Thursday, November 6, 2014

First Way, Part IV: The Cascades

Previous episodes in this exciting series, now drawing toward its thrilling climax:
  • Background lays out the history of the Argument from Motion and the impatience of those who demand that it prove more than it asserts to prove (e.g., that it prove that Jesus is Lord or some such thing, as if the objector were genuinely concerned about this shortfall).
  • Part I A Moving Tale discusses the concept of "motion" used in the Argument from Motion, and how this is persistently misunderstood today. 
  • Part II Two Lemmas demonstrate that 
  1. Whatever is being actualized right now is being actualized by another. 
  2. There cannot be an infinite regress of instrumental changers,
  • Part III: The Big Kahuna combined the two Lemmas into the first theorem and its corollaries
A number of objections and misunderstandings were also addressed in these prior posts.

We are now ready for Thomas' throwaway teaser: "and this [the unmoved mover] is what all men call God." Folks who have never read any further (if they have even read that far) are often puzzled. How do you get God out of that? TOF hears them cry in bewilderment.

The answer lies in the several hundred further Questions and Articles in which these points are developed. In the interests of brevity, a few subsequent proofs will now be stated without extensive arguments, but ought to be intelligible in the light of what has already been said.


 Theorem 1. A first, unchanged changer must exist
  1. Some things in the world are changing. (Observation)
  2. Whatever is changing is being changed by another. (Lemma 1)
  3. There cannot be an infinite regress of instrumental changers. (Lemma 2)
  4. Therefore, there must be a changer that is not itself being changed by another.
"First" in First Mover means ontologically first and not necessarily temporally first. This is because essentially-ordered series "drill down" in the present and do not necessarily go backward in time.
Once we get to this point a whole bunch of other stuff about First Mover just drops out like apples on a Newtonian hydra.

 Corollary 1.1. First Mover is itself unmoved.
  1. Suppose it were moved. Then it would have a potential being actualized.
  2. But potentials can be actualized only by something else. (Lemma 1)
  3. In which case, there is something ontologically prior to the first mover, a contradiction (to Theorem 1)
First Mover can now be called Unmoved Mover, Unactualized Actualizer, Unchanged Changer, or other sobriquets, all of which are subject to some misunderstanding today due to a blurring of vocabulary. 
Corollary 1.2. First Mover is a Being of Pure Act.
  1. At each level of being, the potential existence at a higher level is actualized by the existence of something actual at a deeper lever (e.g., the potential motion of the muscles is actualized by the actual motion of the nerves. the potential motion of the nerves is actualized by the actual motion of the motor neurons, and so on.) (Lemma 1)
  2. If this proceeds in infinitum, there would be no first member of the series and none of the higher movers would be moving (actualized). (Lemma 2)
  3. Therefore, the series must terminate in something whose existence does not need to be actualized by anything else; that is, by a Being of Pure Act (BPA)
Corollary 1.3 First Mover is perfect
  1. To be perfected with respect to X is to be moved from potentially X to actually X  (def.)
  2. First Mover is Pure Act.  (§1.2)
  3. Therefore, First Mover has no imperfections.
And we are now ready to rock-and-roll.

The Cascades

Theorem 2. A Being of Pure Act (BPA) must be unique.
  1. Suppose there were two such beings.
  2. To be distinct, one must possess an attribute X the other lacks, such as being here rather than there. (by definition)
  3. But the one that lacks the attribute is then in potency to X and cannot be a BPA, a contradiction. (§1.2)
Hence, from this point on we can say the BPA.
Corollary 2.1. The BPA is the first mover of all essentially ordered causal chains.
Because otherwise there would be two or more BPAs, duh?
Theorem 3. The BPA is unchanging
  1. A thing is changeable insofar as it has potentials
  2. The BPA has no potentials (§1.2)
  3. Therefore, the BPA is unchanging (immutable)
Corollary 3.1  The BPA is eternal.
  1. To come into being or pass out of being is a change.
  2. The BPA is unchanging.  (§3)
  3. Therefore, the BPA does not come into being or pass out of being
Corollary 3.2 The BPA is necessary, not contingent
  1. Whatever cannot not exist is necessary rather than contingent.
  2. The BPA exists (§1) and is unchanging (§3)
  3. Therefore, the BPA cannot not exist
  4. Therefore, the BPA is necessary (def. of necessary vs. contingent being)

