Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, “The Treatise on the Divine Nature,” Q.2:
Contents : I) On Aquinas (and resources) II) On Summa Theologica III) On ST, Treatise on the Divine Nature, Q.2 1) Overview; 2) Detail on Q.2.a.1; 3) Detail on Q.2.a.2; 4) Detail on Q.2.a.3; 5) Quick Overview of Q.2.a.3’s Five Ways
I) On Aquinas:
Saint Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1224/1225/1226 – 1274) was born in Italy, half way between Rome and Naples, in the castle Roccasecca, into a noble Italian family. After early education (5-6 years old) in the liberal arts at Monte Cassino (whose abbot was a relative), and prompted by political instability (namely, the sacking of the monastery by Frederick II’s armies, who were clashing with Pope Gregory IX), he began his formal study in the liberal arts at the University of Naples (notably the first university with a civil, rather than ecclesiastical charter, established by Frederick II), where he was introduced to Aristotle (which had been ‘recovered’ about 100 years prior to Aquinas, exciting the medieval world and inducing the ban of several treatises about 15 years prior to Aquinas’ birth) by the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans (a mendicant order then recently founded by Saint Dominic; its original function was to counter heresies through preaching; their later reputation was for learning and piety).
While his family had intended him to pursue an ecclesiastical career in the Benedictine monastery, he instead entered the Dominican Order. His family’s first response was to kidnap him; reputedly, they held him for a year under house arrest, and introduced him to numerous temptations (some report even providing a naked woman one night) to keep him from the Dominicans—but their plots failed. Eventually, they relented, and he returned to the Dominicans.
Upon his reunion with the Dominicans, they promptly sent him to continue his studies in Paris and then Köln (with Albertus Magnus, aka, Albert the Great). In Köln, he is thought to have written his first De principiis Naturae (On the Principles of Nature, a brief treatise presenting his interpretation of some of Aristotle’s ideas on nature). He then returned to Paris, where he became a Master and Chair in the Faculty of Theology for three years; Paris’ curriculum was rigorous and much of his time seemed dedicated to commentaries on Biblical texts and Peter Lombard’s Sentences (which served as the theological textbook), which served as courses for early students to be awarded Bachelors and Masters degrees, however, it is thought he also there composed his Ente et Essentia (On Being and Essence), which shows arguments that resurface in the Summa, and various controversies about the University faculty, divided between religious mendicants and clerics not affiliated with any religious order, which yielded several brief treatises.
Around 1259 Aquinas left Paris, although returned to teach there nearly ten years later—during the break, he travelled throughout Italy with the papal court in a number of Dominican houses and then in Rome. In Italy, he was assigned a post teaching Dominican friars, which may explain his main work of the period, his Summa contra gentiles (Summary Against the Pagans) as a sort of handbook for friar missionary works in Muslim lands, although it is clearly far more academic (with few bad thoughts about Islamic or actual pagan faithful, let along little zeal for actual condemnation, instead offering well crafted rational arguments for the existence of God). What is most notable of this time is his work in 1266: he began his Summa theologiae [Summary of Theology]. His religious duties were still heavy, however, as he was also charged with establishing a new house of studies (the 5th for the Dominicans, but first to be situated within the priory in Rome), for which he designed the entire curriculum and was said to have handpicked his students. He was then returned to Paris sometime between 1268 to 1272 for three years to address the controversy of Latin Averroism or Heterodox Aristotelianism. Around 1272, Aquinas was sent to establish another educational center in Italy, for which he chose Naples; in these last two years or so of his life, he seems to have written commentaries on Aristotle and perhaps more work on his Summa, although evidence suggests his health was poor. Around 1274, as a recognized star of ‘ecumenical theology,’ his advisement was requested at the Second Council of Lyon on the harmonies and discord between Greek and Latin Christians—en route, he died.
The end of his life was plagued with Church controversies, and as a man of the Church, these affected all aspects of Aquinas’ life. The most valuable aspect to consider in reading the Summa’s Q.2 is captured by Etienne Gilson:
"The saint was essentially a Doctor of the Church. The man was a Doctor of Theology. … Man can only choose between two kinds of life, the active and the contemplative. What confers special dignity on the functions of the Doctor is that they imply both of these two kinds of life, … The true function of the Doctor is to teach. Teaching (doctrina) consists in communicating to others a truth meditated beforehand. … the activity of the Doctor is not superimposed artificially upon his contemplative life. Rather, it finds its source in his contemplation and is, so to speak, its outward manifestation" (Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook, C.S.B. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956), 3-4).
—meaning: one’s religious duties are one’s intellectual duties are one’s professorial duties, just as teaching is an activity, but part of the contemplative life, and contemplation is an activity that is also part of the professorial life; to decide and uphold orthodoxy requires fidelity to both an institution and intellectual ideal of truth, even while belief and knowledge could come into conflict, just as teaching and thinking requires honoring the essence of both, even while action and contemplation can stand as opposites. Seeing the subtlety of how ‘opposites’ need not simple oppose one another is crucial for understanding Medieval Philosophy (maybe all understanding of anything worthwhile), and should be noted alongside intellectual, political, and ecclesiastical controversies. In 1277, after Aquinas’ death, some of his tenets were briefly condemned by a commission put together by the Bishop of Paris. The condemnation did not last long, and he was eventually canonized, in 1323, and given the title of Common Doctor of the Church.
The condemnations mentioned require address of the role of Aristotle. Over the first half of the Middle Ages, philosophy (founding and grounding Abrahamic theology) were dominated by Neoplatonism (New-Platonism)—a philosophical amalgam, notably initiated by Plato’s nephew, Speusippus (ca. 407-339 b.c.e.), the first diadochus (head successor) for the Academy, of mystical interpretations of Plato’s Timaeus, Parmenides, and unwritten doctrines (purportedly most discussed), with diverse mystical influences of esoteric Pythagorean theory, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and philosophical commentary born from the Chaldaean Oracles: all to become the focus of the middle ages; most important was a tripartite cosmology, which allowed the basis to create structures (of meaning, for the sciences, of nature, people, for the future, of origins, etc.), and narrative plots for ethical, social, political, religious, and aesthetic theories. Around the fall of Rome, Aristotle’s works were scuttled off to what would become ‘the Muslim lands’ for safe keeping, so, from about 500 until 12th c., Aristotle’s works on logic, translated by Boethius, were the only significant pieces of Aristotle available through most of Europe—the upside to the horrors of the nine Crusades, from 1095 to ca. 1300 is the rediscovery of Aristotle’s work and, eventually, the Christian appreciation of the intellectual excellence Islamic scholars had created from Aristotle’s works and the immense communal scholarship done in primarily Muslim centers in translation between Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Arabic.
So, the major works of Aristotle were again available in Aquinas’ day (about 100 years before him). However, Aristotle’s empirical-naturalistic views were disturbing to the Neoplatonic mysticism of the times. In 1210 (15 years before Aquinas), Aristotle’s works on the natural sciences and the Metaphysics were banned by Paris. In 1277 (after Aquinas’ death) all attempts to reconcile Aristotle with Christian thought were condemned by Oxford and Paris. However, in 1278 the Dominicans accepted Aquinas’ work, which reconciled Aristotle and Christian thought, and in 1323 Aquinas was canonized. In 1879 Aquinas’s work was made the standard theory of the Roman Catholic Church.
Beyond his incorporation of Aristotle into and its synthesis with the Neoplatonist theology, Aquinas is the most notable figure in the canon for ‘finishing’ the most thorough reconciliation of Greek philosophy & Church doctrine that had begun just several hundred years into the common era. W. T. Jones, in his scholarly and immensely clear survey, A History of Western Philosophy: The Medieval Mind, Vol. II (Boston: Cengage Learning, 1969), 212, characterizes the central issues in dispute between the Greek philosophy and Church doctrine:
In the Greek view: Nature was a closed system of naturally caused events. In the Christian view: Nature was the setting where salvation played itself out. In the Greek view: Nature was a system of events spatio-temporally related. In the Christian view: Nature was a set of symbols vertically related to God’s purpose. In the Greek view: Human was the summit of spatio-temporal existence, humanity was self-contained in that each could self-realize their greatness. In the Christian view: Human was crooked, bespotted, ulcerous, helpless, and depraved.
