Hierarchy and Order
The understanding of the universe as a hierarchical order came into being in early antiquity and is reflected in mythological conceptions. Ancient Greek mythology and philosophy put forth this idea in the conception of Cosmos as being opposite to Chaos. The Cosmos (meaning "beautiful" in its most ancient definition) is sculpturally organized by the laws of beauty and as such is similar to that of a beautiful human body. So, according to Platonic thought, the order of the Cosmos is similar to the order of the human being. The Cosmos is not created by any god, which means there is both a complex dialectic of Cosmos and Chaos and the idea of hierarchical primacy of the Cosmos over all other things, including gods and human beings. The last idea is expressed in mythology by the concept of destiny, which defines the exact place of any thing in the order of the Cosmos. Neither god nor man can escape from destiny, which is why, for example, Oedipus is doomed to be blinded and Juno, the wife and sister of the supreme Roman god Jupiter, cannot affect the life of Aeneas, who was destined to be the founder of Rome.
The dialectic of Cosmos and Chaos is one of the most puzzling questions in Greek philosophy. In mythology this dialectic is described as a birth of the hierarchy of gods out of primitive Chaos. According to Hesiod's Theogony, "Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all" (line 116). This "coming to be," however, is described in pre-Socratic philosophy as a complex process of the circulation of Chaos and Cosmos. According to the Greek philosopher Heracleitus (c. 540–c. 480 B.C.E.), fire, which is the basis of the world, flares up and dies out at times. The extinction of fire is interpreted as the birth of the world order and the worldwide conflagration is the death of the Cosmos. According to Empedocles (c. 490–430 B.C.E.), another pre-Socratic philosopher, the Cosmos is organized through the struggle of two constitutive forces, Love (Philia) and Strife (Oikos). This struggle gives birth to four stages of the world's development, the first of which is Chaos (constituted by the absolute predominance of Strife) and the last being absolute unity of everything in the form of a sphere (which is organized by predominant Love).
In the Platonic tradition, the material Cosmos is just a shadow of the order of ideas (kosmos noēticos). Ideas, being hierarchically primary to material things—understood by Plato as forms (eidoi), reasons (logoi), and exemplars (paradeigmai) of things—are themselves organized in hierarchical order. The idea of the Good (ta kalon), being the most general of all ideas (eidos tōn eidōn), is on the very top of this hierarchy. Things are striving for their prototypes and this striving, by the same token, is responsible for the maintenance of the world's order. However, the very nature of the relations between the realm of ideas, which is situated in some beyond-celestial place (hyprauranios topos), and the world of things is problematic in the context of Platonic doctrine and was described differently in variants of Platonism. For Plato, a Master (Demiourgos) was responsible for creating the world, and the nature of the striving of things to their ideas is described as an activity of the World's Soul. The Roman philosopher Plotinus (205–270 C.E.), the father of Neoplatonism, described the creation of the world order as the process of emanation of the One (to hen), and the Cosmos is meant to be a reference point for the self-conscious existence of the Soul. However, another problem arises in both Platonic traditions: the question of obvious defects in the world's order. Namely, if the ideal Cosmos is good (because the most general idea is the idea of the Good), who is responsible for the origin of evil? According to Plato, it is a result of imperfect reflection of ideas in matter. Matter is described as a pure potency of existence. As such, it is actually nothing (mēon), while it has potential to be something. It follows that if evil is a result of the materiality of things, it can be described as nothing as well, that is, as a defect of reflection. Influenced by the Gnostics of the second century C.E., who had explained existence of evil by the imperfection or even wickedness of God the Creator (Demiourgos), Plotinus described the origin of evil as a result of the error made by the Soul in valuing its expressions in physical Cosmos over the contemplation of the divine Forms.