Theorem 4. The BPA is immaterial.
  1. Anything material is subject to change in various ways and therefore possesses potencies. (by definition)
  2. A BPA cannot possess potencies (§1.2)
  3. Therefore, the BPA cannot be made of matter. 
  4. Therefore, the BPA is not a body.
    Corollary 4.1 The BPA is not subject to time (its existence is simultaneous).
    1. Time is the measure of change in changeable being,so if a thing is subject to time, then something can be gained or lost by that thing. (def.)
    2. But the BPA is unchanging (§3)
    3. Therefore, nothing can be gained or lost by that thing
    4. Therefore, the BPA’s entire existence is simultaneous
Theorem 5. The BPA is simple (not a  composite).
  1. Material being has extension, and therefore parts (def)
  2. Anything with parts has potentials
  3. The BPA has no potentials (§1.2)
  4. Therefore, the BPA is non-composite (i.e., simple)
Corollary 5.1. The BPA is identical with its own essence.
  1. Any being in which are found two factors one of which is per se and the other per accidens, is not identical with its essence. For example, this man is male, white, middle-aged, and named R. Dawkins. But the essence of a man is that he is a rational mortal being. Therefore, this man is not identical with his essence, having maleness, whiteness, middle-agedness, and the name R. Dawkins accidental to him in addition to his essence. (def.)
  2. The BPA is simple. (§5)
  3. Therefore the BPA is not a compound of per se and per accidens
  4. Therefore the BPA is identical with its essence.
Corollary 5.2. The BPA's essence is identical to its existence.
  1. For anything whose essence is not existence, “what-it-is” (essence) is distinct from “that-it-is” (existence). For example: we grasp the essence of unicorns, but  unicorns do not exist. 
  2. There is no distinction between elements in the BPA (§5)
  3. Therefore, there is no distinction between the BPA's essence and whether it exists
  4. Therefore, the BPA’s essence just is its existence
That is, the BPA is Existence Itself. "Existence exists" and cannot not exist (cf. §3.2) otherwise nothing else would exist (§1). If the BPA could talk, it would call itself I AM.
Theorem 6. The BPA is not a species in a genus.
  1. If two things differ in an essential property,  then they are not members of the same species. (def)
  2. If they do not differ in any properties, then they are not two distinct things. (def)
  3. Therefore, two members of a species differ in their non-essential properties. For example: X is here, and Y is there, but spatial location is not an essential property.
  1. The BPA is simple (non-composite) (§5)
  2. Therefore, the BPA is not composed of both essential features and accidental (non-essential) features
  3. Therefore, the BPA is not a member of a genus. 
Theorem 7. The BPA is not a genus predicated of a number of species.
  1. The general (genus) is divided into specifics (species) by differences, since if they were not different they would all be the same. For example: dog is divided into Fido, Rover, Spot, etc.; canine is divided into dog, wolf, coyote, etc. Fido differs from Rover. Dog differs from Coyote.
  2. But there cannot be a difference that does not share in existence, since non-being is not the specific difference of anything. For example: Fido and Rover cannot be different unless both have existence.
  3. But no differences can be apprehended in existence itself. A thing either exists or it does not. Existence is either/or, not more-or-less.
  4. The BPA is Existence Itself  (§5.2)
  5. Therefore, the BPA cannot be a genus predicated of a number of species.
§5, §6, and §7 demonstrate why one cannot lump the BPA in with Zeus, Thor, Spaghetti Monsters, and the like, as if it were some particular thing among other things.

