Maimonides and Aquinas

MAIMONIDES  1135-1204

Maimonides is an Aristotelian, but offers a more carefully considered reconciliation.  Aquinas will adopt some of his solutions to the tough issues, and also his methodology in some cases.  Most famous work the Guide for the Perplexed.  Aimed at someone well-versed in philosophy who has trouble seeing how philosophy and revelation can be squared.  He says in the introduction that it's going to be deliberately confusing.

I. How does our language apply to God?  

A. The basic problem -- We're limited and God is GOD!

B. Jews and Christians cannot go the Plotinus route. The Bible and liturgical practice use all these terms. So we have to use the terms, the question is, what do they MEAN???

C. Issue had already come up among the Muslims -- God is One...well, okay, but what does that mean?

1. Avicenna -- God is absolutely unified. Being which exists necessarily through itself. Anything else we might want to say turns out to just mean that. Don't want to say that God has different attributes.

2. Alghazali -- Must say God has various attributes. Most importantly, existence and WILL.

II. Maimonides' "Solution"

Three non-negotiable preliminary assumptions: God is 1. Uncaused, 2. Perfect Unity, 3. Absolutely Unlike Creation.

A.There are five types of affirmative attributes we might want to apply to God.  Only one really applies. 

1. Defining attribute?  (i.e. nature) E.g. Man is a rational living being.  No. 

    a. The defining attribute functions as a cause.  (We are what we are on account of the coming together of these properties.) (364-366)

    b. Implies composition. The defining attribute plus existence.

2. Defining a part of something's nature?  E.g. Man is a living being.  Obviously not.  No cause and no parts.

3. Attributing an accident (a non-essential quality)? Good, wise...  E.g. Indigo is good.  (Not her nature...something added on.) Multiplicity.  Substratum with added on qualities.

4. Relation?  Creation and Creator?

a. No! To be able to state a relationship you must posit something in common between the two relata.  There is nothing in common between creation and God.  It's like trying to find a relationship between "a hundred cubits" and "the heat that is in pepper." (365-366)

b. But surely there is some common ground between God and creation.  Both at least exist!  Right?  God has necessary existence and we have merely contingent existence, but it's all existence., says Maimonides.  It is not always inappropriate to say "God exists" but the term "exists" is used equivocally.  (It is a "homonymous" term...same spelling and pronunciation but entirely different meaning.)That means when we apply it to God and to creation it has two entirely different meanings.  God Exists, but His existence has nothing in common with ours.

5. Action.  This is the one positive attribute you can apply to God.  You can say, "God did x."  "God is the cause of y."  But be warned!  You are not saying anything about God in Himself.  (It's not like if you said "Fred made this desk" that would tell you that Fred's the kind of thing that can make desks, he's rational etc....) " God made the world" does not = "God is a world-making kind of thing."  So "God is good" means only "God is the cause of good things".

B. Problem: If He's perfect unity, how can He accomplish all these different actions?  Response:  All in one act.  (E.g. fire, 1st page of handout 1)

C. Except for action, attributes must be given a negative interpretation. (H 368 )

1.  "God exists" just means, "God can't not-exist," "God is living" well He's not dead.  We cannot give any positive, unequivocal content to these attributes. More creaturely attributes you negate, the closer you are to God.

2. Is this like the via negativa of Pseudo-Dionysius?  No!  The Ps.-D said you negate in order to show that God is infinitely the attribute in question.  God is not-good, because our concept of goodness falls so far short of what God's goodness consists in.  The gold and silver example. ( 7-8, 9  page of handout)

 D. To apply these attributes to God is basically to be an don't believe in God at all. (The elephant...11-12 pages)

E. But if all we can do is negate, then the wise and learned don't know any more than the stupid and ignorant.  Ah...but they do.  They know to negate! (p. 6 on handout).

III. The "eternity" of the world. (Discussion interesting both in terms of content and in terms of methodology. Aquinas will adopt this approach.)

A. The three positions (371-373) 

1. The Jewish view

a. God made the whole world, where previously it was nothing.

b. God made the whole world by His will and volition (!!!)

c. Time is a function of motion, so time is a category of the created world.

d. There is a first day. (The past is not infinite)

2.  "All the philosophers..." (including Plato and Aristotle)

a. Impossible that God could make something from nothing.

b. This is not to impute weakness to God, since God can't do the impossible.

c. The eternal matter from which God makes the world is caused by God. 

2. A. Plato's view (Maimonides doesn't worry too much about it, since he thinks it's not very popular.)

a. What "all the philosophers..." say, plus the thought that...

b. The whole world as we know it, has come into being from the preexistent matter, and will perish, but not go entirely out of being. It will resolve into matter and produce a new universe.

2. B. Aristotle's view. This is the real contender against our (the Jewish) view!

a. What "all the philosophers..." say, plus the thought that...

b. God is immutable. His will is immutable. An unchanging cause cannot produce a changing effect, so....

c. Everything has been going on just the way it goes on now.

---Maimonides conclusion. ---

B. Neither side can be proven.

1. Previous Jewish philosophers had tried to prove that there was a finite number of days in the past.  Not successful. (374)

2. Aristotle does not succeed in proving his point either. (In chapters which your text omits there is an interesting discussion of problems with Aristotelian view of universe based on astronomy.  Close observations discovering anomalies that will lead to heliocentric view.)

C. In that it's an open question, there's good reason to accept the more literal reading of scripture.

1. Not that one couldn't interpret scripture if reason demanded it. But when reason leaves it open, better to stick with the more literal reading. (374)

2. Dire consequences of accepting the eternity of the past FOR THE REASONS ARISTOTLE (AND AVERROES) GIVE. Aristotle's argument for the eternity of the past is that things must be going on as they have been because God doesn't change. But this would lead to a denial of miracles!  I.e. a denial of foundations of Judaism, including and especially the giving of the Law.  (The issue is clearly more than just the past number of days.  Fundamental conflict between Aristotle's view and religions of the Book.  There is history!)   

3. Note that Maimonides is fine with "Plato's" position, since, although it holds that the past is infinite, it does not argue from premises which entail that God cannot act as an agent in the world.  If it could be demonstrated, we'd interpret scripture allegorically. Since it can't be demonstrated, it's better to stick with the more literal meaning, but there's no overwhelming contradiction between Plato's position and Judaism.