The Interplay of Faith and Reason: For Aquinas, reason can prove, i.e., demonstrate, religious truths and philosophy (ought to) rest on the acceptance of the principles of religion. The specific interplay can be understood in two points. First, truths known by Revelation form the first principles, from which we go on to prove other truths by rational arguments. This is valid because no science proves its own first principles. Second, in addition to being the ground of philosophy, the truths of revelation serve as guides for developing arguments. Nevertheless, Aquinas asserts, there are things that we will never know through reason; these things must be accepted through faith. Thus, we have four divisions:
Philosophy: what can be proved by natural light of reason.
Theology: what rests on faith.
Revealed Theology: non-demonstrable truths of faith.
Natural Theology: demonstrable truths of faith—this division is part of revealed theology, and the site where theology and philosophy overlap.
Thus theology and philosophy do not conflict; instead, they are each other’s supplements. As he refuses a philosophy-theology dualism, Aquinas refuses one between the realms of nature and grace and between creation and God, instead allowing all form one continuous hierarchy. We can see these fields coming together in his characterization of the natures of the human and God:
The Nature of Man is: (1) What Aristotle says about man in De Anima, man is a natural being with natural functions and has natural ends, as described in Ethics and Politics. But, (2) Man is more than Aristotle assumed because he is also a child of God and thus has another end—loyalty and obedience to God as father and creator;
The Nature of God is: (1) Like what Aristotle said, the summit of the hierarchy of substances, pure actuality, pure intelligence, and a being whose perfection inspires the universe’s movement. But, (2) God is more than Aristotle knew, he is also creative providence, loving father, and exacting ruler (re: divisions, cf. Jones, Op. Cit., 215 ff.).
Aquinas’ Influence on Philosophy and Theology: From the 14th c. on, Aquinas’ thought was widespread tremendously influential (in 1342, the general chapter of the Dominican Order declared his thought to have been deemed sound throughout the world); between his death and the 14th c., however, his thought was shadowed by controversy. By the mid-14th c., his Summa Theologica replaced Lombard’s Sentences as the text book of Catholic theory in the Dominican schools. Its adoption was even wider spread after his being named a Doctor of the Church in 1567. In the 17-18th c., his influence saw its decline in the general critiques of Scholasticism that were popular (Descartes is often cited as its last destroyer, although the French Revolution’s attack of ecclesiastical studies may have had equal impact). The 19th c., however, saw the revival of Scholasticism and the development of “Neo-Thomism” (the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65, named Aquinas’ thought as the “perennial philosophy”).
Thomism: The name given to the school or system of philosophy that follows Thomas’ teachings, however, it is generally used to refer to a philosophy/theology wherein syntheses of Greek, Jewish, and Islamic philosophy are melded with Christian philosophy and doctrine. It is, however, predominately an Aristotelian inspired Christian thought. To summarize it better is challenging; contemporary adherents differentiate numerous veins, from existential to transcendental to analytic Thomisms.
Written between 1265-73/4, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica [Summary of Theology] is an ultimately unfinished (despite being over 3,500 pages) masterpiece; near its conclusion, he underwent a mystical experience that reputedly left him declaring the whole to be “mere straw” (although some scholars argue that he did continue work on it up to his death). It is typically deemed to be a three-part work, although part two has two parts, the third part has a lengthy supplement (which is mainly comprised of writings he completed on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, and was likely inserted by his main editor/secretary and friend to suggest the direction Aquinas would have gone next), and there are two appendixes. Each part is made up of treatises, each treatise is comprised of “Questions,” which are topics, comprised of “Articles,” which are questions on the ‘Question,’ wherein each includes “Objections,” “Sed Contra,” “Corpus,” and “Refutations,” which are often variably named per translation; this structure therefore appears as follows:
Question X(the topic)
Article X(a question per topic)
Objection X(“It seems that …”; the ‘doxa,’ notable views from Church or philosophical figures, typically opposing Aquinas’ view)
On the contrary…(“Sed Contra”; opposition(s) to Objections; frequently Biblical quotations or insights from Patristic philosophers (Church Fathers), usually (not always) accord with Aquinas’ view)
Reply to Objection X(“Response” or “Refutation”; Aquinas’ direct replies to the initial objections)
In full: the work moves from a consideration of God to creation to humanity, then a consideration of humanity’s purpose, to Christ, to the Sacraments, and back to God, hence, forming a rational procession down to us, and then back up to the Divine. Its purpose was to be the full summation of theology, a systematic reconciliation of the views of Church Fathers, but also to reconcile philosophy and theology:
III) On ST, Treatise on the Divine Nature, Q.2:
1) Overview: Question l: Concerning Sacred Teaching: What is its Character and What is its Range? Question 2: The Existence of God
Nb.: Q.2 is comprised of three articles most explicitly concerning the possibility of arguing a proof for His existence --- a.1: need we a proof?; a.2: can it be proved?; a.3: does He exist? --- wherein just the last article’s last part culminates his famous ‘5 Ways’ proof for God’s existence. So, keep most in mind Aquinas’ emphasis: each article concerns a ‘whether’ that extends to ‘why’ & ‘how’ (the whole, thus, from an est, does it exist?, to quid est, what is it?); i.e., this is only an introductory & infinitesimal part of a massive magnum opus; it’s as methodologically crucial to the whole as is the proof’s content: it must establish it’s essential foundation, as the proof gives the barest essence of God’s existence.
Article 1: Whether the Existence of God is Self-Evident?
Obj. 1: view of Damascene (St. John of Damascus)---re: implanted
Obj. 2: views of Anselm, some Aristotle---re: terms
Obj. 3: view of those vs. skeptics---re: truth
Sed Contra: nb.: while this usually cites Scripture, this reference is to “the Philosopher” (aka, Aristotle)
Corpus: defines Self-Evident (S-E); distinguishes two types of S-E; concludes God’s existence is S-E2:
S-E: predicate contained within the subject, e.g., “human being is an animal:” “human being” as subject; contains within itself (as its definition) the predicate “animal.”
S-E1: self-evident in itself, (and) not relative to us (i.e., known by all)
S-E2: self-evident in itself, (but) relative to us (i.e., not known by all)
“God exists:” is self-evident (“exists” as predicate contained in subject, “God,” by His definition) … But: is relative to us (must be demonstrated to us through what is evident to us (God’s effects)).
Refutation 1: common, confused a priori knowledge re: happiness (i.e., Augustine), not give S-E knowledge
Refutation 2: his famous address of Anselm (bears similarities to Gaunilo’s critique collected by and printed in Anselm’s 2nd edition to his Proslogion, which famously details his ontological argument for God’s existence)
Article 2: Whether it can be Demonstrated that God Exists?
Obj. 1: faith not demonstrable
Obj. 2: view of Damascene--re: middle term … e.g.:
Premise: All men are mortal middle term here is “man:” allows the premises to link and yield
Premise: Socrates is a man the conclusion (and also thereby validate the conclusion)
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal
Obj. 3: effects incommensurate with God nb: all 3 objections tend mystical; post-medieval e.g.: cf. Kierkegaard, Buber
Corpus: yes, can be demonstrated, but only in a particular way (as Quia proof):
Propter Quid [“an account of which”] demonstration: a reasoned fact, demonstration via a cause
Quia [“that”] demonstration: a fact, demonstration via effect
Refutation 1: what’s known of God via reason is preamble to (not article of) faith
Refutation 2: use of middle term necessary but not identical to God b/c what not yet shown in proof of that
Refutation 3: effect don’t yield perfect knowledge of what it is, but do validly aid demonstration that it is
Article 3: Whether God exists?
Obj. 1: view akin to Augustine vs. Manicheans—infinitely Good God prohibit evil’s possibility, hence not exist
Obj. 2: simplest causal chain truest, hence existence of God not necessary nb: ‘simplicity’ later key to Pascal
Sed Contra: re: Exodus 3.14: I am who I am nb.: above challenging; seek echoes in following …
Corpus: Aquinas’ famous “Five Ways” proof(s) for God’s existence:
1: Argument from Motion
2: Argument from Nature of Efficient Cause
3: Argument from Possibility & Necessity
4: Argument from Gradation Found in Things
5: Argument from Governance of the World
Refutation 1: view of Augustine---re: God’s goodness allows and uses evil for good
Refutation 2: re: immutable, necessary first principle is necessary, and this is God
Questions 3-11:Concerning divine attributes/names: simple, perfect, good, infinite, exists in, immutable, eternal, unity … Questions 12-13:Concerning how God is known and His names Questions 14-22:Concerning divine attributes: truth, love, justice, mercy, providence …
2) Detail on Q.2.a.1: Whether the Existence of God is Self-Evident?
