Outlined Version of the Design Argument

Here is an outlined version of Aquinas’s Argument from Design, or his Fifth Way. This is just an outline. The full series of articles can be found here, here, and here. Refer to those for the whole, in depth explanations and defenses of the various premises.

  1. In our universe we experience regular cause-effect relationships, where causes have specific, determinate effects
  2. The only sufficient metaphysical explanation of these cause-effect relationships is the principle of finality, which states that causes are intrinsically directed/ordered to determinate effects as ends
  3. In order for a cause to be intrinsically ordered/directed to a determinate effect as to an end, that effect/end must in some sense exist prior to the action of the cause
  4. But an effect cannot exist in real being prior to the action of the cause, because then the effect would be prior to its cause, which is absurd
  5. So the effect/end must exist in the order of mental being, as an idea, prior to the causal action
  6. Hence the ends of all causal actions must exist in some Supreme Intelligence which directs those causes to their ends.
  7. These ends are intrinsic to the nature/essence of the beings which act causally, so what directs the beings to their ends must be likewise the cause of the existence of those essences/natures, which (per the Second Way) must be a Being of Pure Act, or Being Itself
  8. This is what we call God

Aquinas’s Argument from Design Part 3: The End

In the previous post in this series on Aquinas’s Fifth Way, we introduced and briefly defended the reality of final causation as the only possible sufficient metaphysical explanation for the natural order and regularity of cause-effect relationships. We noted that when some being, even a non-rational being, acts, it must have some effect. If it has no effect, then it has not really acted at all. And the effect must be a specific, determinate effect: this effect rather than any other of the infinite number of possible effects. And in order to explain why the action has this specific, determinate effect rather than any other, it is necessary to posit that there is some reason/end towards which the action itself is intrinsically directed. Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Design Part 2: Final Causality

In the first post in this series on Aquinas’s Fifth Way, I introduced and explored several historical examples of different “teleological arguments,” of which the Fifth Way is one. In this post, I will make some final distinctions between the Fifth Way and other teleological arguments, and then begin laying out, explaining, and defending Aquinas’s argument.

For the most part, the majority of teleological arguments make use of what we might call “extrinsic” teleology, whereas the Fifth Way is based upon intrinsic teleology; it is largely for this reason that I think the latter is much stronger and more successful than the former. To grasp this, we might consider an example: Suppose you’re walking along a beach and come across some sticks arranged into a word. The word, qua word, is teleological; it conveys meaning, “points to” some meaning beyond itself. The sticks, on the other hand, in themselves are not teleological, at least in relation to the word. A stick, in itself, does not signify anything beyond itself (what it is), unless such further signification is imposed upon it externally, as in the case when the sticks are arranged to depict a word. So, when you walk on the beach and come across the sticks arranged into a specific word which conveys a meaning, you most likely conclude that some rational agent, some intelligence, some human person, was causally responsible for arranging the sticks. Because sticks in themselves do not convey a meaning beyond themselves, and yet because they have been externally arranged to convey a meaning beyond themselves, you conclude that some intentional and purposeful agent has imposed the meaning.

This is a simplistic example of what many teleological arguments are essentially. Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Design for the Existence of God: Introduction

At long last, we begin the first post on the fifth and final of Aquinas’s Five Ways, or arguments for the existence of God. Outlines of the previous four Ways can be found here, here, here, and here, respectively. The first three, as I’ve explained multiple times previously, are considered Thomistic cosmological arguments. The Fourth Way is really a unique type of argument in its own right, although it certainly has precedent in earlier arguments, including one from Augustine. It also has certain features in common with axiological (moral) arguments, although contains very important differences.

The Fifth Way is commonly categorized as a “Teleological Argument”, or an Argument from Design. Design Arguments have quite a long and impressive history going all the way back to Ancient Greece, to Socrates and perhaps even earlier. The general concept received treatment, at least implicitly, from Plato, Aristotle, some Stoics, and medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophers. Modern philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz likewise proposed design arguments. But modern forms of the argument, while perhaps maintaining the same spirit as the classical and medieval versions, underwent somewhat drastic development, particularly in relation to the natural sciences. In fact, contemporary incarnations of the argument are, for the most part, almost entirely dependent upon, and hence most susceptible of criticism by way of, certain interpretations of findings from biology or cosmology. Unfortunately, many who are only familiar with these contemporary design arguments unjustifiably assume that all design arguments are essentially the same and hence guilty of the same or at least similar faults. In this post we will give a brief overview of some different design arguments before introducing Aquinas’s version, which, I think, is not only significantly unique, but also the best of all design arguments, precisely because, in its uniqueness, it does not commit some of the same mistakes as others. Continue reading