IV. Nature of the Law


A. The Euthyphro Problem -- well, not exactly, but similar. ( 1st page on the handout) Do the Laws flow from God's wisdom so that they are aimed at some good end?  Or do they come from His will without being aimed at some end?  (The latter view is called voluntarism and is motivated as a response to the Aristotelians who denied that God acts through will as an agent in the world.)

B. Behind basic, general commandments there is some reason ...  Maimonides is NOT a voluntarist. 

1.But note that this does NOT mean that there is some moral order outside of God to which He must conform. He is the creator, He makes us a certain kind of thing, and good is a function of the flourishing of the creature. I.e. the moral order is rooted in our natures, and our natures were created by God.

2. Law aims at Good of the soul and body. 

a. Sometimes it's obvious (don't steal) and sometimes it's not.  (Incest?)

b. Good reason for the general rule, although...

c. In the specific details there may not be a reason why things are one way rather than another.  E.g. it is a good religious observance to make sacrifice, but why a ram rather than a lamb?  Why this many doves?  There's really no answer to these questions. 

C. Laws aimed at Good of soul and body

1. Former has to do with the aquisition of knowledge. 

2. Latter has to do with...

a. Rules for living together in society (order-- need order to survive and meet your material needs) and...

b. Development of moral qualities.

3. Which has to be attended to first in time? (First perfection) Body, obviously, since you can't acquire knowledge if you're hungry, cold, etc.

4. Which is more important? (Ultimate perfection) Soul,  "Permanent preservation" -- He's doing the 10th Intelligence thing.


Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274

I. Introduction to the 13th century in the latin west -- 

A. Have been doing the project of synthesizing for a thousand years now.

B. Most influential philosopher is St. Augustine 

1. Platonic

2. Themes 

a. an agent God!!!

b. anti-elitism!!!

-- Three extremely significant developments --

II. Aristotle

A. Through contacts with Muslims in Spain and Italy.  Along with work of the Muslim and Jewish philosophers.

B.  Better versions from the Byzantine Empire, so the latins can translate from the Greek.

C.  So you get a lively debate and a broad spectrum of opinion on Aristotle

1. Latin Averroists (e.g. the double truth?)
2. Moderate Aristotelians like Aquinas
3. People who think Aristotle is just wrong and dangerous.

III. Rise of the Great Universities

A. Up until now we've had schools attached to monasteries and cathedrals all over, but now we find students and teachers congregating in independent universities which receive their charters from the Pope or from a Ruler.  e.g. Oxford.  Most important is Paris.  Everybody who was anybody studied and/or taught at Paris.  Members of university not under jurisdiction of local authorities, but under jurisdiction of the university.

B. Important for science as we know it. An institutional and communal setting in which the findings of the present generation can be passed on. St. Albert the Great, Thomas' teacher should be considered the founder of modern science.

C. Important for philosophy because the mehods of teaching will be influential on way philosophy will be written.

1. Read and comment upon important works.

2. The disputatio -- public debates, pro and con a disputed issue.  Advantage is you get all the objections out on the table and try to answer them.  So when they write philosophy they'll follow this pro and con method.  (See book!)

IV. Rise of the Mendicant Orders

A. Franciscans, Spiritual renewal, renunciation of worldy goods, e.g. Bonaventure, Scotus, (with these two you find Augustinian themes), Ockham

B. Dominicans.  Founded by St. Dominic as a teaching order with the purpose of reconverting the Albigensians in Southern France. Aquinas (More Aristotelian approach)

Aquinas 1225-1274

I. Most important thinker in the Western World between Augustine and the so-called "Age of Reason"

A. Catholic Church -- Read from Fides et Ratio

B. In general...philosophy of religion, ethics, metaphysics, even epistemology.

II. Early on he wants to become a Dominican.  His family (as usual) wants him to be rich and powerful.  In those days in Italy if you were super smart and you wanted to be rich and powerful you became a Benedictine.  He takes orders as a Dominican. Family actually kidnapped him and locked him up for a year, but he was stubborn.  They finally had to release him.  He joins Dominicans and the rest is history.

III. Aristotelian

A. Cleans up Aristotle in that he recognizes that some of those Neoplatonic works attributed to Aristotle were not really his.

B. Says things that get him into trouble.  (Condemnation of 1277 the Bishop of Paris condemns a number of propositions including many of Aquinas').

C. But he is much more critical in his adoption of Aristotelian views than e.g. Averroes

1. no adversarial relationship between Aristotle and revelation, and

2. not going to say that Scripture must just bow to Aristotle.

IV. Faith and Reason -- The unhappy experience of the debates in the Muslim world makes it crucial to be cautious about what falls withing the scope of philosophy, versus what one should accept on faith.

A. Philosophy (reason alone) and theology (reason aided by revelation -- you take claims that are given in revelation and reason about them) so they are distinct disciplines, but truth is truth and they'll never disagree.

B. Philosophy can get you far along the road of religious faith.  You can, e.g., prove that God exists.

C. Why do we need revelation?

1. Not everybody has the time or the talent to pursue philosophy, so God just tells us a bunch of things it might be difficult for us to arrive at on our own.

2. Some truths that are necessary for salvation cannot be proven through reason alone, e.g. the Trinity, the Incarnation.

---As an example of the methodology and to start setting up the proofs for the existence of God, let's look at the question of whether or not the past is infinite (pp.487-493).

I. Has the universe of creatures always existed? Well, it can't be demonstrated. (One important claim here is that God acts by will!)

II. Can we prove that there was a beginning? No.

III. So the Christian should accept on faith that the world had a beginning...for basically the reasons Maimonides gave. It fits better with scripture, and the Aristotelian arguments to the contrary conflict with core commitements of the faith.

IV. But when we're doing philosophy, reason without bringing in beliefs we accept on faith, we have to bracket the thought that the past is finite, and just leave it an open question.

The Existence of God

I. Is it self-evident? -- That is, Can we prove the existence of God just by examining concepts in our minds? 

A. Objections (It would seem so because...)

1. innate knowledge...We all want limitless happiness, but limitless happiness is only found in God, therefore we have an innate idea of God
2. Ontological argument -- God is that than which a greater cannot be thought, so He must be thought to exist, otherwise we could think of a greater.
3. Argument from Truth -- Existence of truth is self-evident, and God is Truth.

