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Looking Back: The Quinquae Viae

After taking a year to complete a series I originally only intended to do for a month, I think it would do well to look back on things I have learned about the Quinquae Viae since I started studying them.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that my initial thoughts about what they were were incomplete. I said that they were starter arguments, cursory summaries of a text designed to be part of a course on the nature of God and thus would be further explained as his students moved through their coursework.

And I don’t think I was wrong. Indeed, to properly understand Aquinas’ arguments there are quite a number of principles you have to do your research on. The Principle of the Maximum that you find in the Fourth Way, cannot just be assumed to be the same Neo-Platonic reference as his predecessors. St. Anselm for instance, in the Monologium, uses inherent formal causation whereas Aquinas denies that that is even a possibility. So reading more of Aquinas, like his commentary on Neo-Platonists like Pseudo-Dionysius, gives you a better understanding of his premises and thinking and allows you to fill out the arguments he seems to be outlining in the Summa Theologica.

But I do not think this is his only goal. Having done some research I am inclined to agree with Robert Fogelin on this matter. 1 Aquinas is not attempting to demonstrate the existence of God, but instead to show that there must be a supernatural explanation to the universe(which must be God as he explains in the rest of his corpus) due to the limits of physical sciences. If he were trying to do the former, than his Fifth Way was an abysmal attempt at outlining it.

Even if he had managed to prove that in order to have a final cause of anything, there must be a final cause of all things, there is little reason to assume that that final cause is anything like the Judeo-Christian God. But, when recast to be a counter-argument to explaining everything with Naturalism it makes more sense.

Fogelin recasts it this way:

1. We begin with the presumption that the world is the product of a Christian God’s creation.

2. The natural scientist tells us that the world can be fully explained on natural principles; therefore, this presumption is idle and can be set aside, at least when we are doing natural science.

3. It is then argued that the world (here with respect to its teleological features) cannot be fully explained by natural principles, therefore, the presumption in 1 is restored.

I do not wish to simply repeat Fogelin’s paper here though, but I do think that makes a more plausible reading of Five then simply the one he gave.

In addition I have learned that arguments keep taking the same basic form throughout time. People tell me sometimes that eventually science will have learned enough that the need for a God will disappear and it’ll even be impossible to argue for one. After all, we see particles jump into being from nothing all the time, right?2 What way could you even argue for a God? Aquinas’ arguments may not be as capable of holding up in modern physics as they were in the medieval world, but that does not mean they are not still useful.

The five types of arguments he casts: Argument from Motion, Argument from Cause, Modal Argument, Argument by Degree, and Teleological Argument, are still roughly the categories we use today.

Admittedly, we no longer cast the Teleological Argument for showing that individual objects move in certain ways, but we use it to show that the universe needed to have a ridiculously specific and narrow range of constants in order for matter to form, much less life. And so we argue from Fine Tuning. (Although, I am wondering if Darwinian Cosmology could be used in a Teleological Argument. Fledgling thoughts though.) We also, no longer argue, from the first motion, though in all honesty, our Kalaam Cosmological Argument doesn’t look all that different. Our Modal Arguments may have changed, but we still argue for Greatest Conceivable Beings, and Necessary Beings. While we might not argue by degree, we do still argue from goodness and objective morality.

Our arguments have just shifted a bit to accommodate the bounds of our knowledge. That is why I think framing the Quinquae Viae as ‘counter arguments’ to show the weaknesses of Natural Science, continues to keep Aquinas’ arguments useful today. The limits of science haven’t changed, except in the amount of data.


  1. Fogelin, Robert. “A Reading of Aquinas’s Five Ways” American Philosophical Quarterly. 27 1. 305-313 
  2. If by nothing you mean something, namely the quantum vacuum. 
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Lenten Thoughts: How a blog can be a Spiritual Exercise.

To give a confession to my blog readers(the few of you there are, the less if I continue this habit of posting randomly and without order) I often forget I have a blog that needs updating. These past few months have been difficult for me spiritually and emotionally, and the worst part is I’m still not even sure what the cause of it was.

Every blog I have ever had has fallen away in the litany of concerns of my daily life. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of day to day activities and forget about other things which are not as pressing.

Or at least don’t seem as pressing.

