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Hence the third premise : every efficient cause must have a prior cause. Aquinas' argument in the first way—which is structurally similar to the argument from efficient causality—employs a parallel line of reasoning. There, he says that to be in motion is to move from potentiality to actuality. When something moves, it goes from having the ability to move to the activity of moving. Yet something cannot be the source of its own movement. Aquinas' aim here is not to explain discrete or isolated instances of causation. His interest, rather, is the existence of a causal order —one consisting of substances whose existence and activity depend on prior causes of that same order Wippel, Yet this attempt to clarify Aquinas' aim introduces an obvious problem.

If every constituent member of that order is causally dependent on something prior to itself, then it appears that the order in question must consist of an infinite chain of causes. Yet Aquinas denies this implication fourth premise : if the causal order is infinite, then obviously there could be no first cause.

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But without a first cause, then necessarily there could be no subsequent effects—including the intermediate efficient causes and ultimate effect ST Ia 2. In other words, the absence of a first cause would imply an absence of the causal order we observe. A few clarifications about this argument are in order. Whether the world began to exist can only be resolved, he thinks, by appealing to sacred teaching.

With respect to the second way, then, Aquinas' aim is simply to demonstrate that the order of observable causes and effects cannot be a self-existing reality. The proper growth of, say, plant life depends on the presence of sunlight and water. The presence of sunlight and water depends on ideal atmospheric activities.

And those atmospheric activities are themselves governed by more fundamental causes, and so forth.

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In this example, the events described proceed not sequentially, but concurrently. According to Copleston, illustrations of this sort capture the kind of causal ordering that interests Aquinas. Thus we might explain the sort of ordering that interests Aquinas as a metaphysical as opposed to a temporal ordering of causes.

For, as we have already seen, the absence of a first cause would imply the absence of subsequent causes and effects. Unless we invoke a cause that itself transcends the ordering of dependent causes, we would find it difficult to account for the causal activities we presently observe. Yet Aquinas does not attempt to show through the previous argument that the demonstrated cause has any of the qualities traditionally predicated of the divine essence. In other words, the term God— at least as it appears in ST Ia 2.

For the study of what God is must be subsequent to demonstrating that he is. A complete account of the divine nature requires a more extensive examination, which he undertakes in the subsequent articles of ST. Such an investigation poses unique challenges. Aquinas therefore does not presume to say explicitly or directly what God is.

Instead, he investigates divine nature by determining what God is not. SCG I. Aquinas acknowledges a potential worry for his view. If the method by which we investigate God is one of strict remotion, then no divine predicate can describe what God is really like. For Aquinas, however, the terms we predicate of God can function positively, even if they cannot capture perfectly or make explicit the divine nature. As we have discussed, natural knowledge of God is mediated by our knowledge of the created order. The observable facts of that order reveal an efficient cause that is itself uncaused—a self-subsisting first mover that is uncreated and is not subject to any change.

But as the ultimate cause of our own existence, God is said to have all the perfections of his creatures ST Ia Whatever perfections reside in us must be deficient likenesses of what exists perfectly in God. Consequently, Aquinas thinks that terms such as good and wise can refer back to God. Moreover, denying certain properties of God can, in fact, give us a corresponding albeit incomplete understanding of what God is like.

In other words, the process of articulating what God is not does not yield an account of the divine that is wholly negative. If this is so, there can be no potency or unrealized potential in God. For if something has the potential or latent capacity to act, then its activity must be precipitated by some prior actuality. But in this line of reasoning, there is no actuality prior to God. It must follow, then, that God is pure actuality, and this in virtue of being the first cause ST Ia 3.

So although this process denies God those traits that are contrary to what we know about him, those denials invariably yield a fairly substantive account of the divine life. Other truths necessarily follow from the idea that God is pure actuality. For example, we know that God cannot be a body.

For a characteristic feature of bodies is that they are subject to being moved by something other than themselves. And because God is not a body, he cannot be a composite of material parts ST Ia 3. Not only does Aquinas think that God is not a material composite, he also insists that God is not a metaphysical composite Vallencia, In other words, God is not an amalgam of attributes, nor is he a being whose nature or essence can be distinguished from his existence.


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He is, rather, a simple being. The doctrine of divine simplicity is complicated and controversial—even among those who admire Aquinas' philosophical theology. But the following account should provide the reader with a rough sketch of what this doctrine involves.

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Consider the example human being. Of course, a human being is also material being. In virtue of materiality, she possesses numerous individuating accidents. These would include various physical modifications such as her height or weight, her particular skin pigmentation, her set of bones, and so forth. According to Aquinas, none of these accidental traits are included in her humanity indeed, she could lose these traits, acquire others, and remain a human being. They do, however, constitute the particular human being she is.

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In other words, her individuating accidents do not make her human, but they do make her a particular exemplification of humanity. This is why it would be incorrect to say that this person is identical to her humanity; instead, the individuating accidents she has make her one of many instances thereof. But what about substances that are not composed of matter? Such things cannot have multiple instantiations since there is no matter to individuate them into discrete instances of a specific nature or essence.

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An immaterial substance then will not instantiate its nature. Instead, the substance will be identical to its nature. This is why Aquinas insists that there can be no distinction between 1 God and 2 that by which he is God. For example, we often say that God is supremely good. But it would be a mistake on Aquinas' view to think that goodness is a property that God has , as if goodness is a property independent of God himself.

What he is God is indistinguishable from that by which he is his divine essence. Presumably other immaterial beings would be simple in precisely this way in virtue of their immateriality. Consider, for example, the notion of angels. That there is no matter with which to individuate angelic beings implies that there will not be multiple instantiations of an angelic nature.

Like Aquinas' notion of God, each angelic being will be identical to its specific essence or nature ST Ia 3. But God is obviously unlike angelic beings in an important way. In order to see what this means, consider the conclusions from section 2. There, we noted that the constituent members of the causal order cannot be the cause of their own existence and activity.

Thus the constituent members of the causal order must exist in virtue of some other , exterior principle of causality.


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  6. We are now in a position to see why, according to Aquinas, God and the principle by which he exists must be the same. Unlike the constituent members of the causal order, all of whom receive their existence from some exterior principle, God is an uncaused cause. If it was, then God and the principle by which he exists would be different. Yet the idea that God is the first efficient cause who does not acquire existence from something else implies that God is his own existence Ibid. Brain Davies explains this implication of the causal argument in the following way:.

    The conclusion Aquinas draws [from the five ways] is that God is his own existence.

    Aquinas’ Philosophical Theology | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    He is Ipsum Esse Subsitens. But with God this is not so. He is his own existence and is the reason other things have it Davies, So far, this article has shown how and to what extent human reason can lead to knowledge about God and his nature. Aquinas clearly thinks that our demonstrative efforts can tell us quite a bit about the divine life.

    source link Yet he also insists that it was necessary for God to reveal to us other truths by means of sacred teaching. Unlike the knowledge we acquire by our own natural aptitudes, Aquinas contends that revealed knowledge gives us a desire for goods and rewards that exceed this present life SCG I.

    Also, revealed knowledge may tell us more about God than what our demonstrative efforts actually show. Although our investigative efforts may confirm that God exists, they are unable to prove for example that God is fully present in three divine persons, or that it is the Christian God in whom we find complete happiness ST Ia 1. Revealed knowledge also curbs the presumptuous tendency to think that our cognitive aptitudes are sufficient when trying to determine more generally what is true SCG I.