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Monday, September 17, 2012

0243: Aquinas’ Five Ways and Aristotle (VI)

Entry 0243: Aquinas’ Five Ways and Aristotle (VI)

Regarding the sources of the Fourth Way, Leo Elders pointed out that “it is remarkable that both in the Summa contra gentiles, I, 13 and in the Summa theologiae, I, 2, 3 as well as in the Quaestio disputata de potentia, 3, 5, Aquinas refers to Aristotle. The texts of the Corpus quoted are Metaph. II 993 b 24 f. and IV 1004 b 2 ff (there are degrees in falsehood, therefore also in truth). The principle formulated by Aristotle has already been discussed in our analysis.”

In the analysis, Elders asks “How can we proceed from the existence of limited perfections to that of an unlimited being?”

And he answers that “St. Thomas has taken over from Aristotle or rather from the Corpus Aristotelicum the principle: ‘That which gives other things a certain form or perfection has itself this perfection to the highest degree.’ However, Aquinas uses the maxim in a different way and states that where a perfection is found according to more or less there must be something which has it most.”

“Although the doctrine of participation is hardly Aristotelian,” Elders continues, “Aristotle nevertheless admits that at the level of efficient causality there is a first and a maximum with regard to qualities. He uses the example of fire as an illustration.”

The footnote attached to this affirmation reads as follows: “Metaph. II (a) 1, 993 b 25: fire is hottest and so it is to other things the cause of their heat. Aristotle presents an argument from the degrees of being in the De philosophia, fr. 16. See De ideis, fr. 3. One may also compare Met. 1055a 3 ff.”

Elders then adds, “Above all Aristotle teaches the unity of being, which to St. Thomas is of paramount importance: the transcendentals coalesce in the unity of the concrete thing and do not constitute juxtaposed distinct formal realities.”

Elders further explains that “The transcendentals are modes of being rendering explicit what is already contained in things. Being shows itself in the perfections it exhibits. For this reason St. Thomas can pass from the transcendental concepts to a conclusion about being. He does so with the help of an argument borrowed from Metaphysics II 1: ‘Things which are truest, are also most being.’ In this chapter Aristotle shows that the highest things, viz. principles and causes, are truest because they are the ground of our knowledge and certitude. St. Thomas changes the order somewhat and argues from truth to being. The argument is valid, for ‘truest’ is that being which also communicates its truth to others. This is what causes do.”

Finally, Elders points out that “In De substantiis separatis (chapter 3) St. Thomas describes Plato’s doctrine of participation and explains to what extent it agrees with Aristotle views.” (1)


(1) Leo J. Elders, The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1990), 113-119.