod u istraživanje. Rezultat tog uvida/uvoda je da se kao ključni principi u poimanju sveta javljaju princip punine i princip kontinuiteta. Interpretacije ovih principa temeljno određuju pogled na svet – s jedne strane pitanje početka (svega) i smer istorijskog hoda (kako nešto iz ništa? – horror vacui), s druge strane pitanje toka (kako obuhvatati prirodu i njene prelaze). Okviri lanca bića vezani su i za etičku i estetičku, ali i za naučnu i ontološku problematiku. Lajbnicove monade i njihova (ne)promenjljivost, (biološko-evolucionističko) pitanje „karike koja nedostaje”, teodicija (Volterov niski udarac (286) – optimizam ne ostavlja prostor za nadu, ukoliko je ovo „idealan svet”, kako se možemo nadati boljem? Ili – kako je Bog stvorio idealni svet ako postoje fosili – vrste koje se menjaju?)... Tu je i još mnogo zanimljivih povezivanja uobličenih u miniekskurse. Među njima uzajamnost istorije baštovanstva (mode) i romantizma (23), izlaganje preparirane sirene sa Fidžija u režiji devetnaestovekovnog šoumena P. T. Barnama (276), Robine koji je u rotkvicama video nešto nalik na lice i udove (pitam se, pitam da li je Beket za to znao kad mu Vladimir i Estragon jedu rotkvice), zrnce peska koje sadrži milione bića (152) i – na više mesta – moja omiljena tema – vanzemaljski život (Bruno, Kant). Prevod dobar (Gorana Raičević), oprema dobra (Akademska knjiga), a Lavdžojev stil odnegovan, otmeno akademski (šarmantno mi je kako u nekoliko navrata neke ideje ljutito naziva budalastim – posebno je osetljiv na antropocentrizam). Međutim, veoma me je iritiralo stalno navođenje „aktualno” umesto „aktuelno”. Doduše, to je do mene. Sve u svemu – apsolutna preporuka za sve ljubitelje filozofije i istorije kulture.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Franz