VS: God is self-evident because that which is exists naturally in us, and the knowledge of god is implanted in us, thus self-evident. We understand the signification of the name “God,” thus, we know he exists, nothing greater can be conceived. Existence of truth is self-evident, and God is truth itself.
TA: No one can admit the opposite of what is self-evident, but one can admit the opposite of God, as shown in the Psalms, “the fool said in his heart, there is no god.” A thing can be self-evident in two ways: either it is S-E in itself but not to us, or it can be S-E because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject (man is an animal—animal is included in the essence of man). If the essence of the predicate and the subject can be known, then it is S-E to all of us. If the subject and predicate are not known, then it will be S-E in itself, but not to us. Thus, god exists is self-evident in itself, but not to us, we must learn this. To know god in a general way is implanted in us by nature, but this is not to know absolutely that he exists. Not everyone who hears the name god understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought. Even if they do, then this does not ensure the existence of god, just the existence of the IDEA of god mentally.
The methodological importance of ‘Self-Evidence’: “Self-evident,” per se notum, literally means “known through itself;” to argue that God’s existence is per se notum means, thus, that knowledge of His existence requires no causal reasoning, instead being something we simply know in some basic way just by fact of our natures as rational animals.
If God’s existence is self-evident, neither Aquinas nor anyone else needs to make the argument for His existence; however, if God’s existence is not self-evident, neither Aquinas nor anyone else could make the argument for His existence (i.e., either reason could not grasp it or God doesn’t exist, hence no argument could be made—hence, the reason for articles two and three)—in avoiding the catch-22, Aquinas must argue that God’s existence is self-evident, but not in the way that is so self-evident that it needn’t an argument.
Aquinas will argue in this way concerning God’s existence, but also for what will follow in this treatise (On Divine Nature, the Summa’s first treatise), and in the rest of the Summa itself. Question One concerns the project’s possibility and methodology: while revealed theology gives truths that cannot be proved, the rest of the study of God (theology) is natural theology comprised of truths of faith demonstrable by philosophy’s work of reason; these truths must be self-evident (for their truth issues from themselves), though, to us, their evidence is rarely immediately evident, and we must work to grasp them through reason.
However, ‘self-evidence’ is not just methodologically important for the particular question and complete Summa—it is also hearkening—especially to the medieval ear—the commanded and thereby renown treatment of the fundamental metaphysical question: philosophically, this is when the Stranger, in Plato’s Sophist (244a), cries out that he and all of us presume we absolutely know what we mean when we say “being,” but discussion reveals our fundamental perplexity about this most self-evident fact; theologically, this is the motivation to and axiom around which St. Anselm (ca.1033-1109) formulates his famous ‘ontological argument for God’s existence’ in his Proslogion (ch.2), revealing God’s self-evidence as the understanding of “something than which nothing greater can be thought.” Truth is, and our obligation, by what we are, rational animals, created by God, is to work to grasp this certain evidence. Thus, what is most self-evident is also that which requires the most strenuous rational work to grasp its self-evidence as self-evident to us to the best of our abilities.
Objection One & Refutation One: Aquinas first relates the view of Damascene, also known as St. John of Damascus (ca. 645-749), a Syrian monk especially known for his hymns and poems (earning him the honorific ‘the golden speaker’), though brilliantly gifted across numerous fields from theology to astronomy, law to music and mathematics, wide-read in all Greek as well as Muslim scholarship, with strong tendencies toward mysticism, although his three-part Fountain of Knowledge (on dialectic, a defense of Christianity against Islam, and a Patristic systematization) is also credited as the first real work of Scholasticism, with other works in support of icons (earning him another title, ‘the doctor of Christian art’) and against the Manichaeans, on logic as well as dragons and ghosts, etc.. Damascene’s unique merger of Neoplatonist mysticism and logical Scholasticism is seen in his arguments for God as both incomprehensible and comprehensible, that one must add the two sides together, for one can construct logical proofs so as to know about Him, although His essence will remain inscrutable.* This thinking is seen here in the first objection (as it will be when Damascene returns in Q.2’s second article); Damascene (according to Aquinas) argues that something is S-E is when knowledge of it is naturally implanted in the thinker. Such naturally implanted knowledge, for example, are first principles (i.e., fundamental truths that ground knowledge; the basic laws that serve as premises for sciences, e.g., life is a first premise of biology, God is a first premise of theology, etc.); in order to know anything, one must have these basic truths from which to work—therefore knowledge of God’s existence is self-evident because one must know that He is before one can have theology.
For recommended text, cf.: Andrew Louth, St. John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology (Oxford Early Christian Studies) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Aquinas’ rejection of this objection is that while there is a common, confused a priori knowledge of God implanted in us as happiness, such does not give S-E knowledge. The most famous argument of happiness as a priori knowledge (knowledge by reason alone) of God’s existence is from Saint Augustine, notably in the 10th book of his Confessions, which is an inquiry into memory for if he knows God, he must have an idea of God, thus that idea must reside in his memory, however, he searches throughout the levels of memory and cannot find such an idea, thus ultimately determines that it is an indirect memory of God embodied in the idea of a good life, of happiness as the ultimate, essential, universal human desire, that grounds the a priori idea of God.
Objection Two & Refutation Two: The second objection is Aquinas’ direct address of Anselm’s most famous argument for God’s existence (in Anselm’s Proslogion, ch.2ff.), although the philosopher he cites is Aristotle because this objection proceeds forth from a logical argument about S-E as defined by a knowing of terms--i.e., citing Posterior Analytics (72b18), where Aristotle essentially defines a priori knowledge through the explanation that to know what a “whole” is, ‘the collection of all parts,’ one knows what a “part” is, and knows that parts are components within the whole, and therefore less than the whole. Switching to the language of Anselm’s famous ontological argument, this means that if one understands what “God” is, ‘the greatest,’ then one knows that God must exist, for He would not be greatest if He lacked existence.
Anselm’s Ontological Argument: (1) defines God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought;” (2) the fool can understand this statement (e.g., not having infinite knowledge, our knowledge is therefore limited: there is that which we know, and that which we do not; if we can think of a limit, we can think of that which exceeds it, even as the excess is itself unthinkable); (3) that which is understood exists in the understanding; (4) given the nature of what is understood in this definition of God, if it exists in the understanding, it also exists in reality (i.e., by nature of “nothing greater,” it cannot have lack, hence, if exists in one way, it must exist in all ways); (5) thus, God, as “that than which nothing greater can be thought,” exists.
Aquinas’ refutation of this second objection is his famous rebuke of Anselm—famous, despite it bearing close similarities to the critique by Gaunilo (entitled “Letter on behalf of the Fool”), which was, by Anselm’s request, solicited and printed in the Proslogion’s 2nd edition followed by Anselm’s response. The refutation may initially seem convoluted, but this is because Aquinas is condensing Gaunilo’s half a dozen different points made in service of three main arguments against Anselm down to a paragraph. To distill Aquinas’ distillation, the main arguments include: not everyone may begin from the first principle that God is “that than which nothing greater exists,” (e.g., one may first think of God as a body, as in Jesus, and could conceive of God as Father or as trinity as greater than Jesus alone); even if one grants the definition of God, it logically follows with certainty that God is grasped by the understanding, and not that God exists in reality (i.e., the differentiation of the latter sort of existence demands definition and argument; e.g, many may deem existence in reality to be material existence, which would not only violate divine incorporeality, but also be a defect of God, not a completion of His greatest); finally, and most fundamentally, Anselm presents his argument to the Fool (i.e., a non-believer), yet such would not accept his first principle defining God as the greatest, for that is what the Fool does not believe, hence, Anselm must give an argument for the first principle, not just that once the principle is granted, it can be proved logically consistent.
Objection Three & Refutation Three: The third objection is the classic, common argument against the Skeptics; this is such a common argumentative form, it is difficult to identify any one figure or school Aquinas may have in mind, and it is more likely that this objection represents the most common (non-)argument about God’s existence as self-evident (“non-argument” because it is akin to saying ‘of course God exists because it is true that God exists because God is truth’).
Basically: if the strictest skeptic refuses to affirm the existence of truth, the skeptic would nevertheless affirm with certainty that there is no truth; to affirm there is no truth is to affirm a truth; hence, no one can be a radical skeptic. The only twist on the argument is to use this with a creative blending of God and truth as parallel—just as one cannot argue there is no truth, one cannot argue there is no God, for God and truth are one, and there is always at least one certain truth.
Aquinas’ refutation is exceeding brief because he has already established the argument explaining it in his Corpus.
