Category: Aristotle

Cotter on Epistemology and Skepticism: Part 1

Cotter on Epistemology and Skepticism: Part 1

In this post I will be doing a study on the Epistemological section of the book “The ABC of Scholastic Philosophy”. The preliminary remarks are full of  definitions of certitude (which he defines as “unhesitating, firm assent (or dissent), without fear of error”), and the particular end one should aim at while doing epistemology. Cotter thinks this end will be, “Formal Certitude or Objective Certitude”, the attaining of which is the most perfect of the hierarchy of certainty. Cotter defines Formal Certitude as that  “firm assent (or dissent) which is necessarily true and known to be true”. He strengthens this definition by giving an obvious example of the equation 2+2+4. This is something know to be true, which also has a corresponding object in reality.  He contrasts this with a weaker form of certitude, one in which the first definition can possibly be in direct opposition to, “Subjective Certitude”. Cotter defines subjective Certitude as that “assent (or dissent) which is indeed firm, but really should not be firm”. Cotter, again uses obvious examples, mentioning the absurd belief of our ancestors, who once held that the earth was flat. Obviously this was held firmly, and yet there was too limited data available and it certainty did not correspond to reality. Cotter also briefly mentions respective and practical certitude, but only practical certitude will need mention in this essay. Practical Certitude is that which “is an assent (or dissent) which is firm merely for practical reasons, viz. because otherwise life would be impossible.”. An example of this would be the belief that the world will not be subject to a black hole, something practical but ultimately out of our control.

To begin, Cotter defines the views of several types of skeptics, a group of people who would obviously disagree with the philosophical enterprise he is seeking to establish. He starts by defining the views of an individual who would identify as a universal skeptic, a person who believes in no such object as a truth known with formal certitude. For the purpose of this article, we will leave his defense against the universal skeptic as the only one mentioned, but there will surely be other posts on the topic (he does mention the partial skeptic as well, but that is not entirely relevant to this work). Cotter then divides the universal skeptics into two sub groups, those of the objective and subjective skeptics. The objective skeptic believes that we do hold truths with a certain firmness, and yet we should never do so. The subjective skeptic in contrast holds that we both should not hold to any position with firmness, as indubitable, and that we, absurdly, never do hold to such a belief with a complete assent. That is to say, that we literally are never sure of anything, and we never should think or hold any position with such commitment. This will do with the definitions for now as we continue into the juice of his analysis.

Cotter after defining his terms seeks to give a lesson in the history of this skepticism, noting the Sophists held no belief in the Law of Contradiction, thinking they could prove every proposition to be a truth and a falsehood. Now, Cotter being a Thomist, thinks Aristotle solved this, but for now we will withhold judgement (plus it is outside the current area of study). After this, Cotter presents a number of arguments against Skepticism we will mention below. Here is the first argument:

  1. That statement is absurd which denies implicitly what
    it affirms explicitly.
  2. Now universal skepticism may be expressed in such a
    statement. (namely that skepticism holds to the proposition ‘skepticism is true’ implicitly while denying such a proposition can in principle hold such a value).
  3. Therefore universal skepticism is absurd.

Now this first argument looks very promising. Cotter pins the skeptic using a powerful (and quite common modernly) retorsion argument to the effect that the skeptic is committed to formal certainty even if outwardly denying it, which is obviously fallacious. Now Cotter does anticipate the charge of question begging (because you have to admit the certainty of the premises to accept the conclusion) and answers with the following: “This is not a proof in the strict sense of the word.  This is not directly addressed to the skeptics, but to such as are not yet infected with this extreme form of intellectual despair. To the ordinary sane individual the absurdity of skepticism is manifest enough.”

Perhaps this could be charged as ad hom in nature, but I do not think it needs to be. Cotter shows the absurdity of skepticism on the basis of a first principle he thinks is immediately apprehended and there is no reason to doubt. Not directly addressed to Skeptics, perhaps he could treat this as a Moorean fact, one that shows, at least the one not “infected by skepticism” , the reasonableness of accepting every day truths (like the truism that some things are held with certainty and are known factual), thus shifting the burden off the Dogmatist. It is true to the one simply looking at this argument without any prior commitments to US, any claim of skepticism has been issued a powerful defeater in the form of an argument such as Cotter’s. Thus, this would at least show the unappealingness of it. Given that this was the goal, it can be supposed Cotter is successful in achieving it.

Cotter gives a second argument appealing to pragmatic considerations. This will be displayed in the following:

  1. A doctrine is practically impossible, which cannot be carried out in practice.
  2. Now universal skepticism cannot be carried out in practice.
  3.  Therefore universal skepticism is practically impossible.

At first glance this would not appear obvious. Why ought the universal skeptic have any harder of a time living than the every man? Cotter again ahead of the critic, anticipating this objection, issues out a clear and convincing example, once again illustrating his masterful rhetorical skills. Cotter gives out a powerful set of criterion, which the universal skeptic does not follow. To quote:

“To carry out practically the doctrine of universal skepticism, one should (a) really doubt everything and (b) live accordingly. But this is impossible, nor has any skeptic ever attempted it. For (a) no one can honestly doubt in his mind about his own existence, about the existence of the world around us, about the principle of contradiction etc., though one may, of course, deny them externally. (b) Imagine the life of a consistent skeptic: Why does he get up in the morning ? Why does he eat ? Why does he breathe ?
Why does he dodge autos? If nothing is certain or if he is not sure of anything, he should do none of these things.”

This argument, which by his own earlier admission, is not a proof, but an appeal to pragmatic considerations that should speak to the lay person and the epistemic pragmatist. Cotter makes the case that, why ought a huge part of our daily experience be thrown out, when even the Skeptic doesn’t follow suit? The warrant for skepticism considerably weakens if you understand common place considerations. Hence, the epistemological skeptic is shown to be sure of at least the pragmatic value of formal certainty, and hence should see his error, follow suit in abandoning his position.

Cotter, showing the absurdity of this level of skepticism to the lay man, then seeks to wield off objections (these objections are the best part of the book). He fends off the charge of ad hominem, that he is calling the skeptics liars, by noting that the skeptic is simply inconsistent, not necessarily to be participating in purposeful deception. This appears defensible in the face of this charge, considerably softening the blow. The second objection is a bit better in gradation, which is to state that the basis on which the skeptic holds her position is found in practical certainty of the calamities that would ensue if one is not cautious of  “dodging an auto”, noting that an error merely probably will happen. Yet as Cotter notes, we cannot simply say that our belief is merely probabilistic in all of these cases. For example, the reason for dodging an automobile is because we have certainty of the disposition of our bodies in relation to the causal powers of an automobile. To say this is merely probabilistic is patently absurd. The third objection raised against Cotter is similar to the former, saying that the “rule of life” is probability, not formal certainty. While Cotter agrees that there are many cases in which we have to rely on probabilities, our certitude is only based on this. The belief that we will not get food poisoning is a practical consideration, while the fear we have in relation to a car is obviously more than this. It then follows from both these arguments that Universal Skepticism is false.