B. But Thomas says, No.

1. A thing can be self-evident in two ways; in itself but not to us, or in itself and to us (e.g. a triangle).

2. God's existence is self-evident in itself in that it is God's very nature to exist.  God =Pure Being "I Am Who Am."  But not to us.  We don't immedieatly know the essence of God.  It has to be demonstrated through whats known to us through God's effects.  We have to start with sense knowledge of the world.

C. Response to objections

1.  true we desire ultimate happiness, and true ultimate happiness is found in God, but we may not really see that that's the case.

2. Can't move from the mental to the actual

3. Existence of truth is self-evident, but not Primal Truth.

II. Reason can prove God: At first we might say there is no God for two reasons

A. The problem of evil

B. The principle of parsimony

III. We'll answer these objections at the end -- first a little background

A. Start with this world as the effect and argue back to God as the cause. 

B. That means all the proofs start with what Aquinas takes to be claims which are shown through sense observation. He's an empiricist.

C. Eternity of the World.

1. He agrees with Maimonides. Can't be proven either way. As a Christian he believes there's a first day, but here he's doing philosophy. None of these proofs begins with the assumption that the past is finite, and none concludes to that view, either.

2. His proofs assume the possibility of  preeternity.  (If you assume the world had a beginning then you've got God without half trying.)

D. Note that no single one of the proofs proves everything we might want to say about God.

The Five Ways

I. First way...proof from motion...Is this God?  (Need all 5)

II. Second way...there must be a first cause for the existence of things.  (Similar to Avicenna's proof)


1. A caused thing exists.  (Efficiently caused in the sense of being brought into being.) Evident from observation

2. A thing cannot cause itself.

3. It must be caused by something already existent.

4. There cannot be an infinite series of caused causes (as an explanation for the existence of anything. Created agents can introduce change by rearranging what's there but they do not bring things into being. The mirror analogy again.)

5. There must be a first, uncaused cause.

III. Third Way...A necessary being having its necessity from itself.

 The Proof:

 1. There are things that are possible to be and not to be.

 2.  It is impossible for these always to exist for that which can not-be at some time is not.

 3.  If everything can not-be then at one time there was nothing in existence.

 4.  If this were true then nothing would exist now.   (Which is absurd!)

 5.  Therefore there must be something not merely possible, i.e. which can fail to be.   There  must be a necessary being.

 6.  Every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another or not. (Taking  account of Avicenna's cosmos.)

 7. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity  caused by another (mirror analogy again).

 8.  Therefore there must be a necessary being having its necessity of itself, and this all men  call God.

2. Underlying assumptions.

a. The world could be everlasting...there may be an infinite past.

b. If a certain kind of thing or event is "possible", then, given an infinite amount of time it will happen.  (I.e. Given an infinite time, possibility translates into necessity.) (That explains premises 2 and 3.)  

Questions about necessity and possibility are interesting and tough.

    1. Note that this is the Aristotelian, metaphysical understanding of "possible".  

    2. not the logical understanding (Conceivable without contradiction. We can conceive of the coin always landing heads).

    3. nor the scientific understanding.  (Doesn't have anything to do with laws of nature, really. The laws of nature might change. God could just decide to undo them if He felt like it.)

c. Nothing comes from nothing.  (explains 4)

3. Why isn't Premise 5 the conclusion? Because we need to take account of the possibility of a necessary being, having its necessity from another. I.e. Avicenna's "intelligences".  (Necessity per se, vs. necessity per aliud.)

4. Is this necessary being God?

a. Epicurus used the same argument to prove the eternity of atoms.

b. But atoms are possible in that their non-existence is conceivable. It is not the case that their essence is to exist. (Could Epicurus say it is? Premise one is kind of mistaken? A hard case to make.)

IV. The Fourth Way.  There is an ultimate source for all value.

I. The Proof:

 1. There are gradations in the values of things.  (E.g. Mother Theresa is better than Adolf  Hitler.  This is an objective fact, not a subjective judgement.)

 2. We recognize this gradation through comparison with a maximum. (Again, objective.   Not an intra-mental phenomenon.)

 3. This maximum is the cause of the value in things.  (A Platonist would read this as: Things are more or less good  depending on how well they reflect or share in this standard.)

 4. Therefore there is an absolute standard and cause for value.  And this... 

[Can we question the platonic-sounding premises -- 2 and 3?]


2. An alternate version quite popular in the 19th and 20th centuries: Focusing on MORAL good or value. If there is no God then there is no objective moral order. Because -- 

-- Objective moral truth must have...

a.... objectivity...a reality independent of human opinion.  A source outside of us.

b.... normativity...there's a reason to be good.  "You ought..." implies a reason to act.  So it's got to make a difference to you whether you're good or bad.

...and without God we can't get the objectivity and normativity that we need -- an ultimate source for value and a source for final justice...or was that a Jean-Claude van Dam film? assume that this contemporary claim is correct. No God > No objective moral order.

3. Consider a simple rule of logic: modus tollens (denying the consequent) If A implies B, then not-B imples not-A, so if there IS an objective moral order, then there is a God.

4. The opponent might respond...

a. We can deny the first premise and say that there is no objective value, no real moral order.

b. Or we could defend  moral realism (there is an objective moral order) but say that we don't need God to ground it. Source for values other than a transcendent standard? 

Note first that the claim that evolution has caused us to BELIEVE or to BEHAVE AS IF there were moral objectivity does not answer the question about how to ground genuine moral truth.

    1. God is a "bigger and better" source than other possibilities, e.g. pleasure, the satisfaction of desires etc. (Gives more weight to moral claims.)

    2. No earthly good can provide the necessary normativity. Need an ultimate source of justice.

5. Note that at this point we have something that really begins to look like God.

V.  The Fifth Way.  The Teleological Argument. Design requires a designer.

--Note bene, Thomas will not have a problem with evolution. Secondary causes are at work in the universe and God is keeping the whole causal system in being from moment to moment.