Sed Contra: While the “on the contrary” usually cites Scripture, the critical and initial reference is to “the Philosopher”--i.e., Aristotle, specifically his Metaphysics and Posterior Analytics concerning the a priori nature of first principles, as explained in the address of article two, above—and then supported (adding the caveat to Aristotle) with Psalms 53.1—which is the very biblical passage Anselm uses as a foil for his ontological argument.
defines Self-Evident (S-E); distinguishes two types of S-E; concludes God’s existence is S-E2:
S-E: predicate contained within the subject, e.g., “human being is an animal:” “human being” as subject; contains within itself (as its definition) the predicate “animal.”
S-E1: self-evident in itself, (and) not relative to us (i.e., known by all)
S-E2: self-evident in itself, (but) relative to us (i.e., not known by all)
“God exists:” is self-evident (“exists” as predicate contained in subject, “God,” by His definition) … But:
is relative to us (must be demonstrated to us through what is evident to us (God’s effects)).
3) Detail on Q.2.a.2: Whether it can be Demonstrated that God Exists?
VS: cannot be demonstrated b/c it is an article of faith; essence is the middle term of a demonstration, but can only know of what God’s essence doesn’t consist; can only demonstrate from effects, which are not God’s essence.
TA: We can demonstrate His existence, and in two ways: (1) through the cause, and this is to argue from what is prior absolutely; (2) through the effects, and this is to argue from what is prior relatively only to us. When an effect is known better than a cause, we can argue from it to the cause. In addition, for every effect we can demonstrate its existence. Because every effect depends on its cause, if the effect exists, then so does the cause, which therefore pre-exists. The existence of God and other like truths can be known by natural reason, thus, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles of faith. Faith presupposes natural knowledge. Thus: if one cannot grasp a proof, one is welcome to believe on faith; the middle term can be the name God; and proportion is not the same between effects and cause, but from these effects we can demonstrate the cause.
Objection One & Refutation One: The first objection is that God’s existence cannot be proved because such is an article of faith and faith is not demonstrable because demonstration is a work of reason productive of scientific knowledge whereas faith’s ‘knowledge’ (gnosis) is of what is unseen (citing Hebrews 11.1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”).
Refutation 1: what’s known of God via reason is preamble to (not article of) faith (citing Romans 1.19: “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them”).
Objection Two & Refutation Two: The second objection is perhaps the most interesting. It is the view of, again, Damascene (cf., Q.2.a.1, obj.1, above) and relies on the idea of a “middle term,” which can be understood by considering the following most common Aristotelian logical syllogism:
Premise: All men are mortal middle term here is “man:” allows the premises to link and yield
Premise: Socrates is a man the conclusion (and also thereby validate the conclusion)
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal
The middle term is like a common link in two otherwise different claims; it allows the disparate a piece of commonality. The objection claims that the middle term in a demonstration is what the thing is (i.e., in the above argument, what it is talking about is a man, thus each premise’s commonality is man). However, when what one is seeking to prove is God, we have a something we are trying to know that cannot be known in itself; God can only be known as what it is not (e.g., God is not a thing, not a person, not a chair, not a myth, not a color, etc.), and therefore cannot be the middle term in a proof (since the middle term is what the thing is).
Now, what is particularly fascinating about the ‘middle term’ objection? Three main things.
(1) Most importantly for understanding Aquinas and his philosophical disposition overall in the Summa, it is the unique dispute and variation that we see between two Christian philosophers who both merge Neoplatonist mysticism with Aristotelian-fueled Scholasticism—they both merge the two traditions, but here we see one synthesizer rebuking the precise manner of it in another. Where the mysticism is especially clear is the second point of interest:
(2) his use of apophatic theology seen in his claims of knowing God only by knowing what God is not:
Apophatic theology, also known as Negative Theology, in contrast to Cataphatic theology or Affirmative Theology, is thoroughly mystical: in regards to divine knowledge (knowing God’s attributes, or His Names), it argues that no name can adequately, truthfully, say what God is, therefore the only way by which to name and therefore know God is to employ negative names or negate all affirmative names. So, while cataphatic theology may say “God is Good,” apophatic theology would say “God is not Good”—this is not blasphemy; instead, it is the highest piety for it is most true that what we know good to be is far less good than is truthfully representative of God. Apophatic theology will frequently operate by direct negation (“not Good,” “not Light,” “not Powerful,” etc.), it may also employ privative names (e.g., weak, dark, nothing, silent, senseless, incomprehensible, etc.), and also more frequently rely on symbolic names (e.g., hand, crown, chair, mixing bowl, worm, storm, rock, etc.), building up endless encyclopedia of names that will be negate en masse (e.g., everything and nothing, all and none).
Damascene employs a strict apophatic formulation (per Aquinas’ telling)—“we cannot know what God is, but only what God is not”)—that Aquinas refutes by arguing that the middle term is not what God is, but just that God is, hence the use of the middle term (which is necessary to any proof) does not violate the insight of apophatic theology because it is not an identity of middle term to God’s essence, and, hence, shows Aquinas to affirm negative theology, to not reject Damascene’s methodology and underlying philosophical principle. This insight shows the partial picture of Aquinas’ own mysticism. It is true that he does not reject this cornerstone of Neoplatonist mysticism, but Aquinas’ form of apophatic theology is more complex: he more closely follows the lead of Pseudo-Dionysius who, ironically, wrote unremittingly about the power of names, even as he refused us his own (despite his ultimate anonymity, scholarship concurs he was another Syrian Christian Neoplatonist ca. 471/485-518/528), and bequeathed Christianity the radical fusion of apophatic and cataphatic theologies, an approach that yields an infinitely stuttering affirmation and negation of every possible name of God (e.g., “God is Good and not Good, Light and not Light,” for He is and yet is more than any one attribute could ever name) as an epistemological endeavor at once an act of piety and spiritual exercise that aims at self-purification as readying of pious for divine reunion. Pseudo-Dionysius is cited frequently throughout the Summa, but most importantly is faux-refuted as a supporting affirmation and minor revision in Q.13 of our same treatise (Treatise of Divine Nature).*
* For more on Ps.-Dionysius, cf., Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works of Pseudo-Dionysius, trans. Colm Luibheid (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987), isbn: 0809128381.
(3) The final point of interest concerning this article involves considering the idea of the ‘middle term’ argument in two preeminent religious philosophers: the later modern Christian philosopher and oft-called forbearer of existentialism Søren Kierkegaard and contemporary Jewish existential philosopher Martin Buber. Kierkegaard and Buber show examples in accord with Damascene’s apophatic mysticism, but unlike his conclusion, which rejects the middle term as useful for giving divine knowledge, both later philosophers precisely promote such middle-term work as the way by which to best know God. Kierkegaard’s Works of Love argues God is a middle term; He is the mediating element in all human relationships essentially, which means that the only authentic relationship one can have to another is by one’s being responsible to another other (the divine Other) in one’s directedness to the first another. Martin Buber’s I and Thou beautifully espouses this by characterizing every authentic relationship to another as authentic by the fact that one’s directedness to the other overflows the other to be before and to The Other. For Buber, there is no isolated ‘self,’ every “I” is actually and only a relation to others the I can address as ‘it’ or ‘you’: “The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me. I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter” (Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Scribner, 1974), p.62), and “The human being to whom I say You I do not experience. But I stand in relation to him, in the sacred basic word. Only when I step out of this do I experience him again. Experience is remoteness from You” (Ibid., pp.59-60), thus, when one speaks I-You, the “you” is not an object, it has no borders for it is purely a standing-in-relation; the “you” the “I” says flows beyond the “you” addressed: “in every You we address the eternal You” (Ibid., p.57), and “Extended, the lines of relationships intersect in the eternal You” (Ibid., 123). “You,” therefore, for Buber, is the middle term between “I” and “God,” and is so with radical replication: this I is only ever an I-You, the other is a You that is also the eternal You, hence to speak to another is at once to speak to another Other. Like Damascene, this gives us no scientific knowledge of God, for God is not an It, but it gives us knowledge as relation, thus brings us closer to Aquinas’ affirmation that there is a sort of knowledge the middle term can yield.
Refutation 2: use of middle term necessary but not identical to God b/c what God is not yet shown in proof of that God is.
