How Aquinas Proceeds in SCG

But Aquinas himself, after all, insists that the investigation he intends to carry out can't be begun without a good argument for the existence of God. So it's only reasonable to expect that the moves he makes in the chapters immediately following chapter 13 will be based, explicitly or implicitly, on what he considers to be the just-proved proposition 'God exists'. And so, surely, going ahead without taking that proposition to have been established can't count as following Aquinas in this enterprise. Well, we'll see.

But before looking directly at what he does in the chapters immediately following chapter 13, we can helpfully remind ourselves that his project in SCG is different from all his other large-scale projects in theology, in that he expressly declares that in the arguments of SCG I—III he will not base any conclusions on any data derived from any source other than those available to human experience and human reason apart from any putative revelation. So, even if we suppose for a moment that every one of his five existence arguments in chapter 13 succeeds, then, if Aquinas observes his own rules, in the immediately following chapters he should not be setting out to investigate the nature of an entity any more God-like than is warranted by the conclusions of the existence arguments in chapter 13. And those conclusions, taken one by one, describe the entity whose existence is inferred as 'an immovable first mover' (Gl), 'a separated, altogether immovable first mover' (G2), 'a first efficient cause' (G3), 'something that is a being in the fullest possible sense (aliquid quod est maxime ens)' (G4),

and 'someone by whose providence the world is governed' (G5).

6 13.83 (Gl); 108 (G2); 113 (G3); 114 (G4); 115 (G5).

The G5 conclusion does unmistakably describe God, a supernatural, knowing, universally governing person. However, in the chapters immediately following chapter 13, Aquinas never draws on or alludes to argument G5; nor does he use the G5 description to pick out the being whose nature he is investigating. Since G5's conclusion is more unmistakably theistic, and thus presumably more to his purpose than any of the other four, the most likely explanation for his not making use of it would be that he considers end p.88


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G5 a weak argument.

7 In these circumstances it may be worth remembering that G5 is the only one of the arguments in ch. 13 that isn't drawn from Aristotle. Aquinas attributes it to John Damascene and Averroés. So it's the only one that can be characterized as an argument 'by means of which . . . Catholic teachers have [or, more precisely, one Catholic teacher has] proved that God exists' (13.81).

And although it appeals to evidence that might be developed more

persuasively, G5 is a weak argument.

8 'It is impossible that contrary and discordant things coexist (concordare) in a single order always or for the most part except under someone's governance, on the basis of which all and each will be brought to tend toward a definite goal. But in the world we see things of diverse natures coexisting in a single order, not rarely or by chance, but always or for the most part. Therefore, there must be someone by whose providence the world is governed, and him we call God' (9.115).

But Aquinas introduces all five as 'arguments by which philosophers as well as Catholic teachers have proved that God exists' (9.81), and he provides no explicit indication that he thinks less of G5 than of the others. I have no fully satisfactory explanation for his ignoring it after having gone to the trouble of including it among the arguments of chapter 13.

To varying extents, Aquinas does use the descriptions in the conclusions of the other four arguments, as we'll see, and some of them are more detailed than others, a little more nearly theological than merely cosmological. But none of them is full enough to provide an unmistakably sufficient condition for deity, and so I'll adopt the further working hypothesis that when Aquinas uses the word 'God' in the chapters immediately after chapter 13, we could, without giving up information we're entitled to, read 'God' as 'Alpha'.

9 Naturally, I don't intend this claim of replaceability to extend to the use of'God' (or 'Lord') in the scriptural passages he appends near the ends of some of those chapters—e.g. 14.119, 15.126.

Aquinas ends the first nine chapters of SCG, his general introduction, by describing the rest of Book I as devoted to 'the consideration of matters having to do with God considered in himself' (9.57), as distinct from the consideration of other things in relation to God, the business of Books II and III. And so, in keeping with the Aristotelian programme we've already noted, he thinks of the rest of Book I as divided into two main parts, the first consisting of four chapters devoted to the question of God's existence, culminating in chapter 13's arguments, the second consisting of eighty-eight chapters devoted to the question of God's nature. But the first part end p.89


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved is separated from the second by a short chapter 14, which provides presuppositions for the rest of his natural theology.

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