1.  Different from Intelligent Design (ID) Arguments:

    a. ID: pick some particular element in the universe and ...

        i.then note that "science as we know it" cannot explain it,...

        ii. and that a transcendent designer is a better explanation. 

        iii. E.g. Irreducibly Complex Biological  Systems. Unless the whole complex system is in place it cannot function as a survival trait.

        iv. But evolution supposedly works incrementally and so cannot explain how these irreducibly complex systems came into being. 

    b. Two Standard criticisms:

        i. We don't need a divine designer. Aliens or gameplayers would do the job.

        ii. ID arguments point to a "God of the gaps".  

            a.We can always assume that scientific advances will provide a scientific explanation for the presently unexplainable. 

            b. Aquinas would likely make this argument because it implies that God has to step in and tinker.

                1. He is committed to secondary causation. Consciously opposed to occasionalism. Created things are cooler if they have powers, albeit secondary.

                2. And He is committed to the practice of science,  and science, of course, is looking for scientific explanations. 

--Aquinas, on the contrary, is not appealing to some particular instance of an apparently designed object.  It's the fact of order AT ALL that's the issue.--

2. The Proof:

     1. There are things which lack knowledge but nevertheless act for an end. All things behave in a consistently repititious way  -- i.e. there are natural laws.  1. There is teleological order. (TO)

        a. order produces objects -- i.e. "obtain the best result" [Stuff is GOOD!!!  

     2. To act towards an end requires intention. (A kind of purposive aiming. NOT chance.) 2. (TO) requires intention.

     3. Irrational things must be directed by some intelligent being. (Only mind can have intention and connect this repititious behavior with the existence of this thing qua thing.) 3. TO requires an intelligent designing cause. 

     4. Therefore there is a designer for the universe...and this all men call God.

3. Aquinas' proof immune from problems with ID

a.  Not a "God of the gaps" since the issue is the entire orderly system, not some small thing within it.

b. Suppose we invoke a gameplayer (or the aliens or the 10th Intelligence) as the cause of the system? Either it's a merely contingent being, in which case we have to have a cause for it,  or it's a  being which is necessary per se, and if the latter, this all men call God. 

The Proof (again) --

1. TO exists.

2. TO requires (or entails) intention.

    2.a. TO is contingent.

    2.b. TO must have a cause of its existence.

    2. c. The cause of TO must be adequate to the effect.

3. TO requires an intelligent designing cause. (DC)

    3. a. DC must be a necessary being.

4. Therefore there is a DC that is a necessary being...and this all men call God.

Aliens? Not if we say that DC is a necessary being.

God of the gaps? No. The issue isn't that our contemporary science fails to explain a particular phenomenon. The issue is the whole teleological order.


1.  God allows evil in order to produce a greater good.
    a.  Divine hiddenness.
     b. Moral evil: wicked choices and the harmful consequences that follow upon them.
         i. One standard response is "free will theodicy" -- "theodicy" means an attempt to explain why God allows evil.  God must allow the evil option to ensure free will.
        ii. Free will is a really good thing for a created agent to have, and without genuinely open options, the created agent can't be free. So God has to "stand back".    Can Aquinas say that?
    c. Natural evil: the pain and suffering that is not associated with moral evil. (Especially animal suffering)
         i. A lot of apparently natural evil may really be moral evil, directly or indirectly. (Original sin)

---Original Sin (worth a mention here because it is important in the philosophy of all the medieval Christian thinkers and will play a role in explaining Aquinas' politics and Duns Scotus' epistemology)-----

The original people, Adam and Eve, were made good by God.  Soul in control of body.  They sinned (the fall), lost the proper order of things.  We've all inherited this miserable condition of disorder and ignorance.  But this is the fault of the soul, pride, nothing wrong with the body except that the soul has ceased to be in charge as it ought to be.
        ii. The whole system of secondary causation is really good, and pain plays an important role. Couldn't things work just as well or better without pain? Maybe not.

2.  Nature alone can't explain its own existence or its properties -- like the order. The principle of parsimony says to accept the simplest explanation -- THAT FITS ALL THE FACTS.

Naming God

I. The Problem:

A. We're finite

B. Specially hard for Aristotelians.  All natural knowledge starts with the senses.  We get our understanding of terms like "good," "wise," etc. from looking at creatures. ( Unlike Augustinians like Bonaventure, no divine illumination, no mystical vision of God, unless God works a miracle on us!)

C. Can we just shut up? Not if we're Jews or Christians or Muslims. We have a scripture and worship practices involving attributes ascribed to God.

-- The question is: Can any name be applied to God substantially?  That is, can we really talk about what God is like in Himself? --

II. Maimonides' view:  attributes either negate, or say God is the cause of this or that.  Thus, "God lives." would mean... (H p.473)

A. He's not inanimate, or...

B. He's the cause of living things.

III. That can't be right. (Aquinas gives three reasons, we'll mention two of them.)

 A. If it were there would be no reason why some names are more appropriate than others.  

    1. Causal meaning: So, for example, God causes body, worms, etc. It doesn't seem appropriate to say, "God is body", "God is a worm."   But it would be appropriate if all we meant was, "God causes body" or "God causes worms."

    2. Negation: In that a body is not a pure potentiality, it would be legitimate to say "God is body" if we meant "Well, He's not pure potentiality."  "God is a worm", meaning He's not a horse. "God is yellow", well...etc.

    3. Of course, Aquinas is making the assumption that some names are more appropriate than others. Maimonides could just bite the bullet and deny the assumption.

B. It's against the intention of those who speak.  (Again, Maimonides can just say if folks intend something more they're just wrong.)

IV. Words mean that perfection as we see it in creatures pre-exists in God. (The Fourth Way) This means we really can say something positive and meaningful about the nature of God.

IV.  Can we speak univocally?  That is, can our words have just the same meaning when applied to God as when used of creatures?  No! (p.474)

A. God is perfect...finite (imperfect) v. infinite (perfect)

B. God is cause...creature is effect

C. God is absolute unity, absolutely simple.

    1. God just is whatever perfection the creature merely has.  Indigo may be good in the sense that she's got goodness, but God just is goodness itself.  

    2. God is all perfections, and they're all one in Him.  Power=Wisdom=Goodness=etc.

    3. God's essence = His existence, His act of being, and all the divine attributes are identical to the divine essence which is this act of being.

V. Does that mean we have to be speaking purely equivocally? (p.475) Prima facie looks like either the meaning is the same or it's different, right?  However...

