G6 begins with propositions immediately inferable from commonplace observations about familiar things. We regularly observe the more impermanent things around us being generated and being destroyed, and we have good reasons to think that all the less impermanent things we see, such as mountains and planets and end p.97
© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved stars, have been generated and will be destroyed. The world is full of existing things that can also not exist, things that did not always exist but have been (and so 'can be') generated and can be destroyed—in short, contingently existing things (lines 1-3).
As G6 implies, Aquinas thinks that a contingent being's present existence is dependent in two respects: first, it has been generated, and so depends on something else for having come into existence; second, it depends on something else for existing, because it has no intrinsic tendency to continue to exist: 'on its own it is related indifferently to (de se aequaliter se habeat
20 Being related indifferently to existing and not existing must apply only to an existing contingent thing considered on its own, as is suggested in the wording of lines 5-6—'if existing is its status, that must be on the basis of some cause'—and even by G6's opening words: 'We see things in the world'. Aquinas is not suggesting that any non-existent contingent being considered on its own, such as my twin brother, could suddenly show up among existing things. My existing must have some explanation; no explanation is needed to account for the non-existence of my twin.
The dependence of a contingently existing thing in this second respect may at first seem overstated, because it entails the denial of an altogether natural, practically universal background belief, which might be thought of as the assumption of existential inertia—the assumption that many or most contingent beings do have a tendency to continue to exist, other things being equal. And there's nothing objectionable in that assumption, as long as it's recognized that a contingent being is by definition something the existing of which is utterly dependent on other things' being equal, on the fulfilment of
many necessary conditions.
21 For this reason the contingent things Aquinas describes as being 'related indifferently to . . . existing and not existing' (lines 4-5) might be described more precisely as having no inherent tendency to exist, a characteristic strongly suggested by his going on to claim only as regards the existing of such a thing that that 'must be on the basis of some cause' (line 6).
Aquinas's denial of existential inertia applies only to such an utterly dependently existing thing considered 'on its own', not within a context normal for its existing. So the cause or causes inferred in lines 3-6 must be whatever it takes to explain some contingent being's presently existing despite its doubly dependent existential status. What it takes is answers to these two questions, into which the question about a thing's existence can be analysed: (Ql) What explains its having come into existence? and (Q2) What explains its presently existing? The causes inferred in lines 3-6, then, may at first seem to end p.98
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© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved be both generating and sustaining causes. But, as we'll see, generating causes are not at issue in argument G6.
The natural sciences provide answers to Ql and Q2 about very many sorts of dependently existing things, and their answers are in terms of other dependently existing things. But, of course, both questions can and, at least from the standpoint of metaphysics, should be asked again about each dependent explanatory being referred to in such explanatory answers, no matter what level of generality they're formulated at, no matter how pervasive or simple may be the dependent things, events, or states of affairs they refer to. And the crux of Aquinas's line of reasoning in G6 is his denial that it is theoretically possible to trace back explanatory beings in this way ad infinitum (lines 6-7). What does he mean by that?
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