The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [96]-[100]

supposing that there is a first cause, not claiming that it has already been


15 Aquinas's claim here that it has been shown that God is the first cause should perhaps be construed as going beyond the starting-point he cites at the end of ch. 14, in which case he may be drawing here on G3 more directly than on G2 (or Gl).

The second sentence omitted, Aquinas's final conclusion for this argument, is what makes the argument appropriate for chapter 15. His complete argument is a product of the eliminative method, because 'eternal' as used in that final conclusion must mean existing beginninglessly, endlessly, and

probably also timelessly.

16 'Eternal' means only sempiternal (beginningless and endless) in 15.121 and 123. In 15.125 God is not called eternal at all, but only sempiternal. Only in 15.122 is there an argument explicitly and unmistakably for God's atemporality. But argument G6 as I interpret it may indeed imply the atemporality of the being whose existence it argues for; see n. 30 below.

G6, the argument I'm now interested in, is only the part of Aquinas's argument that purports to show that 'one must posit some first necessary being that is necessary through itself'. I'm not interested now in deriving

another characteristic from that kind of necessity.

17 Although the title of ch. 15 contains the proposition 'God is eternal' and although the chapter contains five arguments (including the one in 15.124) concluding either that God is eternal or that God is sempiternal, the derived propositions in ch. 15 that matter most to Aquinas in the following chapters are the conclusion (lines 13-14) and the sub-conclusion (lines 8-9) of G6 (as distinct from the full argument in 15.124). He uses these G6 results as premisses at least eleven times in chs. 16-28: 16.130 (twice), 18.143, 19.150 (twice), 19.151, 22.203, 22.205, 22.206, 24.223, and 26.240. In those same chapters he cites'God is sempiternal'Just once (16.128) and 'God is eternal', meaning no more than that God is sempiternal, twice (16.127 and 26.242). See further discussion in Ch. Four.

G6's 'first necessary being that is necessary through itself' is inferred as the explanation for the existence of all the things 'we see ... in the world that can exist and can also not exist', the things that make up the observable world. So the entity to which argument G6 concludes is Alpha, the hypothetical first cause of the existence and nature of the observable world.

The fact that G6 deals in possibilities and positings might give the impression that the argument is merely hypothetical, concluding only to a necessity that Alpha would have to have if Alpha really does exist. But G6 clearly is an inference to the explanation of the most familiar kind of actual existence, the kind exemplified by ordinary things that 'we see ... in the world'. And so the conclusion of G6 is to be read as a claim that a certain extraordinary sort of thing must actually exist, and that it must exist differently from end p.96

the way the things we see in the world exist, just in virtue of its serving as the ultimate explanation of their existence.

Considered in this way, as an argument for Alpha's existence, G6 is clearly within the extended family of the 'cosmological' arguments, those that attempt to argue from the undoubted existence or occurrence of ordinary things, events, or states of affairs to the existence of an extraordinary being whose existence and nature constitute the ultimate explanation of the

existence or occurrence of everything, including itself.

18 The literature on the cosmological argument(s) is vast. The best philosophical treatment of it I know is Rowe 1975a. Craig 1980 provides a very helpful historical account.

That observation about G6 invites comparisons between it and others of Aquinas's cosmological arguments for God's existence. It will become clear that G6 is specifically different from any of the three cosmological arguments in chapter 13 (Gl, G2, and G3). As for the cosmological arguments among ST's Five Ways, what I'm calling G6 has been described in the literature, much too simply, as 'the version of the Third Way given in the Summa

contra Gentiles' (van Steenberghen 1966: 126).

19 Van Steenberghen considers this 'version' clearly better than the Third Way itself and useful in refurbishing it: 'When set right with the help of the Summa contra Gentiles, the Third Way doubtless gives us a satisfactory proof (1966: 127). 'Why St. Thomas ever abandoned the simpler and more satisfactory formulation of the proof given in the Contra Gentiles (begun in 1258) to become involved in the curious and complicated considerations of the Third Way (written towards 1266) is a historical enigma to which we shall return' (ibid. 127 n. 9; cf. pp. 149-50). For a later, more detailed discussion along these same lines, see van Steenberghen 1980: 126-30, 187-205.

Since the Third Way, too, is an argument based on the contingency of ordinary existence, it might count as G6's closest relative among the Five Ways. But there are more than enough significant differences between the two arguments to rule out taking G6 to be merely a version of the Third Way, differences that warrant considering G6 on its own.

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