    I found myself wading through the first couple of chapters or so of Lovejoy’s book. He writes English prose as if it were bad German: a thicket of long sentences one must hack through, most of them containing numerous subordinate clauses, asides, and commas like this sentence, before finally reaching the reward of the main verb. But once I got used to his grammatical style, I became engrossed. Recommended for those with a interest in the history of ideas, a field that Lovejoy apparently did much I found myself wading through the first couple of chapters or so of Lovejoy’s book. He writes English prose as if it were bad German: a thicket of long sentences one must hack through, most of them containing numerous subordinate clauses, asides, and commas like this sentence, before finally reaching the reward of the main verb. But once I got used to his grammatical style, I became engrossed. Recommended for those with a interest in the history of ideas, a field that Lovejoy apparently did much to develop. A classic in the field which probably hasn’t been improved greatly as a history of the chain of being, even though the book is based on lectures delivered in 1933. The great chain of being refers to the belief that there is a continuous series of creatures and objects with God at the top and rocks, maybe even atoms, at the bottom. In between, in descending order, are spiritual creatures such as angels, humans, apes, lions, , spiders, tuna, worms, amoebas, seaweed, roses, and so on down to fossils and rocks. Not only is this chain continuous, meaning that there are no breaks or gaps in the series, but gradation is an important concept as well. What this means is that in each kind of creature or thing there are resemblances with the creature just above or below that kind of creature or thing in the chain. Think of a real steel chain. Each link on the chain entwines with the links on either side of it. Of course this example is inadequate as all the chain links are identical. But if you think of humans, the epitome of mortal life on earth, it is the only earthly creature that shares a spiritual nature with the angels and a physical nature as well as other resemblances with the apes. This means that the lowest animal and the highest plant, whatever they are, must be linked. The importance of the continuity of the chain is that if any niche or link that isn’t filled by the appropriate creature or natural object causes, all of reality to collapse. Along with continuity and gradation, the third key concept in the idea of the great chain of being is plenitude. Plenitude refers to the fullness of reality, meaning that every possible creature or natural object that could possibly exist actually does exist. God could not have done otherwise, thus putting a bit of a cramp on his power, though many people didn’t notice. If there were gaps in which a possible creature did not exist in fact, that break in the chain would result in catastrophe. This idea of plenitude led many people to believe in the 17th century that there must be life on the other planets, even intelligent life, maybe even life forms more intelligent than humans. And that there must be planets orbiting the stars also filled with intelligent beings and other creatures and objects unimagined by us. The sources of this idea of the chain of being were Plato and Aristotle. Plato came up with the idea of plenitude, Aristotle with the ideas of continuity and gradation. The Neoplatonist Plotinus further developed the ideas and the great chain of being eventually became an integral part of Christian theology. Lovejoy points out that rather than being rather close to God, we humans were really much closer to the bottom of the pile. Rather than indicating that the Earth was the center of the cosmos and therefore in an exalted position, we learn from Lovejoy that we humans are much closer to Hell than the Empyrean residence of God and his favored angels. A Newton is closer to the centipedes than he is to God, although Newton was closer to the angels than to the rest us. The notions of plenitude and continuity required that every slot in the chain must be occupied. This meant that the universe is static, never changing or developing. When the astronomers of the 17th century discovered the nature of the planets and the stars, the natural inclination of the educated public was to assume that those worlds were all filled with life. Lovejoy spends several chapters on the 18th century when thinking about the chain of being both culminated and began to break down. He explains why not only Leibniz but many others argued that the world that exists must be the best of all possible worlds. At the same time, with the gradual development science and technology, and the challenge of brought to bear by the idea of progress, the idea of the great chain of being gradually changed to include some dynamic aspects until only vestiges of the original idea remained in the richness of nature as seen by the German romantics. Ideas of species evolution were already in the air several decades before Darwin proved it. The idea of the chain of being embodied an ethic. The world is organized so that the place of every thing in it must occupy the place it is in and no other. That includes the human world. European men are at the top of the human heap, while sub-Saharan Africans populate the bottom. The rest of the races occupy the spots in between. It becomes easier to understand, though no less loathsome, why slavery was justified in the eyes of many, and social improvement from the lower nether levels of society to the higher echelon was almost impossible. It also makes the divine right of kings easier to fathom. The way the world is, is the way the world should be. Lovejoy examines the writings of dozens of thinkers, especially the philosophical poets. However, he spends almost no ink on the Scottish thinkers of the 18th century. He never even mentions Adam Smith. I imagine they had no sympathy for this idea. I doubt that many of us, at least in the economically advanced nations, would accept such a chain of being. We are to enthralled with the idea of progress, which is the antithesis of the idea of the great chain of being.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mir

    Lovejoy essentially invented the field of "history of ideas" as something beyond the study of philosophy. Here he traces the transmission of the idea of the "Great Chain of Being" (i.e. the idea that there is a hierarchy of creation) from ancient Greece through modern times, arguing that it so imbued western culture that it often unconsciously influenced habits of mind and patterns of thought. In America, intellectual history as a field derives from Lovejoy's tenure at Johns Hopkins and his foun Lovejoy essentially invented the field of "history of ideas" as something beyond the study of philosophy. Here he traces the transmission of the idea of the "Great Chain of Being" (i.e. the idea that there is a hierarchy of creation) from ancient Greece through modern times, arguing that it so imbued western culture that it often unconsciously influenced habits of mind and patterns of thought. In America, intellectual history as a field derives from Lovejoy's tenure at Johns Hopkins and his founding of the History of Ideas club there.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Park

    Fascinating and full of incredible anecdotes. A pretty tough style, which probably comes from being a set of transcribed lectures. Otherwise, it's a one of a kind book. Fascinating and full of incredible anecdotes. A pretty tough style, which probably comes from being a set of transcribed lectures. Otherwise, it's a one of a kind book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Realini