Now Cotter thinks two corollaries follow out of the defeat of universal skepticism. The first one is that we can have formal certitude of at least something. He notes in relation to the first point that while the failure of US does not entail universal assent, formal certainty is more certain that one would think, which he seeks to prove later. Secondly, he argues that it follows not everything is a two sided debate, the skeptics are simply wrong here.

We will not look with any tedious study upon Cotter’s closing objections and answers, because they are largely similar in nature and flow from eachother. Cotter simply states that things like 2+2=4 are formally certain even in the midst of errors. He also notes that the variety of errors in the world do not lead to a universal doubt, but rational skepticism, simply forcing us to make our judgments with a bit more apprehension. Most forcefully, he argues that contradictions obviously do occur among men, and yet this does not lead to any universal doubt. He also notes that it simply isn’t true that all men contradict their fellow man in every event, although in what manner we don’t he does not clarify. The first point is key because he notes later the reason for this doubt is not in the general unreliability of our faculties (which he defines later) but a missed judgment, that we simply did not fully apprehend the object of our mind.

Overall, Cotter has some powerful considerations contra skepticism, which I think have bearing still today. Cotter’s style and precision help convey this argument even clearer than the vast majority of thinkers in his tradition who have thought about this question, hammering home the absurdity of his opponents position quite artfully. Yet he does this with considerable charity, presenting understandable and well thought out arguments against his position, for the purpose of enlightening the reader.

Natural Theology or God and His Existence Part 1: Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Natural Theology or God and His Existence Part 1: Anselm’s Ontological Argument

[This essay is developed in terms of a book, so the formatting will be odd, also I cut out Descartes OA for the sake of space, and the fact it is not very good]

God and His Existence

  1. The Ontological Argument
  2. The Various Cosmological Arguments, the types and their veracity
  3. The Teleological Argument
  4. The Argument from Eternal Truths (Divine Conceptualism)
  5. The Henological Arguments
  6. Arguments from the Existence of Moral Values and Duties
  7. The Immediate Experience of God



This chapter will treat the topic of God’s existence in the various major ways it has been discussed through history. While the writer is clearly sympathetic to the defense of the theistic proofs, a survey of opinions will be addressed, using many points from atheists and skeptics within the Philosophy of Religion. While CAB (The head writer) is a committed theist, not all of the proofs will be immediately accepted, and many will be outright rejected as we will see. This is clear when reading a proof like the cosmological argument, which has quite the supply of iterations and versions. Given the high amount then, it will be quite hard to agree with all of them. However, as we will see, the quantity is strength here. Another word of warning is needed before we begin, one of immense importance. The chapter will be full of Metaphysical terminology that will perhaps be glossed over, so the reading list at the back might be quite helpful to the lay reader (assuming I ever finish writing this). With so many historical periods being traversed through these proofs, the terminology will simply have to change frequently. Cosmological arguments which seek to explain the universes beginning will shift from the Aristotelian language of Al Ghazali and Bonaventure, to the language of Modern Astrophysics. With this word of caution in place, we will proceed to the various arguments for the existence of God, separated from the breadth of evidence for revealed religions, within the context of Natural Theology.

  1. The Ontological Argument

The Ontological Proof’s for the existence of God are a tradition of arguments based around the concept of God as a maximally great being, and moving onwards from this to His existence. Originally written in 1078 by Saint Anselm of Canterbury in his Proslogion, this argument has been debated with great frequency, with no shortage of detractors, and quite a few major supporters. Thinkers like Descartes, Gödel, Bonaventure, Norman Malcom, Robert Maydole, Dun Scotus and Alvin Plantinga  have all offered support for versions of this argument. For the sake of this discussion however, we will focus on two versions:

  1. The Classical Anselmian Formulation
  2. Alvin Plantinga’s Modal Ontological Proof

We will proceed from here to a long treatment of Anselm’s argument,  then move hence forth to the one deemed most successful in modern philosophy, Alvin Plantinga’s formulation using S5 Modal Logic.

  • The Classical Anselmian formulation

The version of this argument which typically receives the most treatment in philosophy classrooms today is the version  belonging to Saint Anselm of Canterbury. While there is some debate on the purpose of this argument, whether it was truly an argument or a sort of a petitionary prayer, most commentators do agree Anselm was trying to convince even the fool that God, the concept he is aware of even if he does not fully understand all of the implications, entails His existence. Anselm argues the fool does have this concept in his intellect from a reading of Psalm 14:1 “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”…”, because any sort of denial presupposes a subject to be denied.  A key reason many interpret this as a prayer rather than an argument against unbelievers is that the historical context. Like Aquinas’s proofs, the middle ages was not a period of significant strife among religious skeptics, if you could even say something akin to an atheist existed in 11th. Century Europe. Like Aquinas, who was battling groups sympathetic to other deity concepts like the Pantheists, or educating Theology students, Anselm did not have His goal as an evidential apologetic. It is debatable if even Pantheism was in the crosshairs, as Anselm’s proof has been quite convincing to Pantheist’s like Spinoza. Rather what Anselm was doing was formulating a shorter work than the long proof of the Monologium, which served as quite an extensive argument in length and substance. The Proslogion is very brief however, with most of it being a treatment of what would later be known as perfect being theology. Secondly, to support the position this is a prayer rather than an argument, an assumption can be made based on the very use of the Psalm. Anselm was never questioning the inspiration of sacred scripture, in fact it is probable following Augustine, he sees this authority piggy backing off the “miracle of the Church”, in that it was converting the whole world with fisherman as some of its key early catalysts. Only God could make such a movement powerful, Anselm likely thought. It is not of the present task to decide the correct reading, as it is still obviously a (mostly) working logical argument. With this background information now in place, we will move onto the argument.

While the exact intended formulation of this argument is contested among Historians of Philosophy, it is of the opinion of the author that the version presented by Father Brian Davies presents this in the most defensible way possible. It is helpful to note still there is debate among historians and philosophers on what Anselm’s intended formulation was, and the formulations given will likely vary across introductory works. Here is the argument as presented by Davies:

  1. On the assumption that that than which nothing greater can be conceived is only in a mind, something greater can be conceived;
  2. For some­thing greater can be thought to exist in reality as well;
  3. The assumption is therefore contradictory: either there is  no such thing even in the intellect, or it exists also in reality ;
  4. But it does exist in the mind of the fool;
  5. Therefore that than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in reality as well as in a mind.

