Archive for August, 2009

CT 101: The Divine Goodness as the Ultimate End

Friday, August 28th, 2009

In Chapter 101, Thomas continues his discussion of why there’s something rather than nothing. He writes,

The ultimate end of things is necessarily the divine goodness. For the ultimate end of things produced by one who works through his will is that which is chiefly and for its own sake willed by the agent. It is for this that the agent does all that he does. But the first object willed by the divine will is God’s goodness, as is clear from a previous discussion. Hence the ultimate end of all things made by God must necessarily be the divine goodness.

To what end did I get in my car this morning? To the end of driving to work. But why did I drive to work? To work on my project. But why work on my project? Because it’s fun, and to that extent it is an end in itself; but mostly because I am paid. And I want to be paid so that I can support myself and my family. And that is the ultimate end of my getting in the car this morning: that which I will for its own sake.

So what is the ultimate end of all created things? It is the ultimate end to which their Creator created them, and that is the end what their Creator willed for its own sake. And per a previous discussion, what God wills first and foremost is His goodness.

But as usual, Thomas isn’t content to leave it at this. He continues,

Furthermore, the end of the generation of everything that is generated is its form. Once this is achieved, generation ceases.

To generate a thing is to bring it into existence, to make it come to be. Creation ex nihilo is one way; reproduction is another; an artisan’s work is another. Now, a thing is what it is by virtue of its form, its essence. Suppose I’m sculpting a bust of someone: I am quite literally taking a block of clay and giving it form, the form of the person I’m sculpting. Once I have given it this form, the bust exists: it has come to be.

Thus, it’s reasonable to say that the end of bringing something into existence is its form; because its form is what it is, and what it is is what its creator wanted to create.

OK; what of it?

For everything that is generated, whether by art or by nature, is in some way rendered similar to the agent in virtue of its form, since every agent produces an effect that has some resemblance to the agent himself. Thus the house that is realized in matter proceeds from the house existing ideally in the mind of the architect. In the realm of nature, likewise, man begets man.

This is a notion I’ve been struggling with: that every effect is like unto its cause. In short, everything an agent causes to be or to happen reflects the nature of that agent in some way. This doesn’t seem self-evidently true to me, but Thomas takes it as a given. I don’t think I really understand the principle completely, though; I’ve not seen any detailed discussion of it.

Anyway, it seems somewhat plausible, at least in the cases Thomas lists. Nothing can come from nothing. Artifacts begin in the mind of the artisan. Children come from parents. And there is a resemblance in that way between the object conceived and the object(s) that conceived it.

Apparently, the likeness can be somewhat attenuated:

And if anything that is generated or effected by natural processes is not like its generating cause according to species, it is at any rate likened to its efficient causes as imperfect to perfect. The fact that a generated product is not assimilated to its generating cause according to species, is explained by its inability to rise to perfect likeness with its cause; but it does participate in that cause to some extent, however imperfectly.

I can (with help!) conceive a son, who resembles me perfectly to the extent of being of exactly the same species; but I can also (in theory, if not in practice) sculpt a statue that resembles me but is not alive. It lacks a perfection that I have, even though it might resemble me closely; it relates to me as imperfect to perfect. The opposite, apparently, cannot happen: the statue cannot conceive a living copy.

This occurs, for example, in animals and plants that are generated by the power of the sun.

I will skip over the medieval biology.

Hence in all things that are made, the end of their generation or production is the form of their maker or generator, in the sense that they are to achieve a likeness of that form.

Since the end of the generation of a thing is its form, and since this form resembles that of the thing’s maker, perfectly or imperfectly, it’s reasonably to see that the end of the generation of a thing is the form of its maker.

I’m not sure I buy that, entirely; consider the architect: yes, the finished house (if competently designed and built) matches the form the architect had in mind; but does it match the architect’s own form? I suppose in the sense that it’s human scale, designed for humans to live in; but in that case, make it a doll house, or a dog house.

But the form of the first agent, who is God, is nothing else than His goodness.

And therefore, the end of all that God creates is His goodness. But why is God’s form His goodness, rather than His truthfulness or His beauty (or His existence)? I suppose because Goodness is the category of value that’s relevant to the Will, and thus to final causes.

But what does it mean that “the end of all that God creates is His goodness”?

This, then, is the reason why all things were made: that they might be assimilated to the divine goodness.

All comes from Him; all flows back. Except for human beings, who gloriously (and sometimes tragically) have a choice about it.

100 Posts on the Compendium Theologiae

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I started this blog in June of 2008, almost 15 months ago, to work my way through St. Thomas’ Compendium Theologiae. The CT has 256 chapters; I figured I’d get through it in less than a year. I’ve just completed chapter 100.

I guess you can’t be sublime on a schedule.

CT 100: Finality of God’s Creative Activity

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, we were looking into God’s creation of things ex nihilo, from nothing. In chapter 100, Thomas discusses the purpose of God’s creation.

We showed above that God has brought things into existence, not through any necessity of His nature, but by His intellect and Will. Any agent that works in this way, acts for an end: the end is a principle for the operative intellect. Accordingly everything that is made by God necessarily exists for an end.

An entity that acts of necessity has no choice, and acts to no purpose of its own. If I throw a rock, and it hits a window, the window breaks; but the rock had no intention of breaking the window, or even of flying through the air. It’s a rock; it has no choice. But if I choose to pick up a rock, and throw it so that it breaks a window, then I must have some end in view. Perhaps I want to break the window, so as to break into the house. Perhaps I’m simply killing time, and broke the window accidentally. Either way, I threw the rock for a reason. And so, also, with God. Every act of creation is an act of God’s will, and there is a reason for it.

Moreover, things were produced by God in a supremely excellent way; for the most perfect Being does everything in the most perfect way. But it is better for a thing to be made for an end than to be made without the intention of achieving an end; for the goodness that is in things which are made comes from their end. Hence things were made by God for an end.

It is better to have a purpose than to be purpose-less; and since God always acts in the most perfect way, all He creates will have a purpose.

It seems to me, though, that there’s no particular reason why we should know what that purpose is. What’s the purpose of banana slugs? Though, of course, it’s fun to speculate.

An indication of this is seen in effects produced by nature. None of them is in vain, all are for an end. But it is absurd to say that things produced by nature are in better order than is the very constituting of nature by the first Agent, since the entire order of nature is derived from the latter. Clearly, therefore, things produced by God exist for an end.

This is an interesting assertion, given that many people these days would assert, equally confidently, that nothing in nature acts for an end. That’s clearly wrong, in my view; some things in nature clearly act for an end. Eyes are pretty clearly for seeing, for example. But is it so obvious that everything in nature acts for an end? I dunno.


Friday, August 14th, 2009

Testing a different blogging client.

CT 99: Controversy on the Eternity of Matter

Monday, August 10th, 2009

In the previous chapter, Thomas shows that the various bodies in the created universe need not have existed from all eternity. But what about the matter of which they are made? Must matter have existed from eternity?

It’s important to remember that matter, for Thomas, is not quite what we mean by the term. Matter is simply that which changes. When you eat food, the food is assimilated and becomes part of your body. There was a hot-fudge sundae; there is a new wideness about the middle. Clearly the sundae ceased to be; clearly I increased in being; but something must have changed from the one to the other, and that something is what Thomas calls matter.

Anyway, let’s let Thomas talk.

However, even though finished products were not in existence from eternity, we might be inclined to think that matter had to exist from eternity. For everything that has being subsequent to non-being, is changed from non-being to being. Therefore if created things, such as heaven and earth and the like, did not exist from eternity, but began to be after they had not been, we must admit that they were changed from non-being to being. But all change and motion have some sort of subject; for motion is the act of a thing existing in potency.

If you’ve got a dog, the dog came to be at some point; it changed from non-being to being. But in every change, there must be some subject to change. In the case of something coming to be, what’s the subject of the change?

However, the subject of the change whereby a thing is brought into existence, is not the thing itself that is produced, because this thing is the terminus of the motion, and the terminus and subject of motion are not the same. Rather, the subject of the change is that from which the thing is produced, and this is called matter.

Before the dog came to be, there was no dog. And yet the dog came to be out of something; and this something is matter. The dog’s mother ate food, and breathed air, and the matter she took in was transformed by her body into the body of her puppy. Matter came in, and a new dog came out.

Accordingly, if things are brought into being after a state of non-being, it seems that matter had to exist prior to them. And if this matter is, in turn, produced subsequent to a period of non-existence, it had to come from some other, pre-existing matter. But infinite procession along these lines is impossible. Therefore we must eventually come to eternal matter, which was not produced subsequent to a period of non-existence.

So before something can come to be, you have to have some matter to start with. And in turn, that matter had to come to be; and since you can’t have an infinite regression, it would appear, saith the objector, that some matter must have existed eternally.

Thomas will answer this objection presently; but in the mean time he moves on to the second.

Again, if the world began to exist after it had first not existed, then, before the world actually existed, it was either possible for the world to be or become, or it was not possible. If it was not possible for the world to be or to become, then, by equipollence, it was impossible for the world to be or to become. But if it is impossible for a thing to become, it is necessary for that thing not to become. In that case we must conclude that the world was not made. Since this conclusion is patently false, we are forced to admit that if the world began to be after it had first not been, it was possible for it to be or to become before it actually existed.

All change brings some potency into actuality. If the world did not exist, and then came to exist in actuality, it must first have existed in potency. But that potency must have been in matter:

Accordingly there was something in potency with regard to the becoming and being of the world. But what is thus in potency to the becoming and existence of something, is the matter of that something, as we see exemplified in the case of wood relative to a bench. Apparently, therefore, matter must have existed always, even if the world did not exist always.

So how does Thomas answer these objections?

As against this line of reasoning, we showed above that the very matter of the world has no existence except from God. Catholic faith does not admit that matter is eternal any more than it admits that the world is eternal. We have no other way of expressing the divine causality in things themselves than by saying that things produced by God began to exist after they had previously not existed. This way of speaking evidently and clearly brings out the truth that they have existence not of themselves, but from the eternal Author.

In short, creation ex nihilo, from nothing, is a special case. A thing created ex nihilo is not created from pre-existing matter; it simply comes to be where before there was nothing.

As for the objector’s argument, he’s right about the nature of change; but creation ex nihilo is not change.

The arguments just reviewed do not compel us to postulate the eternity of matter, for the production of things in their totality cannot properly be called change. In no change is the subject of the change produced by the change, for the reason rightly alleged by the objector, namely, that the subject of change and the terminus of the change are not identical. Consequently, since the total production of things by God, which is known as creation, extends to all the reality that is found in a thing, production of this kind cannot properly verify the idea of change, even though the things created are brought into existence subsequently to non-existence. Being that succeeds to non-being, does not suffice to constitute real change, unless we suppose that a subject is first in a state of privation, and later under its proper form. Hence “this” is found coming after “that” in certain things in which motion or change do not really occur, as when we say that day turns into night. Accordingly, even though the world began to exist after having not existed, this is not necessarily the result of some change.

What he said.

In fact, it is the result of creation, which is not a true change, but is rather a certain relation of the created thing, as a being that is dependent on the Creator for its existence and that connotes succession to previous non-existence. In every change there must be something that remains the same although it undergoes alteration in its manner of being, in the sense that at first it is under one extreme and subsequently under another. In creation this does not take place in objective reality, but only in our imagination. That is, we imagine that one and the same thing previously did not exist, and later existed. And so creation can be called change, because it has some resemblance to change.

It looks kind of like change, but it isn’t.

The second objection, too, lacks cogency. Although we can truly say that before the world was, it was possible for the world to be or to become, this possibility need not be taken to mean potentiality.

That is, it was possible for the world to come to be, but that doesn’t mean that there was any potency in place.

In propositions, that which signifies a certain modality of truth, or in other words, that which is neither necessary nor impossible, is said to be possible. What is possible in this sense does not involve any potentiality, as the Philosopher teaches in Book V of his Metaphysics [12, 1019 b 19].

Are unicorns possible? Certainly; there’s no reason why there couldn’t be a horse-like being with a single horn. But on the other hand, there’s no reason to think that the potentiality for the birth of a unicorn actually exists in the world today.

However, if anyone insists on saying that it was possible for the world to exist according to some potency, we reply that this need not mean a passive potency, but can mean active potency; and so if we say that it was possible for the world to be before it actually was, we should understand this to mean that God could have brought the world into existence before He actually produced it.

As I noted some chapters ago, there are two kinds of potency, active and passive. The tree can be turned into timber; this is passive potency. The lumberjack can turn the tree into timber; this is active potency. Matter has passive potency, and agents have active potency. In creation, God is the agent. So if potency were strictly necessary, God provides the active potency, and no passive potency is required.

Hence we are not forced to postulate that matter existed before the world. Thus Catholic faith acknowledges nothing to be co-eternal with God, and for this reason professes that He is the “Creator and Maker of all things visible and invisible.”

A note on Thomas’ procedure. He is not trying to prove from first principles that the doctrines of the faith are true; he accepts them as revealed truth. Rather, he’s trying to show that the doctrines of the faith are not unreasonable, that is, not in obvious contradiction to those truths accessible to human reason.

CT 98: Question of the Eternity of Motion

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

This chapter addresses an objection one might make to the conclusions of the previous chapter. I’ll let Thomas explain. (This is a long one, but at least it’s fairly straightforward.)

We might imagine that, although God can produce a new effect by His eternal and immutable will, some sort of motion would have to precede the newly produced effect. For we observe that the will does not delay doing what it wishes to do, unless because of some motive that is operative now but will cease later, or because of some motive that is inoperative now but is expected to become operative in the future. In summer a man has the will to clothe himself with a warm garment, which, however, he does not wish to put on at present, but in the future; for now the weather is warm, although it will cease to be warm with the advent of a cold wave later in the year.

This is a nice explanation. My will is to put on warm clothing if I’m cold. That remains my will, even if I’m not currently cold and have no desire to put on warm clothing at the moment. Similarly, it’s my will that my children behave themselves at all times, not simply when I have my eye on them and am thinking about it.

