The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [91]-[95]

presuppositions is an epistemological observation that I consider uncontroversial, whether applied to God or to Alpha. Aquinas puts it this way: 'in virtue of its immeasurability the divine substance is beyond every form our intellect acquires, and so we cannot apprehend it itself by discerning (cognoscendo) what it is' (14.117). He hasn't provided any argument for the first being's 'immeasurability', nor does he claim to have done so. What he's noting here really amounts to no more than our inability to locate Alpha within any of our taxonomic schemes or conceptual frameworks, which have all been developed, naturally, as means of knowing the ordinary phenomena of which Alpha is supposed to be the ultimate explanatory principle. This comes out more clearly when he argues a little later that God (or Alpha) can't be found in any of the nine Aristotelian categories of accident (chapter 23) or in the first Aristotelian category, substance (25.236), and that God (or Alpha) can't be given a full-fledged definition (25.233). What's uncontroversial here is the underlying idea that anything that could count as the ultimate explanation of physical reality could not be apprehended, measured, or classified in any of the ways human beings have discovered or could devise for apprehending, measuring, or classifying things in nature. Quarks, gluons, the strong force, and all the other ingredients in currently fundamental physical explanations conform to or manifest natural laws, the basic conceptual framework in which standard scientific explanations terminate. But anything that could count as an ultimate explanation would have to explain natural laws as well.

This epistemological presupposition of Aquinas's can also seem to defeat his purpose in going on to investigate the nature of ultimate reality. For what could be the goal of that investigation if not to 'apprehend it itself by discerning what it is'?

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