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Category: SAMT

A tour through Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles.

March 11, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: All Things Are Ordered To God

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Some simple and, I hope, non-controversial (accepting that which came before) proofs that God is the ultimate end.

That All Things Are Ordered to One End Who Is God

1 It is, consequently, apparent that all things are ordered to one good, as to their ultimate end.

2 If, in fact, nothing tends toward a thing as an end, unless this thing is a good, it is therefore necessary that the good, as good, be the end. Therefore, that which is the highest good is, from the highest point of view, the end of all things. But there is only one highest good, and this is God, as has been demonstrated in Book One [42]. So, all things are ordered to one good, as their end, and this is God.

3 Again, that which is supreme in any genus is the cause of all the members that belong in that genus; thus, fire, which is the hottest of corporeal things, is the cause of the heat of other things. Therefore, the highest good which is God is the cause of the goodness in all good things. So, also, is He the cause of every end that is an end, since whatever is an end is such because it is a good. Now, “the cause of an attribute’s inherence in a subject always itself inheres in the subject more firmly than does the attribute.” Therefore, God is obviously the end of all things.

4 Besides, in any kind of causes, the first cause is more a cause than is the secondary cause, for a secondary cause is only a cause through the primary cause. Therefore, that which is the first cause in the order of final causes must be more the final cause of anything than is its proximate final cause. But God is the first cause in the order of final causes, since He is the highest in the order of goods. Therefore, He is more the end of everything than is any proximate end.

5 Moreover, in every ordered series of ends the ultimate end must be the end of all preceding ends. For instance, if a potion is mixed to be given a sick man, and it is given in order to purge him, and he is purged in order to make him thinner, and he is thinned down so that he may become healthy. Then health must be the end of the thinning process, and of the purging, and of the other actions which precede it. But all things are found, in their various degrees of goodness, to be subordinated to one highest good which is the cause of all goodness. Consequently, since the good has the essential character of an end, all things are subordinated to God, as preceding ends under an ultimate end. Therefore, God must be the end of all things.

Notes Dieting began earlier than supposed.

6 Furthermore, a particular good is ordered to the common good as to an end; indeed, the being of a part depends on the being of the whole. So, also, the good of a nation is more godlike than the good of one man. Now, the highest good which is God is the common good, since the good of all things taken together depends on Him; and the good whereby each thing is good is its own particular good, and also is the good of the other things that depend on this thing. Therefore, all things are ordered to one good as their end, and that is God.

7 Again, order among ends is a consequence of order among agents, for, just as the supreme agent moves all secondary agents, so must all the ends of secondary agents be ordered to the end of the supreme agent, since whatever the supreme agent does, He does for the sake of His end. Now, the supreme agent does the actions of all inferior agents by moving them all to their actions and, consequently, to their ends. Hence, it follows that all the ends of secondary agents are ordered by the first agent to His own proper end. Of course, the first agent of all things is God, as we proved in Book Two [15]. There is no other end for His will than His goodness, which is Himself, as we proved in Book One [74]. Therefore, all things, whether made by Him. immediately, or by means of secondary causes, are ordered to God as to their end. Now, all things are of this kind, for, as we proved in Book Two [15], there can be nothing that does not take its being from Him. So, all things are ordered to God as an end.

8 Besides, the ultimate end of any maker, as a maker, is himself; we use things made by us for our own sakes, and, if sometimes a man makes a thing for some other purpose, this has reference to his own good, either as useful, delectable, or as a good for its own sake. Now, God is the productive cause of all things, of some immediately, of others by means of other causes, as is shown in the foregoing. Therefore, He Himself is the end of all things.