This Lent I’ve been thinking about discipline. I intentionally sort of set aside philosophy this Lent, and focused rather on spiritual classics and digging into the Scriptures as well. It has always been a fault of mine that I am not terribly consistent in my workflow and am not very good at self-motivating towards my own goals. This is why I love the structure of Academia, someone at least puts a deadline on you and consequences for missing it.This is not me defending myself on account of not being in an Academic setting.

What I am apologizing for is being undisciplined. I am not saying that I am lazy, but that I lack consistent and regular devotion to a single thing. I am not good at being a ‘disciple’. A disciple wakes and learns from the master and then emulates the master. I have not practiced that in any sense. Thus, hopefully I can use my blog as a tracker of discipline. If I am studying Scripture, Philosophy, History, or really anything, I should be able to come up with at least a few words to say about it every week. Thus, if I am updating my blog, it is because I am being disciplined in my studies. If I am not, then I am not being disciplined in my studies.

There is however an obstacle that I would like to point out to some of the topics I have mentioned in past blog posts that I was working on.

Lack of Sources that are readily available: For my Third Part of Aquinas’ Five Ways, I was planning to integrate Avicenna’s argument from contingency to discuss it in contrast with Aquinas’. However, up until recently, I was having trouble locating its source material. I have found references to it in other philosophy blogs, and discussions of it in other commentary texts, but never an actual transcript of the argument. It wasn’t until I found a reference to Avicenna’s argument on Edward Feser’s blog 1 that provided a link to the source material in an anthology that I was able to locate it. I still have not recieved it, but have opted out of doing that particular bit since Feser does such a good job on his blog of explaining and discussing Avicenna’s argument. I will make reference to his post about it in my post on Aquinas.

Additionally: other sources are hard to find. I was planning on writing a dialogue between Pelagius and Augustine, but source material on Pelagius is hard to find. It is a lot of work piecing him together from sources that are entirely hostile to him. Augustine, Orosius, Prosper, Marius Mercator, and Jerome are all hostile to his view and it is difficult to get the nuance of his position from it. (Not impossible, just…difficult.) It is easy to reconstruct it from Semi-Pelagian and other later views, but it is hard to get at the man himself, so I may just opt out of doing this particular topic. 2 It was not to be a discussion of Pelagianism vs. Augustinianism, but between the men themselves. Which will probably make me scrap this.

Also, several of my interests are hard to track down their works in English. While my ability to read Latin is existent, it is far from fluent, I depend on others to do so for me. I have no skill with either Greek or Arabic, and unfortunately these are the languages most of my interests primarily exist in. If I ever need help finding a source I will be sure to mention it in my post.

Thank you all for your patience.


  1.  http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/05/avicennas-argument-from-contingency.html 
  2. Since the views are distinct from the man I am hesitant to equate him with Pelagianism like Calvin has been with Calvinism. (Which is interestingly debatable: https://www.calvin.edu/meeter/Was%20Calvin%20a%20Calvinist-12-26-09.pdf

Coming Soon…

It has been some time since I have published a single post on here. Three months since my last re-blog and seven months since I started a new post where I was going to be going through the Quinquae Viae. Clearly that is not a good publication rate.

The reasons were multiple why this big gap happened. One of them was I work retail and the holiday season started up, another was I was taking a college course and working a full time job. I also went through two computers in the span of time I have not been writing. (Which is annoying considering how much work you have to do to get a computer back to your liking.) In addition I was applying to graduate schools and trying to do research on those programs as well as research pertaining to a writing sample for them.

Those applications have been sent off, my holiday hours are coming to a close at work, and I am not enrolled in any classes for this next semester. So I will start updating more frequently.

I have quite a few posts outlined, but it will be probably about the 5th or the 10th before you start seeing them again. Some of the posts I am about to list may not make it to their final versions.

Continuing Posts:
Quinquae Viae(Parts 2-5)
Al-Ghazali on the Eternity of the Universe(Part 2)

New Posts:
The Ontological Argument: Plantinga.
The Teleological Argument: William Paley
Does God Have a Nature?: A review of Alvin Plantinga’s 1980 lecture.
Pelagius and Augustine talk about the Problem of Evil
Sabbath as Resistance: A book review.
Averroes: On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy.
Flying Man: Avicenna
Sheikh it up: Sufism and Philosophy.
The Cosmological Argument: GW Leibniz.

These are just the ones I have outlined (even if my research on them is still in an infancy.) My intention is to put out smaller posts in between these as well. Thank you all for your patience with me and I hope we can get this show back on the road.

“Right where we are wrong”

The Hebdomadal Chesterton

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. I have compared it with the New Religions; but this is exactly where it differs from the New Religions. The New Religions are in many ways suited to the new conditions; but they are only suited to the new conditions. When those conditions shall have changed in only a century or so, the points upon which alone they insist at present will have become almost pointless. If the Faith has all the freshness of a new religion, it has all the richness of an old religion; it has especially all the reserves of an old religion. So far as that is concerned, its antiquity is alone a great advantage, and especially a great advantage for purposes of renovation and youth. It is only by the analogy of animal…

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Quinque Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas(part 1)

Due to space constraints, we are only covering the first of the five ways in this post, but four more will allow for us to cover the whole of the Five Ways. That will be what I will be covering in the next few posts.

The Quinque Viae (Five Ways) are a series of Scholastic Arguments that form a cumulative argument for the existence of God. As a cumulative argument they are designed to stand together, like threads in a rope, rather than as individual arguments for God’s existence. Surely they can be used individually but they were not designed for this purpose.

Similarly, Thomistic philosopher Edward Feser has stated that the arguments themselves are not comprehensive, but seem rather to be a summary introduction for beginners. [1] This means they are not written like a full-fledged argument, which means that instead of taking the time to explain and flush out his premises, they are instead simply stated and then the conclusion follows. This can be explained in that Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, where the Quinque Viae are found, was an instructional guide for beginners who were learning in the Catholic Church. It was steeped in Aristotelian Metaphysics and Scholastic distinctions which are filled out in the full body of Aquinas’ work. Thus, a student who had questions about the Quinque, could pursue the metaphysical foundations in other works.

“Because a doctor of catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners. As the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 3: 1–2, as to infants in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat, our proposed intention in this work is to convey those things that pertain to the Christian religion, in a way that is fitting to the instruction of beginners.” [2]

With this context in mind, we can continue into actually looking at the Quinque, which take up a whole page and a half of the full three thousand of the Treatise(which shows just how assumed the existence of God was taken in this work of the Church.), but are nonetheless fairly powerful in their sophistication and distinction.

Via Unus: The Unmoved Mover.

“The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.” [3]

It is easy to make the mistake (as Dawkins did) to assume that he’s speaking here of motion in the contemporary sense. It should be more broadly construed, due to the terminological use in Aristotelian physics, to mean something closer to ‘change’. Motion is linked to the change from potentiality to actuality of certain properties in a creature, but is not limited to a change in place (though certainly a change in location is part of the argument. Think of the change from potential to kinetic energy in modern physics for example.) Aquinas would have undoubtedly sent his students to Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics, and his own commentary on those (as well as probably Averroes’ commentaries.) for full arguments for these premises, we thus will not deal with them here.

Therefore, assuming these premises, let us examine the full scope of the argument rephrased like an argument you might find in a contemporary paper.

  1. Some things change from potentiality to actuality
  2. Potentiality cannot change itself into actuality.
  3. An actual infinite regress of potentiality cannot be traversed into actuality.[4]
  4. There must therefore, be a source of change that is not itself potential. (Pure actuality)
  5. This is what we mean by God.

This argument is in my opinion, fairly sound. It does depend on some other arguments to root some of its premises, but so does any argument that isn’t self-evident. For example, for 3) we would have to depend on paradoxes of infinity and arguments from the absurdity of their existence. For example, Ghazali’s arguments against an actual infinity deal with examples of how we have to accept some unacceptable consequences in terms of physical numeration. For example, that Saturn and Jupiter, though they have a different number of rotations because they rotate at a different rate, if they had been rotating for an actual infinite amount of time, then their rotations are numerically the same. Namely: actually infinite. Further examples would include David Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel Paradox.

To better understand the idea of change let us look at a concept from modern physics: Potential and Kinetic energy.
The potential energy equation for any given object is PE=mgh. M=mass of the object, g=the force of gravity, and h=the height of the object from the ground. So if we have a 1kg object, .5 meters off the ground, then you get PE=1(-9.8)(.5)=59 J. So we have an object at rest, yet containing 49 Joules of potential energy.