Objection Three & Refutation Three: The final objection grants the possibility of demonstration of God’s existence, but argues that if such demonstration can be, it can only be a demonstration of God’s effects, and such effects are incommensurate with what God is essentially, therefore argues that demonstration of divine existence (as essence) is not possible. This objection logically follows from the content of the first citation of Damascene in the first objection in article one—“the knowledge that God exists is naturally implanted in everyone”*—because if such knowledge were naturally implanted, at best it would be either an image of God stamped upon the mind (hence a re-presentation of what God is, rather than a presentation of God Himself), or an effect of God (hence not what God is, but evidence that He is). Both options basically indicate knowledge on the level of effects—much like one would say they know a lake has fish in it because one sees the ripples on its surface, which is perfectly workable knowledge, but obviously tells one nothing certain of the cause except it being a ripple-maker. So, this objection most reasonably argues that effects, thoroughly finite as they are multiple and sensible or otherwise knowable, are utterly not proportionate to their cause, God, who is infinite (no multitude can ever be added up so as to equal that which has neither parts nor limits).
* John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa, 2 and 3, P G, 94, 789C and 793C; Aquinas, Q.2.a.1.obj.1.
Refutation 3: Aquinas’ rebuttal of this objection is brief (its succinct argument is made in the third and second to last sentences in his Corpus), affirms the objection’s argument (that effects don’t yield perfect knowledge of what it is) and rejects its conclusion (arguing instead that effects do validly aid demonstration that it is)—put bluntly, Aquinas declares: ‘of course arguing from effects doesn’t give us perfect knowledge of their cause, but it ~does~ give us knowledge.
Sed Contra: Quoting Romans 1.20—“The unseen things of God can be grasped through an understanding of what God has made”—Aquinas uses Scripture to repeat the most often made premise of Neoplatonism. Aquinas elaborates the Biblical claim by pointing out how it would be impossible to ever know what God has made without being able to know that God exists, for in any and every case, what something is presupposes that it is.
While this logical reminder is clearly true, it may not seem satisfying. Fuller, richer argumentation is made throughout medieval Neoplatonist philosophy prior to Aquinas by a variety of rehearsals of Emanation Theory:
Emanation Theory has ancient (pre-Presocratic) Egyptian roots, flourished in pagan Neoplatonism (from Plotinus’ birth to Justinian’s closure of Plato’s Academy, ca. 204-529 c.e.), and was adopted by all three Abrahamic traditions as a creation theory. Etymologically, “emanation” means “to flow forth or stream,” thus indicates here how causality divinely pours forth (visualized as streams, bubbling water, fountains, cycle of clouds producing rain evaporating back into clouds*), thus its first principle is that all derived things proceed out of an originary source (i.e., everything that is (the dyad, the many), before it is (before creation), is the One (monad)). Emanation as a creation theory is a two-step of “Procession” and “Reversion”:
(1) the One creates by procession: an overflowing wherein the overflow is all of creation; since procession is the One-become-Many and the Many-is-from/of/by-the One,
(2) everything, by its nature, seeks “reversion,” a return to the One.
This two-step is a procession-reversion cycle driven by desire: “Because it [God/The One] is there the world has come to be and exists. All things long for it. The intelligent and rational long for it by way of knowledge, the lower strata by way of perception, the remainder by way of the stirrings of being alive and in whatever fashion befits their condition” (Ps.-Dionysius, DN 593D). Primarily a creation theory, Emanation can philosophically yield an entire metaphysics from cosmology (account of universe’s origin, power/activity of creation) to ontology (account of being: everything that is, is of the One), thus also an epistemology (way to understand creation & creator by knowing dyad as of the monad), and teleology (gives end (purpose, goal): return to the One), as well as an ethic (gives duty: make self worthy of return via rational exercise/spiritual practice).
* For example: Iamblichus: “ever-flowing and unfailing creativity;” Proclus: “Every effect remains in its cause, proceeds from it, and returns to it” (Proclus, The Elements of Theology, ed. E.R. Dodds (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), nos. 35, 38); Damascius: effect “flowing” from its cause; Pseudo-Dionysius: Cherubim as “effusion of wisdom,” God and His attributes as “outpouring” to His creatures, God’s creativity as “bubbling over” and “bubbling forth” (Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names, 952A); Romans 11:36: “From him and to him are all things” (also cited by Ps.-Dionysius, Celestial Hierarchy, 121A); for more Cf., Stephen Gersh, From Iamblichus to Eriugena: An Investigation of the Prehistory and Evolution of the Pseudo-Dionysius Tradition (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1978), 17-19, and Thérèse Bonin, Creation as Emanation: The Origin of Diversity in Albert the Great’s On the Causes and the Procession of the Universe (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2001), 15-21. An explicitly Christian employment of emanation as creation can be grasped as infinitely expanding the idea of Adam as “created in His image” (Genesis 1:27) to say everything, despite seemingly infinite variety of created things, is created in His image, as His image, by His image, and will end in His image with a return to Him.
Emanation theory elaborates Aquinas’ brevity because it reveals that each thing is an effect of, from, and by its cause. It also provides the argument for the validity of using the names of things (effects) for the cause in order to know the cause, for every effect is materially, formally, efficiently, and finally caused by the One (to hearken Aristotle’s four causes in his Physics: the of, to, by, and for of anything that makes it be the thing it is). Aquinas, however, does not elaborate this full account in refuting all those who argue the impossibility of constructing a proof a God’s existence—remember, this second question concerning divine existence is really the first main scrap of content in a systematization of theology that will even remain incomplete as it still unfolds over a thousand-plus more pages: Aquinas’ slow-build method aims here only a barest concretion of argument: the validity of arguing that God is.
Yes, God’s existence can be demonstrated—but only in a particular way (as Quia proof):
Propter Quid [“an account of which”] demonstration: a reasoned fact, demonstration via a cause
Quia [“that”] demonstration: a fact, demonstration via effect
4) Detail on Q.2.a.3:
VS: God doesn’t exist because if God existed (as goodness) then there would be no evil. We can account for every effect by other principles, other causes besides God, for example, the principle of nature.
TA: God exists, he has said “I am who am.” SEE FIVE WAYS, below, FOR REST OF RESPONSE HERE.
Objection One & Refutation One: The first objection expresses a view akin to Augustine’s against the Manicheans, that the existence of an infinitely Good God prohibits evil’s possibility, hence God does not exist.* Aquinas’ refutation cites Augustine’s Enchiridion [Manual, or Handbook], ch.11—“God, since he is supremely good, would ever have allowed anything evil in his works unless he were so omnipotent and good that he could bring forth good even from evil”—although he could easily have found supplemental supports in most of his works, especially his On Free Choice of the Will.**
* Manicheanism, founded by the Babylonian prophet Mani (ca.210-276 c.e.), was a wide-spread, organized religion ca. 3rd-16th c.. Existent fragments from Mani’s six to eight surviving works show it to be a synthetic tradition arguing that “complete” teachings of religious truth were only “partially” revealed to Buddha, Jesus, and Zoroaster (the last: similar dualism to Manicheans, but w/o their cosmology; its priesthood killed Mani). Its central tenet: there is a dualism of light/dark, good/evil, peace/violence, spirit/matter; all things are their composite, hence no one omnipotent God; humanity is the preeminent combo of incorruptible/corruptible (soul/body), hence the central battleground of these dual forces and thus have the goal to overcome evil by seeking complete union with its incorruptible aspect. Augustine, before his conversion to Christianity, joined and belonged to the Manicheans for roughly a decade, attracted to their highly sophisticated rational argumentation for faith’s tenets (they made great advances in empirical and rational sciences in order to further their disputations).
** This is a dialogue between Augustine and his student Evodius on the freedom to choose granted by God’s gift to humans of free will, thus, they spend ample time arguing it is a good gift, especially in its Book II, which contains a lengthy proof for God’s existence as a required first step to elucidate why free will is good and a good gift from God. The issue is first posited starting Bk.II: “Now explain to me, if you can, why God gave human beings free choice of the will, since if we had not received it, we would not have been able to sin,” Evodius asks, and Augustine proposes his conclusion as the problem they will argue out: “If human beings are good things, and they cannot do right unless they so will, then they ought to have a free will without which they cannot do right. True, they can also use free will to sin, but we should not therefore believe that God gave them free will so that they would be able to sin,” hence, God permits evil, which is a creation of and action done by humans, because it is a possibility given by our gifted free will, which was gifted so that we may choose to be/do good (OFCW, II.1).
These sort of rebuttals clearly reject numerous arguments about ‘why would a good God permit evil?’, however they do not actually directly address the argument Aquinas’ setup of the objection precisely invokes. Instead, the closest formulation of the exact objection occurs in Augustine’s autobiography Confessions as an argument he recites against the Manicheans:
“There is in the Manichaean creed a sort of nation of darkness which is set up as a counter substance to you [The Good, God]; now what, Nebridius asked, would this nation of darkness have done to you, if you had been unwilling to fight against it? If the reply was: ‘it would have done you some harm,’ then it would follow that you were capable of suffering injury and corruption. If, on the other hand, it was admitted that it could have done you no harm, then no reason could be produced why you should fight with it. … then all these theories of theirs must be false …” (Confessions, VII.2).
Now, the Manichaeans are absolutely not arguing the objection’s conclusion that God does not exist; instead, their belief is that there are two omnipotent forces: one of darkness, evil, and another of light, good, who are both eternally locked in battle. In rejecting their belief in two highest powers, Augustine is citing an argument by his friend Nebridius that essentially says an eternal war between two diametrically opposed deities is illogical because a battle implies harm could be done, which invalidates their omnipotence, or if no harm could be done, invalidates the motivation for an entirely good God to fight, hence how could a battle proceed if one party both refused to fight and was unable to be harmed? Instead of using this refutation of two-gods to refute Manicheanism and argue that there is only one God, and that God is good, Aquinas’ formulation of the objection moves to the conclusion that there must therefore be no God because there is evil.
Refutation 1: Just as the objection reads akin to Augustine’s argument against the Manicheans, Aquinas’ refutation of the view strongly echoes Augustine’s refutation--re: God’s goodness allows and uses evil for good (more detail, above).*
* It is also worth noting that the allowance and use of evil by God is a very common medieval proposition that is widely and diversely argued; perhaps the most interesting elaboration is in Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, which contains both a formulation of the ‘God’s eye view’ explanation of how what appears to be evil to us is, actually, just a piece in the whole puzzle that is ultimately good, which could be seen had we a God’s eye view of all things, as well as an argument that suffering, as an instantiation of evil, can be good, be it endured by the good, thereby making them stronger, or by the evil, thereby reforming them.
Objection Two & Refutation Two: The second objection—simplest causal chain truest, hence existence of God not necessary—may immediately remind one of two later, famous arguments:
The first was made famous about 50 years later (Aquinas’ Summa started ca. 1266) by William of Ockham’s oft-repeated insistence on simplicity, refusing plurality unless utterly necessary, a principle of economy (In libros Sententiarum [Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard—aka. Sent.], ca. 1317 and Summa logicae, ca. 1323) that was codified into the famous “Ockham’s Razor.” This attributed theory is not uncommonly yet oddly used to argue against the existence of God, despite Ockham’s own rigid faith and frequent arguments that nothing should be accepted without reason, except for what is undeniably self-evident by experience or Scripture (cf., Sent., I, dist.30, Q.1), arguing that God’s existence is resistant to logical proof due to its apodictic certainty provided by revelation and pure faith. Nevertheless, were one to use Ockham’s Razor, the divergent findings are typically posited as follows: either (a) being able to distill the diversity of natural things to having a single cause, God, is the most reliably logical truth, or (b) being able to attribute the diversity of natural things to the cause of nature and voluntary things to the cause of humans is the simplest argument, hence there is no need to posit the existence of God (the latter being most directly akin to the formulation of Aquinas’ objection, again, noting Aquinas’ use nearly 50 years prior*).
* There is nothing radical proposed here—“Ockham’s Razor” was so dubbed that and attributed to William of Ockham centuries after his death, its most common formulation—“Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity”—never appears exactly that way in Ockham’s works, but in a 1639 commentary by John Punch on Duns Scotus’ philosophy (cf., ‘Johannes Poncius’ Commentary on John Duns Scotus’ Opus Oxoniense,’ III, dist.34, Q.1, in Duns Scotus, Opera Omnia, vol.15). The truth, however, in the late attribution is that Ockham does, throughout most of his many works, extensively rely on a thesis of simplicity in argument. Such a logical rule can be found in works as early as Aristotle (ca.384-322 b.c.e.) and thoroughly throughout the High Middle Ages, from Maimonides (ca.1138-1204) to Duns Scotus (ca.1265-1308), with many of the later references tracing the idea from Peter Lombard’s Sentences (ca.1150) as traced from Aristotle’s logic.
The second reference to which this objection might ring bells comes over 400 years after Aquinas’ Summa and from the eloquent pen of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)—who would go on to argue that a lack of necessity doesn’t mean a certainty of non-existence, thus providing an alternate staging to then hearken his so-called ‘Pascal’s Wager’ and posit that the good betting person would err to belief, hence his conclusion opposite of one who make take such an objector to be promoting an atheism (cf., Pascal, Pensées, III, §233).
Refutation 2: re: immutable, necessary first principle is necessary, and this is God.
Sed Contra: The exceedingly economical “On the Contrary” simply cites Exodus 3.14: I am who am—thereby betraying how rich and complex a confutation this actually is.
While provocative on insights on the perfect validity of the pure (and absolutely not vicious) circular logic*—perhaps most importantly, this is the best point at which to consider the distinctions between and important equations of existence (existentia) and essence (essentia).
* “I am” is a conjugation of the verb “being,” here being used as a proper noun (proper as both a name and primary attribute), hence one can note the perfect parallel of the “am-ness” before and after the “who” (noting some translations this is a “that”) as well as the repetition both with and without difference that is formed by taking both the “I” and “am” as “being” with the middle “who/that” as a sort of equal sign, hence yielding the stammering: being, being = being, being. Contemporary Continental philosophy’s indulging in such explorations is too vast to properly cite, but the two best areas to begin is with Martin Heidegger and Gilles Deleuze (and simply see me if you want more detail).
Corpus: Aquinas’ famous “Five Ways” proof(s) for God’s existence: 1: Argument from Motion 4: Argument from Gradation Found in Things 2: Argument from Nature of Efficient Cause 5: Argument from Governance of the World 3: Argument from Possibility & Necessity
D E TA I L O N ~THE FIVE WAYS~ (1) The Argument from Motion: It is important to understand the motivation for beginning with motion—and this requires thinking the diversity and disparities of motions we collect under the name motion, and how the most general essence of motion is indicative of being writ large (and hence its most fundamental feature). This understanding requires a short-course through Aristotle’s Physics:
Physics is Aristotle’s treatise on ‘the things of nature’: “nature” is an activity, that which governs the distinct pattern of activity for each kind of being (as seen in birth, growth, and self-maintenance of things and in the equilibrium of the parts of the cosmos), hence is an inner principle of motion and rest; things with nature include: animals, plants, the four elements, and parts of animals. (Given what nature is, and the fact that Parmenides and Zeno proposed that there is no motion because they argued all is one, Aristotle must solve their paradoxes and give a full account of motion, for such is a crucial foundation for all other sciences.) Thus, for Aristotle, “motion” is the being-at-work-staying-itself of a potency just as potency—which can also be translated as being the actuality of a potentiality as potentiality, even if this does not initially clarify matters. So, a place to begin is to understand that motion is internal to a thing itself, a working of form on matter within something. Thus, while we may first think of motion as what happens when one walks across a room, locomotion is simply one type of motion, and even in this obvious type, we have to shift our attention from an external perspective (e.g., movement through space) to an internal one (e.g., the potential to move through space being actualized as the moving). However, when thinking of motion as internal, we cannot substitute motion for change: motion (kinesis) is a type of, and therefore not the same as, change (metabole, which includes “generation” (genesis, coming to be), “destruction” (phthora, perishing, ceasing to be), and “motion” (kinesis)). Instead, just as motion (kinesis) is a type of change, motion itself includes a variety of types: locomotion (change of place); alteration (change of aspect, e.g., of color, texture, mood, learning, etc.); increase (getting larger); and decrease (getting smaller)—importantly, note that all types of motion are changes from a subject to a subject, that is, whatever undergoes a certain change that was there before, during, and remains after the change, then such change is a motion, for example, copper going from goldish to greenish is the type of motion called alteration because the copper is there before, during, and after its color change, whereas the copper’s ultimate rusting away is a destruction, not a motion, because afterwards the copper does not remain.
So, thinking motion as internal rather than external—motion being a change from a subject to a subject, i.e., there is no motion that exists apart from things (200b33)—allows us to better see how the ‘external-ness’ of something, what we can call substance or thinghood, is different from something’s essence, which we can describe as what something keeps on being in order to be at all. Now, if “being” is the thinghood (substance) of a thing that is what it keeps on being in order to be at all (essence), it must be a being-at-work (a first type of actuality) so that it may achieve or sustain its being-at-work-staying-itself (a second type of actuality). Noting two types of actuality while stressing activity to the end of understanding motion, which was above tied to potentiality, raises the question of what Aristotle means by actuality and potentiality (which is extensively explored in Metaphysics VIII).