9 Moreover, the end holds first place over other types of cause, and to it all other causes owe the fact that they are causes in act: for the agent acts only for the sake of the end, as was pointed out. Matter is brought to formal act by the agent, and thus matter actually becomes the matter of this particular thing, as form becomes the form of this thing: through the action of the agent, and consequently through the end. So, too, the posterior end is the cause of the preceding end being intended as an end, for a thing is not moved toward a proximate end unless for the sake of a last end. Therefore, the ultimate end is the first cause of all. Now, to be the first cause of all must be appropriate to the first being, that is, to God, as was shown above. So, God is the ultimate end of all things.

Notes The cause of causes is the end to which acts are directed. The final cause is the first. As such, the word is inapt in English. But we by now have the idea.

10 Thus it is said in Proverbs (16:4): “God made all things for Himself”; and in the Apocalypse (22:13): “I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.”

March 4, 2018 | 3 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: There Is No Highest Evil

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The good is “that which all things desire.” With that, and in these two chapters, we wrap up the subject of evil. We next time move to the good, and what that ultimately is. It’s getting exciting!

That There Is No Highest Evil

1 As a consequence, it is evident that there cannot be any highest evil which would be the first source of all evils.

Notes Again, there is no cosmic good-versus-evil battle going on.

2 The highest evil ought to be quite dissociated from any good; just as the highest good is that which is completely separate from evil. Now, no evil can exist in complete separation from the good, for we have shown that evil is based upon the good. Therefore, the highest evil is nothing.

Notes Repeat that: the highest evil is nothing.

3 Again, if the highest evil be anything, it must be evil in its own essence, just as the highest good is what is good in its own essence. Now, this is impossible, because evil has no essence, as we proved above. So, it is impossible to posit a highest evil which would be the source of evils.

4 Besides, that which is a first principle is not caused by anything. But every evil is caused by a good, as we have shown. Therefore, evil is not a first principle.

5 Moreover, evil acts only through the power of the good, as is clear from what has been established previously. But a first principle acts through its own power. Therefore, evil cannot be a first principle.

6 Furthermore, since “that which is accidental is posterior to that which is per se,” it is impossible for that which is first to be accidental. Now, evil arises only accidentally, and apart from intention, as has been demonstrated. So, it is impossible for evil to be a first principle.

7 Again, every evil has an accidental cause, as we have proved. Now, a first principle has no cause, whether direct or accidental. Therefore, evil cannot be a first principle in any genus.

8 Besides, a per se cause is prior to one which is accidental. But evil is not a cause, except in the accidental sense, as we have shown. So, evil cannot be a first principle.

9 By means of this conclusion, the error of the Manicheans is refuted, for they claimed that there is a highest evil which is the first principle of all evils.

That The End of Everything is a Good

1 If every agent acts for the sake of a good, as was proved above, it follows further that the end of every being is a good. For every being is ordered to its end through its action. It must be, then, that the action itself is the end, or that the end of the action is also the end of the agent. And this is its good.

2 Again, the end of anything is that in which its appetite terminates. Now, the appetite of anything terminates in a good; this is how the philosophers define the good: “that which all things desire.” Therefore, the end for everything is a good.

3 Besides, that toward which a thing tends, while it is beyond the thing, and in which it rests, when it is possessed, is the end for the thing. Now, if anything lacks a proper perfection, it is moved toward it, in so far as lies within its capacity, but if it possess it the thing rests in it. Therefore, the end of each thing is its perfection. Now, the perfection of anything is its good. So, each thing is ordered to a good as an end.

4 Moreover, things that know their end are ordered to the end in the same way as things which do not know it, though the ones that do know their end are moved toward it through themselves, while those that do not know it incline to their end, as directed by another being. The example of the archer and the arrow shows this clearly.

However, things that know their end are always ordered to the good as an end, for the will, which is the appetite for a foreknown end, inclines toward something only if it has the rational character of a good, which is its object. So, also, the things which do not know their end are ordered to a good as an end. Therefore, the end of all things is a good.

Notes Note carefully the archer often misses.

February 25, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Evil Has A Cause

Previous post.

Two chapters this week on the (non-controversial) claim that evil must have a cause. The nature of this cause is, however, of some interest.