From this we can proceed. To start out this argument relies on quite a few metaphysical terms. An example of this would be how Anselm proceeds from Premise 1 to Premise 2. Anselm is using a sort of Platonic view of gradation to serve as a fulcrum, comparing mind independent reality with that of the conceptual realm within the intellect. Anselm illustrates what he takes to display the truth value of mind independent realities combined with conceptual realities supremacy by using the example of a painter and his artwork. To quote the Proslogion “For example, when a painter envisions what he is about to paint: he indeed has in his understanding that which he has not yet made, but he does not yet understand that it exists. But after he has painted [it]: he has in his understanding that which he has made, and he understands that it exists”. The painting can be enjoyed in the world as well as delighted about in the intellect upon its assumption into reality.  Dun Scotus also notes that a Being, having only mind dependent existence, seems to have an intrinsic limiter, namely the intellect, and hence Divine Infinity, clearly a property of a perfect being, is nonfunctional, which would also seem to support Anselm’s task, that His greatness would entail His being.  Anselm however takes this as a simple truism, and hence the fool, who has the concept of God in his mind if you give the Biblical account credence, when truly grasping the idea of what the concept of a greatest conceivable being entails, will be forced to admit His existence. From here Anselm tries to create a reductio ad absurdum (Reduction to the Absurd). This concept of the Divine exists, and yet it is only existent in the intellect. Existing in reality has no signs of any imperfection (This will be noted yet again during our treatment of the Divine Attributes), and like the painting, there is reason to suppose it would be greater to have being apart from the intellect. But if the being exists only in the mind, then a greater can be conceived. The idea either does not exist in the intellect, or it exists in reality as well. Since one contradicts background information we already know (namely the concept of God exists in the intellect), the way out of the dilemma is to accept that this being exists in reality as well. Therefore, God, who is the maximally great being this proof sets to argue for, exists.

Now this argument was very controversial even in its day, and obviously with any argument so meaningful if true, there have existed skeptics. Yet most accept there was not a decisive critique until Immanuel Kant offered one in his Critique of Pure Reason. Still, it is worth mentioning the opinions of two of the greatest detractors of this proof, Gaunilo of Marmoutiers and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who were functioning during the point of the arguments greatest fame.  Aquinas’s argument is much briefer and of less note, so we will treat it first. Aquinas, arguing from an Aristotelian epistemology, points out we cannot form any argument from God’s essence to His existence, because we have not abstracted or entertained His essence. While Aquinas certainly does think that God’s existence (Note Aquinas takes God’s esscence to be His existence, but he comes to this position based off A Posteriori proofs) will be self-evident if humans experience the beatific vision, due to them perceiving God in His fullness, it isn’t self-evident to most individuals on earth (if not all), nor will it be unless we receive the special grace Aquinas posited to explain the experience of Abraham and Moses. Still, even with Aquinas’s great note, there still is a certain weakness to his objection. Aquinas perhaps takes for granted how controversial Aristotelian metaphysics was and still is, and hence it seems without arguing for an entire ontology, we will have to limit our discussion of it there. Anselm, being a Middle Platonist along the lines of Augustine, would not accept the idea of abstraction being key to epistemology and would instead opt more for an Iluminationist view of the mind and its grasp of the abstract concepts (We will touch upon this in our examination of divine conceptualism). It would be silly to not argue against Anselm on his own terms, unless we defend a whole ontology.  The more interesting critique will be that of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, a monk who wrote against the argument while living as a contemporary of Anselm. We will focus on this critique and Anselm’s reply in the next sub section.


Gaunilo’s Piland

The most viable pre-Kantian criticism of Anselm’s argument came from a Monk operating contemporaneously with Anselm in the person of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers. While even Anselm accepted how cordially Gaunilo operated in his critique, there is a level of bitterness in their correspondence. For example, Gaunilo titles his rebuttal “On Behalf of the Fool”, an obvious slap at Anselm’s Proslogion. Still, it can hardly be denied that Gaunilo’s counter argument offers a sort of persuasiveness to it. To show Gaunilo’s refutation it would be helpful to display by looking at Anselm’s argument. Gaunilo used the terminology offered in Anselm’s proof but replaced God with a Piland, which is the greatest island conceivable (He actually said just the greatest Island, which Anselm pointed out, but it is helpful to strengthen the arguments of an opponent). With this in place, we will see what Gaunilo was stating. Using this argument you could prove something as absurd as an imaginary island from the concept of it alone. Gaunilo and many others took this as a solid defeater to Anselm’s position, and hence the glory of victory seemed belong to Gaunilo (if you could say Theologians have victories of this sort). Still, most have thought Anselm’s reply was solid enough to still make the argument quite respectable even if still, quite odd.  Anselm replies that things like Island’s are like the series of natural numbers. It is not quite evident that there can be an intrinsic maximum on these sorts of items. You can always conceive of a greater entity that exemplifies these particular ideas, a higher number in the series or more wildlife or tree’s on the Island. Is this necessarily the case with God?  Perhaps not. To give an example, think of God’s omnipotence. Typically theists have defined God’s power as entailing the ability to create any logically possible thing. If we define power as many modern theists do as the ability to bring about all possible state of affairs, does there seem to be any greater property that God could “exemplify” with regard to causal prowess (Note: I use this term loosely, God is typically though to possess Aseity, or self-existence apart from abstract objects like properties) ?  I think not. Surveying all of the other properties typically thought of as better to have than not to have seems to justify this intuition even more. Goodness, knowledge, and the whole host of typical divine attributes seem to fit plausibly under properties that can have intrinsic maximum’s. There is perhaps a layer of vagueness with regards to properties like justice, but again, these seem to be plausibly incorporated under Anselm’s defense as well. For example, if you accept the Christian view of a triune God, each person of the Godhead would be rendering to the other members of the Godhead His due to a maximal extent, namely infinite love. This perhaps toes the line into natural and revealed theology, but it is worth mentioning as a solution to this problem, and one a Catholic like Anselm would probably be sympathetic to (Note: There still is come vagueness with regard to the number of members of the God head for example, on this alone, but the point still has some weight, namely that a normally transitive property can function essentially). This objection while still used in moderation, has never been regarded as decisive in the opinions of most philosophers, most recognizing Anselm’s defense as at least plausible. Gaunilo’s Piland has been replaced by the objection of Immanuel Kant as the default objection to be dealt with by contemporary defenders of this argument. With that in mind, we will move on to the objections first presented in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, namely whether being or existence functions properly as a predicate in an argument, or whether it’s denial leads to self-contradictory results.



Kant’s Objection

The objection of Immanuel Kant is by far the most famous objection to the ontological argument. Most philosophers accept it as decisive. Is this the case however? We will ultimately see. The first argument Kant presents in his Critique of Pure Reason is translated as follows:


“If,  in  an identical proposition, I  reject the predicate while retaining the subject,contradiction results;  and I  therefore say that the former belongs necessarily to  the latter. But if we reject the subject and predicate alike,  there  is no contradiction for nothing is then left that can be contradicted.  To posit a  triangle, and yet to  reject its  three angles,  is self-contradictory;  but there  is no contradiction in rejecting the triangle together with its three angles. The same holds true of the concept of an

absolutely  necessary being. If its existence  is rejected, we reject the thing itself with  all  its predicates;  and no question of contradiction can then arise. There is nothing outside it that would be contradicted,  since the  necessity of the thing is not supposed to  be derived from anything external;  nor is there anything internal that would be contradicted,  since in rejecting the thing itself we have at the same time rejected all its internal properties

… I cannot form the least concept of  a  thing which,  should it  be rejected with all its

predicates,  leaves behind a contradiction”

To summarize, Kant is arguing that rejecting the existence of something is not akin to rejecting a proper accident of it. A triangle being 3 sides makes any sort of negative proposition denying this self-contradictory, because it is of the very nature of a triangle to have three sides. Rejecting existence however seems to lead rejecting the whole substance and all of its features, and hence it seems God could be consistently denied existence.