A. If meaning were purely equivocal we couldn't say anythihg meaningful about God at all. 

B. And we do say things meaningfully about God.  There's a middle option between univocity and equivocity.

VI. We can speak analogically.  The meaning is not exactly the same, but is related.

A. infinite to finite, cause to effect, is to merely has...yes but the difference is greater than this.  Each of these could retain an element of univocity.

B. Analogy of proportion...meaning is related, yet genuinely different. For example "healthy".

    1. E.g. "Healthy" horse - primary meaning of "healthy" refers to a living body.  

    2. "Healthy" urine, medicine, exercise - secondary meanings relate back to the primary meaning..

C. With speaking analogically about God we need to distinguish primary and secondary in the order of reality versus in the order of understanding.

    1. So, for example, "Good" God;  "Good" Indigo, pizza, movie.  

    2. God is primary in order of reality.  He is the really Good, which other goods reflect and depend on.  

    3. But in the order of understanding the creatures are primary.  We move from creatures to saying something meaningful about God.

Problem: If the meanings are so different...can we really understand something about God?  All we have access to is the meanings which are secondary in reality and we have to move from there. The analogy of "healthy" makes that look to be impossible.

The Soul

I. By way of comparison...

A. Platonic dualism: 2 things, and the real you is your soul.  The body is a prison. (Avicenna, Descartes)

B. Augustinian dualism:

1. 2 things, both are quite good.  In Augustine's view this is one of the key differences between the Christian world view and the Neoplatonic view.

2. You are the combination of the two, and you're not really a whole human being without the body.

3. Resurrection of the body.

4. Certainly the body can be a pain in the butt in virtue of its appetites which can drag the person down, almost a war between body and soul... but this is not the body's fault and it is not the natural and original condition of mankind.

II. Aquinas' view: Even more intimate connection between soul and body

A. Hylomorphism: All corporeal things are composed of form and matter.  Form gives essence and matter individuates.  (W/out matter only one member to a species...the angels.)

B. For all living things, the form can be called the soul, and it is what animates (Latin -- anima) the substance.  So the blade of grass has a soul, the chipmunk has a soul...

C. Human soul is the form of the human being.  Because it has powers which transcend the body it can survive the death of the body, but this disembodied soul is not the whole person. It's not even exactly a discrete substance (as Augustine would have said).

1. Soul "constructs" body...what vivifies and guides the development of the body.

2. Body allows for individuation.

3. For human beings knowledge starts with and depends on body.

III. Against Averroes on the unity of the active and passive intellects 

A. It is impossible that all human beings have the same active and passive intellects. If we did, we'd all be one thinker, thinking the same thoughts.

1. What about Averroes' suggestion that we're distinguished by the different experiences giving rise to a nexus based on the different phantasms (mental image of the individual from the sense data) we receive through our bodily senses ? 

2. Won't work. We don't do our understanding (theoretical through the phantasms, but through the intelligible species (the form or nature as it is understood in the intellect,). So if there's one active and passive, there's one act of understanding going on. (p.502)

B. Obj. 3, p. 501 If form is received into an individual it isn't universal. So if we each had an individual passive intellect we'd  each have our own individual concept, not a universal concept.

 Response p. 503 

1. With the nature in the object this is true because it's ‘tied' to matter, which individuates, but in the intellect it is abstracted from matter. 

-- Averroes went wrong at the outset by thinking of the passive intellect on the analogy of corporeal matter. Don't do that! --  

2.  And note that if  Averroes were correct it wouldn't solve the problem because even if there were only one  intellect it would still be a single intellect receiving the if there were only one  person. So if reception into a single intellect made the form understood to be singular, not universal, then there'd still be no understanding.

C. Obj. 4, p. 501 If there were many intellects, what you understand will be different from what I understand, and hence we'll each have our own unique understanding and there won't be a universal.

 Response p. 503    

1. "Whether intellect be one or many, what is understood is one."  The  dog exists objectively.  It really has canine nature (though individuated) as objectively  there in the dog.  If we all understand this or that dog as a dog, we're understanding the  same thing.What gives unity to our concepts is the extra-mental reality of the dog, which is a dog, due to having dog nature.

2. Note that Aquinas is going back to the original datum: Cats are cats and we can know it!

Universals: "Intelligible species": He's a moderate realist.
E.g. canine nature exists...

A. As a concept in the mind...where it is universal. (Intelligible species)

B. As the form of the particular dog...where it is individuated through matter.

So is the universal one or many?  Both.  One in the mind, many in the dogs. Dogness is just dogness. (Avicenna)

C. As an exemplar, a Divine Idea in the mind of God.

1. We know it's there because we know that God made the world rationally,...but

2.  As human knowers we don't have, and we don't need, access to these Divine Ideas. (v. Avicenna, and the more Platonic thinkers in general).  We can talk about universals, both as existing in objects and as known by us, without talking about God.

[A kind of humanism or naturalism that irks the Protestants. Just as we don't need to bring in God when we're doing science, we don't need to bring in God when we're addressing the problem of universals.]


I.  (As usual...) To understand something requires that we possess the universal.  But ( Aquinas is an Aristotelian...) all natural knowledge starts with the senses, and all the senses give us is the particular individual.

II. Aquinas' doctrine of abstraction

A. The object affects my senses

B.  I receive an image of the physical object (phantasm).  It is received by my passive intellect...a faculty of my own mind.

C.  I have my own agent intellect which is capable of picking out (abstracting) the form and impressing it on my passive intellect.  And that's all I need to know the object. Of course, it's well to remember that the human intellect was designed to do just this.

III. Question:  Are the primary objects of human knowledge these abstracted universals (intelligible species)?  I.e. Is what we cognize the furniture of our own minds? (515)

-- AKA, What went wrong with modern empiricism!!! -- (Locke etc. What we actually have immediate cognitive access to is the ideas in our minds...the movie playing in our minds.)

A. A Pragmatic answer: No! No! No!

 1. We do in fact do science.  Science is mainly about things in the world -- extra-mental objects --  not about the contents  of our minds. (516) Your science text book isn't autobiography about the thoughts of its author.

 2.  This would lead to scepticism.  "Whatever seems is true."  If what we're "knowing" is  impressions in our own minds, and if my impression contradicts yours, they're both "right"  as far as "right" means anything because all we're talking about is how things appear to  us.