That Evil Has A Cause of Some Sort

1 From what has been said above it can be shown that, though evil has no direct cause of itself, still there must be an accidental cause for every evil.

2 Whatever exists in another thing as in its subject must have some cause, for it is caused either by the principles of the subject or by some extrinsic cause. Now, evil is in the good as in a subject, as has been indicated, and so it is necessary for evil to have a cause.

3 Again, that which is in potency to either of two contraries is not advanced to actuality under one of them unless through some cause, for no potency makes itself be in act. Now, evil is a privation of something that is natural to a man, and which he ought to have. This is why anything whatever is called evil. So, evil is present in a subject that is in potency to evil and to its contrary. Therefore, it is necessary for evil to have some cause.

Notes Reminder: this is (one of the) definitions of cause: the move of a potential to an actuality by something actual.

4 Besides, whatever is present in something and is not due to it from its nature comes to it from some other cause, for all things present in existing beings as natural components remain there unless something else prevents them. Thus, a stone is not moved upward unless by something else that impels it, nor is water heated unless by some heating agent. Now, evil is always present as something foreign to the nature of that in which it is, since it is a privation of what a thing has from its natural origin, and ought to have. Therefore evil must always have some cause, either directly of itself, or accidentally.

5 Moreover, every evil is the consequence of a good, as corruption is the result of an act of generation. But every good has a cause, other than the first good in which there is no evil, as has been shown in Book One [39]. Therefore, every evil has a cause, in regard to which it is an accidental result.

That Evil Is An Accidental Cause

1 It is plain, from the same consideration, that evil, though not a direct cause of anything by itself, is, however, an accidental cause.

2 For, if a thing is the direct cause of something, then that which is an accidental concomitant of this direct cause is the accidental cause of the resultant. Take, for instance, the fact that a builder happens to be white, then whiteness is the accidental cause of the house. Now, every evil is present in something good. And every good thing is the cause of something in some way, for matter is in one way the cause of form; in another way the converse is so. The same is true of the agent and the end. Hence, the result is not a process to infinity in causes if each thing is the cause of another thing, for there is a circle involved in causes and effects, depending on the different types of cause. So, evil is an accidental cause.

Notes We can learn a lot from accidental causes in application to physical and statistical models, too! Note very carefully the word cause is not here restricted to physical efficient cause, as is (unfortunately, all too) common in the sciences. See paragraph [5] below.

3 Again, evil is a privation, as we have seen before. Now, privation is an accidental principle in beings subject to motion, just as matter and form are essential principles. Therefore, evil is the accidental cause of something else.

4 Besides, from a defect in a cause there follows a defect in the effect. Now a defect in a cause is an evil. Yet, it cannot be a direct cause in itself, for a thing is not a cause by the fact that it is defective but rather by the fact that it is a being. Indeed, if it were entirely defective, it would not cause anything. So, evil is the cause of something, not as a direct cause by itself, but accidentally.

5 Moreover, evil is found to be an accidental cause in a discursive examination of all types of cause. This is so, in the kind of cause which is efficient, since a defect in the effect and in action results from a deficiency of power in the acting cause. Then, in the type of cause that is material, a defect in the effect is caused by the unsuitable character of the matter. Again, in the kind of cause which is formal, there is the fact that a privation of another form is always the adjunct of the presence of a given form. And, in the type of cause that is final, evil is connected with an improper end, inasmuch as the proper end is hindered by it.

6 Therefore, it is clear that evil is an accidental cause and cannot be a direct cause by itself.

February 18, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Evil Does not Wholly Destroy the Good

Previous post.

A hint of the calculus and a reminder all acts intend a definite good, even when the act results in an evil.

That Evil Does not Wholly Destroy the Good

1 It is evident from the foregoing explanation that, no matter how much evil be multiplied, it can never destroy the good wholly.

2 In fact, there must always continue to be a subject for evil, if evil is to endure. Of course, the subject of evil is the good, and so the good will always endure.