Now this seems to have some bearing to Anselm’s proof at face value, but upon a further look, this conclusion is less obvious. Historically, the first argument Kant used is probably lodged for the most part not at Anselm, but the ontological arguments of Descartes and Christian Wolff. Read in this context, it is quite obvious what Kant is saying. In Descartes Meditations on the First Philosophy, he reasons from the essence of God to His existence, by way of asserting that He cannot conceive of God’s essence separate from His existence, because it seems to include it by its very nature. Descartes also uses the example of a triangle which makes this even more obvious. Kant’s critique seems to quite frankly, tear down the arguments of the other two thinkers. Is it, however clear this line of argumentation works against Anselm? Perhaps not. To quote Father Brian Davies on the subject “most people writing on Anselm assume that he does (Try to define God into existence). But we may, in fact, challenge this assumption. Early in the argument of Proslogion 2 Anselm introduces a premiss assert­ing existence (‘Something than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the intellect’). And his question in Proslogion 2 is not whether we can move from a definition of God to the reality of God,  but whether we can reasonably suppose that something  than which nothing  greater  can be conceived exists only in the intellect.” If this is the right way of reading Anselm, perhaps Anselm does have an ample rescuing device to his proof.

This however is the less popular objection Kant fired against Ontological proofs (in other words Anselm is not out of the firing zone). Kant’s main objection is his second one, whether it is a valid belief that being or existence is a true predicate.  To quote again from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason:

“‘ Being’ is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. … . By whatever and however many predicates we may think a thing … we do not make the least addition to the thing when we further declare that the thing is.”

In this quotation Kant argues that adding is or exists does not add anything new to the concept of God. What it does is merely constitute a new relation. This is not however the case with attributes like red or omnipotence, which seem to function and have conceptual value. Existence does not seem to function as a predicate in any real sense, and Anselm, at least critics have said, seems to place existence “on to” God. There is also a feel of Pre-Fregian fregianism, in asserting that existence as perfection or predicate seems to have strange consequences for nonexistent objects. An example of this would be a Phoenix. To talk about the existence of a Phoenix using being as a first level predicate, something along the lines of the sentence “The existing Phoenix’s do not, in fact, exist,” would have to be a functional proposition. This sentence is  self-contradictory and obviously absurd however, and its implications ought to make one skeptical of existence being a first order predicate. Now the Scholastics did use existence as an accidental predicate, affirmed of a subject, and hence, a discussion on these two views will be needed. The question however, is whether, Anselm is open to this criticism. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not so clear it is. To quote Alvin Plantinga:

“According to the great German philosopher and pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer, the ontological argument arises when “someone excogitates a conception, composed out of all sorts of predicates, among which, however, he takes care to include the predicate actuality or existence, either openly or wrapped up for decency’s sake in some other predicate, such as perfection, immensity, or something of the kind.” If this were Anselm’s procedure-if he had simply added existence to a concept that has application contingently if at all-then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn’t, and it isn’t.”

Also to quote G.H. Joyce, an opponent of the argument, notes that a crucial error when accessing this argument is treating it as if the absurd results of applying listing existence as a proper predicate arbitrarily to finite objects:

“Kant criticizes the ontological proof at length in the Critique of Pure Reason. It is frequently assumed that his refutation was decisive; but in point of fact his arguments are wide of the mark. He throughout treats the notion of the infinite nature as though it were on a par with other natures, and could be represented either with or without existence. He fails to meet the fundamental contention of those who defend the proof, viz., that the nature of the infinite is inconceivable apart from real existence”

And yet again:

“They (the modern opponents of the argument) think it sufficient to adopt an illustration employed by Kant, and to say that we cannot prove the existence of a hundred dollars from the idea of them, no matter how good the dollars are supposed to be. Of this imaginary refutation of the ontological proof Professor Sorley well says: “It really misses the point of that proof which was an effort to discriminate between the idea of God and all other ideas.”


To summarize, Kant’s point about predication perhaps has some value. Applying predicates to random essences (existence being one such predicate), seems to be an ill adviced way to form propositions or arguments. However, Anselm is not doing this; he is meditating on the attributes and the implications of a Metaphysically Ultimate being, and arguing mind independent reality follows for God. This is not like adding an act of being arbitrarily to the whole host of items within the conceptual realm, generally finite ones. This point is also arguable against Gaunillo, whose argument seems especially prone to an error of this sort as well.

  Due to a variety of arguments against the applicability of these old rebuttals, is now true, since the 1960’s a complete shift in reading Anselm has occurred. It is now true that a great many philosophers, theistic in persuasion or otherwise, accept that Kant’s criticism has more limited strength than the historical consensus has attributed to it. This does not mean it is never used, and as we said earlier, there is a definite application available here to attack arguments like that or Descartes. In spite of this however, it seems clear Anselm’s argument is at least immune to the objections of Kant.

As I have noted, it is not of the current project to answer, the interpretation of Kant, thinking along the lines of Frege, about existence being merely a second order predicate. This is because we will treat this important discssion in a further chapter on the Divine Attributes, since it is especially tied to Divine Simplicity. For now however, we will move on from the major criticisms of Anselm’s arguments and go on to the version typically recognized as the most defensible by modern proponents of this family of arguments, the modal version popularized by Alvin Plantinga, arguably anticipated by Anselm himself.

To conclude, while Anselm’s proof is a metaphysic dependent argument (to be fair, what argument is not?), most of the common points against it are at the very least answerable, if not conclusive. If you accept a system like that of Aristotle’s, then plausibly yes, the a priori element in this proof will be subject to intense skepticism. However, arguing on Anselm’s terms and granting his middle Platonistic leanings, it seems to be at least a defensible line of argumentation, and one with some fruits to the enterprise of Natural Theology.





Will continue in part 2 with Plantinga’s version



Davies, Brian. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2004. Print.
Joyce, George Hayward. Principles of Natural Theology. Neunkirchen-Seescheid, Germany: Editiones Scholasticae, 2016. Print.
Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 2008. Print.

MobileReference. Critique of Pure Reason: by Immanuel Kant. Boston:, 2008. Print.