    The Great Chain of Being by Arthur Lovejoy Great book- 9 out of 10 The very idea is wonderful: - The Great chain of Being- The history of the idea of plenitude from Plato to Schelling Reading about such fabulous concepts and stories must be amazing. I say must be, for I did not quite get it all. - Perhaps 50%? - Or was it even less? Alas, it gets too complicated for me and I am an epicurean, at least in what has to do with reading, where I do not apply myself. When I do not enjoy, grasp or both I lose co The Great Chain of Being by Arthur Lovejoy Great book- 9 out of 10 The very idea is wonderful: - The Great chain of Being- The history of the idea of plenitude from Plato to Schelling Reading about such fabulous concepts and stories must be amazing. I say must be, for I did not quite get it all. - Perhaps 50%? - Or was it even less? Alas, it gets too complicated for me and I am an epicurean, at least in what has to do with reading, where I do not apply myself. When I do not enjoy, grasp or both I lose concentration and without full attention, many if not all the good books are lost on the reader. To be fair, this is not the easiest read, with the most accessible material. On the contrary, it can get rather dry if not more and for the lay person, it will be difficult to navigate through scholars and theologians who have access to the highest spheres and inspiration that is not always allowed to mere mortals, like the undersigned There are some wonderful concepts, like the one expressed in the very title- - There is God on top of the world and from Him, - all the way down we have lesser creatures The fact that there is such an astonishing multitude of species and creatures is all for the best, speaking of which I love more and more the paradigm of Candide, even if it was ridiculed and intended for mockery: - All is for the best in the best possible world I will refer to some quotes or other concepts that I loved in this fantastic book: - How exiting is the feeling of initiation in mysteries At the beginning of the book, the translator refers to a term that appears frequently and is hard to pin down and explain- I love it: - Otherworldliness The author talks with erudition, expertise and talent about Plato, the essence of things, many scholars and plenty of areas where I was lost. - The Universe is a Plenum Formarum - It illustrates completely the diversity of beings - All real potentialities came to form - The Creator has given form to all that could and should exist These are such beautiful statements, even if diminished by my adaptation. Even if you do not get all of it- which maybe you will, even if I could not- it is still such a marvelous experience. I would say that it is like a flight on the orbit, where you do not fully understand all the workings of the shuttle but are still flabbergasted. Lovejoy, the author even has a fascinating name, apart from the fantastic subject matter. These in fact are lectures that have been delivered at Harvard- which makes me smile, for I had a talk the other day. Someone was kind of saying- - Bleah, Harvard- so what… - What do you mean – this is almost nec plus ultra How can we diminish and scale down so much around us? This is a mind boggling, sensational- if hard to read book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    A.J. McMahon

    Lovejoy is a terrible writer, but the subject of this book was so fascinating that it made for an interesting read anyway. Also, Lovejoy doesn't have too much competition in this field, as no-one else has produced an equally lengthy book on the subject of The Great Chain of Being. Anyway, the story begins with Plato and Aristotle, continues on through the Neoplatonists into the Middle Ages, and then comes to an end in the eighteenth century, when with the new developments in science and philosop Lovejoy is a terrible writer, but the subject of this book was so fascinating that it made for an interesting read anyway. Also, Lovejoy doesn't have too much competition in this field, as no-one else has produced an equally lengthy book on the subject of The Great Chain of Being. Anyway, the story begins with Plato and Aristotle, continues on through the Neoplatonists into the Middle Ages, and then comes to an end in the eighteenth century, when with the new developments in science and philosophy the interest in the great chain of being faded away, from the mainstream of European thinking at any rate. The basic idea of the great chain is that all living creatures are connected in a single hierarchical chain which rises upward to the Oneness of God, which is both the source and the end of all life. There are plenty of interesting quotes, and fascinating philosophical insights, but Lovejoy fails to present all the material in a concise or accessible manner. He waffles on much of the time, failing to get to the point; the entire book of 300 plus pages could be reduced to much less than a hundred pages in terms of its actual content. To anyone with an interest in such matters, it is worth reading but be prepared to enter into the task of reading this book with all the patience you possess as you will have to wade through pages of specious verbiage to finally get to whatever the point of the passage is supposed to be about. My rating of three stars actually reflects a compromise between the one star of Lovejoy's writing and the five stars of the interest of the subject of the book. Update March 2020: I have just finished re-reading this book and realise that I largely misjudged it the first time around. Therefore I am giving it five stars and revising my earlier comments. It does have to be said that Lovejoy waffles a lot, but the scope of his comments are much wider than I registered at first. He tackles such issues as whether God has any choice in what he does: if not, then God is a kind of mechanical necessity; if yes, then there is a certain amount of arbitrariness in the creation. The book is much deeper than is apparent at first. I will certainly re-read it at some time in the future, by which time I might well be in a position to fully understand all the issues it raises.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nils

