Aristotle

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (parts 4&5)

I’ll admit, part of the reason this post took so long was because Aquinas’ Fourth Way was a bit confusing to me. It is commonly classed as an “argument from degree” but I couldn’t figure out quite what it meant. Aquinas’ argument goes like this:

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

On the one hand, this argument seems easy enough. There are comparative terms. For us to have comparative terms of abstract concepts, like “Goodness”, “Beauty” and so on, there must be a thing which is their maximum and causes them to be more or less of itself, assuming that such things exist. His example though, of Fire, puzzled me.

Yes, Fire is hot. And it causes other things to be hot. But we know that it’s not really the fire, per se, that is hot, but the energy given off by the reaction that causes the fire to be hot. Since fire is caused to be hot by other things, what is it that gives those things heat?

But, as anyone should do, I attempted to be sympathetic and think about fire like Aquinas would have. When he claims that fire causes heat in all things, what does he mean? It can’t simply cause it by existing. Aristotle had four different types of causation that Aquinas would be drawing on: Material, Formal, Final, and Efficient. Fire is an example where all four types of causation would be met out in a single instance.

Material: Fire is made of fire.
Efficient: Fire creates Fire
Formal: The substance of fire is heat which is fire.
Final: The aim of fire is to produce more fire.

This is an odd example for Aquinas to use in reference to trancendentals like “Goodness”, and “Being.” And this is what puzzled me. God cannot be all four types of causation to the universe: The Universe is not made out of God. And so naturally, I did some research. 1

I discovered that Aquinas’ views on God’s causal relationship to the universe are in play here, and that upon investigation I found out that he denies that God is the causal relationship in two categories: material, and what might be called inherent formal.

Urban argues, in his paper, that Aquinas views at least five types of causation built on Aristotle’s four:
1. Material
2. Final
3. Efficient
4. Inherent Formal
5. Extrinsic Exemplary Formal

While 4 and 5 are subcategories of “Formal Causation” the distinction winds up being important. The first type, Inherent Formal, concerns structural principles present in things which make things as they are. The second type, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal, concern archetypes in the minds of intelligent beings to which they can form their artifacts.

This distinction suggests that the Fourth Way of Aquinas could deal with three types of causes: Efficient, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal(henceforth EEF) and Final causation. The argument goes that if Aquinas thinks that God is the maximal exemplar of Goodness, Truth, and Being then he is the cause of them, but each of them has different kinds of causation.

Truth must be conformed to by propositions, and is thus an EEF. Goodness is normally considered a “final” cause, that which all things strive towards, and Being is taken as an efficient cause, at least by Aquinas if we go back to his Second Way. In order for things to come ‘into being’ being must first bring them there. Thus, Aquinas’ Second Way is laying out his understanding of how Being relates to the world.

If this interpretation is correct, the Fourth Way, in a sense, ties all of the arguments in the Quinquae Viae together. The First and Second Ways show that God has efficient causation. The Third Way makes it impossible for Being, that is the Efficient Cause of the universe, to not exist. The Fifth Way deals with EEF and Final Causation, and since it has not gotten it’s own post I will expound on it here:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The so called “Argument from Design” is the Final of Aquinas’ Five Ways. A common objection to it is that you could just dismiss the Fifth Way out of hand since Darwin came along and disproved that the Universe had any purposes other than survival. The problem with that objection though is that if the universe really ‘aimed at survival’ as some have suggested then ‘survival’ or ‘fitness’ is the final cause.2 But what is the source of that final cause? What is the supreme ‘fitness’? This is what Aquinas is getting at between his Fourth and Fifth Ways.

Final Causes are always directed towards something, “Fitness”, “Goodness”, “Survival”, “Progress” but you have to have a terminus for these objects that are not within the object itself. The difficulty with certain abstract notions like, “Fitness” or “Progress” is that they don’t seem to have a maximum. Progress, as Chesterton once remarked, “is a comparative to which we have not settled the superlative.”3 because even if you arrive, you must progress beyond it. Fitness, well, if Fitness has a superlative it fails at evading the Third Way, much less the Fifth. Fitness is a state that readies you for survival. The longer you survive the more fit you are. To survive all things at all times would be to be the “Fittest” and the only thing I can think of that would fit that category would be a Necessary Being.4

But that doesn’t quite get at the guts of the Fifth Way. The Fifth Way, has to do with Aristotelian Physics again. According to that system, when an object is moving it is trying to move somewhere. With earthy and watery objects it is towards the center of the universe. With fiery and airy objects it is up to the edge of the universe. Thus, when you throw a rock and it falls to the ground it is doing so because it’s ultimate Final Cause is the Center of the Universe, it just gets stopped by the Earth along the way.

