The Extensive Aspect of Absolute Perfection

In my Chapter Four I treated Aquinas's chapter 28 as the culmination of the account developed by means of the exclusive application end p.140

Kretzmann, Norman , (deceased) formerly Susan Linn Sage Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Cornell University, New York

The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [141]-[145]

of the eliminative method. In chapter 28, as we've seen, he more than once argues for perfection as a divine attribute (or meta-attribute) by showing the impossibility of any imperfection in the first source (28.260-2 and 264). Those eliminative arguments for God's absolute perfection bring out its purity, or what might be thought of as its intensive aspect. But absolute perfection also has an extensive aspect, reflected in his designating it

1universal perfection': 'I call universally perfect that which does not lack the excellence associated with any natural kind (alicuius generis)' (28.259); 'none of the perfections that are associated with any things are lacking to

3 See also 'every excellence of any thing whatever belongs to it'; 'it can lack no excellence that is associated with any thing'; 'he cannot lack any excellence that is associated with any thing' (28.260).

The extensive aspect of absolute perfection, its universality, is what lies behind Aquinas's beginning chapter 28 with the announcement of a tour de force for the eliminative method. The ranking of specific perfections is naturally concomitant with the wider or narrower ranges of potentiality essential to various species of being. An /'nanimate being perfect of its kind has less perfection extensively than a perfect living being of some kind, and so on. Absolute perfection, then, must be extensively universal—inclusive, somehow, of all specific perfections. None the less, he says, in chapter 28 divine universal perfection will be established (in what I've called the 'perfection argument') on the basis of the elegantly meagre claim that God 'is not other than his being', the central result of the eliminative method (derived in chapters 21 and 22): 'Now although things that both are and are alive are more perfect than those that merely are [and so on], God, who is not other than his being, is, none the less, the universally perfect being' (28.259). Aquinas accomplishes this tour de force in the perfection argument when he concludes on that meagre basis that God 'cannot lack any excellence that is associated with any thing' (28.260). All the specific perfections associated with all kinds of inanimate things, and of living things, and of things that have minds—and, indeed, of natural things of any

kind—must be found in God somehow.

4 So he needn't postpone arguing for perfection until he has introduced separately such positive divine attributes as life and intellect as increments contributing to a cumulative concept of universal perfection. (The attribution of life to God is established in 1.97-9, divine intellect in 1.44-71. On the latter, see Ch. Six.)

This universality of absolute perfection helps give chapter 28 its uniquely transitional function among the chapters in which the end p.141

eliminative method is applied. Most of the metaphysical concerns of chapters 15-27 are peculiarly formal, with an arid look about them. It takes some doing to show the fecundity of such results as that there is no passive potentiality in God, and that God is not other than his being. By contrast, that God is universally perfect, chapter 28's result, is expressly overflowing

with further implications for God's nature.

5 The unmistakable fecundity of universal perfection accounts for Aquinas's devoting a whole chapter to showing that not only the plurality of divine attributes but also the single attribute of perfection is compatible with absolute simplicity: ch. 31, 'divine perfection and the plurality of the divine names are not incompatible with divine simplicity'. The elegant way in which universal perfection is argued for in the perfection argument certainly contributes to dispelling the appearance of incompatibility.

So the first indication of a need for a methodological supplement is the fact that the project is no longer concerned merely with relationships that give rise to the differences uncovered by the eliminative method, relationships almost all of which obtain between God and everything else considered


6 Some of the eliminations—of materiality, e.g.—do not distinguish God from everything else.

The introduction of universal perfection appears to provide an opportunity for investigating specific relationships between God and one or another kind of thing, an opportunity the new relational method will be designed to exploit. And so chapter 28 marks an expansion in the sort of content to be expected in the propositions that will be uncovered in this project as the consideration

of God's substance develops.

7 For an excellent critical discussion relevant to many aspects of this chapter, see Alston 1993.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment