CT 101: The Divine Goodness as the Ultimate End

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.

2 Responses to “CT 101: The Divine Goodness as the Ultimate End”

  1. Brandon says:

    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 think Thomas would agree with this — on the Aristotelian view the generator of artifacts is strictly speaking the art (skill) of making them. It’s just that the art can’t exist with actually existing in somebody, so we (reasonably) take the somebody-with-the-art to be the generator, in a somewhat broader sense. With God it’s slightly more complicated because of divine simplicity; but the ‘form’ in God that corresponds to art in the artificer case is the divine goodness.

  2. Aha. OK, I can buy that.