Utrum Deus Sit
Pt 1. The Argument from Motion
First, to understand this argument, it is necessary to touch on the principle that nothing gives what it does not have. If I don’t have $100, it is utterly impossible for me to give you $100. Similarly with every form, every facet of existence and every perfection, if something does not have it, it cannot cause something else to have it. The entirety of Aquinas’s philosophy stands or falls with this axiom. This is reflected in the first way, “Nothing can be reduced from potency to act except through something already in act.” In other words, if something is changing, it must be operated upon by an agent already in possession of the term of the change. If a hot ball is thrown into a bucket of cold water, the water heats up because the ball is already hot.
Moreover, “It is not possible that something is both in act and in potency at the same time and with respect to the same thing, but only with respect to different things.” Put succinctly, you cannot become what you already are. A child is in potency to manhood insofar as he is able to become a man. Once the child has become a man, he is no longer able to become a man. He already is one.
At this point it is worth noting that Aquinas is not speaking here of locomotion specifically. In his mind there are four types of motion: locomotion, qualitative motion, quantitative motion, and generation & corruption. In each case, motion is a becoming. If it is helpful, one can replace “motion” with “becoming” or “change”. Because a thing cannot become what it already is, motion requires that the term of the motion is only imperfectly possessed by the moving thing.
“It is therefore impossible that a thing is both a mover and moved with respect to the same motion, or that something moves itself.” The reason for this is clear. The mover must posses the term of the motion to a greater degree than the mobile itself has it. For a ball of iron to heat water, the iron must be hotter than the water. Nothing can posses anything to a greater degree than itself, however. This would be a direct contradiction.
Thus, Aquinas concludes, “Everything in motion must be moved by another.” He could just as well have said, “Everything is changed only by something more in act than itself with respect to the term of the change.”
If that which moves is itself moved by another moving thing, then that other must itself be moved by another. This cannot proceed to infinity, however, because there would be no first mover, and so there would be no other movers. This is because nothing moves unless it is moved by a first mover, just as the staff does not move unless the hand moves it.
Undoubtedly, this is the part of the argument that trips up the most philosophy students nowadays. There can’t be an infinite regress why exactly? Because there would be no first mover? So, there can’t be an infinite regress because you can’t have an infinite regress…? Is this not replacing an infinite regress with circular reasoning?
Actually, no. No it isn’t.
That there can be no infinite regress follows directly from what had already been laid out. A moving thing is always in potential with regard to the term of the motion. What is in potential is only reduced to act by what already is in act. If nothing actually possesses the term of the motion, then that simply is not the term of the motion. If something is moving, it has to be moving toward whatever is sharing its own act. But, of course, if something is already in act with reference to the term of a motion, it can only be a mover in that motion; it cannot itself be moving into what it already is. Therefore, there cannot be an infinite regress. The series of movers must finally come to one first moved thing and one unmoved mover.
“All understand this to be god” By definition, this unmoved mover is the term of every motion. It is literally the perfection toward which everything moves. How could it not be god?
Prima autem et manifestior via est, quae sumitur ex parte motus. Certum est enim, et sensu constat, aliquia moveri in hoc mundo. Omne autem quod movetur, nisi secundom quod alio movetur. Nihil enim movetur, movet autem aliquid sdcundum quod est actu. Movere enim nihil aliud est quam educere aliquid de potentia in actum, de potentia autem non potest aliquid reduci in actum, nisi per aliquid ens in actu, sicut calidum in actu, ut ignis, facit lignum, quod est calidum in potentia, esse actu calidum, et per hoc movet et alterat ipsum. Non autem est possibile ut idem sit simul in actu et potentia secundum idem, sed solum secundum diversa, quod enim est calidum in actu, non potest simuil esse calidum in potentia, sed est simul frigidum in potentia. Impossibile est ergo quod, secundum idem et eodem modo, aliquid sit movens et motum, vel quod moveat seipsum. Omne ergo quod movetur, oppertet ab alio moveri. Si ergo id a quo movetur, moveatur, opportet et ipsum ab alio moveri et illud ab alio. Hic autem non est procedere in infinitum, quia sic non esset aliquod primum movens; et per consequens nec aliquod aliud movens, quia moventia secunda non movent nisi per hoc quod sunt mota a primo movente, sicut baculus non movet nisi per hoc quod est motus a manu. Ergo necesse est devenire ad aliquod primum movens, quod a nullo movetur, et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum.
See Also: Sense and Science: An Aristotelian Perspective
Aristotle was a great philosopher, but he died well over two millennia ago. We, as the living and breathing members of the human species, must learn to move past outdated systems of thought. And yes, Aristotle's system of thought is entirely outdated. He thought he demonstrated that time had no beginning; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that there were only four elements; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that the earth was the center of the universe; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that space did not exist; he was wrong. He thought he demonstrated that the stars and the sun moved in perfect circles around the earth, themselves being constituted of a fifth element entirely non-existent in the sublunar sphere. With all of these errors, formerly thought to have been demonstrated, what can we expect to remain standing?
