Thomistic Argument

Against God’s Existence:

So, with all the recent threads that have dealt with Aquinas’ 5 ways, I figured it might be interesting to post a thomistic argument against God’s existence I made last March. What do you guys think?

Definitions:

D1: Potency is the potential for some attribute/property to be predicated of some (x) where (x) is anything whatsoever.

D2: Act is an obtained potency.

D3: Actualization is the change undergone by which a potency becomes act. (i.e., by which a potency obtains). Note, D3 isn’t confined to temporal change and therefore doesn’t exclude instantaneous obtainment.

D4: An Unactualized Actualizer is any actualization (An) which is not itself an actualizing potency.

Argument Form:

  1. p -> q & r

  2. p

  3. q & r

Argument:

Let (Pn) stand for some potency.

Let (An) stand for some actualization of (Pn).

  1. If (P1) cannot obtain unless: (i) its actualization (A1) has the potency (P2) to actualize (P1) and (ii) (P2) is actualized, then every actualization of (Pn) must itself be an actualizing § and no unactualized actualizer exists.

  2. But, (P1) cannot obtain unless: (i) its actualization (A1) has the potency (P2) to actualize (P1) and (ii) (P2) is actualized.

  3. Therefore, every actualization of (Pn) must itself be an actualizing § and no unactualized actualizer exists.

Really, the argument form can be fully reduced to modus ponens: p -> q, p, q, but, it doesn’t matter much.

So what you are basically saying is that in-order for something to actualize another thing it must itself be an actualization of potential and therefore it cannot be a first cause; is that correct?

Yes, basically anything that moves something is already in motion itself.

Why would God being eternally in motion mean He doesn’t exist?

Fair question. It would mean an unmoved mover doesn’t exist. Perhaps God isn’t an unmoved mover though. There are tons of theistic proposals, this only aims at one.

Acquinas points out that there is no potency in God. He is pure actuallity, or “Pure act” as Acquinas says. He is the “necessary being” and “Is his own existence”. We exist because of something else. God exists because existence is his essense, that which makes him what he is.

These ideas have been around since Aristotle. Where have you been?

Arguments in the first post have nothing to do with God.

Well, this argument, if it succeeds, has the interesting consequence that Pure Act cannot move. That is, if the God Aristotle tried to demonstrate actually exists, he certainly didn’t create anything ex nihilo. Again, there are many, many theistic proposals (God has these or those properties etc.), this only aims at one.

Perplexity:

As you know, what you propose is actually not an Aquinas-consistent argument. What you mean by ‘potential’ is not what St. Thomas, or the Catholic Church, meant by potential. What you mean by ‘potential’ seems to be something like the “fulfillment of a thing that is supposed to be this or that,” such as a child becoming an adult. While that is partially what is meant, it is but trivial. “Potential,” for Aquinas, meant privation of. A pertinent example is: an egg which becomes a turkey.

But, what Aquinas means is more essential than that; what he means is substantial change, or the change of a whole mobile being. There is a matter residue left when the action is complete, but it is completely other than the result. For example, two ‘human’ cells combine and become a whole, new being, retaining some of the stuff of the prior gametes, but now in a whole new way. The resultant infant is now neither gamete, but rather is a person. Hence it is obvious that what he had in mind was something much more fundamental than the derived characteristics of material reality, such as having weight and occupying space.

Also, that which in absentia (i.e., in privation) is more a contrary as regards the subject residue that is present before a change. But, the Form will not be “anything whatsoever.” What is to become is ordered by the matter, in a certain sense, but not possessed by the matter prior to the termination or modification of the matter. The absent Form, i.e., the termination/modification of the matter, in other words, is attained precisely because the matter does not have that Form which it seems to seek. Simply, an acorn wants, in a sense, to become an oak tree, not a dog or a cat or water. But, that it becomes an oak tree is not a certain predisposition, as I get to watch hundreds of them being eaten by squirrels every day.

D2: Act is an obtained potency.

Incorrect; it is the obtainment of that which was heretofore in privation.

D3: Actualization is the change undergone by which a potency becomes act. (i.e., by which a potency obtains). Note, D3 isn’t confined to temporal change and therefore doesn’t exclude instantaneous obtainment.

More precisely, the Form is actualized in (or of) the subject or matter. Think of it this way: if you wanted a new car, you would go out and buy one. Further, and even more precisely, “actualization” is the actualization of the potential-as-potential. In other words, it is that state when the subject or matter is on its way to possessing the form.

D4: An Unactualized Actualizer is any actualization (An) which is not itself an actualizing potency.

