Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. -
giving it the look of an investigative dead end. It has that look about it largely because most philosophers have held natural theology to standards of argumentation more stringent than those applied in other branches of philosophy, conceiving of it as a narrowly focused enterprise of attempting to develop airtight proofs of the existence, or non-existence, of God. That conception dominated Anglo-American philosophy of religion through at least the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. On the other hand, when natural theology has been fully integrated into the rest of philosophy, it has usually appeared as the culmination of metaphysics, when metaphysics was developed in such a way that the rational investigation of the first principles and most fundamental aspects of reality in general resulted finally in arguments that warranted identifying them, or it, as divine—in, for instance, an argument concluding to the necessity of an ultimate, universal, unmoved mover. When Aristotle calls metaphysics 'theology', he has this sort of
culmination of it in view.
5 Metaphysics VI 1, 1026a7-23. Purely philosophical metaphysics from the bottom up reaches its traditional top in this integrated natural theology. But even it has been typically, and understandably, limited to sketchy developments of the first three items on natural theology's agenda, the distinctly metaphysical ones.
But suppose we were to take a metaphysically based natural theology—a metaphysics of theism—as the first phase of a systematic presentation of the rest of philosophy. Beginning with the establishment and investigation of what metaphysics has often finally identified as reality's first principle has all the natural appeal of beginning at the real beginning, and it doesn't violate philosophy's strictures against including revealed truths among its data. And suppose we succeed in getting through the first two items on natural theology's agenda, providing philosophically good reasons for thinking that God exists and that God's nature is such that it might be seriously considered as the first principle of reality in general and of human nature and behaviour in particular. Then, in so far as God is the first thing we argue for and we consider all other things in their relations to God, there's a sense in which we're presenting philosophy from the top down by beginning its presentation with theology from the bottom up. And if the metaphysical tradition was on the right track, and the first principles and most end p.26
PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com)
© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved fundamental aspects of reality in general are in some philosophically meaningful sense divine, then from the top down is the most sensible way for philosophy to go, at least as regards the systematic presentation of it.
But if such an enterprise could be made to look feasible and its results illuminating, wouldn't it follow that philosophy from the top down just is natural theology, all the way down? Well, yes—in a way. Philosophy from the top down does look like the metaphysics of theism developed far beyond the very familiar first two items on its agenda. But, after all, if it can be made plausible that the first principles and most fundamental aspects of reality in general are divine, then the subject-matter of the Grandest Unified Theory is God and everything else in relation to God. And in that case the most illuminating systematic presentation of philosophy will be theological—certainly not in the philosophically unacceptable sense of starting from revealed propositions or relying on them to settle arguments, but only in the sense that the part of philosophy called natural theology will be treated as foundational rather than peripheral.
In this book I'm going to engage in, and try to defend, the metaphysics of theism, focusing on what I take to be its paradigm, Thomas Aquinas's Summa contra gentiles. In the first three books of that Summa Aquinas develops the project fully, right through the consideration of human nature and behaviour in particular, so that his metaphysics of theism extends to philosophy of mind and ethics. I won't be able to go that far in this book, but I do mean to work through the more familiar, logically prior, more obviously
metaphysical items on natural theology's agenda.
6 And I hope to be able to work through the rest of Aquinas's natural theology in two further volumes.
Was this article helpful?