Beginning Metaphysics IV: Essentialism

Central to Aquinas’s whole metaphysical system, and even central to his whole project of metaphysics, is the belief that essences are real. This is known as essentialism. Modern science and philosophy, however, have come so far from the common sense position that things have essences that to even ask the question is seen as a waste of time. This post is meant as a brief introductory look at an overview of arguments that could be presented in favor of an essentialist position.

By far the greatest reason to affirm essentialism is that it is just our starting point for understanding, describing, and interacting with reality. Whether we realize it our not, we are all at least implicit essentialists: we all look at and talk about reality as if there really are things with intrinsic unity which are distinct from other things and other kinds of things. Continue reading

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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

Beginning Metaphysics: First Philosophy as ‘Lord of the Sciences’

Introduction

“The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold” [1] wrote Aristotle in his De Caelo. It is to this that St. Thomas refers when he begins his own brilliant metaphysical treatise, De Ente et Essentia, by stating: “A small mistake in the beginning is a big one in the end” [2]. His point is that we must start our metaphysical inquiry from the right place (which for him means noting the distinction between essence and existence) or else we will go awfully awry by the time we reach the end. But on an even broader level, we might say that we must begin all rational inquiry with a solid metaphysical foundation, or else our entire understanding of reality will be, ultimately, completely skewed and fundamentally flawed. So despite the fact that the word “meta-physics” literally means after physics, Aristotle was right all along when he originally named it “first philosophy”, to which physics is “second”, with all other sciences proceeding therefrom. Continue reading

The End of Science?

 

The scientific field of study dominates academia around the globe. Our education system is increasingly directed towards the maths and sciences as the “most relevant” or even “most important” parts of learning. Our economic systems are overwhelmingly dominated by technological businesses and industries. Simplistic versions of “the scientific method” are indoctrinated into youth from their earliest years. But why is this? What is science, and what is its end? Continue reading

Aristotle’s Answer to the Science/Philosophy Debate

“Philosophy is dead,” says renowned physicist Stephen Hawking [1]. According to him, “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics” [2].  This view encapsulates what has become somewhat of an embedded modern assumption: science is equivalent to knowledge and truth; philosophy is just a bunch of mad, unanswerable questions designed to make your head hurt, or else make you doubt your very existence, but with no actual truth or life value. A post in the New York Times sums up the attitude succinctly:

“Science education, however, has persistently relied more on empirical fit as its trump card, perhaps partly to separate science from those dangerous seat-of-the-pants theorizings (including philosophy) that pretend to find their way apart from such evidence” [3].

So what can one of the greatest thinkers in all of human history add to this discussion? Continue reading

Prime Mover Part 3: Final Objections

This is the third and (hopefully) final post concerning the famous Prime Mover argument for the existence of God. In the first post I set forth the argument and claimed that it established the existence of a “being of Pure Act.” In the second post I responded to some common objections, and also explained why the being of Pure Act is “God,” in that the being of Pure Act must be one, immaterial, timeless, omnipotent, and immutable. I also claimed that it is somewhat irrelevant whether or not the Prime Mover argument alone is sufficient to establish that this being of Pure Act is personal. If such a being exists, who is purely actual, immaterial, timeless, omnipotent, and immutable, that is at least enough to prove false non theistic world views such as atheism and naturalism.

But besides this, I also made the comment that it is possible to show that the being of Pure Act is personal, although it is admittedly a bit less clear than with other attributes. In this final post, then, I’d like to accomplish the following: 1) show that the being of Pure Act is indeed personal, and 2) respond to more in depth, complicated objections to the argument.

The first argument used to show that the being of Pure Act is “personal” claims that all immaterial beings must be personal. In order to understand this claim, we first need to understand a bit of the underlying metaphysics. For Aristotle and Aquinas, Continue reading