“Potency” is not an ‘actualizing’ principle. You need a car, perhaps to travel to work, to stores, and to your family’s house for Thanksgiving, etc., so, it is not per se that you don’t have a car that results in your obtaining one, of course, that may be why you want one. But, it is because you go to a dealership and pay the man cash or credit. Lots of people do not have cars, but, unless they have discretionary cash or credit, they will remain car-less. The ‘actualizing’ principle is an actualized efficient cause, even if you can’t see him.

Argument Form:

  1. p -> q & r
  1. p
  1. q & r

Argument:

Let (Pn) stand for some potency.

Let (An) stand for some actualization of (Pn).

  1. If (P1) cannot obtain unless: (i) its actualization (A1) has the potency (P2) to actualize (P1) and (ii) (P2) is actualized, then every actualization of (Pn) must itself be an actualizing § and no unactualized actualizer exists.

This is not the case. Since a causer is required, but causation cannot recede into an “infinite past (time),” an uncaused cause must exist, otherwise there would be nothing and we would not be here now. (We come to this conclusion by a via negativa.: from the fact of caused being to the necessity of a being that is but is itself uncaused and that does the causing. There can be no such thing as ‘infinite past time.’)

  1. But, (P1) cannot obtain unless: (i) its actualization (A1) has the potency (P2) to actualize (P1) and (ii) (P2) is actualized.

This is a problem: matter is the subject of change, not potency and actualization. Before possession of (the) Form (its actualization) in or of the matter, whether a fundamental, or primary, matter, or a secondary matter, the subject does not have (the) Form. Neither potency nor actualization have the power to cause the subject (matter) to obtain the (resulting) Form. The empty back seats of a car may remain forever empty.

  1. Therefore, every actualization of (Pn) must itself be an actualizing § and no unactualized actualizer exists.

What you mean is that an un-conditioned actualizer exists. We call him, God.

God bless,
jd

I concede that my understanding differs from Aquinas, but I see it as more of a development. My argument is Thomistic in so far as it was inspired by Aquinas, it need not follow Aquinas to the letter.

As John Haldane remarks in his article A Thomistic Metaphysics in The Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics, p. 88:

Where it is clear that the work of Aquinas himself is at issue the use of “thomist” and “thomistic” is unproblematic; but their application is often extended to cover a multitude of thinkers influenced by and ideas deriving from Aquinas, and in this there is potential for confusion. First, there is the issue of how close to the original the intendedly faithful interpretations of Aquinas may be. Second, is the fact that some who have been inspired by Aquinas have knowingly developed his thought along lines different to those which most disinterested commentators would take to be authentically Aquinean.

What you mean by ‘potential’ seems to be something like the “fulfillment of a thing that is supposed to be this or that,” such as a child becoming an adult. While that is partially what is meant, it is but trivial. “Potential,” for Aquinas, meant privation of. A pertinent example is: an egg which becomes a turkey.

Hmm, I don’t see how potential could refer to ‘fulfillment.’ I understand it as possibility, within a possible worlds semantics. i.e., p is possible if p is true in some possible world, p is contingent if p is true in some possible world and false in another, p is necessary if p is true in every possible world, and p is impossible if it’s false in every possible world.

But, what Aquinas means is more essential than that; what he means is substantial change, or the change of a whole mobile being. There is a matter residue left when the action is complete, but it is completely other than the result. For example, two ‘human’ cells combine and become a whole, new being, retaining some of the stuff of the prior gametes, but now in a whole new way. The resultant infant is now neither gamete, but rather is a person. Hence it is obvious that what he had in mind was something much more fundamental than the derived characteristics of material reality, such as having weight and occupying space.

Sure, I’d call this a fair summation.

Incorrect; it is the obtainment of that which was heretofore in privation.

If I was claiming to represent Aquinas, you may be right in saying my definition(s) is incorrect; but, since I’m only claiming to be Thomistic I think this charge is what it is incorrect. I think that distinction adequately responds to most of your response, which seems to be an attempt to distinguish my claims from Aquinas’.

This is not the case. Since a causer is required, but causation cannot recede into an “infinite past (time),” an uncaused cause must exist, otherwise there would be nothing and we would not be here now. (We come to this conclusion by a via negativa.: from the fact of caused being to the necessity of a being that is but is itself uncaused and that does the causing. There can be no such thing as ‘infinite past time.’)

I, and many others, can’t understand why an infinite regress implies there’d be nothing now. As far as I can tell, that’s simply non-sequitur. Perhaps you could clarify though. If you’re referring to Aquinas’ 3rd way, I’d say it’s a fallacy to infer from “there is a time for each contingent object, at which it doesn’t exist” that “there is a time at which no contingent object exists.”

More importantly though, I don’t understand which premise you’re objecting to.