The problem with potential energy is that it is just that, potential, there has to be a change to the system in order for the energy to become usable. Under no circumstance will the object change itself; the object will never give off that potential energy in kinetic energy unless an outside change occurs. The floor disappears or the book slides off the table and begins its fall. This change cannot occur from the potentiality itself, but requires an outside cause. This is one of Newton’s laws of motion. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force. At any point in time, any object has potential for movement in any direction, but no internal power will force it to move a different way causelessly.

And that is basically the argument. Potentials cannot convert themselves into actuality without an outside cause, and outside causes cannot extend to actual infinity because of the difficulty of an actually infinite number of things as well as the impossibility of traversing the infinite. (Think Zeno’s paradoxes).

Next time we’ll look at the second way, the argument from causation, which is similar, but different in emphasis than the first way.

[1] : Feser,Edward (2009). Aquinas, A Beginner’s Guide

[2] : ST, 1. 1

[3] : Prima autem et manifestior via est, quæ sumitur ex parte motus. Certum est enim, et sensu constat, aliqua moveri in hoc mundo. Omne autem quod movetur, ab alio movetur. Nihil enim movetur, nisi secundum quod est in potentia ad illud ad quod movetur, movet autem aliquid secundum 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 aliquod 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 simul 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, oportet ab alio moveri. Si ergo id a quo movetur, moveatur, oportet 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.

[4] : Interestingly, potentially infinite sets cannot make themselves actually infinite by any amount of addition. They are ontologically distinct.

An Update and information about upcoming things

Sorry that I have been not around as of late. Shortly after my last post, the fan in my laptop had a horrible malfunction and rendered my laptop mostly unusable.

That being said, it had most of my notes and such on there so I did not update from a library or some other place. My laptop was damaged irreparably, but the data has been recovered and so I will be continuing my posts soon, starting with an analysis of Aquinas’ Quinquae Viae, and later a post about the second part of Ghazali’s first argument against the Eternity of the Universe. They will however, not be weekly.

Part of the reason it took me so long to get my laptop repaired, is that I could not afford to get it repaired since I was trying to pay for some schooling out of pocket over the summer. Now that that has been paid, I can and have gotten myself a laptop and can continue my work uninterrupted. (I got a cool upgrade on my laptop) Unfortunately, that same schooling is keeping me very busy, but that does not mean that you will not get posts from me. I will occasionally post content related to my class readings when I find them particularly interesting or relevant.

Anyways, sorry for the hiatus, and not letting anyone know about it. As penance, here’s a link to a podcast on Avicenna’s theory of Soul by Peter Adamson of the LMU. http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/avicenna-soul 

“Some fragment of beauty to be admired”

The Hebdomadal Chesterton

At first sight it would seem that the pessimist encourages improvement. But in reality it is a singular truth that the era in which pessimism has been cried from the house-tops is also that in which almost all reform has stagnated and fallen into decay. The reason of this is not difficult to discover. No man ever did, and no man ever can, create or desire to make a bad thing good or an ugly thing beautiful. There must be some germ of good to be loved, some fragment of beauty to be admired. The mother washes and decks out the dirty or careless child, but no one can ask her to wash and deck out a goblin with a heart like hell. No one can kill the fatted calf for Mephistopheles. The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears…

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Living Knowledge and the Bite of God’s Love

I share with you this post this week in lieu of a post of my own for two reasons.

  1. I think it fits nicely with what I’ve been thinking about this week anyway, namely, what is the importance of the spiritual disciplines and how do we know we’re going closer to God. This post asks what it means to be an example of spiritual discipline, and how it can help us to understand God and truth in general.

(In particular I’m reminded of Ambrose’s effect on Augustine, as the Beatrice in this article.)

And 2. I don’t have the time to write a post this week. Work and paperwork have taken up most of my time this week, and I apologize, I have had little time to even pick up a book, much less write about one.
Next week, I plan on releasing a post on “Al-Ghazali’s argument for the beginning of the universe.”

Christ & University

ParadiseCantoXXVIII I opened class last week by asking my students, “what is your de facto epistemology of love?” After we translated my question into something they could more readily understand—regardless of the Sunday School answer, how do you actually know what to love?—my students gave me a variety of answers: personal experience, trying things out and seeing what they like, returning the affection of people who like them. I think these are probably all accurate, and I added a few ideas of my own, like the advertising, music, and movies by which our culture proclaims its vision of the good. But what I didn’t include in my list—because I’m too afraid to admit it to myself—is another source of living knowledge that I hope is also forming their loves.

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