Souls and an Argument from Motion in Plato’s Phaedrus

If one reads through the dialogues of Plato, it won’t take long to realize that he is never short of arguments for the immortality of the soul. It seems to be one of his favorite topics to write about, and apparently he held the point as of utmost significance. A few months ago, I wrote a paper for school on three of these arguments in his Phaedo. But he also writes about it in the RepublicMeno, a bit in Timaeus, and, the one we’ll be looking at in this post, Phaedrus. In general, as an Aristotelian rather than a Platonist, I don’t tend to accept many of Plato’s arguments for the immortality of the soul (although I find them fascinating and profound), especially considering that Plato held the soul to not only exist after death, but also to have pre-existed our physical birth. Plato is, in many ways, a radical dualist, holding the human soul to be the true self and the body to be merely a prison thereof. I strongly disagree. But for now, my reason for looking at one of these arguments is not to discuss immortality.

I regard Aquinas’s “Argument from Motion” or First Way as perhaps the strongest argument for the existence of God that there is. But it’s certainly not an argument that St. Thomas just drew out of thin air; it had a long history of development. For the most part, this history can be traced to Aristotle, since he first presents the argument as really intended to show that there exists some ultimate being or cause behind the universe. While Aristotle’s version is certainly the first fully drawn out and “technical-ized” form of the argument, I think its general sentiment can be found earlier, namely in Plato. Although, as we’ll see, Plato doesn’t really seem to have used the argument as pointing to some cause of motion behind the universe; but I think his presentation thereof still has some interesting implications. Continue reading

Outlined Version of the Degrees of Perfection Argument

Here is an outlined version of Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection for the existence of God, also known as the Fourth Way. This is just an outline. The full series of articles can be found here, here, here and here. Refer to those for the whole, in depth explanations and defenses of the various premises.

The argument itself:

  1. In each class of existing things, there is a possible hierarchy of degrees of perfection in terms of transcendental qualities such as being, goodness, and perfection.
  2. The entire set of all classes of all existing things likewise creates a hierarchy of all being in terms of those same transcendental qualities.
  3. Every being that has these transcendental qualities (being, goodness, perfection) has them as either intrinsic to/identical with their essence, or else derives them from some external source.
  4. The fact that there is such a hierarchy of being, with each level of qualitative existence containing a higher or lower gradation of degrees of perfection, makes it impossible that these beings could have the transcendental qualities as intrinsic to or identical with their essence.
  5. Thus, each finite being must have their transcendental qualities by participation, meaning that they derive them from some external source.
  6. Either the finite being will derive its transcendental qualities directly from a being which has these qualities essentially, or else it will derive them from a being which likewise has them only be participation
  7. To derive transcendental qualities from an external source constitutes an essentially ordered causal series.
  8. Hence, if a finite being derives its transcendental qualities externally from another being which has the qualities only by participation, there will be an essentially ordered causal series.
  9. Essentially ordered causal series cannot have an infinite or circular regress, and must terminate in some first cause.
  10. Therefore, there must be some first cause of all finite beings (beings which have their transcendental qualities only by participation), and this first cause must have the transcendental qualities essentially.
  11. A being which has the transcendental causes essentially will be identical to the transcendental qualities, i.e. will be Being Itself, Goodness Itself, Perfection Itself, etc.
  12. This Being will also be One, and will be Pure Act, thus making it immaterial, timeless, eternal, immutable, and personal (having intellect and will).
  13. This Being we can rightly call God.

Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection Part 4: Conclusion

This is the fourth and final post in our series examining Aquinas’s Fourth Way, or the Argument from Degrees of Perfection for the existence of God. In the previous part, we looked at a common Platonic misinterpretation of the argument; then we delved into the argument itself. Here we shall more fully explain what was presented before, as well as conclude the argument and answer a few lingering questions.

To begin, I think it will be useful to examine certain objections that might arise, since doing so will prepare us to grasp a fuller understanding of the argument itself. Surprisingly, despite its relative obscurity and philosophical technicality, the argument is treated in Richard Dawkins’s infamous The God Delusion. By “treated”, I mean that it receives one entire paragraph. First Dawkins presents his “interpretation” of the argument:

“The Argument from Degree. We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God” [1].

In all honesty, I’m not really sure from where Dawkins contrived this bastardization of the Fourth Way, but it certainly wasn’t from St. Thomas himself, or any serious commenter/defender that I’m aware of. What’s much worse, however, is his attempt to “answer” the admittedly horrendous caricature Continue reading