What you mean is that an un-conditioned actualizer exists. We call him, God

Not quite lol. Nothing moves unless it’s already in motion with respect to that which it moves. It’s incoherent to say there was no motion at all, and then, motion began. In order for God to have created anything, he must have had the potency to create, a potency which must’ve been actualized, and so forth ad infinitum.

Now, you may distinguish between passive and active potency to say God has none of the former, and that’s fine. But, my argument is simply that there is no Pure Act. Even God has active potency, according to most theistic formulations.

Right. Perhaps God, by one definition is simply “that which moves.”

Well, this argument, if it succeeds, has the interesting consequence that Pure Act cannot move. That is, if the God Aristotle tried to demonstrate actually exists, he certainly didn’t create anything ex nihilo.

Why not? Why couldn’t God create something out of nothing since he is existence? How could we be talking about it?

Oh yeah, I know.
“Philosopher” is playing the old Sophist’s game of making unsubstantiated claims to keep us running around in circles forever. There’s no end to this game, folks. Everytime he comes back with another word-game he thinks he’s scored a point in some meaningless game.

Watch him. He’ll be back.

I feel my argument covered this. Now, since you think I’m a sophist I don’t feel inclined to go further (i.e., do the work for you), but since you’re not philosophizing here I don’t feel too bad about it.

No, my soul moves my body but is itself not susceptible of change of location.

My argument wouldn’t challenge that. Motion here is something quite distinct from locomotion. In fact, some would argue souls don’t occupy space, and therefore, talk of them apropos spatial dimensions is mistaken. In any case, I use motion here as a synonym of ‘actualization’:

D3: Actualization is the change undergone by which a potency becomes act. (i.e., by which a potency obtains). Note, D3 isn’t confined to temporal change and therefore doesn’t exclude instantaneous obtainment.

Wow. Empther was right.

Anyways … Motion is an act. Locomotion is a species of motion. Therefore locomotion is an act.

You said anything that moves something is already in motion itself. The soul however locomotes the body but is not in locomotion itself. Therefore not everything that moves something is already in motion itself.

At any rate, motion is not a synonym of actualization, because even though motion is an act, not all acts are motions. But if you want to define actualization as a change, well then, I suppose you can deduce any old conclusion your heart fancies.

D1: Potency is the potential for some attribute/property to be predicated of some (x) where (x) is anything whatsoever.

D2: Act is an obtained potency.

This is the problem. First of all, you cannot use a term in its own definition. Potency cannot be defined as the potential for something.

This definition of Act seems to be even worse, at least on an ontological level. You cannot define something at the absence of its absence. Act is essentially Being, and I feel just using the definition of Being, i.e. “that which is”.

A better definintion of potency would probably be the “ability to receive a new state of being.”

Perplexity:

But, your argument is not a “development.” Rather, it is an equivocation. The definition you want to use for “potency” is the modern usage, which essentially says, “that which is stored up, and will (eventually, or, at some point) do something.” Like a car battery stores electricity (potential energy) that eventually starts the car. Or, from another angle, “Wow! Would you look at that little girl. She has the potential to be a very beautiful woman.” Again, as though stored (in some manner) within her (the matter), waiting to be released. That is not what Aquinas means.

Aquinas means that matter is passive, i.e., indeterminate yet determinable. Form is the active principle. Form confers the determination of the matter. Yours presumes that the matter, or subject, under discussion already has an act of its own. That is not the Aquinean meaning of primary matter. That is the meaning of secondary matter, which is always in some way in act. Although, as matter, it is in potency to a further and in this case accidental form. These are somewhat subtle distinctions, but since there were no batteries, or anything else like them, at the time of Aquinas, he would have been hard-pressed to define it in the modern sense. St. Thomas thought of primary matter as a kind of chaos, organized by form.

That you are Thomist is the same as me saying, “You know, I’ve been inspired by professional football and so I’m a professional football player.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hmm, I don’t see how potential could refer to ‘fulfillment.’ I understand it as possibility, within a possible worlds semantics. i.e., p is possible if p is true in some possible world, p is contingent if p is true in some possible world and false in another, p is necessary if p is true in every possible world, and p is impossible if it’s false in every possible world.

This shows that you have been influenced by modern modal logic. Modal logic is a question of asking “what ifs” in many cases. Thus, it is not often true. We do not live in one of trillions of “possible world’s.” We live in this world. What we typically determine to be true is the result of a priori examinations and a posteriori dialectical inductions. Science.

If I was claiming to represent Aquinas, you may be right in saying my definition(s) is incorrect; but, since I’m only claiming to be Thomistic I think this charge is what it is incorrect.