If this is true and all objects move according to purpose, or are shaped according to purpose: The eye being to see, rocks to fall to the ground, etc. then there must be some Final cause that ALL FINAL CAUSES MOVE TOWARD. The Universe as a whole, in an Aristotelian Framework, rotates. That whole thing, is seeking out a final cause, and that thing must be outside the universe. Thus, it must be either an abstract principle: like Goodness, Truth, or Being, which are not grounded in physical reality, OR an intelligence that Goodness, Truth and Being find their root in. Or as Aquinas puts it:

For since things in the physical world are naturally inclined to induce their likeness in things which are generated, this inclination must be traced back to some directing principle which ordains each thing to its end. This can only be the intellect of that being who knows the end and the relationship of things to the end. Therefore this likeness of effects to their natural causes is traced back to an intellect as their first principle. (In Meta. I 15 233.)

So then how do Final causes make sure they link up with the proper effect? Simple, an intelligence does it. And that is Aquinas’ answer to how that works. There is an intelligence who arranges the universe so that final causes wind up being aligned with the proper effects. In a sense, this intelligence is also EEF of those cause and effect situations, because it causes the archetypes to align with the types.

Which brings us full circle back to the Fourth Way.

  1. If there are certain comparatives we use to describe objects, such as “Goodness”, “Truth” and “Being”, then they cannot exist without a superlative.
  2. There are such comparatives.
  3. Therefore there is a superlative.
  4. This superlative is the final cause of the universe, due to being Goodness.(Goodness is the source of all Final Causation, as all things seek the Good.).
  5. This superlative is the efficient cause of the universe: in that it is Being. (Via the First and Second ways.)
  6. This superlative also is the EEF of the universe, due to being the intelligence that aligns effects to causes(and helps final causation.)
  7. Therefore, the Superlative is the Cause of the Universe.
  8. This superlative can be called God.

At least, this is the most around the argument that I’ve been able to get. You are welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but this is what I have come to.


  1. Urban, Linwood. “Understanding St. Thomas’s Fourth Way” History of Philosophy Quarterly 1.3: 281-195. Web 
  2. There are entire types of Darwinism that extend out beyond the realm of evolutionary biology. Fields such as “Evolutionary Ethics” and “Evolutionary Cosmology” exist. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Darwinism 
  3. Chapter 2, Heretics 1905 
  4. Whether or not any form of Darwinism can be directed into an argument for the existence of God is a subject for more debate. It’s possible Darwinian Cosmology was born out of an attempt to escape modern recastings of Teleological Arguments. 

Al-Ghazali: First Proof against the Past Eternity of the Universe (Part 1)

Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (c. 1058–1111) was an Asharite theologian of Persian descent who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries. He spent a lot of time in Baghdad teaching at the Madrasa there, and he devoted a lot of his time to rejecting Greek philosophy and more fully embracing the religious traditions found in Islam.

The work we are going to be examining today is his “Incoherence of the Philosophers” which he published as a refutation of men he referred to as ‘corruptors of the faith’ and that anyone who reads their writings becomes more lost in their own ignorance and incoherence. His point is to show that the philosophers do not provide demonstrative proofs of knowledge, they do not even stand up to their own tests of wisdom and truth.

In short: he was trying to show that Philosophy wasn’t able to meet it’s own standards. Or in more modern analytic terms, that it was “Self-referentially incoherent.” He does this by attacking several of the philosophical topics of his day that were commonly held, but not unquestionably. The one we want to focus on here is his first critique, namely of their doctrine in the Past Eternity of the Universe.

In this post I will be focusing only on his first objection to their (the philosophers) first proof. This is for two reasons, the first is for the sake of brevity, and the second is to give me more material for later. Now some of you may think that the Universe’s past eternity was thrown out among People of the Book aeons ago, since the book of Genesis clearly states that God created the world, and the creation accounts in the Koran are similar. (That God created the world in a set number of days.)

So why then the difficulty? In short: Aristotle.

Aristotle(who has reached Ghazali by Al-Farabi and Avicenna) believed that the universe was eternal in the past for several reasons. Existence was a form of motion, and in order for there to be a motion there had to be a motion that set that motion into motion and so on and so forth. Time is a measurement of motion. If motion came into being, then there would have to be movement away from something, and therefore there be something before time, which is contradictory. These arguments held and continued to hold influence over the world from the time of Aristotle, until (arguably) the end of the Middle Ages.1

Ghazali in his work, starts to outline the thinking of the philosophers up to his time and how they have agreed on the past eternity of the universe. He claims that “the view of the multitudes, both ancient and modern, has settled on upholding its past eternity: that it has never ceased to exist with God, exalted be He, to be an effect of his, to exist along with Him, not being posterior to Him in time, in the way the effect coexists along with the cause and light along with the sun; that the Creator’s priority to [the world] is like the priority of the cause to the effect, which is a priority in essence and rank, not in time.” 2

He talks about how Plato seemed to be an exception to this rule stating that the universe was created in his Timaeus, but this is an exception and not to be noted. He then says he is not going to get bogged down in every single argument they give, but instead only focus on the good ones. He doesn’t want to waste time on the bad arguments but rather the ones that can cause even the best thinkers to doubt because “…arousing doubt in the weak is possible with the most feeble [of arguments]” 3

The first proof he focuses on (and the only one we will be focusing on here) goes from this:

“They say, ‘it is absolutely impossible for a temporal to proceed from an eternal.'”

In short the argument they give for this looks like this. If states of the Eternal are similar then either everything always comes into existence or nothing comes into existence at all. Since there is no difference in one state of the eternal than another there is no reason that in one moment there should be something and in the next moment there not be, unless something changed that brought about its creation. This thing could not be the ‘will of the divine’ because it would be utterly arbitrary to refrain from one thing and then act on it the next moment without something bringing that change in will into being.

The philosopher does his best to bolster the argument by asking why the world did not exist before its creation. There was no logical or physical necessity to stop it, since God has no physical limitations.4 The Eternal would have to change from “…Impotence to Power, and the world from Impossibility to Possibility, both of which are impossible.” And the philosophers argue that it would be unbecoming due to the nature of God, for God to have a will to create. This is because deciding to create is to say that He became a willer of its existence after having not been, but this creates a problem of a will having come into existence. And God cannot receive things that are created because he is separate from creation, nor can it have been created apart from him because that would make him not a willer.5

To push this even further, not only could God not create his own will, but if will can come into existence uncaused then so can anything, even universes. This makes God superfluous really. The question still remains, why the universe came into existence then and not earlier? Was it because God lacked an instrument by which to do his purpose? Or perhaps a purpose, or a nature, that once they come into existence, so then will the universe? But, then why do those things come into existence then and not earlier and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

This is the heart of their argument.6 And we will spend the rest of the time dealing with the first part of Al-Ghazali’s first objection to it. (though he does have two objections.)

Ghazali argues that perhaps God willed the creation of the world at a specific time, timelessly. That past-eternally the will was created that “at such and such a time I will create the universe.” and asks what proof there might be to show this to be false.

The response he then imagines is something like this: That if the necessary conditions exist they always bring about their effects immediately. Since the will exists, and the willer exists, and these two things are related to each other, then the effects of the will will come about immediately. If this is not the case then nothing could ever come into existence, since the Eternal always exists in identical states, that from moment to moment there is no difference.

“Indeed the state of affairs would have remained identical to what it was [before], the object of the will not having come into existence, and would remain thereafter as it was before when [lo and behold] the object of the will would come into existence! This is nothing but the ultimate in impossibility.”

So the problem rests in the fact that nothing changes, no new will is gained, and no new thing is given, but suddenly there is a new thing. And this is the first response of the Philosophers.

Ghazali wants to know if they know of the impossibility of Eternal Will through basic knowledge, or through investigations? He wants to know if they use a middle term to connect “eternal will” and “temporal creation” for they have not shown it. And if it is basic knowledge why do men like Ghazali and the others not have it? Is it because they lack some knowledge, but this knowledge is basic and necessary? Since you have done neither, but instead given “nothing but [an expression of] unlikelihood and the drawing of an analogy with our resolve and will, this being false, since the eternal will does not resemble temporal [human] intentions.” And just saying something is unlikely is not enough, without a proof that can be demonstrated!

The Philosopher might say then, we know this by the necessity of reason, and one who denies this is stubbornly defying their own reason and resorting to irrationality!

This is where Al-Ghazali resorts to some of his most famous arguments, the arguments based on the concept of infinity. He asks what the difference is in that response and someone who says that they are stubbornly defying reason with their own doctrines. This is not a reasonable response, but instead an irrational one, as it puts forth no argument or explanation. Indeed, Ghazali thinks that their ‘necessity of reason’ can be shown to be demonstrate logical contradictions, or at least logical absurdities, and therefore must be false.

  1. If the universe is past eternal then there must be an infinite number of movements by each heavenly sphere. 7
  2. These spheres all rotate at different rates, one being a sixth, a forth, a half, and so on, of the radius of the whole heavenly body.
  3. If Jupiter rotates twice for every rotation that Saturn makes then Jupiter has logically rotated twice as many times as Saturn.
  4. Yet they have both rotated the same number of times, namely, an infinite number of times.
  5. Indeed, they are not only the same number, but infinitely different, for with every rotation Saturn falls further behind.

He then asks, if someone says “This is impossible by the necessity of reason!” how does this differ from their defense? How would they answer if they were asked whether the rotation is even or odd? It cannot be one or the other. If it were odd then by adding one you could make it even, but how can the infinite be in need of one? If on the other hand you answer it to be both or neither, these Ghazali argues, are also false by necessity.8

If they try and rebut saying that infinites cannot be measured like finites, then we can simply say that they can be divided into eighths, and sixths, and fourths, why not into odds or evens?

Interestingly an appeal to what came to be known as the “A” theory of time was made to try and fenagle their way out of this. That the past is ‘non-existent’ and only the present exists, and the present has a finite number of rotations, because past rotations do not exist.

Ghazali does not find this objection very strong saying that numbers are even or odd regardless of existence of the objects or non-existence. He gives an example of horses. If we suppose we have six horses, this number of horses is even or odd, even if the horses are hypothetical or non-existent.9

He then goes on even more of an offensive, saying that they claim that there are existing substances that vary in properties and are infinite. These are human souls that have been separated from their bodies. These then are neither even or odd, if the philosophers are to be consistent.

The philosophers might then throw up their hands and say that is it is not Avicenna who is correct but Plato, who thought that there is but one soul and it is divided into bodies and then returns and becomes one with the over-soul again after death.

Ghazali thinks that this is repulsive, and contrary not only to experience but also to logic. We experience ourselves as ourselves and not as other people. If we were the same as other people we would experience ourselves as one. But logically he also holds it to be untenable. Since souls are immaterial talking about ‘dividing’ it is nonsense. You cannot divide things that do not have extension. This only makes sense in objects that have quantitative value. For example an ocean can split into three rivers that all merge back into the ocean again. Non-quantitative substances cannot be divided. This is impossible according to logical necessity.

“What is intended by all this is to show that they have not rendered their opponents unable to uphold belief in the connectedness of the eternal will with the act of temporal creation except by invoking [rational] necessity and that they are unable to disengage from those who [in turn] invoke [rational] necessity against them in those matters opposed to their own belief.”

This ends his treatment of the rejection of rational necessity. He then begins to treat the same objection from a different angle, of a person who rejects rational necessity as the starting point of the disagreement on will. He takes this approach from the impossibility of actually distinct events among the eternal. But this will be a topic for another post, for now, this is the first argument in his first objection to the doctrine of the Past Eternity of the Universe, and we shall sit content with that. (Or at least I shall.)


  1. I say that this is arguable because of thinkers like Crescus and Abū l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī brought into question the Aristotelian framework long before the end of the middle ages. 
  2. Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Translated Michael E. Marmura. Pg 12. 
  3.  Ibid. Pg. 13 
  4. And in certain Islamic schools, no logical limitations either. 
  5. The similarity this has to the Euthyphro problem always makes me smile. Either wills exist because God wills it, or wills exist apart from God. The answer is of course that God is will. 
  6. This is much more Avicennan than Farabian metaphysics. 
  7. Note that this is dependent on Aristotelian physics though many of his arguments still hold water in my opinion given a non-Aristotelian system. 
  8. Modern set theory has something to say about this it is true. Actual Infinities are both even and odd. 
  9. Similarly I suppose you could invent an object. “I have seven glarks.” The number of ‘glarks’ is still odd, despite the fact that glarks are a nonexistent thing. 

Fledgling thoughts on Liturgy, Aristotle, and Birthdays

This last week has been very busy for me. It was my birthday week, and seeing as my family always takes four or five days to celebrate all the Birthdays that fall on that week, let me say, I had no free time. No free time especially to work on my new post on Natural Theology concerning Anselm’s Ontological Argument, but it occurred to me this week the importance of these sorts of events. To mark things that happen.

I have a long term post goal to eventually present a full post(or even a series) on Aristotle and the Liturgy, where I discuss the importance of habituation in our lives, that we might always reflect on God. But this is side-research for the moment, but relatedly I would like to present a few fledgling thoughts on why it is important to keep memorial of events, and to celebrate.

“We are adapted by nature to receive [virtues] and are made perfect by habit” 1 Human beings by nature are habitual creatures, and we grow into our habits and our strengths more often. This then is why if we want to grow in relationship with other people, we must habituate spending time with them, that we can receive virtues from them, and they can receive them from us, and in this exchange we grow more and more virtuous. If we wish to grow in Godliness, we spend time with God and adapt our minds to orient towards him, and for this we have the Liturgy.

But what is a habit? And how do birthdays and holidays and such things help us deal with that? Habit in this case, is not a passive action. Sure there are habits we have that are passive, such as gesticulating a certain way, or using a certain phrase or checking our phones absently. But when we use the word habit in the sense described above, we’re using a more active word. The Greek word, hexis. Hexis describes a condition in which someone must actively hold themselves. If not, then it is strange that Aristotle describes the good life as a life lived by virtuous habit. Not by choice, not by activity, but by passive habits, like checking one’s phone. This hexis is practically the opposite of what we mean by ‘habit’ today.2

“In Book VII of the Physics, Aristotle says much the same thing about the way children start to learn: they are not changed, he says, nor are they trained or even acted upon in any way, but they themselves get straight into an active state when time or adults help them settle down out of their native condition of disorder and distraction. (247b, 17-248a, 6)” [^3]

Hexis is what happens when everything else is put in proper order. It is the state of actively maintaining a state of affairs. A garden cannot prosper if it is full of weeds, but the plants do their own growing, a gardener just keeps the weeds away. Similarly disciplining virtues is a matter of avoiding extremes, of cancelling out bad ‘habits’ and creating a neutral ground through which our mind and character can grow actively.

And this is one of the reasons for the liturgy. By starting and ending our day in good ways, in the objective experience of God, regardless of how we feel or what we want, we shape that day in some way. Similarly, in the Bible we see that whenever God moved his hand and caused something, the people of God put up a memorial or founded a feast, or wrote it down. Why? To remember. When you begin to level out your day of distraction and then are reminded of those things which matter, you can better focus on them. Lent clears away our distractions, reminds us of our weakness, so that when Easter comes we can better see the Triumph of Christ. Advent prepares our minds for the incarnation that we can truly appreciate the wonder of God becoming man.

Holidays then are set up to remind us of things, so that we can allow them to press upon our minds and change us. Christmas reminds us of the wonderful gift and humility of God, that we might also be gracious and humble. Easter reminds us of Christ’s death and resurrection, conquering sin, Satan, and death in the process, so that we might be more fearless in our lives, and less afraid of death. So that we might more faithfully confess our sins, for their sting has already been taken. Birthdays as well, though sometimes time consuming and annoying(at least for me, when it takes up four days of my time.) remind us of what we care about most. Family, friends, and the joy that God gives us. But it also reminds us, as Christ tells us that we must be ‘born again’. We had nothing to do with our First birth, and we had nothing to do with our spiritual birth. And we have nothing to do with our birthdays, merely that they continue on in God’s grace. And that perhaps is a great reminder, to trust in the Lord for all the days of our lives, that we might make it to our next birthday.


  1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics II:1, 1003a 
  2. While habitus  is a perfectly good translation of hexis into Latin, it’s through this little detour that things get muddled and we get to the modern idea of ‘habit’.