The First Way of Thomas Aquinas

The First Way of Thomas Aquinas

In this post I will give a rundown of one of the most central and oldest arguments of natural theology, with roots all the way to Aristotle, The First Way of Thomas Aquinas, or the argument from motion. Here is the argument in its most common form:

The project of Natural Theology is by no supposition a new one, with roots in ancient Greek philosophy, and this argument is of no exception to being quite aged. Originating as a staple of Aristotle’s causal order, with Him being both the Actus Purus and serving as the worlds final cause, the Unmoved First Mover has gained a wide array of recognition, perhaps being the most iconic piece of Natural Theology in existence. Aquinas in particular refined this argument to it’s fullest conclusion, and successfully moved the act potency distinction within Christian Theology. Problems related to Divine Causality, Free will, grace, and various others have all been explained by using this formula. The distinction itself arises due to our cognition of change. For although this is a universal distinction describing all of reality, we come first to know of the distinction through our senses, seeing the subjective potencies and accidents gained by the objects of our experience, and then moving beyond them (which we will discuss later). Our knowledge of essences starts from the objective dispositions of them placed upon our intellect, and the fundamental ways in which they work, and from this we can tell whether it existence is non accidental to them. For Aquinas argues that even the essence and existence paradigm is a variety of the Act Potency one, with an essence being in potency to an act of existence. With this background in mind, we will move forward with the proof:

  1. Our senses prove that some things are in motion.
  2. Things move when potential motion becomes actual motion.
  3. Only an actual motion can convert a potential motion into an actual motion.
  4. Nothing can be at once in both actuality and potentiality in the same respect (i.e., if both actual and potential, it is actual in one respect and potential in another).
  5. Therefore nothing can move itself.
  6. Therefore each thing in motion is moved by something else.
  7. The sequence of motion cannot extend ad infinitum.
  8. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

This argument uses plenty of metaphysical terms and hence, a introductory guide is quite useful as a companion help the reader. To word it simply, we observe change, which is what motion means in a scholastic sense.  Actual motion is causal perfection or causal prowess. In the fullest sense it is the presence of a perfection that completes a particular object.  In the case of someone learning German, the German teacher would be actual as far as the breadth of knowledge on the subject goes, having learned German (I would hope).  A pupil in the German class would have merely the potential to learn the language, but as of yet, this ability has not been actualized. For something to be potential is for it to be a objective disposition or a perfection to be gained by an object. Now the reason this distinction is of necessity is best displayed by the various absurd positions held before this distinction. For example Heraclitus, the greek philosopher held that all of reality was in flux without any real objective stability.  The objection immediately raised against Heraclitus was how could such a principle not break the Law of Contradiction, since under this philosophers formula something both is being and becoming in the same respect. Heraclitus’s answer was to deny the Law of Contradiction held for anything more than dialectical dealings. In order to deal with this  (although he was more directly dealing with the next philosopher), Plato bit the bullet, and yet said that we do have knowledge  based on our experiences with the Realm of Forms, that we can recognize some objective resemblance of the things we see in fleeting moments, due to us recognizing the forms in which they exemplify. This is because the forms are unchanging and immutable, antithetical to the reality of our experience.  Taking the opposite extreme was Parmenides who held that all of reality was one and distinct. The reason he held such an extreme position was under the assumption that being was the only thing that could exist. For change in reality can only emerge from one of two things, being or non being. But from nothing nothing comes. Hence, only being can produce the reality we see. This seems all well and good until we see Heraclitus’s conclusion. For he reasons that something already in being is already in being, and hence no change would have occurred. Secondly, since everything is being, the only way to distinguish two objects would either be being or non being. If it is non being, then how can the absence of being explain a difference? However, if it is being, then we run into an issue we ran into with change. For how could one distinguish based off existence, which is common to all beings? Parmenides thought you could not, and hence all of reality was one and unchanging, a sort of block.

Aristotle argues that all of these views are simply mistaken. Heraclitus, trying to argue his position, actually commits several obvious fallacies. For to present this argument to an interlocutor, one would have to consult a variety of premises, and consult them in such a way that assumes stability. For if all of reality is in flux, one could not in principle present such a conclusion. One can simply retort that his “proof” is self referentially incoherent, that there has to be a distinction between being and becoming.  Secondly, since we work in the order of knowing, and since being is prior to knowing, any conceptual principle would have to be prior to the act of judging. Now the Principle of Non Contradiction is such a principle. Therefore, it follows, that the Principle of Non Contradiction does not merely govern the conceptual realm, but also any coherent ontology. How can one assume that ones intellectual judgement are protected by the law, when not arguing for it’s applying to reality as reality? Therefore, it follows reality has some stability, even if change does occur. After this Aristotle argues against Plato’s solution to this problem. It can even be questioned whether Plato’s solution solves the problem, as he cannot consult his intellect which is again in the unstable world of Heraclitus (Plato’s matter based solution is interesting, but we will not consult it right now). Aristotle’s main argument is due to the gratuitousness of the forms, and the data of our experience. One does not need to posit a realm of forms when the forms can merely inhibit the particular substances of our existence. For the intellect, when judging something comes across the forms not in a previous life, but by abstracting the particular tendencies of a subject and it’s final cause. It removes any of the principles of limit that obviously exist in this life, and abstracts them towards the final universal concept. In spite of this, the form is not merely an abstract sort of thing, but something that actually serves almost as a nature to the particular subject. It both grounds the type of thing any particular being is, and also the unique potencies it has. It provides a sufficient explanation for why an object has the dispositions and powers another one does not, and has limited cost on any ontological economy. Now one might ask why the form is limited in reality, since the sort of things Plato talked about were perfect. Also, what happens when a particular change occurs that is not related to the form gaining a property, say when a dog biodegrades into the dirt? Aristotle posited something called Prime Matter to do the work here. For Prime Matter, which is in potency to any form (that is it is literally infinite potentiality) both limits a item in space (where it is located), and also the degree of perfection it has in reality. Secondly, in the midst of a change of substance, something has to serve as the substratum of change. For when something changes, experience dictates that it is not merely annihilated and recreated. For there is a real layer that stays. When we see something melting, there is a really similar feature about the new object formed, even if it is not completely the same. The form is absent, while a part of the being continues on.  Only a framework that can match both of these experiences is to be preferred. Hylomorphism (the thesis that all material objects are composed of Form and Prime matter) according to Aristotle is the only the only option of preference. Both of these distinct parts constituted what is called a substance, which Aristotle posited is anything with causal powers in any sense part of our experience.

Now that we formed a frame work we can move to the objections of Parmenides. Firstly, Aristotle argues change is such an obvious feature of reality that a denial of this should not be taken extraordinarily seriously. Parmenides is undergoing a change in his mind when he delights in the argument (even if only introspectively) and when he presents it to an interlocutor. How can one deny this? A theory is absurd that denies explicitly what it affirms implicitly, and Parmenides no change thesis is an obvious example of this. Secondly, how can Parmenides hold that only one thing exists?  For when one peers inside oneself, she experiences herself as a unified whole, with all of her causal powers being experienced in this way as well. As Berkley argued, when one raises her arm, she manifests causal powers that are so real and obvious that a denial of this seems all the worse off. You are however, separate from the world outside you, and this is again obvious from your introspective experiences. However, we can perhaps even represent the first argument against Parmenides full circle to show this point. If all of reality was one and undivided, how could he present such a proof without consulting distinct premises in a syllogism, while also taking objections from an interlocutor? The same argument against the first premise can be presented here, and hence his position is reduced to absurdity.

