The Introduction of Terminological Sameness

The introduction of the attribute of perfection signals a change not only in the content, but also in the form of those propositions. The results of chapters 15-27 are typically achieved by showing the inapplicability of such positive attributes as corporeality or definability to God, and so chapter 28's elimination of purely negative imperfections marks an important shift in the direction of more unmistakably positive results. As if in recognition of this shift, Aquinas ends chapter 28 with a section designed to ward off a misinterpretation of the chapter's use of the word 'perfect', as we end p.142


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved saw in Chapter Four. No such cautionary appendix would have been appropriate at the end of a chapter establishing, for instance, that God is not a member of any genus, or that God is devoid of any sort of composition, since those paradigmatic results of the eliminative method simply establish differences between God and everything we're familiar with. Even without supposing that God's existence has been established, such propositions of essential difference are strictly true as they stand, and introduce no problems of interpretation. Whether the results of the eliminative method before chapter 28 are negative propositions employing only terms we apply to ordinary things or affirmative propositions employing negatively defined technical terms, such as 'eternal' or 'simple', those results are hardly liable to any kind of misinterpretation. But questions of interpretation arise as soon as God is called perfect. For we can, and sometimes do, correctly use the word 'perfect' in talking about daisies or memorizations, having learned the meaning of the word in such ordinary usage, and the cumulative effect of the eliminative method has been to show us how deeply different God is from any ordinary thing we talk about. And so the result of chapter 28, which for the first time uses a term with familiar applications to affirm something about God, moves us on from an exclusive concern with straightforwardly interpretable propositions founded on differences between God and other things to the broader, more intricate realm of propositions in which predicates affirmed of other things are affirmed of God as well.

The elaborate methodological discussion in chapters 29-36, providing the basis for the relational method, is called for, then, by the two transitional developments in chapter 28: the shift to positive results affirmatively expressed and the newly acquired opportunity to somehow trace specific s relationships between God and various sorts of other things.

8 When the 'consideration focused on God's substance' begins in earnest after those eight methodological chapters, the shift to positive results is evident at once in the chapters arguing for God's goodness (37-41) and uniqueness (42), while the attention to specific relationships between God and this or that kind of things first emerges unmistakably in the detailed account of God as intellective (44-71). From the look of its title, ch. 43, devoted to arguing that 'God is infinite', seems to constitute another application of the eliminative method. But, as we'll see, the methodological status of chs. 42 and 43 isn't quite so simple as the chapters' titles make it look.

Because those two developments work together to provide apparent occasions for extending to God the end p.143


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved application of terms that apply ordinarily to other things, much of the discussion in chapters 29-36 is concerned with this terminological sameness. It is greeted with suspicion, as it should be. Unless we're provided with some special theoretical justification for talking otherwise, we know what we're talking about only when we're using ordinary terms in ordinary ways. And since in natural theology 'all our cognition of God is drawn from [our cognition of] created things', if this terminological sameness were 'agreement only as regards names, we would know nothing of God other

than empty names under which there would be no reality' (QDP 7.7c).

9 See also e.g. SCG 1.33.295. That is, in the absence of some special theoretical justification for applying ordinary terms to the most extraordinary being, the results of doing so would be strictly uninterpretable—and in a particularly pernicious way, since the uninterpretability would be masked by the familiarity of the words. So, if this project in natural theology is to remain viable, the terminological sameness that makes its first clear appearance with the attribution of perfection to God calls for special justification: semantic backing in the form of some sort of real sameness between God and ordinary things. The development in chapters 29-36 of a basis for the relational method is intended to support the expansion of philosophically justified language about God to include not only negative propositions or fundamentally negative technical terms, but also affirmations involving terms we apply primarily to ordinary things—adjectives such as 'living' and 'good', nouns such as 'intellect' and 'will'.

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