Actuality (entelecheia or energeia) and potentiality (dunamis) are not a simple dichotomy of two ideas, but there exists a third term that instantiates something in-between (which Aristotle notes as somewhat indefinable, hence its lack of a distinct name, cf.Meta. 1048a37). Potentiality as dunamis, most basically, is a power something has to produce change; the exercise of this power is motion (kinesis), for example an artist’s craft is her power (potentiality) whose exercise (putting it in motion) is her art-making. However, there is another ‘potentiality’ that is not connected to motion, but more so to actuality (energeia): a sort of potential as capacity to be in a different, more complete state (potential to be more actualized). For example, I am a native English speaker who also speaks French; when I am actually speaking French, I am actualizing my potential to speak French into its actuality of speaking French; however, when I am not speaking French, I do not lose my potential to speak it; the potentiality in the speaking involves motion, and is different from the potentiality in the not-currently-speaking which is more like a potentiality as actuality because it is not being put into motion.*
Aristotle offers examples of actuality to this potentiality-like-actuality being like “someone waking is to someone sleeping, as someone seeing is to a sighted person with his eyes closed, as that which has been shaped out of some matter is to the matter from which it has been shaped” (Meta. 1048b1-3); as my example above is more like the first two, one can elaborate the third as, e.g., as a mitten is to the wool from which it was knit, hence the wool yarn could have been knit into a scarf or pillow, so even when it has actually become a mitten, considering just the matter, such retains it purer potential to be other than what it actually has become, therefore there is a potentiality-more-like-actuality that remains even when a type of potentiality ceases when actualized.
Keeping these distinctions in actuality (entelecheia), potentiality-like-actuality (energeia), and potentiality (dunamis) in mind, reconsider the definition of being and the two different ways we can express the one same definition of motion: “being” is the thinghood (substance) of a thing that is what it keeps on being in order to be at all (essence) and must therefore be a being-at-work (energeia) so that it may achieve or sustain its being-at-work-staying-itself (entelecheia); thus, “motion” is the being-at-work-staying-itself (entelecheia) of a potency, just as a potency (energeia), which is identical to saying that “motion” is the actuality of the potentially existing qua existing potentially (201a10). Aristotle realizes its complexity; he offers an example through a type of motion: the actuality of the alterable qua alterable is an alteration—so, in December, I was given a bushy red poinsettia, which has now, in May, grown new leaves in lower light that are all green; the green-leafed plant has the potential to become (either again, anew, or for first time) red-leafed (energeia), so the actuality of this potential is the green-becoming-red (dunamis enacted in kinesis), i.e., if something can do something, then motion is the thing’s doing what it can. Motion, then, is not a lack; it is the being-at-work-staying-itself of a potency as potency (as the actuality of a potentiality as such); it is internal to the thing itself (it is the working of form on matter initiating a process as process, as something staying active, not being a complete state, for completion would be like death, non-being). In order to grasp anything about nature, let alone being, one must understand motion.
Now, to Aquinas’ First Way (from motion): working from what is apparent empirically, observable in the world, to what this can then tell one about that which one cannot perceive sensibly, Aquinas begins from the everyday observations that some things in the world are moved and that such move-able things are moved (put into motion) by something else—this holds be it a leaf blown by the wind or a child born by its mother. From these observations, Aquinas reveals the thing’s being put into motion is its actualization of its potential to be moved, and that which actualizes its potential must itself be an actuality. His example is that something actually hot, fire, is required to bring wood, which is potentially hot, into its actualized hot-state or burning. The log has the potentiality to be cold or hot, but it cannot actualize these two potentials at the same time (i.e., it can only be one or the other), nor can it be potentially hot if it is actually hot, for, once it actualizes its potential of being hot, the only other state it could potentially acquire is to be cold (i.e., the burning log is doused in cold water). This shows that something cannot be mover and moved at the same time in the same way—that is, remembering that motion is a change of potential into actual done by something actual, the wood actually cold needs fire to be put into hot-motion or, when hot, water to be put into-cold motion. Aquinas thus concludes “thus whatever is moved must be moved by another”—but must then cut us off from imagining an infinite regress of actualities because there must be some first mover, for without a first mover, there will be no actuality.
It is easier to fall prey to the assumption of the backward causal chain (e.g., you came into being by your mother, she by her mother, she by hers, etc.; or a ball moves because it was hit by a stick, which moves because of a hand moving, etc.) because it seems easier to think of an infinite number of ‘by X’s’ (e.g., “great-”’s prefixed to “grandmother,” or everything causing a hand to move, etc.) but, if you imagine the situation moving forward (e.g., how did your first ancestral grandma come to be) the logical flaw is more apparent: if coming to be (being put into motion) requires a change from potential-movement into actual-movement by way of an actual-moving-thing, there must be that actually-moving-thing.
This allows us finally to have our last conclusion: “Therefore it is necessary to arrive at some first mover that is not put into motion by anything, and this all understand to be God”—note, though, that the conclusion is that there is a first mover, and the identification of what this first mover is, God, is Aquinas’ appendage onto the logical conclusion. The added clause’s clearly different tone—“this all understand”—which is far from methodical progression by logical argument emphasizes the importance of grasping that it is first mover that is the logical conclusion. Aquinas is offering The Five Ways as the barest start to a proof for God’s existence—he works from everyday observations never overstepping logic and not relying upon any unacknowledged first premises—therefore building up the most skeletal proof what that which we will most verifiably call “G-O-D.” Therefore, it would have been easier to argue from motion to ‘there is a God’ by other attributes (e.g., being mere potential could be deemed a weakness; God is omnipotent; therefore He must be first), but omnipotence is an attribute of a being, thus would have been an un-argued premise presupposed in the proof that is merely for the being of that which we will call God.
(2) The Argument from Nature of Efficient Cause
The Second Way, which argues by efficient cause, also requires a short review of Aristotle’s Physics: Aristotle’s Physics (II, 3) establishes that every ‘effect’ has four ‘causes;’ that is, everything that is, came to be by way of four causes: the material, formal, efficient, and final. The simplest illustration, imagine Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’:
the material cause: that from which something comes to be – e.g., bronze
the formal cause: that to which something comes to be – e.g., male figure sitting with chin on fist
the efficient cause: that by which something comes to be – e.g., Auguste Rodin
the final cause: that for the sake of which something comes to be – e.g., to fulfill his commission for a Paris museum, or to express what he, as an artist, felt compelled to express, etc.
By this argument, then, Aquinas proves that there must a first efficient cause—that is, a first ‘maker’—due to our beginning everyday observation that there are sensible things, things made, and there is an order of makers of these things--e.g., ‘The Thinker’ was made by Rodin, who was made by his parents, who were made by their parents, likewise, it was made from bronze, which is an alloy made of copper and tin, which come from the earth’s crust, etc.. While something can be made and a maker of other things, it is impossible for something to be the efficient maker of itself—for something then would have to be already before it came to be. And, similarly to The First Way, we cannot have an infinite regress, because while we can have many intermediary causes between a first and last, for there to be any effect, there must be a start. Therefore there must be a first efficient cause, and, again similarly to The First Way, we will also call this first “God.”
Notice that the first two ‘Ways’ are very similar in their structure; the next argument builds from these two, shares important aspects, but also founds a different line of argument.
(3) Argument from Possibility & Necessity
Looking around the world, we see things that are necessary and things that are possible; the type of possibility we are specifically considering here concerns existence: for some things, it is possible that they exist and possible that they cease to exist, and thus the things with such possibilities are things that can be generated and corrupted.
(Again, Aristotle’s Physics will make one familiar with ‘generation and corruption’ as a common designator of what can come to be and pass away; anything generated will corrupt, this is sans all moral connotations, so a human will die, a paper cup will decompose, a rock will wear down to sand, etc..)
Now, it is impossible that everything that is exists and ceases to exist only as possible existences and nonexistences, that is, with there being no thing whose existence was necessary. Why? Recall what the first two ‘Ways’ have proved: first, that existence is motion, to come to move requires a thing having the potentiality of movement that is actualized by something else that is in actuality, and therefore there must be a first mover; and, second, that every thing that is was made by a maker, and therefore there must be a first maker. So, if everything were potential-being—that is, all possible, nothing actual—and their actualization requires an actual maker-being, then there would be nothing … and we look around, and, obviously, there are things as opposed to no-things … thus, there must be at least one necessary being.