Parmenides presented a distinct proof for his position related to being we will address here. This point is especially relevant to the prospects of natural theology. For the fallacy is hidden implicitly but is able to be bitten when one truly sees the fallacy peeping out. For Parmenides is using being in a univocal fashion, when it very plausibly it is not. To be univocal a term needs to be used in the same way across beings. Typically these usages are few and far between, as they rarely even apply to the same genus. An example of this would be the words “run” in both dogs and man, which share the same basic meaning. The opposite extreme is equivocation, which is when two objects, while predicated using the same word, are predicated in a entirely different order. An example of this is when you call a doctor a quack, and also say that the duck made the noise “quack”. These are manifestly not representing the same reality, even if the word is. Now the middle ground Aristotle took was to note that being is an analogical term, which is to say it is predicated both similarly and differently of two particular subjects. An example of this would be “The Sun is smiling at me” and “Brenda smiled at me”. This, an analogy of proportion, is constituted both by a clear difference, while also bearing similarity in a very important respect. There is something really alike in the two beings. Aristotle argues from this truism that being is a term of this sort. For if it were not, we would run into the sorts of problems Parmenides spoke of. While a thinker like Scotus had the tools to speak using a bare univocal definition of being, Parmenides did not. More importantly however, it actually seems true to say that things exist in different ways while still both having some resemblance in their status. For it is obvious while a horse doesn’t exist in the same way that a quark does, there still is some obvious likeness. So Aristotle’s position receives vindication.

With this in mind, we can present the Act-Potency distinction once more. Aristotle, due to these issues just posited, divided being into two distinct categories, being in act and being in potency. As we have said earlier, being in act is the fullness of a particular perfection, possessing a particular attribute one was merely in potency to. Being in potency is related to being as act as the disposition for a particular perfection. An obvious example for this would be a subatomic particle. A sub atomic particle, by it’s ratio is located at a particular point in space, say point A. It is in potency however, to the perfection of being in point B. If say such a particle were moved, something would actualize the perfection that was once merely in potency. Now local changes are not the only possible changes one can have. For one can grow in knowledge (which is not obviously local), one can change a color when mad, one can grow bigger etc. Qualities, Quantities, local changes, and substantial changes are all incorporated to Aristotle’s Causal thesis. It is important to contrast this with the change we discussed earlier that allowed us to posit Prime Matter. This is what Aristotle called an accidental change, one not essential to the being. Accidents are not the sort of things that exist in and of themselves, but exist by resting in a substance.  Aristotle also reasons from applying the Law of Contradiction to this problem that a being cannot move itself. For a being to actualize a potential in the same time and respect, by itself and from itself, is for it to both possess and not possess a particular perfection, which is absurd. One can perhaps argue that we have an obvious counter example to this in the actions of free creatures (Aristotle even thinks rational creatures are by definition self movers and most Scholastics felt creatures did move themselves with regard to their free will). Now the solution to this apparent difficulty is found in the contents of such movements. When a creature move’s itself, it is only on the basis that one part moves in relation to another, forming a particular action or deliberation. This is not self movement in the fullest sense, and hence is not a real counter examples. There are some interesting tidbits about the contents of this discussion (for the record Suarez was probably right), but that is neither here nor now. Another counter example posited is that of inertia, since this thesis seeks to show object’s in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by another. This is obviously not the only type of change discussed, but it is of a particularly great sum in our daily experience. Now there are various way’s one could argue against this,  but there are three solutions of notoriety. Firstly, one can adopt the stance that Newton’s theory implicitly assumes such a distinction as act and potency. For since rest is the absence of motion in Newtonian physics, motion is merely a state actualized, with no need for any continued actualization. While this seems plausible, this faces a number of difficulties A. (Are spatial relations not things that need to be actualized, things that cannot be done by the object in itself?) and B. (Would not such a position seem quite absurd to Aristotle’s model?). These two difficulties seem insurmountable with regards to the problem. Secondly, one could adopt a sort of impetus theory, and say that the object which creates the motion in a particular agent allows the body to tend towards it’s place because of an “imparted form”. Thomist’s like Lagrange argue this to be viable, and there is a historical case to be made that Aquinas held this view too. The obvious issue with this however is that many, if not most of the forms imparted are finite, and inertia is infinite (at least with regards to movement). However, the defender of the impetus theory could charge the inertia proponent with an absurd position, for how can the fact that this effect be continued forever be explained by a finite cause? The impetus theorist, placing metaphysics at a higher place than physics sees the Newtonian’s assumption as not remotely justifiable. Newton’s laws are based on a few generalized test, and the impetus theorist would say that her model both explains the data while preserving a legitimate metaphysical assumption, that a being cannot give more than it has, which is the case of the cause who both stops (and if need be) and starts the motion. The Impetus theorist has a plausible stopping point here. It even becomes more viable if one assumes that the impetus provides a potentially infinite amount of power, although this supposition seems quite strange and unhelpful (even if it has been argued with some zeal). The most popular solution to the problem is to posit a sustaining cause, even in the face of it’s counter intuitiveness. The reason is a sustaining cause can both carry the motion forward in a potentially infinite regard, and is empirically equivalent to the inertial  theorist’s results. For since this is under a generalized condition, perhaps when one comes into a potential stopper (like say an object in the way of a projectile), they can posit the cause simply bracing for impact (in an analogical way of course). This seems to work, but the question is why one should one posit this cause at all? It is obviously simpler to ontological economy to go without it. However, since a First Mover bears a great deal of benefits with regards to other forms of motion, this device is already in the Thomist’s ontology. More importantly, is not obviously antithetical to all of Newtonian physics either. To note a physical example in which a sustaining cause is still needed, one need not look further than multi directional uniform motion. As GH Joyce states: “Motion which is of two or of three dimensions may also be uniform. Thus we have uniform motion of two dimensions when the movement of a body round a point is such that equal areas are swept by the radius vector in equal times. No one questions that uniform motion of two dimensions demands an external agency for its realization. It seems difficult to explain why, if a regulating cause is requisite in the one case, it is not equally necessary in the other. Again: we are familiar with the phenomenon of uniform acceleration with regard to time. The motion of a falling body increases in arithmetical progression. Here, too, we postulate an external cause, without which the acceleration is declared to be inexplicable. But it may be questioned whether uniformity of velocity is really a whit more intelligible apart from the efficiency of an agent actually present than is uniformity of acceleration”. If a sustaining cause is needed in this physical example, why not hold one in other conditions? Obviously the cases are different, but it shows that such devices are not utterly repugnant to modern physics. The three options show there is serious wiggle room for the Thomist, and that there are incentives to hold the respective positions. The first position, while deemed deficient by the authpr, does preserve the Newtonian formula in it’s complete glory. The impetus theory might preserve the traditional Thomistic view, while contradicting the results of modern physics. Yet, it provides justification for doing so. It is however deemed by the writer that the sustaining cause thesis both is the least absurd and explains away the results of modern physics in a clear way. If one places being as being, the study of Metaphysics, above physical theories, one can see the incentive to accept such a formula, even facing the weight of modern physics. One is not arguing with the results per se, but merely the interpretation.