3 Yet, because it is possible for evil to increase without limit, and because good is always decreased as evil increases, it appears that the good may be infinitely decreased by evil. Now, the good that can be decreased by evil must be finite, for the infinite good does not admit of evil, as we showed in Book One [39]. So, it seems that eventually the good would be wholly destroyed by evil, for, if something be subtracted an infinite number of times from a finite thing, the latter must be destroyed eventually by the subtraction.

Notes Be careful, here. St Thomas is not espousing some sort of cosmic battle between equals of good and evil. See paragraph [6]. As we noticed a few times before, the next paragraph shows Aquinas understood the mathematics of the continuum! I broke up the paragraph to highlight this.

4 Now, it cannot be answered, as some people say, that if the subsequent subtraction be made in the same proportion as the preceding one, going on to infinity, it is not possible to destroy the good, as happens in the division of a continuum.

For, if you subtract half of a line two cubits long, and then half of the remainder, and if you go on in this way to infinity, something will always remain to be divided.

But, in this process of division, that which is subtracted later must always be quantitatively diminished. In fact, the half of the whole is quantitatively greater than half of the half, though the same proportion continues.

This, however, cannot in any sense happen in the decreasing of good by evil, for the more the good would be decreased by evil the weaker would it become, and so, more open to diminution by subsequent evil. On the contrary, the later evil could be equal to, or greater than, the earlier evil; hence a proportionately smaller quantity of good would not always be subtracted by evil from the good in subsequent cases.

5 So, another sort of answer must be given. It is evident from what has been said that evil does take away completely the good which is its contrary, as blindness does with sight. Yet there must remain the good which is the subject of evil. This, in fact, inasmuch as it is a subject, has the essential character of goodness, in the sense that it is in potency to the act of goodness which is lacking due to the evil. So, the less it is in potency to this good, the less will it be a good.

Now, a subject becomes less potential to a form, not simply by the subtraction of any of its parts, nor by the fact that any part of the potency is subtracted, but by the fact that the potency is impeded by a contrary act from being able to proceed to he actuality of the form.

For example, a subject is less potential in regard to cold to the extent that heat is increased in it. Therefore, the good is diminished by evil more as a result of the addition of its contrary than by the subtraction of some of its goodness. This is also in agreement with the things that have been said about evil.

Indeed, we said that evil occurs apart from the intention of the agent, and that he always intends a definite good, and that it consequently implies the exclusion of another good which is contrary to it. So, the more this intended good (which apart from the agent’s intention results in evil) is multiplied, the more is the potency to the contrary good diminished. And this is rather the way in which the good is said to be diminished by evil.

6 Now, in the natural order, this diminution of the good by evil cannot proceed to infinity. All natural forms and powers are limited, and they reach some limit beyond which they cannot extend. So, it is not possible for any contrary form, or any power of a contrary agent, to be increased to infinity, in such a way that the result would be an infinite diminution of good by evil.

7 However, in the moral order, this diminution can proceed to infinity. For the intellect and the will have no limits to their acts. The intellect is able to go on to infinity in its act of understanding; this is why the mathematical species of numbers and figures are called infinite.

Likewise, the will proceeds to infinity in its act of willing: a man who wills to commit a theft can will again to commit it, and so on to infinity. Indeed, the more the will tends toward unworthy ends, the greater is its difficulty in returning to a proper and worthy end. This is evident in he case of people in whom vicious habits have developed already, as a result of their growing accustomed to sinning. Therefore, the good of natural aptitude can be infinitely decreased by moral evil. Yet, it will never be wholly destroyed; rather, it will always accompany the nature that endures.

Notes Such a rich paragraph! First we have the notion that our knowledge of universals implies an experience of the infinite, and, as such, though Aquinas does not make the argument here, means we can only learn universals with the assistance of God. Then we have the hard truth of how hard it is to escape evil habits. Reflect on both of these.