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Monday, August 27, 2012

0240: Aquinas’ Five Ways and Aristotle (III)

Entry 0240: Aquinas’ Five Ways and Aristotle (III)

Concerning the sources of Aquinas’ Five Ways, Leo J. Elders comments that

“The Five Ways of St. Thomas are a summary and transposition into a unified structure and stringent form of more than sixteen hundred years of philosophical efforts to prove God's existence. St. Thomas himself was very much aware of the fact that he was using materials from philosophical tradition.”

More specifically, concerning the First Way, Elders remarks that

“In the First Way Aristotle’s analysis of motion which St. Thomas himself fully endorses is used … St. Thomas’ argument is directly dependent on Aristotle's demonstration of the existence of the First Unmoved Mover.”

Then, considering the First Unmoved Mover, Elders continues,

“It is surprising to see that after Aristotle the argument is seldom used. The idea of a First Mover at the outside of the universe may have held little attraction. The argument was perhaps disregarded by Christians because it was thought to be connected with the theory of an eternal world. However, it made its influence felt inasmuch as it contributed to the general admission of God's total immutability …”

Elder finally concludes his commentary on the sources of the First Way by saying that

“Thomas main sources were the texts in Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.” (1)


(1) Leo J. Elders, The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1990), 90-91 and 95-96.

Monday, August 20, 2012

0239: Aquinas’ Five Ways and Aristotle (II)

Entry 0239: Aquinas’ Five Ways and Aristotle (II)

It is generally accepted that Aquinas' Five Ways of proving the existence of God have their ultimate source in Aristotle. Aquinas is not the originator of the arguments. In this regard, Fergus Kerr offers the following remarks:

“One thing is not always made clear: Aquinas does not regard the Five Ways as his own arguments, nor does he regard them as arguments which might or might not work. Rather, he regards them as arguments that already have worked. In the parallel discussion in the Summa contra gentiles he takes much more time and trouble but even there it is surely plain that he is only rehearsing what he regards as ancient and familiar arguments.

“Admittedly, when Aquinas spells out the First Way, based on the obviousness of change in the world, he does not explicitly refer to Aristotle; but the parallel passage in Summa contra gentiles (I, 13) shows clearly enough that he knows that Aristotle is the source of the argument. The Second and Third Ways, based on efficient causality and the fact that some things have the possibility of being or not being, respectively, have equally clear roots in Aristotle.

“The Fourth Way, invoking degrees of being, goodness, truth, and so forth, the only one in which Aquinas cites Aristotle explicitly, is, paradoxically, as it might seem to us, distinctly Platonist in origin and inspiration. In fact, for all his involvement in the retrieval of Aristotelianism, it has been shown in the last fifty years or so that Aquinas remains profoundly indebted to Platonism.

“No authority is cited for the Fifth Way, from design or teleology, but the brief exposition recalls the most ancient and persistently popular argument of all, dating back to Plato and the Stoics as well as to Aristotle. While of course most of Plato’s texts were unavailable, and there is little sign that Aquinas knew much of the Stoic literature at first hand, it is surely clear that he takes it for granted that he is expounding a very familiar argument.” (1)

(1) Fergus Kerr, “Theology in Philosophy: Revisiting the Five Ways,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 50 (2001): 115–130.

Monday, August 13, 2012

0238: The Revelation of God in Exodus 3:14 and the Real Distinction

Entry 0238: The Revelation of God in Exodus 3:14 and the Real Distinction

Aware of the fact that Etienne Gilson answered in the affirmative the question “Is Saint Thomas doctrine of the real distinction between actus essendi and essence dependent on the prior acknowledgement that God is the Ipsum Esse Subsistens?” Leo J. Elders remarked that “despite the guiding role of revelation, Saint Thomas’ doctrine of being belongs to the level of natural reason.” (1)

Elders, however, grants that “the self-revelation of God to Moses as the One who Is, … facilitated the formulation of the doctrine of God as Self-subsisting Being itself and of the real distinction between being and essence in creatures.” (2)

John Wippel has similar remarks when he develops an argument for the real distinction based on the limited character of individual beings.

Wippel asks: “Does this argument [the argument based on the limited character of individual beings] for a real distinction and composition of essence and esse in finite beings presuppose knowledge of God’s existence?” (3)

And he answers: “Recognition of its starting point, the fact that limited beings exist, clearly does not. But what about its appeal to the axiom that unreceived esse is unlimited? Does not this presuppose knowledge that God exists? I have suggested that acceptance of this axiom rests on Thomas’ particular way of understanding esse. Does not his understanding of esse as the actuality of all acts and the perfection of all perfections presuppose the Judeo-Christian revelation of God as subsisting esse as implied in Exodus 3:14? As I see things, it does not.” (4)


(1) Leo J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being of St. Thomas Aquinas in a Historical Perspective (New York: E. J. Brill, 1993), 182-183.

(2) Ibid.

(3) John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 175.

(4) Ibid.

Monday, August 6, 2012

0237: Aquinas and the Ontological Argument of Saint Anselm

Entry 0237: Aquinas and the Ontological Argument of Saint Anselm

Herwi Rikhof writes: “(1) by placing Thomas’ criticism on the ratio Anselmi, as can be found in the Summa Theologiae, in the context of his discussion of the question whether ‘God is’ is a propositio per se nota, (2) by comparing this discussion with discussions in previous systematic works, and (3) by showing parallels between his way of arguing in this case and in related questiones, I have tried to defend the thesis that the common picture of Thomas’ criticism is not correct.

“His criticism is not purely negative and dismissive. On the contrary: Anselm’s ratio provides an insight, an argument for understanding ‘God is’ as a per se nota proposition.

“Thomas’ criticism is not just the criticism mentioned in his direct reply, but also and mainly the criticism against an unqualified acceptance of ‘God is’ as a per se nota proposition. And this criticism is motivated by a typical theo-logical concern: how to speak adequately, or more precisely, how to speak least inadequately about God we believe in.

“The conclusion that in God essence and existence are identical belongs to the heart of the quomodo-non-sit inquiry. This explains why, for the discussion about ‘God is’ being per se notum, Thomas can point to the identity as satisfying the (formal) requirement of a propositio per se nota, while at the same time pointing to the impossibility on our side to know God’s essence as the basis for a radical qualification. The theoretical insights about per se notum knowledge can serve to elucidate our use and understanding of ‘God is,’ but only up to a point. In Aquinas’ view Anselm’s ratio does not sufficiently take into account that last qualification.”

See Herwi Rikhof, “Aquinas and the Ratio Anselmi: A Theo-Logical Analysis of Aquinas’ Criticism,” Archivio di Filosofia 58 (1990): 137-159. See also, Michael V. Dougherty, “Aquinas on the Self-Evidence of the Articles of Faith,” The Heythrop Journal 46 (2005): 167-180.