With this background in mind, we will now proceed to the argument. The first premise was already pressed in the reply to Parmenides. For almost nothing is more evident in life than the fact that change occurs at least introspectively. How can one with any seriousness deny this? It is manifest that any argument against motion is far less obvious than the thesis that motion exists, and that any argument against change relies on motion as well.  The second premise is a reformulation of the act potency paradigm. We have just proved it’s usefulness previously, and it seems to be the only thesis that accounts for the robust change among stability we observe in the world. The third through fifth premises are perhaps a bit controversial, but it relies on the Law of Contradiction applied to the world of being. For if something actual was not actualizing the potential of another, then what is truly doing the actualizing? It cannot be the thing itself, for as we have shown, this would break the law of non contradiction. Nor can it be nothing, because from nothing nothing comes. Modern Quantum physics has not shown this supposition to be in flux, for the indeterminacy of a vacuum does not denote that there is not cause. We will go into arguments from the Principle of Sufficient Reason later, but this provides excellent justification that the Principle of Causality is a necessary explanation for things that come into being or are sustained in being. Aquinas felt that the First Mover moved our wills indeterminately, and hence, he already had a mechanism in his ontology capable of moving non mechanistically. The Philosophy of Nature adopted by Aquinas and Aristotle was not merely mechanic in essence, but purpose filled, and almost any perfection could be instilled to a secondary mover as long as it is within reason. It also had to befit the nature of the instrument. Perhaps the Vacuum functions as a sort of instrument.

Premise seven is often confused as an argument against the existence of an actual infinite, which is not actually the case at all. Aquinas had no noticeable issues with the existence of an actual infinite in comparison to a writer like Craig. He did not think the universe could be demonstrated to have a beginning, and hence none of his arguments require that (although the third way pushes for that being a very reasonable situation). Aquinas did actually have experience with the series spoken about by Craig, even if most were in the form of a traversal argument. What Aquinas was arguing against were what is called essentially ordered series, like a hand moving a stick, moving a rock, which in turn moves a leaf. This is the example Aristotle gives, in which if a potency withers away, the series terminates. Each mover is working roughly simultaneously, and hence there is no room in between for a mover to cease operation.  He did not have issues with say, a continuous string of parents having kids, where when the parents died, their children still could function adequately in the future without them (The second way goes into this more). This is what is deemed an accidentally ordered series, and is the thesis someone like Craig accepts as absurd with regards to actual infinitude.  In Aquinas’s mind if a finite amount of movers could not in fact give a sufficient explanation for the motion in a series order per se (An essentially ordered one), extending it to infinity has not suddenly created one. Even if an infinite regress could occur, something would be needed to impart their causal powers and perfections, something not within the series itself. Lagrange gives his argument in the form of a broom stick. Like a broom, a series of causes merely in potency to a particular perfection are deficient with regards to fulfilling their end, as a broom is with regards to sweeping without an agent moving it. The broom is manifestly finite, and yet moving it’s handle to an infinite length will not allow it to impart motion by it’s own doing. In the same way, a series that is merely in potency to act will not be given the power of movement even if such a series is infinite. Now one might object that such a series is quite odd. For modern science has shown absolute simultaneity to be a patent fallacy. Granting this, even if not necessarily the case, the series we are discussing is not based on a temporal argument, but one about explanations. Just a painting can have a certain hierarchy within the frame it fills, so can causes such as this. This argument is not strictly temporal, with these causes operating in such a way that modern physics does not touch it. Still, one can even challenge the notion that these movers are not functioning in an event based order. Movers move in relativity to another event, and yet we would just argue the events are separate. For it is our very argument that the series just discussed is an event based series, constituting a single event, no matter how many movers are involved. Hence such a trouble evaporates. Another challenge to simultaneous causation is whether it is possible for a simultaneous series to not be instantaneous, with the event just ending immediately. This is a robust challenge, and yet one answered by the Metaphysicians Rani Anjum and  Stephen Mumford. The reason simultaneous causation is not a chimera is because the sort of series is simultaneous over an event, which takes place in time. An example of this would be a ice cube melted by the sun. The melting of an ice cube is caused simultaneously by the sun beam’s thermal powers, and yet it is not instantaneously melted, because the total cause happened in a temporal sequence. This shows such a rebuttal is wrong headed, only indirectly facing an argument like this. When the hand moves the stick, he does so not once instantaneously, but over a sequence lasting as long as the series continues. With these rebuttals out of the way, we can arrive at a being who is Pure Act, not the sort of thing that could in principle be set in motion, and oneat  the top of the causal hierarchy.

Now a couple arguments about the conclusion can be set up right away. Why should one conclude the First Mover is immutable, and cannot be set in motion by anything else? Could it not be a brute fact that a part simply had this perfection and was able to terminate the series? Well upon looking at the total series such an argument becomes deficient in several respects. For one, either the mover actualized at the top of the chain had that perfection essentially, or it had to be moved to actualize this perfection by a distinct part. If the part is not the sort of being that can be moved towards such a series, it is pure act. If, however, the part only moved to participate in such a series because it was moved in relation to another part, it becomes manifest such a mover was actualized by another and hence part of these series. This makes it clear that the First Mover is not the sort of thing composed of parts, because if it were, then such a mover would have an Act in relation to the other parts that were previously in potency, requiring the First Mover to have been moved by another which is a patent absurdity. Nor can such a being gain accident’s, for accident’s are in potency to a substance which is in act. Hence, it follows the First Mover is entirely simple and immutable. Such a being could not pass from being in potency to being in act, and is hence eternal, essentially so. The school boys retort about “Who moved the First Mover?” is protected in this argument. Now an interlocutor can object that an immutable mover is a contradiction in terms, for how can one act without changing? One can give a few examples of such an event, as this is clearly not fallacious when one digs beneath the surface. When humans move after a particular object presented as sense appetite, they do so because they were moved by the particular goods of the item. The item never need be touched, but such an item did function as an unmoved mover to the agents who acted upon their appetitive tendencies.  Another example of a unmoved mover would be a professor in a class, who could be presenting his knowledge for all eternity on a chalkboard (the in’s and outs of such an analogy are not important), allowing others to gain in knowledge while he does not in any real sense change in this respect. While not all of the First Mover’s movements will be by mere intellectual influence, there are some obvious analogies. The First Mover is eternally acting, while no change is going on within Him.