Theorem 8. The BPA is infinite (unlimited). 
Preliminary: what this infinitude is not.
  • The BPA is not infinite in numerical quantity, since there can be only one BPA (§2). 
  • The BPA is not infinite in dimensional quantity, since it is not a material body (§4).
  • The BPA is not infinite in composition, since it is simple (§5).
  1. These quantities naturally have limits. (An actual thing will have a finite count, size, etc.)
  2. If these limits are removed, as by abstracting through mathematics, the resulting infinities are imperfections in the finitude they have by nature.
  3. But First Mover is perfect.
  4. Therefore, the BPA is not infinite in these senses, but rather naturally lacks limits in its power and goodness.
  1. Form, considered in itself, is common to many; 
  2. But when received in matter, the form is determined to one particular thing.
  3. Therefore, form is made finite by matter, which is the principle of potency.
  4. A thing is limited only by some potential that limits it
  5. The BPA has no potentials (§1.2)
  6. Therefore, the BPA is unlimited
Theorem 9. The BPA is all-good.

  1. As the singular First Mover (§2), the BPA is the common source of all goods.
  2. But a thing cannot give what it does not have, either formally or eminently.
  3. Therefore, the BPA contains all goods eminently.  
Corollary 9.1. The BPA is infinitely good. (§9 + §8)
An evil is a defectus boni, a "lack or deficit of a good."  It is not a feature, but the absence of a feature.  Therefore, the BPA is not all-evil.
Theorem 10. The BPA is desirable.
  1. A thing is good according to its desirableness. 
  2. Everything seeks after (desires) its own perfection (of its nature).
  3. The perfection and form of an effect consist in a certain likeness to the agent,
  4. Hence the agent itself is desirable and has the nature of a good. 
  5. Therefore, since the BPA is the first effective cause of all things, desirableness belongs to it.
Theorem 11. The BPA is all-powerful.
  1. As the singular First Mover (§2), the BPA is the common source of all powers.
  2. But a thing cannot give what it does not have, either formally or eminently.
  3. Therefore, the BPA contains all powers,either formally or eminently. 
 Corollary 11.1. The BPA is infinitely powerful. (§11 + §8)
Corollary 11.2 Consequently, there is something in the BPA that is analogous to the power of intellect and will in humans. 
Corollary 11.3 Therefore, the BPA is a person.  From now on, we can say "He" (or "She" if you prefer, but "He" works better metaphorically.)
Corollary 11.4 To possess intellect is to know.  To be perfect is to lack any limitations on an attribute.  Therefore, He is all-knowing
There is more. For example, the intellect and will represent two processions, and hence each has a subject and object. The subject (A) is the same for both processions, since the intellect and will are possessed by the same being.

The object of the intellect (B) is a conception and is expressed as words. The object of the will (C) is a desire for the product of the intellect and is expressed as love. The BPA knows himself and in knowing himself as infinitely good desires himself. We call A the Father, B the Word, and C the Spirit. Both proceed from the Father, but in the language of the intellect, we say the Word is "conceived" by the Father.

So First Mover leads us to a unique, infinite, immaterial, eternal, and necessary Being, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, the source of existence for all material beings (i.e., the Creator), and himself a rational being and therefore (being pure act) possessing a triune nature.

At this point, one simply has to throw hands in the air and say what the heck are we talking about if we are not talking about that which we call God?

Indicium Librorum 

Aristotle. The Physics, Book VI. Book VIII
Chastek, James. "On Jerry Coyne’s claim to miss no subtleties in St. Thomas’s arguments," (Just Thomism, Sep 8, 2009)Chastek, James. "Moved by another and self-motion in nature," (Just Thomism, Dec 2, 2013)
Chastek, James. "Two bases for “everything in motion is moved by another," (Just Thomism, Jan 2, 2014)
Chastek, James. "Omne quod movetur as a principle of all physics," (Just Thomism, Jan 27, 2014 )
Chastek, James. "Inertia, the life of the inanimate" (Just Thomism, June 10, 2014)
Cohoe, Caleb. "There Must Be A First: Why Thomas Aquinas Rejects Infinite, Essentially Ordered, Causal Series," British Journal for the History of Philosophy, September 5, 2013
Feser, Edward. "Clarke on the stock caricature of First Cause arguments," (Feser blog, Jul 12, 2014)
Feser, Edward. "The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia" in Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics, Vol.10, 2012.
Hassing, Richard F. "On Aristotelian, Classical and Quantum Physics." (Lecture, Thomas Aquinas College, Mar. 7, 2003/updated 6/18/08)
Martin, Edward N. "Infinite Causal Regress and the Secunda Via in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas"
Oderberg, David S. "‘Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way," in J. Cottingham and P. Hacker (eds) Mind, Method and Morality: Essays in Honour of Anthony Kenny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010): 140-64.
Pruss, Alexander. Aristotelian Forms and Laws of Nature.
Thomas Aquinas. Summa contra gentiles, I.13, (Dominican House of Studies) Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologica, I Q2 art.3, (Dominican House of Studies)
Thomas Aquinas. Compendium theologiae, Bk.1 ch.3, (Dominican House of Studies)
Unknown.  Compendium of Theology -- translated into modern English