    A classic but a bit of a slog, stylistically. The three big "unit-ideas" are Continuity, Gradation, and Plenitude. With breathtaking erudition Lovejoy unpacks not only the regularity with which these ideas have manifested themselves in the European philosophical and literary tradition (which he construed as a single ongoing conversation) but also the varied and often contradictory ways they have been unfolded and deployed. Methodologically, Lovejoy is interested only in yeh interplay of the idea A classic but a bit of a slog, stylistically. The three big "unit-ideas" are Continuity, Gradation, and Plenitude. With breathtaking erudition Lovejoy unpacks not only the regularity with which these ideas have manifested themselves in the European philosophical and literary tradition (which he construed as a single ongoing conversation) but also the varied and often contradictory ways they have been unfolded and deployed. Methodologically, Lovejoy is interested only in yeh interplay of the ideas themselves: he eschews any effort to ground the ideas or their variability in particular social times and places. This creates a "seminar in the sky" effect: this is he sense it which it is a history of IDEAS rather than a history of INTELLECTUALS.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    i HAVE been trying to read this book for 3 weeks. Just could not get into it. I have little Interest in the thoughts of those from 1,700 years ago nor do I want to read about Plato and his thoughts. I got up to th 17th century and gave up. A total waste of time for me.perhaps I will return to it when I am old. ha

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lazarus P Badpenny Esq

    Very fine examination of the Platonic notions about the dual nature of God that gave birth to the Great Chain of Being and its implications for later Western thought. I predict repeated re-readings in the years to come.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Withun

    -

  13. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne Flint

    My parochial education was sadly lacking in philosophical history and thought with its focus primarily on religious teachings. I am delighted to realize that my self-education as an adult allows me to read these serious philosophical lectures on the history of some formative Platonic ideas with pleasure and understanding. Now, 80+ years after the lectures were given, I can see the results of this history in the continuing evolution of Western cultural thought and belief.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary Catelli

    Tracing across eras from the age of the Platonists the notion of plenitude in a (rather!) academic study. It began with the Platonic explanation of the universe having so many manifestly imperfect things: what was perfect was the universe, and its perfection consisted of having every possible type of being. Onward through its mutations. The philosophers who debated whether God had created freely. The philosophers who insisted, as soon as the notion of other worlds like ours arose, that obviously t Tracing across eras from the age of the Platonists the notion of plenitude in a (rather!) academic study. It began with the Platonic explanation of the universe having so many manifestly imperfect things: what was perfect was the universe, and its perfection consisted of having every possible type of being. Onward through its mutations. The philosophers who debated whether God had created freely. The philosophers who insisted, as soon as the notion of other worlds like ours arose, that obviously they had to be inhabited. The philosophers who rejected the notion of progress because it would require that the plenitude not be complete at some point.

  15. 5 out of 5

    G.A.

    Oi! 200 words where 10 would suffice. Still, beneath the verbiage a thorough study of the Great Chain of Being lives.

