Aristotle on the "Great Chain of Being"

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Most of the concepts about the nature of living things in the early modern era were derived from the writings of Aristotle. Aristotle wrote about the concept of distinct types of organisms that could be distinguished from all the rest. Aristotle was interested in much more than the biological world, and attempted to build a theory of the world as a whole. As part of this theory, he believed that all of nature could be seen as a continuum of organization from lifeless matter. This matter consisted of the four embracements of water, earth, fire and air and composed everything all the way to the most complex forms of life. He thought of humans as different from the rest of animals though because of their capacity for reason and thought. Aristotle proposed a rank ordering of all living things, from the least to the highest (humans). This idea developed, during the later centuries, into the concept of the "Great Chain of Being". All living things were seen as members of unchanging types, called species, which could be ordered from the least to the highest. Each species has at least one similarity between the species above it and below it in the "ladder". Only individuals were born and died; species themselves were eternal. The metaphor of the "chain" of being suggested that these species were linked to each other by a logical progression. This concept, in the Western tradition, is the result of the attempt to combine the Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology.

To look at this from the religious standpoint natural theologists used the great chain of being to show that God had created stability in the world and linked all life together to prove that God existed. God created species in the great chain of being...