Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Aquinas and God

It just occurred to me, while grading a comprehensive exam question on Aquinas, how deeply Jewish Aquinas’s approach to God is. In the structure of the Summa Theologiae, the primary attribute of God, the one on which the derivation of all the others depends, is God’s oneness or simplicity.


Michael Gonzalez said...

Does this not cause a problem for a Trinitarian view in which the Son and Spirit are derived from the Father in some sense?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Not once all of Aquinas' trinitarian distinctions are in place. :-)

Mark Cuthbertson said...

Perhaps something similar could be said about his notion of existence as participation in God's existence, at least with regard to human souls (though Thomas generalizes to EVERYTHING). The Hebrew Scriptures open with God imparting life to Adam, not as something entirely ad extra, made out of sheer creativity. Rather, Adam's soul is God's own breath, with which he had just made all of the "stuff".

If existence as participation is Thomas's most novel theological contribution, its seed in the Hebrew Scriptures is the thing on which the derivation of (at least most, and arguably all) of its moral commands depend.

mjm said...
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mjm said...

Simplicity is absolutely critical to the Deduction of the Attributes. The Plotinian Principle is the heart of the metaphysics: If composite, then contingent. If not contingent, then not composite. Radically non-composite: no elements of any kind, mereological or thing/property. A radically new "ontological category" is required, only analogous to thing/property (think of wave/particle duality...Feynman says "It behaves like nothing you have ever seen before."). This is motivated, by Radical Simplicity and Radical Necessity, not by just being tongue-tied. No potential/actual by simplicity. No qualities of degree by no potential/actual, no accidental properties by no potential/actual. Here's one example:
Contingent beings require a Necessary Being (no explaining dogs by just reference to other dogs...a non-dog has to enter) The Good of a thing (anything that has a good; all, or at least living things) is precisely what it depends upon for it's existence (the goods of a goldfish include water, food, temperature range etc.). All contingent beings depend upon the necessary being (from argument from contingency). Therefore that necessary being is *a* "good", and since it's the good all their other goods depend upon, it is their "most basic/fundamental/primary good". Arguments for Monotheism include: Ockham's Razor, Al-Ghazali's Feather Argument, and Simplicity (necessary being must be identical to haecceity) Property attributions are analogical: it's like a substance, it's like a property, it's strictly neither. Both can be useful images (like wave/particle), but must be dismissed at the most fundamental level. The simplicity and small number of metaphysical assumptions/principles are points in it's favor: Contingency to Necessity, Necessity to Simplicity, all other attributes from those.

mjm said...
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mjm said...
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mjm said...

The Brief Deduction of the Attributes:

1) Contingent -> Necessary Being (Radically Independent)
2) Universe (at least) is Contingent (= Dependent, in *any* way)
- Composite -> Contingent
- Wholes Depend Upon Parts
- Properties of Wholes Depend Upon Properties of Parts
- Parts Contingent -> Whole Contingent
- Not a "Fallacy of Composition"
- No "threshold" at which Necessity is "acquired/lost"
- Contradiction
- Therefore Simple: Non-Composite, Radically Independent
3) Necessary Being is Non-Natural (= "Supernatural")
4) Necessary Being is Non-Spatio-Temporal
5) Necessary Being is Unchanging (Change -> Time, Non-Temporal)
- No Potential/Actual (depends upon Change, Time)
6) Necessary Being has (something like) Causal Power
7) Necessary Being Cannot Cease to Be (Change -> Time, Non-Temporal)
8) Good of all creatures is "what they depend upon for their existence".
- All contingent creatures depend upon Necessary Being
- All contingent creatures with a Good depend upon Necessary Being
- Necessary Being is a Good of all contingent beings
- Primary (most basic/fundamental) Good: All others are dependent upon it.
9) Form/Matter Composites Exist
Forms ("what something is") can be "in" Matter or Mind
Not in Matter "prior to" Universe
Therefore in Mind, Intellect. "Knows" all Forms of all Things
10) "Properties it has" (analogy, metaphor here) are Unlimited
- Limit entails Composition: Elements would be Property & Limiting Principle
- Non-Composite, so Unlimited
11) No Accidental Properties
- Accidental = Possible to Have/Lack
- Possible to Have/Lack -> Potential to Have/Lack
- No Potential/Actual
- So No Accidental Properties
12) Monotheism
- No Distinction between "What it is" and "That it is" (from Simplicity)
- analogy/metaphor here
- suppose 2 such beings, A & B:
A has identity to A
A is Simple
Simplicity = Identity to A (no multiple attributes)
B has Simplicity
B has identity to A