In precisely what way(s) are you “Thomistic?” That you make arguments from straw men of his philosophy and arguments? I do not think that is being “Thomistic.”

I think that distinction adequately responds to most of your response, which seems to be an attempt to distinguish my claims from Aquinas’.

But they have to be. If you distract from the real meanings of his arguments, you are distinguishing yourself from him. It’s not my doing.

I, and many others, can’t understand why an infinite regress implies there’d be nothing now. As far as I can tell, that’s simply non-sequitur.

Then you have not thought it through. If time is sequentially moving asymmetrically forward, and is still moving asymmetrically forward, as we know it to be, how can “past time” be an actual infinity? At any stopping point, along the way, it is only finite. A large aggregate, but finite. This means that everything has a beginning. This means that, at some point in the past, nothing whatsoever existed. There wasn’t a “void;” there wasn’t a “vacuum;” there wasn’t a “set;” there wasn’t a “line;” there wasn’t a “plane;” there wasn’t a “magnitude;” etc. Everything, therefore, would have had a beginning. So, since, as you say, nothing moves without a mover, how could this hypothetical beginning have occurred? Of course, one could say, “Well, that was so long ago, it really doesn’t matter.” Unfortunately it does matter.

continued…

continuation,

Perhaps you could clarify though. If you’re referring to Aquinas’ 3rd way, I’d say it’s a fallacy to infer from “there is a time for each contingent object, at which it doesn’t exist” that “there is a time at which no contingent object exists.”

I (hopefully) already did. See above.

More importantly though, I don’t understand which premise you’re objecting to.

I’ll need to take another look at your argument and return to this.

Not quite lol. Nothing moves unless it’s already in motion with respect to that which it moves. It’s incoherent to say there was no motion at all, and then, motion began. In order for God to have created anything, he must have had the potency to create, a potency which must’ve been actualized, and so forth ad infinitum.

But here again, you are speaking of that (battery) with stored up “potential,” therefore, actualized in some sense. If the universe exposes to us that all moved things must have a mover, while at the same time infinite past time cannot actually exist, we are left to conclude something. What we have here are two diametrically opposed exigencies ontologically existing simultaneously. That would be the same as saying that a cat can be alive and dead during precisely the same time-duration. And, that can’t be. So, again, we are left to look for another possibility. Honestly, I see no other possibility than that there must be an un-moved mover, an uncaused causer, and that it must be completely underived.

Furthermore, there can be no point on some (hypothetical) infinite line of time that could ever actualize, or be actualized. For at that precise moment: it is “finite.” If “finite,” it is not “infinite,” and we must have a beginning. If “infinite,” there would be no beginning and there could be no actualizable point along a part of it. It cannot consist of parts. An infinite cannot be an aggregation. Why? Because, with an aggregation, you can always add more of whatever you hypothesize, or divide whatever is hypothesized. It is, therefore, unactualizable. (See Hilbert’s Hotel)

Now, you may distinguish between passive and active potency to say God has none of the former, and that’s fine. But, my argument is simply that there is no Pure Act. Even God has active potency, according to most theistic formulations.

God, in the modern sense that we mean the word, has the “potential” to do whatever he pleases. But, don’t you see, that is a completely different kind of “potential?” That is an unactualized potential only because it is we who are trying to conceptualize it. God cannot actually have a “lack.” There can be nothing missing in God qua God.

God bless,
jd

[quote]
Now, you may distinguish between passive and active potency to say God has none of the former, and that’s fine. But, my argument is simply that there is no Pure

Act. Even God has active potency, according to most theistic formulations.

God, in the modern sense that we mean the word, has the “potential” to do whatever he pleases. But, don’t you see, that is a completely different kind of “potential?” That is an unactualized potential only because it is we who are trying to conceptualize it. God cannot actually have a “lack.” There can be nothing missing in God qua God.

[/quote]

“Most theistic formulations” would include, I suppose, Spinoza’s pantheism, Emerson’s “Overmind” ( what’s that? ), Einstein’s “I can’t concieve of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures” etc etc etc. none of which has anything to do with the true God creator of our universe. Attempts to make God something less are attempts to escape personal responsibility.

“active potency” is an oxymoron like square circle, giant midget, and other nonsense.

Since God is infinite, he cannot change, because any change would be to the finite. It’s one of the other; there’s no changing from one to the other. He is already all that he can be and cannot be less and so has no potency. Something can be Pure Act if it is its own being, which takes care of ‘Philosopher;’. :smiley: And so, like the wise man just said, “God cannot actually have a “lack.” There can be nothing missing in God qua God.” Finally, any finiteness/limitation must be determined or “measured out”, by something else, so God can’t be finite/limited. So he would be if he had potency, but what would limit him?

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