B. So how does it work?

1.  These intelligible species are that by which the intellect understands the things actually  out there in the extramental world. 

2. We can understand the forms in the mind, too, when we're doing epistemology and we go through all this rigamarole. But you can understand this dog here, by means of your  abstracted universal of dog nature, without having an inkling of all this other stuff going on in your mind.

Free Will

I. Definitions N.B.!!! (That stands for "note bene", note well) These terms may be defined differently in different classes!

Plus Advantages and Disadvantages 

A. Determinism: 

1. Every choice is ultimately the effect of temporally or logically preceding causes which lie outside of the agent.

2. You could not have done other than you did. 

3. Three main varieties for our purposes.

    a. Naturalistic -- The causes consist in the objects and principles recognized by science.

    b. "Motive"  -- Your choices are causally necessitated by your desires, beliefs and motives. (Nowadays would likely be considered a subset of 1.)

    c.. Theistic -- the cause is God.

--Note that these three are not mutually exclusive --

4. Advantages

    a. Naturalistic -- everything, including human choices, is explicable in principle through science.

    b. Motive -- choices are explicable through motives, desires, etc.

    c. Theistic -- God is in control of everything.

5. Disadvantages

    a. No moral responsibility. That is, if your choice is caused by something (God, natural processes) over which you have no control, it seems wrong to praise or blame you.

    b. Theistic -- God causes sin.

    c. Moral laxness.


1. Indeterminism -- you really could have chosen otherwise. 

    a. Note that the libertarian is quite comfortable allowing that many of your choices may be determined.

    b. Note that the libertarian is quite comfortable allowing that it may be determined which options are open to you on the occasion of the libertarian free choice. Maybe the fact that you contront options A or B as opposed to P or Q is determined.

    c. Note that mere indeterminism is not enough. What if God nondeterministically causes you to choose? What if a subatomic particle "bounces" this way rather than that and causes you to choose? There has to be...

2. Ultimate responsibility, Self-causation, Aseity -- It's up to the agent, the agent is somehow in control.

3. A number of varieties that need not detain us here.

4. Advantages

    a. Moral responsibility

    b. (From a..) Human beings are this super special kind of thing. Elevated metaphysical value.

    c. Free will defense :Why does God allow humans to do wicked things? (Anselm)

        1. Because freedom means open options.

        2. Open options means sometimes people might choose evil -- and as it turns out, we did.

        3. But it's worth the price in that not giving us robust freedom means we do not have this super metaphysical value.

5. Disadvantages

    a. Naturalistic -- there's a gap in our explanation of human behavior.  Cognitively uncomfortable.

    b. If choices DON'T flow from character, how can agent really be responsible? Choice seems like luck or chance.

    c. Theistic -- God is not absolutely in control!

C. Compatibilism

    1. The claim that our choices are free is compatible/consistent with all of our choices being determined.

    2. The claim that we are morally responsible (blameworthy or praiseworthy) for our choices is compatible with all of our choices being determined.

    3. (A standard compatibilist move -- )What "free will" means and all "free will" means is just being able to do what you want. .. even if what you want is determined.

    4.. Advantage -- You can have all the advantages of determinism and libertarianism with none of the disadvantages.

    5. Disadvantage -- Compatibilism is determinism in a tutu.

-- Free will theodicy: On which of these theories of free will can you offer the "Free will theodicy" to respond to the problem of evil? Only on libertarianism.

-- Freedom and divine foreknowledge

    Q: Is it possible to reconcile my choosing freely tomorrow with God's knowing today what I choose?

    A: Yes, if you adopt the right theory of time, isotemporalism. God knows today what I choose tomorrow because He "sees" me choose it. (Anselm)

-- A word of background. 

1. Augustine, impetus for both libertarianism and compatibilism.  

    a. His early work On Free Will suggests libertarianism and the free will defense.

    b. His later work on grace is clearly compatibilist. 

        1. The only cure for original sin is grace.

        2. Grace is necessary and unmerited...well EVERYBODY says that.

        3. Grace is absolutly irresistible. Either God makes you an offer you can't refuse (motive determinism) or He just causes you to will rightly (theistic determinism) or...better, since Augustine says both...both.

2. 6th Century Council of Orange, 9th Century Predestination Controversy -- several councils, ANSELM!!!  (1033-1109) is a libertarian. Freedom requires aseity, "from-oneself-ness".

3. Beginning of 13th Century, new concern with the necessitarian doctrines introduced by the Averroists, and note that Alghazali is a theist determinist!

II. Aquinas: Is he a libertarian or a compatibilist?

A. Does the will have appetites for anything of necessity? (voluntas)

    1. Note that there are three relevant  kinds of necessity to consider. (508-509)

        a. natural (formal) : That a thing must be follows from an internal principle.  Includes logical and empirical and metaphysical necessity (given the nature of the thing some things follow necessarily.).

        b.  necessity of the end, utility:  Desire something as the only means to some end. 

        c. force: coercion by some agent. Someone forces you to do something you don't want to do.

    2. Will cannot operate through coercion (necessity c.) will is to be inclined towards something.  (This definition of "will" sounds compatibilist.)

B. The answer is Yes, we  can will by ‘necessity'

    1. Necessity (b.) of the end, utility.

    2. We naturally and necessarily (a.) desire happiness, we could not do otherwise.

    3. So this sounds compatibilist. 

C.Does the will have appetites for all things of necessity? No. (509)

    1.  If we see different means to achieve the ends we can choose between those means.  So there's no necesssity here.  (This sounds libertarian. But must there be one we want most?)

    2. If we recognize that there is only one means to the desired end then we will inevitably choose that means.  E.g. beatific vision.

D. But in the final analysis,

    1. "Motive" determinism:  It's the intellect that recognizes the better option, and the will won't be moved to choose unless such an option is presented. (511)

    2. Theistic determinism (Not in your text, but elsewhere in Aquinas)

        a. God is absolutely sovereign -- in control of all that happens.

        b. Everything that exists is caused by God. A choice is an existent thing, so must be caused by God.

        c. God knows what we do, but He couldn't have learned from us since that would mean He is passive relative to us and our deeds. Impossible. God is pure Act. God knows what we choose by knowing what He Himself causes.

