The Great Chain of Being was an idea put forth by Augustine of Hippo as a hierarchy of all matter and life; one can see it as a very poor system.

The Great Chain of Being, then, is seen as a chain of emanation. The One is at the top and so all being flows downward from the One. Below the One, then, are the spiritual beings of Ideas, rational human beings, sensible animals, living plants, and finally inanimate things (which merely exist).

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The Great Chain of Being was an idea put forth by Augustine of Hippo as a hierarchy of all matter and life; one can see it as a very poor system of taxonomy and matter classification. Historian A.O. Lovejoy traced the origins of the idea back to the ancient Greek philosophers. Three principles shaped the Great Chain:

The Great Chain of Being or scala natur is a classical conception of the metaphysical order of the universe in which all beings from the most.

The Great Chain of Being. Plants did have greater tolerances for heat and cold, and immunity to the pain that afflicts most animals. The primate of plants was the oak tree. In general, trees ranked higher than shrubs, shrubs ranked higher than bushes, bushes ranked higher than cereal crops, and cereal crops ranked higher than herbs, ferns, and weeds.

The Great Chain of being is a belief that all creatures and nature are organized in a hierarchal manner, from god all the way down to inanimate objects like a rocks.

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Note: Special thanks to Dr. Elizabeth M. Willingham for pointing out my earlier misattribution concerning the Summa Theologica and in providing additional references concerning medieval angelology. For more information, students should consult E. M. W. Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture and A. O. Lovejoy’s The Great Chain of Being.

The Great Chain of Being is an excellent example of this. In a social environment structured as a rigid linear hierarchy-from the king, princes, and various ranks of nobles down through vassals, peasants, and perhaps even slaves, all occupying particular slots in vertical relation to one another-it is certainly reasonable to imagine the animal kingdom as similarly organized.