ST I q.9 a2; part I

Summa Theologicae I q. 9 a 2 is a very subtle and difficult, and it forces several tensions that, to my knowledge, have not been adequately addressed by anyone. The article in general concerns whether God alone is immutable, and in order to prove that he is, St. Thomas enumerates the various ways creatures are mutable. Generated material substances are so very mutable that one need spend much time discussing them.

 Somewhat more difficult to account for are the causes of generation, which St. Thomas holds are the celestial bodies. This theory is now outdated, but it does not follow from this that there are no causes of generation- to think that it does follow would be no different from thinking that a denial of phlogiston would involve a denial that things burn. While it is not exactly clear that things like energy and atomic force are causes of generation, some of what St. Thomas says about the celestial bodies can be verified in these things. Something like light, for example, is material in some way or another (it at least needs to be here and not there, and this light is not that light) but it’s true that light, as energy, doesn’t seem to have a potency to be something else, and it doesn’t move like bodies do. It also has the rather odd and mind-like ability to contain various colors within itself without itself having a color. Most of all, light doesn’t corrupt. So how do we account for this kind of material existence?



St. Thomas on Analogous Predication of God: Part III

It follows from the last two posts that those actions we wish to say of God and creatures are said analogously. Man can teach, and God can teach; man can sanctify others and God can; man can have the perfection of operation and so can God. It makes no difference if we choose to speak of the operation in a substantive way: instead of saying that both God and man have the “perfection of operation” we can simply say that both are good or wise, but these latter two adjectives are used analogously in the same way as the name or the activity is- for they are in fact just abbreviations of the activity.


But why do we wish to say certain actions of God and creatures? Our best reasons might not be very sophisticated from a philosophical point of view: we might speak of God according to the names said of him in the Holy Scriptures, or according to the way the saints speak of him; or according to our experience in ourselves according to piety and right reason. Certain words are simply ridiculous not to apply to God and creatures: just, powerful, existent, blessed, knowing, good, etc. One can only fruitfully deny these things of God and creatures if he is trying to make some kind of mystical point- and a true mysticism would also not deny that there is some sense in which these words apply to God and man.


One can also give more philosophically sophisticated accounts of why certain things are said both of God and creatures. All such arguments consider creatures as in some way caused: whether in the order of agent causality, or exemplar causality, or final causality. The process here is similar to what goes on in archaeological research. I one digs up a device and figure out that it could calculate, he sets it forth as a definitive proof that such-and-such a culture could calculate. Notice here that the argument is by analogy, for it is an argument from instrument to principle agent.


One of the central concerns with these arguments from analogy concerns how someone could “abstract” the idea of one analogue from the other. We might note first that abstraction here seems out of place: if one wants to say that the archaeologist “abstracts” the people of the culture from their artifacts, this is his perogative: but it does seem to be a strange use of language.  

St. Thomas on Analogous Predication of God: Part IIa.

A concept is a certain gathering or collecting things into a unity. The univocal concept is a gathering together of equals: all “animal” are equally animal; all “fives” are equally five. The analogous concept is the gathering together of unequals: all beings are not equally being; all actions are not equally action. Yet the analogous concept is necessary for a similar reason as the univocal; for just as the univocal concept expresses the union of all it contains (as a universal contains its inferiors), the analogous expresses the union of all it contains, like agents and instruments, actual and potential principles, and substance and accident. These two concepts are two tools our mind uses to express the various unities of things. This unity can be expressed by a single word (“cat” or “being”) but it is essential to remember that not all unities make equality between the various members of the union. In the case of the analogous, in fact, the union is possible only because the members of the union are not equals.

St. Thomas on Analogous Predication of God: Part II

Since God alone is the first efficient cause, every cause that we judge other than God stands to him as a secondary cause to a primary one, or as an instrument to an agent. But the operation of an instrument and the operation of a principle agent are spoken of analogously: e.g. the carpenter hammers, and the hammer hammers; the author writes, and he pen writes; the driver drives, and the car drives, etc. So there is some sense in which God and creatures are named analogously.

 One might object: why is it necessary to say that an agent and its instrument have their acts named analogously as opposed to univocally? It is certainly given that there is some difference between acting as an agent and as an instrument, but why not say that the difference is between different species of action, but there is a univocity in the genus of action? On this assumption, we could say that “action” is said univocally of “instrumental action” and “the action of the agent”.

 But it is impossible to account for the difference between instrumental and agent action by some univocal genus “action”, because this fails to account for the unity of the principle agent and the secondary agent, which is the first thing we know about them. The author and his pen perform one act of writing; the carpenter and his hammer perform one act of hammering. But the division of the univocal genus into species gives many instances of the genus: for example, dividing “animal” into air, land, and sea animals gives us three different animals; dividing “living things” in to animal and plant gives us two living things; and so the distinction of “action” into two species would give us two actions.

 (We might adapt this proof to show why being, when divided into act and potency or substance and accident, must be said analogously. The union of act and potency makes one thing; just as the addition of accidents to substance does not disturb the unity of substance. But if being were said univocally, then “act” and “potency” would be two beings. This destroys the very reason why Aristotle posited act and potency in the first place: namely to account or how a single thing can subsist through change.)

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