The Great Chain of Being

A good read for anyone interested in the history of ideas is The Great Chain of Being by Arthur Lovejoy.

Throwing yourself bodily onto his introduction your ribs will be thoroughly massaged with the following:

There are, first, implicit or incompletely explicit assumptions, or more or less unconscious mental habits, operating in the thought of an individual or a generation.  It is the beliefs which are so much a matter of course that they are rather tacitly presupposed that formally expressed and argued for…

A hearty rib massage is never to be underestimated.  What a power this is, what a thing it would be to have the ability to string contemporary thoughts, attitudes and beliefs with their ancestors, undermining their virgin birth by pointing to the father.  This is a branch of philosophy that is associated with the history of philosophy.  That is one sexy branch – I would not lie to you.

What else could Lovejoy’s book do to your body without making this sexual?  Comb your eyebrows.  It is a soothing act that he accomplishes through philosophical semantics. Sacred words and phrases of a period or movement he says?  Comb my eyebrows I says.

I hold dear to my heart all works that strive against the idea of intellectual progress.  Knowledge is a giant wave in Mavericks, California that sweeps up all people in its path.  The educated and the non-educated become wrapped together in their watery somersaults.  Those that hold degrees distinguish themselves by proclaiming and pointing, “we’re going in this direction!” – forgetting that they are being propelled forward by cold, salty and sometimes unsanitary water.

Nobody likes metaphors, nobody likes being forced to read one and one can only feel embarrassed after having written one.  It is like having your pathetic creative powers strapped to your forehead – the perfect place of shame, since you cannot really see it yourself (delicious simile is not shameful).

I offer an example so as to stray from the eyebrows: the principle of plenitude.

What does it really mean to say that God is all powerful?  For Galileo and Descartes it meant the creation of a principle – the principle of plenitude, the principle of there being plenty of stuff.

The presumption from which we must reason, where other evidence is unavailable, is that what, so far as we can judge, is capable of being, is.  The production of an infinity of worlds was possible to the Creator [among many other awesome things – e.g. flying T-Rex]; and the principle [of plenitude] which we must always accept in such matters is that the possibility has been realized.

If all possibilities have been realized somewhere, meditates Descartes, then our position here in this world is not as special as our parents told us.  If this is the case we might as well detach our affections from the things of this world… and play in the chambers of our insanity (or, pure reason, depending on who you ask).

If Earth is not the center of all that is gnarly, if there are other worlds and if there is a creator that is infinitely powerful then there is a high chance that we have bretheren on Saturn.  It isn’t like God would invest time in creating a world and not put some creatures on it.  Let me be earnest, I would be a lot more interested in theology if the theologians were still worried about aliens and whether or not they have their own personal Jesus.  That is a serious conversation I could dig my teeth into.

I also meant to say that things like the principle of plenitude, although thought to be genial, new and intriguing, are, well, ridiculously not – like most genial ideas.