Andrew Hoffman, Instructor
06 May, 2013
An Essay on Man and the Great Chain of Being
In Alexander Pope’s philosophical poem, An Essay on Man, Pope interjects his ideas on man’s role and purpose in this universe by expounding upon what is known as the Great Chain of Being, an ancient theological concept formulated by Plato and Aristotle. The Great Chain of Being, as it translates to Latin is, scala nuturae, meaning ladder or stairway of nature. The premise of this concept maintains the belief that everything that exists in this universe is connected in a hierarchical ordered “chain” according to God’s divine plan. In An Essay on Man, Pope reiterates this notion, as well as, expresses his want to “vindicate the ways of God to man” (1.16), in hopes of educating his fellow man of their position and responsibilities in this hierarchy.
At the start of the poem, Pope invites his readers to open their eyes, and look out on “this scene of man” (1.5), as he describes it as “A mighty maze! but not without a plan” (1.6). Here Pope notes the complexity of life and the physical world we live in, but suggests that there is a reason for it. He believes that God has a specific intent for all of His creations, and that everything in existence, from the tiniest of inanimate objects to the greatness of man, acts as a sort of puzzle piece, placed by God in order to complete His grand picture. However, Pope continues on to state that what we perceive in this world “Tis but a part we see, and not a whole” (1.60), therefore, we, meaning man, cannot fully comprehend the magnitude of God’s plan, but Pope argues that we should place all of our faith and trust in God’s plan and we must learn to accept our role in such a plan.
Furthermore, Pope declares that for man to presume to understand God’s full intention is to imply that God’s plan is therefore flawed or weak, and that men should not even seek complete comprehension. In stanza six, Pope even...
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