    3. But we're still responsible -- merit praise and blame, so Aquinas is a compatibilist.

Ethics (Extremely influential through Catholicism.)

I. What is the goal of human existence?  Happiness!

A.  Perfect Happiness = Eternal happiness in contemplation of God.

    1.That's  the ultimate, supernatural,  goal.  

    2. Happiness here and now is the intermediate goal.  We should  lead the good life here and now in preparation for eternal bliss. 

    3. We can lead the good life here and now through our natural human powers.  

    4. In order to achieve salvation need Grace and Revelation.  (Note the dual nature of the human condition. Natural and supernatural)

B. Ethics is about how to get happy.  Point of being good is to be happy.  Definitely not an altruistic ethic...but it will turn out that it's not selfish either.

II.  So how do we lead the good life?

A. Eternal Law.  God governs everything.  He has Exemplars in His everything should behave.

1. All creatures have natures.  The good life, the happy life, for a creature is the one which allows it to perfect its nature, to become a mature member of the species, best example of its kind that it can be.  Everything imitates God by moving from potentiality to actuality.  Remember Aristotle's final cause?

2. True for human beings, too... Happiness here and now = perfecting our human nature.

B. Natural Law. Discernible by reason alone.

1.  We're rational, social animals.

2.  Built-in guide posts.  Natural desires which in large part constitute our natures. (532)

a. We share with all things a desire for self-preservation.

b. With other animals...procreation, care of the young.

---as rational beings---

c. Desire for society

    1.This is why the ethics is not selfish.  You are by nature a social animal.  Living in society is necessary for you to achieve fulfillment.  If you harm your society, you're harming yourself.  

    2. Versus modern contract theory which implies that we are essentially discreet individuals who can choose to be in a society or not.

d. Knowledge...Nick, "What are things made of?"

3.  We are supposed to fulfill these desires.

4.  However, unlike animals who just act from instinct, we're rational beings.  We have to figure out what's the best way to fulfill these desires.  And that's what ethics is.   E.g. sex only within monogamous, heterosexual good of society?  psychological?

a. Empirical (much of the moral order found in Scripture can be explained in terms of natural law)

b. Now you know what "unnatural" means.

 1. Not, "Nobody wants to do that!"
 2. Not, "Lower animals don't do that!"
 3. Not, "Artificial or man-made"

--- But rather, "Not conducive to your health and happiness as a human animal." (E.g. The yummy-looking dirt.)

II. Is the Natural Law the same for all?

A. On most fundamental level, yes...we're all human beings.  Basic universal principles (e.g. no incest.) (p.533)

B. This doesn't mean you should expect that every individual or every society must act just the same.

1. Many ways to achieve a proper versus grubs.

2. Sometimes unusual situations in which basic principles can conflict. For example, return what you've borrowed...unless...

3. Sometimes unusual situations in which people fail to recognize a precept of the Natural Law. (The ancient Germans and stealing.)

III. Can the Natural Law be changed?  Yes and no.

A.  It can, in fact it must, be added to.

1. We human beings have to make provisions for applying the basic principles to particular societies, so the Human Law needs to be derived from the Natural Law.

2. In order to achieve the ultimate goal of the human being...salvation...need moral law which transcends the Natural Law. Divine Law.

    a.  Divine Law could not be discovered by unaided reason.  

    b. Directs you to your supernatural goal.  

    c. Inculcating the "theological" virtues like faith and hope and charity.

B. Natural Law cannot be subtracted from. That is, it can't be the case that a basic moral principle is just undone, so that, for example, it holds today but not tomorrow.  

1. Even God cannot "subtract from" the Natural Law.  But this isn't a limitation on His omnipotence because...

2. If we are a certain kind of thing, then what is good for us just follows from what we are.  If we are humans then we have to do human sorts of things.  

3. Denial of voluntarism and divine command theory.  It is not the case that an action is good just because God commands it.

---So Aquinas is agreeing with Maimonides that the moral principles and commandments set out in the Bible are aimed at some good for the human being.

IV. Human Law: The laws actually promulgated in a particular society.  

A. Comes from the Natural Law...makes basic moral principles applicable to a given time and place. Aimed at our flourishing here and now.

B. Note that the state is not the highest authority.  There is a moral order above and beyond the decisions of the state.  USA founders assumed it.

1. Society or the rulers of society are not the inventors of moral laws. (Contrary to Thrasymachus, Thomas Hobbes, and plenty of recent folks.)

2. State is not the absolute authority. (An intrinsic limitation on its power.)

    a. There can be a bad law.

    b.  Civil disobedience.

C. How it works

1. E.g. I-95 here in northern 65. Comes from the Natural Law in that we must preserve self and others.

2. Same everywhere?  No.

a. Perhaps different situations obtain.  You can drive 80 in eastern Colorado.

b. Perhaps it's the sort of thing where the particular rule is arbitrary...just so there is some rule.  In England drive on the left. 

-- Notice how this is reflective of Maimonides and the number of doves! There is a reason for the general rule, but exactly how it is spelled out might be arbitrary in some cases. -- 

D. Must you obey every law written down on the books?

1. Just laws.  Made for the generality of cases.  Occasionally there will be the weird, anomalous situation in which you should disobey.

2. Unjust laws...laws which are not derived from the Natural Law are no laws at all.  

    a. They are not binding in conscience...i.e. you don't have an intrinsic obligation to obey them. 

    b. Though in the vast majority of cases I should obey even a bad law in the interests of preserving peace and the rule of law.

3. Unjust on divine matter...e.g. a law requiring idolatry, requiring you to do something which you believe is against God...must disobey.


Political Theory 

--Background --

I. No theocracy!!!

A. In Christian Europe in the Middle Ages almost no theocracy in theory or in practice!!!  [If you doubt that claim have a look at Medieval history.]

B. St. Augustine 

    1. State is not a natural institution. Intrinsically disordered in that we're equal but some get to push others around.

    2. But necessary due to original sin. Keeps order. 

    3. If it keeps order and leaves you alone to worship --e.g. doesn't force you to worship the Emperor -- it's doing its job and that's the best you should hope for.

        No discussion of a best system of government.