  16. 4 out of 5

    laurentiu

    0

  17. 5 out of 5

    N Perrin

    A seminal text in the history of ideas that may be both obsolete and cursory but nonetheless important as an introduction to the contours of Western thought.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    Arthur Lovejoy analyzes a powerful if flawed concept’s “control” over Western mind since Plato. The chain of being is the continuum of “substance/essence/stuff” beginning with God (or Plato’s Good) and ending with either inorganic life or nothingness itself. The chain of being hinges around three concepts: plenitude, continuity, and gradation. Summary of the Idea At the top of the chain is pure Being. At the bottom is pure nothingness. Further, Good is coterminous with Being. Thirdly, good is self Arthur Lovejoy analyzes a powerful if flawed concept’s “control” over Western mind since Plato. The chain of being is the continuum of “substance/essence/stuff” beginning with God (or Plato’s Good) and ending with either inorganic life or nothingness itself. The chain of being hinges around three concepts: plenitude, continuity, and gradation. Summary of the Idea At the top of the chain is pure Being. At the bottom is pure nothingness. Further, Good is coterminous with Being. Thirdly, good is self-diffusive. So far this isn’t too bad. It becomes tricky when it becomes “ontologized.” a) the line between Creator and creature is fuzzy; b) if something is lower on the chain, is it less good? What’s the difference between less good and bad? If there is an infinite distance between God and not-God, and all of this is placed on a “scale” or chain, then is there not an infinite distance between each link in the scale? This was Dr Samuel Johnson’s critique, and it highlighted the problem of the chain of being: reality had to be static and exist all at once. This called creation into question, since if the Good is necessarily self-diffusive, then it had to diffuse into creation. God had no freedom to do otherwise. Ironically, this Idea also called evolution into question: if there is an infinite distance between the links, then there is no changing from one link to another. Analysis This book’s value lies in its being a prime example of clear, penetrating thinking. In each chapter Lovejoy presents a new difficulty with the idea of a chain of being and the force is cumulative. The chain functions as a snapshot of the God-world relationship. Since God is perfect, and the chain is a diffusion of his goodness, and since God is eternally perfect, then we must see this eternal perfection. If not, we have to find “the missing link” (and is not evolution a mere temporalizing of the chain?)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Lovejoy traces the idea of the “Great Chain of Being”, and the impact it has had on Western thought over the past 2500 years. This book is really focused on the atomic principles formulating the “Great Chain”: principle of sufficient reason, principle of plenitude, and principle of continuity; focusing on the different ways they have been interpreted to affect the course of Western philosophy and theology. Highly recommended to anyone interested in better understanding how some core ideas in soc Lovejoy traces the idea of the “Great Chain of Being”, and the impact it has had on Western thought over the past 2500 years. This book is really focused on the atomic principles formulating the “Great Chain”: principle of sufficient reason, principle of plenitude, and principle of continuity; focusing on the different ways they have been interpreted to affect the course of Western philosophy and theology. Highly recommended to anyone interested in better understanding how some core ideas in society have evolved over the past 2500 years. The concepts presented were the primary world-view until the end of the Eighteenth Century, but they have been largely forgotten. If anything, this book helps to put any literature written before the 1800s into better context. Only downside to the book was that some of the quotations were in languages other than English with no translations provided.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bouguerche

    The book presents a very typical idea of many societies, where , fathers and in general families canalize their children to serve their interests. It shows also in a way how, sometimes women are not given the value of a thinking human being and are led by others without any consideration of their wishes, opinions and desires, it is true that men usually over lead women but they are not to be blamed either because this is a result of a long history full of religious superstitions, misinterpretati The book presents a very typical idea of many societies, where , fathers and in general families canalize their children to serve their interests. It shows also in a way how, sometimes women are not given the value of a thinking human being and are led by others without any consideration of their wishes, opinions and desires, it is true that men usually over lead women but they are not to be blamed either because this is a result of a long history full of religious superstitions, misinterpretations of religion and miss-use of power. It is the whole society to be blamed and I think the way to fix that is to raise the new generations in a new way that calls for justice between genders and focuses more of their mental and intellectual abilities and potential instead of spreading another discriminatory speech against men and blame them for something, yes they use but were not the founders of .

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth

    Dense book on the idea of plentitude that starts with Greek philosophy then concludes with Leibnitz’s famous philosophical writings on the “best of all possible worlds”. I happen to disagree with the author’s conclusions, but find the narrative one of the best on the subject matter nevertheless. The explanation of Medieval cosmology in particular with regard to the Ptolemaic universe is enchanting. The imaginative affect of en-visioning that time in history through the authentic descriptions of Dense book on the idea of plentitude that starts with Greek philosophy then concludes with Leibnitz’s famous philosophical writings on the “best of all possible worlds”. I happen to disagree with the author’s conclusions, but find the narrative one of the best on the subject matter nevertheless. The explanation of Medieval cosmology in particular with regard to the Ptolemaic universe is enchanting. The imaginative affect of en-visioning that time in history through the authentic descriptions of Lovejoy is worth the read alone. The latter half of the book is heavy treading. Simply put, the basic premise is that everything that can be created is created because everything that can be is. In other words, there is no possibility of “gaps” in the "chain of being" that leave metaphysical reality in potential without actualizing the possible in the existing physical universe. The world is necessarily filled to the brim.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    This book provides an astonishing tour through the history of philosophy by following the fate of the idea of a Great Chain of Being. I'm not going to try to summarize this story. The book sat on my shelf for many years. I finally picked it up during my study of eighteenth century ideas. I found Lovejoy's characterization of the Enlightenment and Romanticism the parts of the book I was best able to follow. His description of Romaticism's struggle to resist the Enlightenment's inclination to univ This book provides an astonishing tour through the history of philosophy by following the fate of the idea of a Great Chain of Being. I'm not going to try to summarize this story. The book sat on my shelf for many years. I finally picked it up during my study of eighteenth century ideas. I found Lovejoy's characterization of the Enlightenment and Romanticism the parts of the book I was best able to follow. His description of Romaticism's struggle to resist the Enlightenment's inclination to universalize and to insist on the inclusion of the varieties of particularities in our world view was very helpful. Of all things, it made Foucault's project much more intelligible to me. For this alone I would thank Lovejoy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Seekers of Unity

