Aims of This Book

The book's subtitle—'Aquinas's Natural Theology in Summa contra gentiles I'—may suggest that I'm undertaking a project in philosophical scholarship, developing my critical exposition of a thirteenth-century enterprise. It's certainly true that one reason I had for undertaking this study was my conviction that Aquinas's systematic natural theology is a philosophically interesting subject that has been neglected or misunderstood. And so in the eight chapters below I do try to present, explain, and evaluate the first part of that enterprise of his. I hope the book does, in that way, make a contribution to medieval philosophical scholarship. If that were the only aim I had in view, I could turn at once to the material I begin to deal with in Chapter One. But other considerations also motivated me, considerations that make Aquinas's natural theology important, I think, as well as interesting. They have led me to approach it not merely as the monumental achievement it already is, but also as a continuously active enterprise for which Aquinas's work has provided rich material developed in promising patterns. So in this book I mean also to engage co-operatively in that ongoing enterprise and to enlist the critical co-operation of others in pursuing the development of a metaphysics of theism along the lines Aquinas drew.

In my view a great deal—not all—of theology's traditional subject-matter is really continuous with philosophy's subject-matter, and ought to be integrated with it in practice. Most philosophers who lived before the twentieth century would share that view, and no substantive developments in the last hundred years should have obscured it. In the first three-quarters of this century it surely was obscured, but we may be witnessing a development in which that view is no longer so hard to find among philosophers: as late twentieth-century theologians have been moving away from end p.l


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved l their traditional subject-matter, philosophers have been moving in.

1 Perhaps the fullest, clearest evidence of this development can be found most

And natural theology, a branch of philosophy, interests me especially, because it provides the traditional and still central means of integrating

philosophy with (some of) theology.

2 Details of my conception of natural theology emerge in Ch. One below. For an authoritative general account of its nature and status I couldn't do better than present this passage from Alston 1991: 289: 1Natural theology is the enterprise of providing support for religious beliefs by starting from premises that neither are nor presuppose any religious beliefs. We begin from the mere existence of the world, or the teleological order of the world, or the concept of God, and we try to show that when we think through the implications of our starting point we are led to recognize the existence of a being that possesses attributes sufficient to identify Him as God. Once we get that foothold we may seek to show that a being could not have the initial attributes without also possessing certain others; in this manner we try to go as far as we can in building up a picture of God without relying on any supposed experience of God or communication from God, or on any religious authority. The credentials of this enterprise have often been challenged in the modern era. Hume and Kant are prominent among the challengers. Its death has repeatedly been reported, but like the phoenix it keeps rising from its ashes in ever new guises.'

Integrating them by means of natural theology amounts to developing within philosophy some of the subject-matter specifically associated with theology. Developing it within philosophy amounts to forgoing appeals to any putative revelation or religious experience as evidence for the truth of propositions, and accepting as data only those few naturally evident considerations that traditionally constitute data acceptable for philosophy generally. That's what makes it natural theology. What makes this part of philosophy natural theology is, of course, its agenda: investigating, by means of analysis and argument, at least the existence and nature of God and, in a fuller development, the relation of everything else—especially human nature and

behaviour—to God considered as reality's first principle.

3 In Ch. One I discuss kinds of theology and the links and rifts between theology and philosophy.

And Aquinas's ambitious project in Summa contra gentiles Books I—III is the most fully accomplished and most promising natural theology I know of. So, I mean not merely to be offering a critical exposition of Aquinas's natural theology but also to be advocating it, or at least my version of some aspects

of it, and perhaps even to be helping it along a little, here and there.

4 In the eight chapters below I deal only with the topics of Book I: "matters associated with God considered in himself (1.9.57). I hope to be able to go on in two further volumes to deal with the topics of Book II, "the emergence of created things from him', and of Book III, "the ordering and directing of created things toward him as their goal' (ibid.).

end p.2


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved

In an earlier form, this book's chapters were the Wilde Lectures in Comparative and Natural Religion, which I delivered in Oxford in the spring of 1994. Because of that general designation for the lecture series, I didn't need to explain, then and there, why I was focusing on natural theology, or how natural theology is viewed by our contemporaries. However, I'm now outside those special, fostering circumstances, and I'm undertaking to expound, occasionally to criticize, but mostly to defend and promote, a system of natural theology. And so, before I begin to work at it directly, I want to point out some features of the current philosophical climate that strike me as pertinent to this project.

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