    4. Separation of Church and State. Separate jobs to do.

 --Thomas Aquinas ---

I. The state is a natural institution.  (Very different from Augustine.  Much more optimistic)

A. Man is by nature a social animal...we must live in societies to fulfill ourselves (Augustine wouldn't mind that...)

B. There has to be a group within the state whose job it is to take thought for the common good, that is, to see that things are organized to everybody's benefit.  So there would have been a state even without the fall.

II. Church and State (Following Augustine here)

A. the state is a legitimate institution ordained by God with its own proper goals and jurisdiction.  Goal is to secure common good of the citizens

1. peace

2. harmony in the actions of citizens

3. adequate provision for needs of life

B. Goal of Church is a superior goal and in the final analysis the Church is a superior institition to state, but still Church should not interfere in business of the state.   By the same token the state must recognize that man's final goal is supernatural and not interfere with Church.

III. The Ruler (How much power and what justifies his authority)

A.  Power is limited

    1. We've already seen that you can disobey human law which doesn't reflect natural law.  

    2. If "divine right of kings" is intended to mean that the king has absolute authority then none of the medieval philosophers will defend it.

B. What legitimates authority of ruler is that he is in fact ruling for the good of the people, there are suggestions that he receives his right to rule through the people.

IV. The types of government, and the best form.

A. Three good: Doing the job of enabling citizens to flourish.

1. law-abiding democracy

2. aristocracy (rule by the few in the sense of those who have the talent and the will to rule wisely.)

3. monarchy (rule by the one best.) (N.b. no reason why it should be hereditary.  Elect a monarch)

B. Three bad:

1. demagogic democracy (lawless mob-rule)

2. oligarchy (rule by the few richest, most powerful...)

3. tyranny (rule by the one..the guy who's ruthless enough to grab power.)

C. Best form:

1. In theory...a monarchy because you would get unity of action with one person running things.

2. In practice...

a. Hard to get a really great monarch, and even if you do it's hard to find another to suceed him, so there are practical problems with monarchy.

b. Mixed constitution...a monarch, but also aristocracy (spread power around) and some democracy in that some officials should be elected by the people.

V.  Tyrant?  Someone ruling for his own benefit...not for the good of the people.  It's legitimate to overthrow him, if...

A. Situation is so bad that to retain the status quo is worse than risking all the terrible harm that revolution will cause.

B. You have a good chance of winning.  (If you lose, the tyrant will just get worse.)

C.  You are assured of replacing your tyrant with something better!

STUDY GUIDE for Test #2, Averroes through Aquinas on Soul. 


Can demonstrated truth and Scripture (the Koran) conflict?  What should we do when there is an apparent contradiction?  Why didn't God just send the works of Aristotle to Mohammed? Why, according to Averroes, can the "fundamentalists" not prove that his (Averroes') claims are inconsistent with the established teaching of Islam? (He gives a list of reasons why we can't be sure of the unanimous opinion of the sages.)

Regarding the nature of objects, of God, and of the physical universe as a whole, what do the Aristotelian and the more "fundamentalist" Muslims all agree on, according to Averroes?  What's the one little area of disagreement?

Why does Averroes hold that Avicenna's epistemic picture fails, i.e. why can it not be the case that each individual has his own passive intellect?  What is the situation, according to Averroes, regarding the number and nature of intellects required for human knowing? Where does this leave personal immortality?


-- Naming God

What are the three underlying presuppositions?

What are the five affirmative attributes? Why can't the first four be applied to God. What does the causal attribute mean?

How can attributes be applied negatively? How does this differ from Pseudo-Dionysius understanding of negative attribution?

-- The Eternity of the World

What are the three basic positions?

Can any of them be proved philosophically?

Which should the Jew (or Christian or Muslim) accept? Why? (2 reasons: evidence of Scripture, but more importantly, dire consequences if we go with Aristotle.)

-- The Nature of the Law

Does the Law come from God's wisdom or His will? What does the question MEAN?

Is there a reason behind every divine commandment? (General vs. Specific)

What are the goods at which the Law aims? Good of soul, and good of body.  Former is more important, but latter is first in nature and time. Explain.  What is the ultimate good of the soul -- in the afterlife?

Thomas Aquinas

-- The existence of God

How does Aquinas agree with Maimonides on the question of the eternity of the world?

The Five Ways! (Be able to spell each one out, justifying all the premises and explaining underlying assumptions. Be able to discuss criticisms inso far as they came up in class.)

Third Way: You don't need to internalize the ruminations on the nature of possibility, just so you get the basic Aristotelian claim.

Fourth Way: 19th and 20th century "version".

Fifth Way: Distinguish it from standard Intelligent Design arguments. Why wouldn't Aquinas like ID? How does Aquinas' 5th way avoid standard criticisms of ID? Is evolution a problem?

--Naming God

 Maimonides analyses (causal and negative) can't be right.  Two reasons.

 Univocity? Explain. Why Not?

 Equivocity? Explain.  Why not?

 Analogy.  Explain.  Analogy of proportion.  What is the problem that Rogers raised in class?


 Hylomorphism, survival after death of the body

 Against Averroes on the unity of souls. Reply to obj. 3 (Averroes' proposal doesn't solve  the problem). Reply to obj. 4 (Unity of universal guaranteed by form in the object)


 Abstraction. Starts with observation.  Role and nature of passive and active intellect.

 "Are the primary objects of human knowledge these intelligible species?" Meaning and  importance of question.  No: two (pragmatic) reasons. 


--Free Will

 Determinism, Libertarianism, Compatibilism

 Three types of necessity.  Will can will "necessarily" in two ways.  Freedom to choose the  means to the end.  The problem.


 Moderate realist: Three "places" and manners in which the form/universal exists.  Since  Aquinas believes in Divine exemplars, why not say he's an extreme realist?


Eternal Law 

Natural Law.  Basic idea.  Selfish?  Empirical.  Meaning of "unnatural."

What does "unnatural" mean? (And what does it NOT mean?) 

Is the natural law the same for all?

 Can the natural law be changed?

Divine Law

 Human law.  Must every law on the books be obeyed?

--Political Philosophy


Augustine on the state.

 Aquinas: The state is a natural institution.

 What legitimates and limits the authority of the ruler?

Best government in theory.  Best in practice.

 The tyrant.  When to throw him out.