The Great Chain of Man

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Mankind numerously places themselves first, positioning them at the top of the food chain. However, where does man reside in the order of the cosmos? Are we so arrogant as to believe our position higher than any being in the universe? Alternatively, are we so limited in our assessment of our abilities and surroundings that we are unaware of our position as the lowest being in existence? Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man” degrades man’s view of himself and attempts to put him in his place by enlightening man of his presumptuousness and the wickedness of his pride. By defining man’s place in the Great Chain of Being, Pope demonstrates the complexity and intricateness of the universes’ order. Pope began writing at an early age, composing epic poetry at twelve years old and published several famous works one of which is “An Essay on Man” (Alexander Pope 87). “His writing did not strive to be innovative; he proudly turned backward to ancient Greek and Roman traditions of literature and morality-especially Homer, Virgil, and Horace-and borrowed from them to make critical and satirical commentaries on his own society. But his witty, graceful, often bitingly deep sense of moral and philosophical authority, marked him as both the most respected and the most popular poet of his time” (Alexander Pope 86). In reading, you should understand that “Pope’s primary credentials are not philosophical” (White and Tierney 27), but rather regard him as a writer with moral views. Morality is imperative in Pope’s “Argument of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to the Universe,” the subtitle of the first epistle in “An Essay on Man,” however, Pope indicates that man is not entirely moral and is far-removed from the morality of God. By exalting ... ... middle of paper ... ...above and the beasts on earth, but he is naïve in assuming that great power and perfection will bring him happiness. If we were omnipotent, what would we have left to live for? Life would be rendered meaningless and the future would serve no purpose causing mankind to be miserable. “Who finds Providence all good and wise, / Alike in what it gives and what denies?” (205-206). Man should deem it a blessing that he is unable to grasp anything beyond mankind. Anything more than what we are supposed to possess would throw the structure of nature and the universe into chaos. The positioning of the universe and the Great Chain of Being is delicate and it only takes one small kink to break a link. All creatures, including man, are assigned a proper place and no one station is more important than another is. Altering one God’s rules of order would destroy the entire system.

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