Monday, October 20, 2014

Thomas Aquinas (for my MCCC Western Philosophy class)


1.    Explain Aquinas’ distinction between faith and reason.
a.    What is a contemporary example of this.
2.    Explain Aquinas’ argument for God’s existence from causation.

1.    Aquinas makes a famous distinction between faith and reason. (Kenny, 153)
Note: In philosophy, in the medieval period, all the major philosophers are either Jews (e.g. Maimonides), Christians, or Muslims (e.g. Averroes, Avicenna).
 “It is essentially to Aquinas that we owe the distinction, familiar to philosophers of modern times, between natural and revealed theology.” (153)
            Or: between faith and reason.
Suppose a philosopher makes an argument for a theological conclusion.
We can ask: are any of the premises taken from sacred scripture? Or have they been revealed in a private vision?
Or: are any of the premises facts of observation, or straightforward truths of reason?
If they are from sacred scripture or private visions, we are dealing with revealed theology.
If they are facts of observation or truths of reason, we are dealing with natural theology.
“Natural theology is a part of philosophy while revealed theology is not, even though theologians may use philosophical skills in seeking to deepen their understanding of sacred texts.” (153)
Analogy: a three-story house.
On the bottom floor reason and natural experience do their work without the need of any supernatural aid.
On the second floor we find things that are both revealed to us by God and demonstrated to us by reason. E.g. – the existence of God; the immortality of the soul.
On the third floor are truths that are beyond the capacity of natural intellect to discover. E.g., the internal nature of God as a 3-Personed being (Trinity) – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the historical fact of God’s becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.
“Aquinas believed that there are some theological truths which can be reached by the unaided use of reason: for instance, the existence of God.” (153)
But some truths can only be known by revelation/faith; e.g., that our universe had a beginning.
Contemporary example – Gould’s NOMA. You can’t derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’.
            Religion and science.

Key ideas
  • Cosmological
    • From “cosmos,” which is Greek for “world.”
    • The cosmological argument moves from certain facts about the world, or the fact that there is a world, and reasons that God is the best explanation for these facts.

An Analogy:
You’re in your car, stopped at a red light, and are hit from behind. You want to know what caused this. You see that the car behind you was stopped but was itself hit from behind. So the car behind you cannot be the cause of your being hit. You look behind that car and notice that it also was hit from behind. And so on. Finally, you see the “first” cause – the car that caused all the other cars to have an accident.
Suppose, however, that it were an infinitely long pileup. Then no one would have started the chain reaction of accidents. But if no one started it, it would not have happened. Since it did happen, we can conclude that someone did start it. He is the first efficient uncaused cause.

This is Aristotelian thinking.

Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover”(89)

1. At least one thing, call it X, is in motion.
2. If X is in motion, then its motion must be caused.
3. If X's motion is caused, then the cause of that motion must be either a) a series of movers which are themselves moving or b) a series of movers that contains at least one unmoved mover.
4. A series of moved movers, even if it is an infinite series, cannot explain the motion of X.
5. Therefore, the motion of X must be explained in terms of the existence of an unmoved mover.

Since no thing (or series of things) can move (change) itself, there must be a first, Unmoved Mover, source of all motion.

Aquinas takes this reasoning and applies it to cause and effect.

Causation is a fact about the world.
    • Everything that happens has a cause.
    • That cause itself is the effect of some prior cause.
    • And that cause itself is also the effect of some prior cause.
    • And so on…   until we ultimately reach an uncaused cause, which is God.

Quoting Aquinas:

“In the observable world causes are found ordered in series: we never observe, nor ever could, something causing itself, for this would mean it preceded itself, and this is not possible. But a series of causes can’t go on forever, for in any such series an earlier member causes an intermediate and the intermediate a last (whether the intermediate be one or many). Now eliminating a cause eliminates its effects, and unless there’s a first cause there won’t be a last or an intermediate. But if a series of causes goes on fore ever it will have no first cause, and so no intermediate causes and no last effect, which is clearly false. So we are forced to postulate some first agent cause, to which everyone gives the name God.” (ST, 1a.3)

Efficient cause – a trigger that sets a process going. E.g., the spark that produces the explosion. E.g., the tap of a key that produces a letter on the computer screen.

This is causality in esse.

Aquinas is not thinking about causality in time.

    • This would make the cosmological argument say that what happens at the present moment is dependent on what happened in the moment prior to it.
    • Rather, Aquinas is saying that at any point in time there is a series of relationships of dependence that lead to God as the source of all change and all causation.
    • In other words, at this present moment God is the source of all change in an ultimate sense and the cause of there being something rather than nothing.

Kenny – “the series of efficient causes in the world must lead to an uncaused cause.” (152)

For more explanation:

These efficient causes are ordered in a series.
We never find that something is the efficient cause of itself. The spark may cause the explosion; but the spark cannot be the cause of the spark.

To be its own cause it would have to preexist itself, and that is absurd. It cannot exist before it exists!

The spark itself requires another efficient cause, perhaps a hammer striking a rock.

If you take away the cause, you take away the effect. No hammer, no spark; no spark, no explosion; no explosion, no….

What we find in our world is that one cause depends on another for its existence.

This order does not have to be a temporal order, or an order in time.

E.g., my cheek depresses simultaneously with my finger pushing on it.

The cause of my cheek depressing is my finger pushing it. But here the cause is not prior in time.

    • This is called causality in esse. It is not a temporal causality.

Now note: Something causes my finger to push my cheek in. Simultaneously. And something simultaneously causes that.

Could this series of causes (causal dependency) go on forever (be infinite)? Aquinas says no. Because if the causal series was infinite, there would be no cause that is “first.” A first cause is needed, because if there was not a first cause the sequence of effects would never happen.

A “first” cause would be one on which the whole causal order depended, while it depended on nothing outside itself.

If there was no first cause, then there would be no intermediate causes, and no ultimate effects.

But there are causes and effects. Therefore there must be a first cause. And that is what everyone calls God.”