  1. Excellent summary. I've bookmarked your posts for future reference.

    To my mind, once you to get to unmoved mover all of the attributes of God follow. But one area I do have difficulty (intellectually) is in reconciling the Trinity with divine simplicity. I know ultimately it is as mystery, but if both the Son and the Holy Spirit are objects of the divine intellect and will, respectively, then the subject of the knowing and desiring must in some way be distinct from the objects, and yet if all three are somehow divine and one, how does that not by necessity make God composite?

    1. I suppose in a way analogous to the way in which TOF the father of two, TOF the son of his parents, and TOF the husband are not three different people. Analogies are never perfect, of course; and the God being perfectly Actual, the three persons are each entirely God and entirely complete.

  2. Theorem 2. A Being of Pure Act (BPA) must be unique.
    1.Suppose there were two such beings.
    2.To be distinct, one must possess an attribute X the other lacks, such as being here rather than there. (by definition)
    3.But the one that lacks the attribute is then in potency to X and cannot be a BPA, a contradiction. (§1.2)
    Hence, from this point on we can say the BPA.

    Hi TOF, I've got a quick question regarding this argument.
    Why can't one say that both BPA's (let's just use two for now) have actualized all their potencies, but don't share all the same potencies? Or, in other words, why does attribute X have to be a potency of one of the beings of pure act as opposed to that being simply not having that potency to begin with? Thanks.

    1. As I understand it, for a First Mover to lack X must put it in potency to X. The same might not be true of armadillos.

    2. Any feature which a BPA has is either a necessary corollary of being a BPA or not. If it is a necessary corollary, then any BPA will have this feature; if it is not, then any BPA which has it would be composite (since you'd have the BPA Essence + this accidental feature), and since anything composite has potentials, it wouldn't be a BPA.

    3. Anonymous - I would also add that your question seems to assume a nonsensical concept. It's not that the BPA once had potencies which have since been actualized; being Pure Act, he has never had potencies at all.

      If that's true, then the question just doesn't make sense. (There may be some other objection to the BPA being unique, but this wouldn't be one).

    4. I think the BPA that we are talking about is that which all possible potencies is actualized. Thus, one cannot talk about a BPA which lacks any one possible potency X. If all X that exists, then it is found in BPA actualized.

      In fact, having no potency at all, it is not appropriate to talk of BPA along this line of thought. Rather all potentialities (potencies) must emanate from BPA!

    5. I see, Johnrob, that we seized on the same point at about the same time!

    6. Thanks, all, for the responses. I think that answered my question to my satisfaction.

    7. 1) Lacking even the potency is even less like pure act than having potency and not act.


      2) If there were any set of attributes to which it were NOT even in potency (still less in act) and OTHER ones to which it were "in pure act", that is in an act which cannot at all be disturbed or initiated, then there would have to be an intermediate set of attributes to which it were not in act but yes in potency, and therefore the "bpa" considered would NOT be a being of pure act.

      ONE exception: The Father may very well be a Being of Pure Act while still being neither in act nor in potency of being the Son. And vice versa. And both of them in relation to Holy Spirit.

      One could state Trinity (hopefully not too heretically) as three beings of pure act who are nevertheless one being, because all their not-personal-specific attributes of act are pure act shared by all three of them.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. St. Thomas did not believe that the Trinity could be proven by pure reason. The thing about the processions of intellect and will is just a plausibility argument to help understand the Trinity after it had already been revealed by faith. See ST I, question 32, article 1.

