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The Medieval Mind
Thomas Aquinas: 'The Dumb Ox'


 

 

  • Some history:

    • Augustine was last classicist/first medievalist.

    • Medieval period: Augustine to the Renaissance.

      • (5th to 16th centuries)
         

    • 5th cent to 1000 is often called the 'Dark Ages.' Why?

      • plagued by war and factionalism in the wake of the split/demise of the Roman empire.
         

      • In the West (Roman),

        • the Church preserved philosophy, but did nothing to add to it.

      • In the East (Byzantine),

        • alternative philosophies were suppressed

        • Justinian the Great closed Plato's Academy in 529.
           

    • Islam rose as a power in 8th cent,

      • conquering previously Christian lands around the Mediterranean.

      • Ironically, Islamic culture would preserve, interpret, pass on Aristotle's writings
         

    • 11th to 13th cents.- the 'high middle ages'

      • war and anarchy subside

      • advances in art and architecture.

      • rise of Scholasticism-

        • theologians who sought to integrate faith and reason,

        • relying upon texts/doctrines as authoritative-

          • scripture

          • Church Fathers (esp. Augustine)

          • Aristotle
             

  • St. Anselm (1033-1109)

    • Benedictine monk and Archbishop of Canterbury.

    • Best known for his argument for God's existence,

      • found in 2 versions in his Proslogium.
         

    • Called the 'Ontological Argument,' b/c it attempts to prove God's existence from the concept of his being.
       

  • Version 1:

    • I have within my understanding an idea of God.

    • This idea of God is the idea of a being that is the greatest that can be conceived.

    • A being is greater if it exists in reality than if it exists only in the understanding.

    • If God exists in the understanding alone, then a greater being can be conceived- one that exists in reality.

    • But that is a contradiction- it is saying that I can conceive of a greater being than the greatest conceivable being.

    • So, if I have an idea of the greatest conceivable being, such a being must exist both in my understanding and in reality.
       

  • Version 2:

    • I have an idea of God.

    • This idea of God is the idea of a being which is the greatest that can be conceived.

    • A being whose nonexistence is impossible is greater than a being whose nonexistence is possible.

    • Therefore, if the greatest possible being's nonexistence is rationally conceivable, then he is not the greatest possible being.

    • But that is a contradiction.

    • So the nonexistence of the greatest possible being cannot be rationally conceivable.

    • Therefore, God necessarily exists.


       

  • St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

    • Born in Italy (between Rome and Naples)

    • sent to the U. of Naples at age 14-

      • texts of Aristotle & Islamic commentaries on him had been recently introduced into the curriculum.
         

    • joined Dominican order in 1244.

    • went to Paris to study philosophy under Albert the Great, a Dominican theologian.

      • a large, 'rotund' fellow, and very quiet.

      • nicknamed the 'Dumb Ox' by classmates.

      • earned the terminal degree in theology.

      • appointed by the Pope as advisor to the Eastern Orthodox Church,

      • but died en route to the Council of Lyons (49 years old).
         

    • Prolific writer- his works fill 25 volumes.

    • Most famous is Summa Theologica -

      • longer than entire collected works of Aristotle.

      • A few months before his death, he had a mystical experience while celebrating Mass...

      • 'I can write no more. I have seen things which make all my writings like straw.'
         

    • Canonized in 1323. (considered the patron saint of just about anything academic)
       

    • In 1879, Pope Leo XIII encouraged the revival of Thomistic philsophy as the model for Catholic thought.
       

    • In essence:

      • Aquinas= rise of Christian Aristotelianism,

        • decline of Christian Platonism

        • shift to a naturalistic, empirical perspective.

        • to meet the needs of his time.
           

      • Augustine= reason is tainted by original sin,

        • grace (therefore faith) is necessary prereq for philosophy

        • philosophy must serve theology.
           

      • Aquinas= sin affects the moral life, not the rational life

        • reason is a source of knowledge apart from faith.

        • only 'faith' in the intellect & the intelligibility of the universe is necessary.
           

      • 2 paths to Truth:

        • truth given via revelation, know by faith

        • truth revealed in nature, known by reasoning and experience.
           

      • Theo & Phil are separate ways of knowing.

        • Theo begins w/God, moves to world.

        • Phil begins w/facts about nature, reasons to God.
           

      • His View:


 

  • Some truth (A-B) is known only through revelation

    • beyond reason, but does not contradict it.

    • neither provable nor disprovable.

    • ex: Trinity, Original Sin, Incarnation...
       

  • Some truth (C-D) is known only through sense experience & rational principles,

    • NOT through revelation.

    • ex: we don't learn biology by reading the Bible.
       

  • Some truth (B-C) can be known by both

    • ex: existence of God, soul, immortality, natural moral law...
       