There are numerous individuals, almost if not universally religious, that fighting tooth and nail, still manage to approach the writings of this philosopher with an absurd degree of dogmatism. "Sure, he was wrong when it comes to science stuff," they might say, "but he was still right about motion, change, causality, the uncaused first cause, sensation, epistemology etc."
I assure you, there will be more responses forthcoming, but here I intend only to address Aristotle's understanding of sensation, thereby laying the groundwork for dismantling the entirety of his epistemology and his conclusion that we have immaterial souls.
As a matter of fact, daunting though this task may sound, it is not very difficult to do: Nothing more is required to come to this conclusion than to see two of Aristotle's most important claims concerning the topic and two of the most easily grasped, scientifically verifiable, claims of neurology. This same doctrine of sensation is at the basis of the hylomorphic argument for the immaterial soul, which relies on the same two premises that I here enumerate, and without them the whole of their epistemology goes caput. Indeed, even the claim of the immateriality of the rational soul loses its grounding. This indeed, is a project worth undertaking.
So let’s go ahead and enumerate some things we think we know:
It should be sufficiently clear to the reader that in the last article, (2) was tacitly abandoned as a principle in Sense and Science to manufacture a false consonance between Aristotle and neurology. If sensation arises from the disturbance of an electrical mean, and we sense by receiving electrically-charged matter, what is important for allowing sensation is not that the organ lacks the form that it senses, but that it lacks the electrical charge that it is receiving. This is a serious problem for the Aristotelian. This problem, moreover, with very little work, can be shown to produce inevitable logical contradiction.
When we say, “Nothing receives what it already has”, this is certainly true with respect to electrically charged matter (a neuron cannot receive an ion that was already within the neuron, or it would not be receiving it at all), but do we take this statement only with to ions? If so, we abandon (1). To both the ions and to the sensible forms then. To keep with Aristotle, we assume (2) is correct and then ask whether or not sensation is in the brain. If not, then we would be forced to contradict (3), and if so, we would be forced to contradict (4). But (3) and (4) are certainly true.
(1) or (2), are essential elements of Aristotle’s doctrine on sensation, being necessary for his argument for the immaterial soul and for his epistemology, yet they cannot be held without contradiction or all-out denial of fact. Aristotle was a brilliant man in the 300's BCE, but his doctrine of sensation must now be abandoned.
In sensation the “that out there” is perceived and becomes a “this in me”, wherein the “this in me” is only perceived because it remains the “that out there”. Through sensation, an animal apprehends the world outside and desires particular external things. It is through sensation that a dog can apprehend food and a man can apprehend a symphony. This is the most noble of the powers in matter and the most self-determinate of the naturally determined; of all enmattered acts, the sensitive soul is the most actual. With respect to its object, the science of sensing things is the highest of the physical sciences.
This thesis is a drawing together of what others have done in biology in order to present a more complete picture of sensation. In particular, the two main sources of knowledge of any material thing are common experience and experiments. Unfortunately, a significant number of conclusions gleaned from common experience is largely and unduly abandoned; one of these conclusions is that the sense organ must hold itself at the mean between the sensible extremes. In this thesis I will address the extent to which common experience elucidates material causes by example by presenting Aristotle’s demonstration that the sense organ must hold itself at the mean between the sensible extremes, and then draw from neuroscience to show what this mean looks more concretely.
This will consist of three parts. The first section deals with sensation formally from common experience; the second deals with sensation materially from common experience; and the third section deals with sensation generally in light of more recent discoveries from experiments.
Extrapolating these principles, the Hylomorphist concludes that always and everywhere, form (a term that can generally be understood as a property) : matter :: act : potency, and it is on this proportion that all of Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics are based. Prime matter, is the first material principle, or a principle that has no existence in itself and is in potency to every form capable of existing in matter.
Take Aquinas's third way as an example.* In a nutshell, this argument says that we know that some things come to be and pass away, so they are able to exist while it is not necessary that they exist. This cannot be true for everything, or nothing would exist, so there must be at least one extant thing which cannot not exist. If there are necessary things that are not necessary of themselves but receive their necessity from another necessary being, then there must be a first necessary being that is necessary of itself and does not receive its necessity from anything. This first necessary being, all men call god.
There are several ways of responding to this argument, but one refutation that is often overlooked is to grant the whole argument while denying only the last premise: Say it is true that there must be a first necessary being, we have no reason to think that this first necessary being would be god.
This one's in PDF form for now.