    From his Reply to Objection 2:

    "Reason may be employed in two ways to establish a point: firstly, for the purpose of furnishing sufficient proof of some principle, as in natural science, where sufficient proof can be brought to show that the movement of the heavens is always of uniform velocity. Reason is employed in another way, not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astrology the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them. In the first way, we can prove that God is one; and the like. In the second way, reasons avail to prove the Trinity; as, when assumed to be true, such reasons confirm it. We must not, however, think that the trinity of persons is adequately proved by such reasons."

    1. Aron - You may just be punctuating the point, but I would say that I read TOF very much in the spirit of the passage you quote. The proofs can point to a triune nature, and even give us a little light in understanding it.

  5. I would have appreciated a better explanation of how the definition of "perfect" was arrived at... I'm an enthusiastically orthodox Catholic and that still read funny to me. Reminded me a bit of Anselm's Ontological Argument (which apparently has some holes in it...

  6. Does this mean Ayn Rand was not an atheist?

  7. @ Eric Fesh re: Perfect
    It seems we should not use the word "perfect" to describe God, since the word means "finished, completed, the end-point of a process/change/becoming." This can't apply to the Conclusion of the Five Ways since It is Pure Act. Aquinas concedes this but then shows that a thing can be relatively perfect--more or less finished, like my grading for the night. Once you see this, it's easy to see that the degree of perfection is equal to the degree of actuality, and we ARE talking about Pure Act after all. So while it's not the proper use of the term perfect, we actually end up cracking open the word and getting more out of it (so to speak).

    Once we have "Perfect" in hand, we can go on to show that BPA is Good by running a "dummy" version of the Convertibility of Transcendentals. That's really the main reason to work with "Perfect." For Aquinas it's a bridging term to get from Pure Act to Pure Goodness.

    Check out ST I Q4-6 if you want the sources.


  8. This is great summary! Thanks and I will also bookmark this link.

    It is also of great interest to know how can we philosophically defend the independent faculties: intellect, will [and passion (or being with material body)] for every human beings?

    Thanks a lot!

  9. I shamelessly say this was one of the most thrilling things I have read. If I go back into teaching, no matter which subject, we're starting with this.

  10. St Thomas never wasted words, and he ends each of the Five Ways with the same statement (sometimes in different words): and this we call God. St Thomas was, I think, also identifying each of the Ways as pointing to the same Person. Let's say I claimed that there exists the Scarlet Pimpernel, and this we call Mike Flynn. And there exists the Lone Ranger, and this we call Mike Flynn. And there exists Richard Milhous Nixon (aka Flynn), and there exists Morticia Adams (aka Flynn) and finally there exists Winne the Pooh, and this too we call call Mike Flynn. We would be saying that these five beings exist, they differ from one another in important enough ways t(from our perspective) that we have given them different names, but in reality they are all One and the Same. I think this is why Thomas did not end the Five Ways with a generic "and all of these we call God". He was saying in addition to having proved the exist of the First Mover, First Cause, etc, that the First Mover is the First Cause is Necessity, is Being Itself (and Good and Life and Wisdom) and the Omega and the Alpha. That's why he tagged each way with a common identifier.

  11. Sorry, I meant to conclude to: So in the Five Ways Thomas has shown there is an unchanging source of all change and of all causal order and the absolutely necessary source of necessity and contingency, and Being Itself (and Good and..) and That to which all things move by nature. I think that goes a long way to limning pretty much of what we think of God as being.

  12. To PatrickH, both comments in common: not really.

    The identity of the First Mover with the First Cause with the First Being with the Most Noble (or Most High) with the Designer holding all Wisdom of the Universe is more like being proven in the following. Five Ways are a starting point.

    One could even say that Dawkins et al. provide their version of five ways, but with non-identic gods.

    Those of first three ways to them equal "matter/energy" (irrespective of arrangement) and those of latter two to them equal "evolution" in active and passive sense (designer being failure of all that had to fail, most noble being most evolved,most pruned by above).


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