The most obvious issue that can be raised is from the definition of such a being, as an opponent can object that such a being is not necessarily God. Why does Aquinas end with the conclusion “and this all men call God”?  We will touch on this in greater detail when we discuss the attributes of the Deity, yet we will mention some points here. To begin, all Aquinas meant by this line was that among the attributes of what God is, He is also the First Mover set in motion by no other. Aquinas dedicates extensive proofs to the properties of the deity, and sort of expected his readers to follow up on those. We will in our short time mention some of the attributes we can derive. The First Mover will both contain intellect and will, because if He did not, then how could He move and concur with free intellectual agents? While the contents of this concurrence will not be discussed as of now, in a weak sense the First Mover must move along side Human agents, allowing them to realize their self induced ends.  Some of the actions humans do is immanent (ie inside the agent), while other actions are transitive (outside the agent). The only beings capable of doing (even if God’s movement here is simply a weak concurrence) both of these actions are ones endowed with intellect and will. Therefore the First Mover is intellectual and willing. Secondly, this feature is assumed by the fact such a First Mover is a self Mover (in a weak sense due to His essence being fundamentally inclined “towards” movement, with the First Mover literally being an act), setting himself in motion “towards” the series. For the only beings capable of moving themselves in towards a good are those equipped with desire and apprehension (even if the beings in our experience only do it because of a continuous actualizing of parts). Now the First self moved mover cannot be so on account of any proximate good, for all proximate good’s are prior to the appetitive desire, while the First Mover is posterior to none. If He were posterior to a good He would be moved by a particular good non essentially, which is impossible and in explicit contradiction to the First Mover’s natural immutability as we have previously shewn. Nor can He do so on account of any parts that need actualizing, for as we have displayed the First Mover is not composed of parts. Therefore the First Mover has to move on account of His own goodness. Furthermore, this goodness will have to function as His beatitude. In a being not composed of parts however, what can limit the goodness of such an agent? Also, for something that is Pure Act, with all real perfections essentially, how can one not be perfect? Therefore, it follows the First Being is perfect as well, and only acts on account of His own goodness. Everything moved is on the supposition of the glory experienced within the First Mover’s beatitude, and His wish to spread His own goodness to the world. When humans deem something good, they do so on account of it’s desirability, and anything that is infinitely desirable and perfect is also infinitely good.Therefore, the First Mover is unlimited goodness. Obviously this proof has already been shown with regards to the First Mover’s tendency, but it can be displayed as objective through the judgements of men’s experience. Furthermore,  Given that God is pure act, and that no perfection is not found in Him on account of this, it follows God is utterly omnipotent. No movement or causal disposition is repugnant to the First Mover. This same proof can be used to argue that the First Mover is all knowing. Since the First Mover is a being endowed with intellect and will, it truly is open to all intellectual data. This means facts are something the First Being is in potency to. However, the First Mover can stand in potency to no things, but must contain all perfections essentially. It then follows that there is no knowledge that is not contained in a preeminent sense within the First Act. Next, it is manifestly clear the First Mover is not composed of matter and form, hence being immaterial. Anything material is composed of matter and form, ordered in such a way akin to potency and act. The form, being the determinant bearer of perfections is in act to Prime Matter, which both limits and forms the compound (since Prime Matter is potentially anything), which is in turn in potency to form. However, the First Mover can stand in potency to nothing, nor is composed of distinct parts. It then follows that the First Mover is not material. Secondly, anything material is in potency to division, as it is of a determinant length. However, the First Mover stands in no potency to anything and is hence not material. Thirdly, whatever is material is spatial, and is limited to a certain area. However, the First Mover stands in no potency to any specific spatial relation as he could neither be moved there nor move himself there, as no bodies are capable of such self movement in the sense just described, and the First Act is also unlimited as we have previously shewn. Therefore again, the First Mover is the First Act. Lastly and most magnificently, there can also only be one First Mover, as all movers have to be distinguished from each other by some part. However, the First being is not composed of parts. Therefore, it follows the First Being is essentially One and Unique. It is to be noted that all the perfections we have just proved are not found in a divided sense, but formally constituting the essence of the First Mover.

These arguments allow us to arrive at a being who is Intellectual, willing, Goodness itself, Perfection itself, simple, omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial and so forth. It is obvious why Aquinas felt this was “what all men call God”

     Overall, I do think Aquinas’s first way still does work as a plausible argument from natural theology. Not based on the natural sciences like the arguments used by most apologists, it has unfortunately fallen out of favor. This is also largely due to the moderns  disillusionment with a medieval argument.  However, the explanatory power and the wide reach of the argument speaks for itself. 


Aristotelian and Scholastic Metaphysics

Aristotelian and Scholastic Metaphysics

In this essay, I will be discussing Aristotelian metaphysics, a sort of preliminary piece before I analyze the five ways of Thomas Aquinas, seeing as a keen understanding of metaphysics will be extremely helpful in understanding the arguments and accessing them accurately. I will also analyze whether the argument stands up to modern science and could be perceived as convincing to the modern viewer.

Act or actuality: state of casual prowess and casual perfection. Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s God would be perceived as pure actuality in a general sense.

Potentially or potency: the state of being in which said being is able to receive causal prowess. A tree in my yard exists in potentiality, but not in actuality for example, since it has the ability to have casual prowess acted upon it.

Motion is change of any sort.

Substance: What really is. Certain qualities certainly could be beyond perception.

Accidents: Qualities that can be seen.

Form: Actuality, form would be in the case of a ball, roundness and bounciness. Examples of objects with great form would be a brick of silver, since over time it will not be destroyed in 100 years, compared to say an apple, which will change to not be perceivable (more on this later). Things can be pure form, and in a general sense, Angels would indeed be this, since they not material.

Matter: potentially, waiting to be form. Matter without form however is nothing.

The Four causes:

Formal cause: What the object is in the form of, in the case of the David, it would be the David.

Material cause: What said being is made of. In the case of the David, Marble.

Efficient cause: What brings it about. In the case of the David, Michelangelo and in fact his tools.

Final cause: Put simply, the reason why. In the case of the David it could be many, but to keep it simple we can just word it as to glorify David.

How things change:

Quality: When a being is changed in a fashion that does not change its necessary identity. an example would be making a triangle outlined red.

Quantity: The perceivable size of a being. An apple growing bigger would be an example.

Corruption/generation: changing the fundamental nature of what something is. Continuing with the apple example, chewing an apple down to where is ceases to be an apple.

Location: where an object is located. An apple located on a table instead of a tree would be an example.

Two more distinctions:

Existence: Act of being.

Essence: The whatness of a thing. Also called the quiddity of a thing. The whatness of a dog would be dogness to describe it briefly. The essence is separate from the existence in all things that are not God, which we will explore in the second way, and is a matter of Divine Simplicity.

This is just a basic outline of Aristotelian metaphysics. In the coming pieces, I will try to analyze whether the Five ways are still effective arguments in natural theology, or whether they have in fact been dismantled by modern physics. Thanks for reading.