An illustration (ideas helpful, but a little too oversimplified, need a better electrical engineering schematic):
Imagine existent things like light bulbs that can be switched on or off. Since every bulb may be (lit) or not be (unlit), statistically, at some time X all bulbs are off, just as some time Y all bulbs are on, and all the other permeations. Now, imagine these bulbs in some simple electrical circuitry where a charge must go from a battery through a couple switches that can each illuminate their respective bulbs by allowing or not allowing current. For the last bulb in the chain to receive power, all the bulbs’ switches before it must be up and allowing current to light them and move on to the next. Now, since it is possible for every bulb to be lit up or not, there will be a time X when the first bulb’s switch is off; this means there is no electricity (motion &/or efficient cause) affecting any of the bulbs. Thus, for there to be any light at all, there must be at least one necessarily on switch in the circuit. (Thus, God is ‘always turned on’—innuendo inappropriate due current decorum, but actually quite appropriate for earliest Neoplatonic formulations wherein power of divine desire explains movement and infinite fecundity describes maker.)
As The Third Way necessitates the first two ‘Ways’ and is their culmination, the last two ‘Ways’ are akin to and reliant on aspects of the former, but also pair together themselves quite well.
(4) Argument from Gradation Found in Things
In contrast to the first two ‘Ways’ addressing the ‘first’s’ required for things, and hence more akin to the Third Way’s concern being the to-be-and-not-to-be natures of things, the Fourth Way’s Gradation argument concerns the in between-ness natures of things—that is, the comparability of things, that everything is a more than or less than other things in innumerable ways, be it more or less good, tall, wise, crooked, rich, noble, true, etc.. Now, everything can be compared with other things, but, in order to do the comparing, we actually have need for a third term—X compares to Y by criterion X—and, in gradation, this criterion specifically is the maximum: to determine whether Kali is more or less good than Tal I must know what ‘good-est’ (best) is, or whether you are courageous requires me to know what courage itself (in itself as the virtue, hence courage fully as courage-est). Even if we never take note of our rational use of the superlative form of X when we judge the grape as X-er than the apple, we always rely on the maximum implicitly: it is illogical to think X-er without an X-est. There are, therefore maximums of all these perfections which we judge things having in degrees.
Further, as he cites on authority per Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the maximum of any causal chain of gradations is logically the genus of that chain. (The example of fire as the maximal heat being the cause of all other things that become varyingly hot may strike us as a scientific peculiarity, but thinking of it generally proves it helpful, e.g., fire as hottest causes the paper to burn hotter than the close but not burning warm log, wherein the warmth of the log and heat of the paper are caused by the fire as the hottest.)
The conclusion here comes from there being something that is the maximum of any gradation and therefore the genus (first cause) of that causal chain of gradation; therefore all gradations have maximums; thus of all gradations, there is a maximum, a genus of all the genera of maximums, and, to this, we give the name “God.”
(5) Argument from Governance of the World
The final ‘Way,’ concerning governance, employs and elaborates all the former ‘Ways’’ implicit establishments of multiple chains (e.g., moving, things made and makers, possibles, gradations) hierarchically organized so to point us toward an idea of complex order. It is also helpful to recall the idea of the four causes discussed in The Second Way, notably the final cause: that for the sake of which something comes to be—this idea, that everything that is, is for something, some end, reason, or purpose, underlies Aquinas’ argument from governance’s opening everyday observation: natural bodies (things lacking intelligence) act for some end. It is apparent, he says, because they act in consistent manners to best achieve their ends--e.g., the rock’s fall from the ledge is always fairly straight to the ground, the arrow from the archer’s bow flies relatively straight to the target, the moon flower persistently opens at night to receive its pollinating moth, etc.—so the consistency of these acts cannot be mere chance. Of course, if not chance, then these acts are guided by intention, although being natural bodies, lacking will and reason, the intention guiding their action must not be in the things themselves. Hence, like the knowledge and intelligence of the archer who guides the arrow’s flight directly to the target, all things originarily have a superlative knowing-intelligence that guides their natural actions. There is, then, a being who determines and guides the fulfillment of the final causes of all things, and we give this thing the name “God.”
This Fifth Way proposes a well known form, be it from Aristotle to any number of Abrahamic medievals through contemporary essayists, often characterized as a ‘craftsman’ or ‘artist’-deity proof: that God is the artist who designed and put into and keeps the world in motion.
Closing the discussion of The Five Ways, there are at least two important lines of questioning:
First, how do we think of The Five Ways together:
Are these five different proofs for the existence of God? Are they five arguments in a single proof for the existence of God? Or, are they two, three, or four, or otherwise?
In brief—since arguments exist and can be further made for all the above—it is simply valuable to note some of the following points:
–there may be benefits pedagogically and methodologically for posing them as five distinct units;
– there may be benefits pedagogically and methodologically for posing them as one complete proof (i.e., especially since Question Three, immediately following this, proves God’s most primary attribute after being: simplicity);
–there is a natural flow where the second builds from the first, the third from the second and first, etc.;
–there is a natural divide between the first three and last two;
–there are parallels between each in form and content;
–there are advances made (distinct yields in content) in each;
–arguing the latter may beg the questions established in the former;
Second, what does all this work allow Aquinas to conclude:
While The Five Ways yield proof that that which we call “God” exists (keeping in mind the stress on exists—this is intentionally the most essential, therefore barest, establishment simply of ‘being’), compounding the findings of each ‘Way,’ Aquinas does have some ‘what’ content from his proof—i.e., beyond that He is, the that gives us some, albeit bare, what of what He is: “God” is the first mover (thus, a moving-actuality, hence not potentially move-able, otherwise more familiarly known: an Unmoved Mover), the first efficient cause (thus, a maker of made things that may also make), necessary (not merely a thing whose existing is possible, hence not something generated and corruptible), the maximum (thus, genus of all genera of maximums, and, more familiarly cast, such a genus is the final criterion for all judgments), and the designer and governor of all things (more familiarly put as the craftsman or the first, eternal, and last criterion for all things).
Simplifying these components more, one can say The Five Ways yields a proof for God’s existence that determines this existant as:
an Unmoved Mover who is the Cause of all that is, an absolutely Necessary being, the Final Criterion of value, and the Designer and Governor of the Universe.
Aquinas’ can now proceed to build piece by piece from this foundation (never overstepping, but each further Question relying only on what has been established before it) through all further divine attributes: God is, is simplicity, perfection, goodness, etc..
5) Very Quick Overview of Q.2.a.3’s Five Ways:
Proof 1: Argument from Motion: Motion is reduction of something from potentiality to actuality; this cannot happen without a cause that is actuality; and X cannot be both potentiality and actuality at the same time in same respect; thus, impossible for X to be mover and moved at once (i.e., X cannot move itself). Thus, if X moved, it needed another mover—but cannot be an infinite regress; thus, first mover is God.
Proof 2: Argument from the Nature of Efficient Cause: [Efficient Cause = the ‘by which something comes to be,’ e.g., a sculptor is an efficient cause of a statue.] There is an order of efficient causes—No thing is the efficient cause of itself. Cannot be infinite regress; the First Efficient Cause causes the Intermediate Efficient Causes, which cause the Ultimate/Final Causes. If we take away the First, the others will not be; therefore, the First Efficient Cause is God.
Proof 3: Argument from Possibility and Necessity: Things can BE and NOT-BE, but, impossible for all to NOT-BE, because being cannot come to be out of nothing. Thus, not all beings are merely possible, there must exist something whose existence is necessary; every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not; therefore there is something having of itself its own necessity, i.e. God.
Proof 4: Argument from the Gradation found in Things: There are things more and less good, true, noble, etc.; “more” and “less” depend on a maximum. Thus, there is THE truest, best, and noblest (thus, something that is the most being). The maximum of any genus is the cause of all in that genus. Thus, something that is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, all perfections, is God.
Proof 5: Argument from the Governance of the World: [Teleological Argument] Things that lack knowledge (i.e., Natural Bodies) still act purposively (for an end); thus, they achieve their end by Design, not chance—their movement is directed by something with intelligence and knowledge. Thus, the intelligent being who directs all natural things toward their ends is God.
Granting his proofs to be valid, Aquinas has established: --1-- the Existence of an Unmoved Mover who is --2-- the Cause of all that is, --3-- an absolutely Necessary being, --4-- the Final Criterion of value, and --5-- the Governor and Designer of the Universe.