I’ve usually thought of my will as being whatever I’m choosing at the moment, but it is clearly much more complicated than that. I’ll have to ponder that.

Anyway, the application is clear: God might wish for some effect to happen at one time but not another.

Accordingly, if God wished from eternity to produce some effect, but did not produce it from eternity, it seems either that something was expected to happen in the future that had not yet occurred, or else that some obstacle had to be removed that was then present. Neither of these alternatives can take place without motion. Thus it seems that a subsequent effect cannot be produced by a preceding will unless some motion previously occurs.

Now, isn’t that neat. It seems that God’s not the First Cause of things produced in time…because His will is waiting on something else to happen, which is therefore the real cause of the effect:

And so, if God’s will relative to the production of things was eternal, and nevertheless things were not produced from eternity, their production must have been preceded by motion, and consequently by mobile objects. And if the latter were produced by God, but not from eternity, yet other motions and mobile objects must have preceded, and so on, in infinite recession.

But an infinite recession is impossible, and so God can’t produce things in time. So the objector says.

The solution to this objection readily comes to mind if we but attend to the difference between a universal and a particular agent. A particular agent has an activity that conforms to a norm and measure prescribed by the universal agent. This is clear even in civil government. The legislator enacts a law which is to serve as a norm and measure. Any particular judge must base his decisions on this law.

OK; and presumably God is the universal agent.

Again, time is the measure of actions which occur in time. A particular agent is endowed with activity regulated by time, so that he acts for some definite reason now, and not before. But the universal agent, God, instituted this measure, which is time, and He did so in accord with His will. Hence time also is to be numbered among the things produced by God. Therefore, just as the quantity and measure of each object are such as God wishes to assign to it, so the quantity of time is such as God wished to mete out; that is, time and the things existing in time began just when God wished them to begin.

As the creator of time, God is not bound by it. This is yet another reminder that “eternity” is not the same as “endless time”.

The objection we are dealing with argues from the standpoint of an agent that presupposes time and acts in time, but did not institute time. Hence the question, why God’s eternal will produces an effect now and not earlier, presupposes that time exists; for “now” and “earlier” are segments of time.

Right. I choose to do this now, or I choose to do it later, but if I choose to do it later I have to wait until later. But God’s different. It’s rather like the difference between a cassette tape and a compact disk. CDs can be accessed randomly, but tapes can only be accessed sequentially. God can access time at any point He chooses.

With regard to the universal production of things, among which time is also to be counted, we should not ask: “Why now and not earlier?” Rather we should ask: “Why did God wish this much time to intervene?” And this depends on the divine will, which is perfectly free to assign this or any other quantity to time.

In a sense, time is like space, to God. I can put my computer down here or there; God can put things in time now or then, just as he chooses.

The same may be noted with respect to the dimensional quantity of the world. No one asks why God located the material world in such and such a place rather than higher up or lower down or in some other position; for there is no place outside the world. The fact that God portioned out so much quantity to the world that no part of it would be beyond the place occupied in some other locality, depends on the divine will. However, although there was no time prior to the world and no place outside the world, we speak as if there were. Thus we say that before the world existed there was nothing except God, and that there is no body lying outside the world. But in thus speaking of “before” and “outside,” we have in mind nothing but time and place as they exist in our imagination.

Yes. There’s no moment outside time, and there’s no place outside space, as we are capable of understanding the terms. A moment is an aspect of time, and a place is an aspect of space. And yet, God is clearly “outside” time and space in a very real sense. Which is clearly what Thomas refers to as an analogical use of the word. Cool.

CT 97: Immutability of God in His Activity

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

God, so we’re told, is eternal and unchanging, simple, and completely immobile. And yet, we’re told, God acts in time. He parted the Red Sea at one time, and became incarnate at another. How can He do that without changing? Thomas is on the case:

The fact that God produces things by His will clearly shows that He can produce new things without any change in Himself. The difference between a natural agent and a voluntary agent is this: a natural agent acts consistently in the same manner as long as it is in the same condition. Such as it is, thus does it act. But a voluntary agent acts as he wills. Accordingly it may well be that, without any change in himself, he wishes to act now and not previously. For there is nothing to prevent a person from willing to perform an action later, even though he is not doing it now; and this without any change in himself. Thus it can happen, without any change in God, that God, although He is eternal, did not bring things into existence from eternity.

This is very true. I’ve had the intention all day to go out to dinner with a buddy this evening. It doesn’t require any changing of my mind to go do that. Actually going will require a change in my position and my posture, but not any change in my will.

Where God differs from me in this regard is first, that He makes things happen just by willing, and second, He has perfect knowledge. He can know, from all eternity, what He will will at any given point in time.