  • So, 2 kinds of Theology:

    • Revealed/ Supernatural (A-C)

    • Natural (B-C)
       

    • where Theo & Phil overlap, they cannot contradict,

      • b/c both reveal truths originating in the 'Author of Truth.'
         

  • Aquinas' Metaphysics

    • Like Aristotle, natural world is a collection of individual substances.

    • each understood in terms of

      • Form- its universal aspect, what it has in common w/other members of a species.

      • Matter- put simply, what it is made of, but...

        • (1) Continuity- how to account for changes in substance? (wood burned to ashes)

        • (2) individuation- how to account for 2 diff substances w/identical qualities?
           

      • Prime Matter-

        • a fundamental kind of matter that persists through substantial change.

          • explains (1)

        • pure matter w/o its own form,

          • but w/ potential to take any form

          • explains (2)
             

        • But all matter in this world is already formed.
           

    • Actuality & Potentiality-

      • prime matter is 'pure potentiality'

      • for Aquinas, only God is fully actualized

      • the rest of the cosmos is changing,

      • moving between the state of pure potentiality and complete actualization

        • or the fulfillment of its potential
           

      • Thus, to fulfill one's potential is approach the fullness of divine perfection.
         

  • Some conclusions drawn from this:

    • The world in intelligible, not the product of blind processes

      • via knowledge of forms

    • The world is purposeful-

      • each thing 'fulfilling its divinely ordained essence.'

    • Objective value judgments are possible,

      • b/c things are graded acc to how fully they have realized the potential inherent in their essences.
         

  • Essence vs. Existence

    • Essence is 'what a thing is,' a dictionary definition.

    • w/ respect to finite beings, it is sep. from existence.

      • [both 'horse' and 'unicorn' can be defined. Do both exist?]
         

    • Only w/God does essence necessarily imply existence (he agrees w/Anselms def.)

      • but we have no direct apprehension of God's essence,

        • so we cannot argue from it to anything, least of all God's existence.

        • so, Ontological argument does not work.
           

  • The 'Five Ways'

  • Aquinas argues from the nature of the Cosmos to God's existence (to some extent borrowed from earlier Islamic arguments).

  • NOTE- they are inductive, establishing probability (so there is more than one).
     

  • The 1st 3 are variations of the 'Cosmological Argument'

    • all assume that an infinite regress of causes is not possible.

       

  • (1) Motion

    • all things are changing (actualizing)

    • all change is caused by some agent.

    • but if that agent is itself a changing being, another agent must be 'moving' it as well, ad infinitum?

    • But such a series cannot be infinite; it must be grounded in something itself unmoved, an 'Unmoved Mover.'

       

  • (2) Efficient Causation

    • Each event we see in nature is itself caused by a previous event,

      • itself caused by another, ad infinitum?

      • there must be a First Cause sufficient unto itself, to account for the series of dependent causes.

         

  • (3) Possibility & Necessity

    • Things pass in and out of existence (their existence and nonexistence are both possible)

    • things that do not exist only begin to exist through things that already exist.

    • there cannot be a chain of merely possible beings depending on something else for their existence.

    • therefore, there must be a being that exists necessarily,

      • not dependent on anything else

      • imparting existence to everything else.
         

    • Like Anselm's Ontological argument in its conclusion abt God,

      • but derived from experience,

      • not from concept of God.
         

  • (4) Degrees of Perfection

    • We can make objective value distinctions about things (more or less true, good, etc.)

    • this is b/c they reflect or 'participate' to varying degrees in that which is the fullest manifestation of these qualities.

    • so 'degrees of value imply an ultimate source of value, in which all perfections are realized.'
       

  • (5) Design

    • while most of nature is 'blind' and w/o intelligence,

    • all of it seems to be ordered and purposeful and directed towards achieving its own ends. (it is 'teleological')

    • but 'an end that does not yet exist cannot direct its own realization.

    • what then directs the system towards that end?

      • The end must be contained in the mind of an intelligent being that guides the process,

      • accounting for the design inherent in the system.
         

  • Please Note:

    • NEVER does Aquinas claim 'everything must have a cause.'

      • One might ask 'What causes God?' Or 'why assume God is immune to the regress?'
         

    • instead, 'everything which is merely potential must be caused by some other actuality.'

      • all things in nature require a first cause, but God falls outside the realm of this observation.
         

  • Consider:

    • If we proved that the cosmos always existed, do we refute Aquinas' First Cause?
       

    • No! Aquinas himself thought it possible that the world had existed for eternity.

      • God is NOT a temporal first cause, starting a chain of events.

      • Rather, all change is continually sustained by God, not merely or even necessarily initiated by him
         

       

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