    Brilliant book. This work single-handedly kicked off an entire field and genre, the history of ideas. I had to skip through most of it because it was too dense and boring, but the first chapters on Plato and Platonism, my oh my, I could read them again and again. His cutting distinction between this worldly and other-worldly mysticism is sharp as steel and tuns over the common understanding of those categories 180 degrees. Thinking about it now, I’m actually going to re-read those highlighter so Brilliant book. This work single-handedly kicked off an entire field and genre, the history of ideas. I had to skip through most of it because it was too dense and boring, but the first chapters on Plato and Platonism, my oh my, I could read them again and again. His cutting distinction between this worldly and other-worldly mysticism is sharp as steel and tuns over the common understanding of those categories 180 degrees. Thinking about it now, I’m actually going to re-read those highlighter soaked pages right now. If you like books like this you'll love my project: http://youtube.com/c/seekersofunity?s...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Dambro

    Excellent exposition of the idea of the basis of our world view from Classical Greece to the Enlightenment. It is somewhat dated (1936) but Dr. Lovejoy's views are brilliantly served up for consumption by the educated elite of his time. This is strictly lectures for a graduate level university audience. He expects his listeners to be able to understand Latin, Classical Greek, German and French. He does not simplify as much as he explains. He requires much knowledge on the part of his reader. It Excellent exposition of the idea of the basis of our world view from Classical Greece to the Enlightenment. It is somewhat dated (1936) but Dr. Lovejoy's views are brilliantly served up for consumption by the educated elite of his time. This is strictly lectures for a graduate level university audience. He expects his listeners to be able to understand Latin, Classical Greek, German and French. He does not simplify as much as he explains. He requires much knowledge on the part of his reader. It is the seminal work in the field and requires close reading.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Thom Dunn

    Other than Shakespeare's plays this is the ONE ESSENTIAL book--and phrase--to remember from the English Renaissance, it assays the foundation principle behind kingship, the political and social order, God and man. Some might wish to substitute Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture as THE ONE....but then you wouldn't have the all-encompassing phrase of this title to recall. Other than Shakespeare's plays this is the ONE ESSENTIAL book--and phrase--to remember from the English Renaissance, it assays the foundation principle behind kingship, the political and social order, God and man. Some might wish to substitute Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture as THE ONE....but then you wouldn't have the all-encompassing phrase of this title to recall.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Dayman

    This is a very important book. It shows the progress of the idea of the great chain of being from Aristotle to the Enlightenment. It is important because it shows how intellectuals have wrestled with the dualism between matter and spirit ultimately becoming disillusioned with the whole idea.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    One of the really great books. This is on a part with Rieff's Triumph of the Therapeutic in my eyes. The shift from a vision that the universe hangs together in a great chain, in a great dance, has shifted to the notion that nothing hangs together, including ourselves. One of the really great books. This is on a part with Rieff's Triumph of the Therapeutic in my eyes. The shift from a vision that the universe hangs together in a great chain, in a great dance, has shifted to the notion that nothing hangs together, including ourselves.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Study of the idea of hierarchy in Western thought; not as popular a concept today as when the book was written (or talks given).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alasdair Ekpenyong

    Brilliance passim.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Adams

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