What’s So Great about The Unmoved Mover?

What’s so great about a “Prime Mover” or “a first unmoved mover”? We might scoff at such a being- what a cold and sterile god! How interesting can God be if all he does is keep the universe spinning? Such a being doesn’t have much of a chance in an age where gods must audition for the parts we write for them.

Aristotle never “proved the existence of God” in the way we are accustomed to see such a proof. He did not write a book of theodicy or theology that began with asking the question “does God exist?” Such a proof can only be dialectal (beginning with general principles), or a summary of a larger science (As Aquinas does in his Summae). Aristotle never asks the question of whether God exists, because the reality of God is discovered in a scientific inquiry into nature, where the existence of nature is given. AgainAristotle does not prove God exists, he discovers God in the study of nature, and since nature exists, God does.  Is this a worthless distinction? Not at all. It places the question of God’s existence in the context of a larger science, a science which needs to be understood in order to understand the part that concerns God at the end. Wanting to prove God’s existence “right away” is like wanting to play virtuoso violin pieces right away. It won’t be pretty. 

One aspect that gets lost in simply jumping to the question of the divine existence is the awareness that for Aristotle, nature as such is a way of partaking in the divine life. Nature is essentially mobile, and all mobility is some participation in the activity of the first mover. This does not even make it strong enough. The actions of nature, while remaining fully natural, are at the same time more the works of God than even the works of nature. Nature is a mode of revelation, for it is a mobility which takes part in the first mover. Again, it is a mode of divine activity, for it is nothing but a sort of openness to the divine mind. There is no issue with pantheism here- the separation and real distinction between the mover and the moved is necessary to prove the point Aristotle is making. 

All this is lost on someone who just leaps on the idea of prime mover without seeing how it relates to nature, and specifically, without seeing that nature is essentially mobile, and is understood at root through its mobility.



  1. Niggardly Phil said,

    July 21, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Hmm, can anything be understood at root through its mobility? Isn’t that a bit like saying it can be understood through its multiplicity, which is manifestly false?

    Distinguish or else.

    I love your general approach to the 5 ways though.

  2. Niggardly Phil said,

    July 21, 2008 at 11:30 am

    By the way, I came across a great quote in Augustine, lest you think I somehow revile your blog writings:

    City of God, bk 5 ch 26
    for he might all the while, laying aside empty boast, be contradicting those to whose views he is opposed by way of free consultation with them, and be listening, as it becomes him,honorably, gravely, candidly, to all that can be adduced by those whom he consults by friendly disputation.

  3. Peter said,

    July 21, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    “Distinguish or else…”

    Now there’s a threat you don’t hear everyday!

  4. Peter said,

    July 21, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    If we contrast the non-natural (the artificial or the product of chance) with the natural–and where else can you start?–, it seems to inextricably lead us to the difference of their principle of motion [mutation] (Commentary on the Physics, Book II, lect 1).

    I genuinely wonder:
    1) Could you define nature without contrasting it with something (art)? If not art or chance, then what?
    2) Are there other essential differences that could be used instead, when contrasting nature with art?

  5. a thomist said,

    July 22, 2008 at 4:40 am

    “nature is understood at root through its mobility”

    Here “nature” means primarily form and matter as parts of a composite. We only understand the difference between form and matter through an analysis of motion or change. Matter cannot be understood apart from change, it is “what is able to be something else” or “what something comes to be from remaining in it”. Form in natural things is an immobile term, but still a term of a motion. In concrete terms, (Continuing, but into Peter’s question) you can’t make a real distinction between form and matter without seeing that you can, say, mold clay, shape wood, etc. You need to approach it first through art, which is more known to us, and you have to notice the element in art that involves causing a change in some underlying thing.

  6. another thomist said,

    July 22, 2008 at 5:24 am

    “All this is lost on someone who just leaps on the idea of prime mover without seeing how it relates to nature, and specifically, without seeing that nature is essentially mobile, and is understood at root through its mobility.”

    I wish I could explain that to a number of people! But it is as if someone cast a spell over the world to prevent anyone from even attempting to understand natural philosophy these days. Which is why it’s so great that this blog keeps talking about it.

  7. Niggardly Phil said,

    July 22, 2008 at 8:32 am

    I commiserate with wanting to explain to others, but something I didn’t learn until fairly recently (which sounds condescending but I mean it in the sense that I’m surprised I didn’t grasp it earlier, you probably know these things better than I) is the role of tradition, and here I’m thinking of Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?. Tradition requires several pre-rational conditions for making progess in the art – assent to an authority, certain principles, and so forth. When trying to explain it to others, if they happen to be outside of that tradition, it is impossible to grasp – the “spell” you mention. It’s something like the war experience – talking about it with those who have never been in such a situation can be futile and frustrating.

    When I was young I had thought, “the truth is the truth, and all men can reach the truth,” but it is a bit more nuanced than that.

    That’s part of what makes a blog so very very interesting – easy access to the disputatio. When you get interlocutors of the same tradition – friends, really – there is a harmony in the discussion which makes progress. But the easy access lends itself to those not interested in progress, but in selfish needs – trolls and such.

    I like to think of Immanuel Kant as an epic troll in the blog of philosophy.

  8. another thomist said,

    July 22, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    “I like to think of Immanuel Kant as an epic troll in the blog of philosophy.”




    The “spell” is nicely explained by the absence of shared fundamentals as you say. I think natural phil can only be resurrected by institutions within the general morass of culture today for the reasons you mention.

  9. a thomist said,

    July 23, 2008 at 6:14 am



    all of his objections to metaphysics wouldn’t have lasted ten seconds in a medieval disputation. Can you imagine what a scholastic would have thought about the Five Ways being only disguised versions of the ontological argument? Do you know how many ways Occam or Scotus or Bonaventure or Siger or Henry of Ghent or Aegidius Romanus or any 14 year old Franciscan could have destroyed “existence is not a predicate”?

    Troll indeed. Or worse. To imagine Kant’s metaphysics in a dialogue with Scholastic or ancient thought is like imagining some crazed christian fundamentalist charging in on a group of biologists and saying “if evolution happened, what about the monkeys!?! Huh!?!?”

  10. Niggardly Phil said,

    July 24, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Is there value in studying Kant?

  11. Niggardly Phil said,

    July 24, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I agree 100% – I have had an argument with a friend who thinks there is great value in studying it to bring the truth out. My argument is that there’s a reason religious orders don’t read “Lives of the Sinners” at lunch to somehow live the opposite. It doesn’t make any sense.

    I took a course in Rome with a Legionary, Fr Leopoldo Prieto, http://www.upra.org/articulo.phtml?se=1&id=871

    As I understood it, his thesis on Kant’s Opus Postumum was that the works of Kant evince a trajectory, a search for the source of autoafeccion. I found it very interesting. His works represent a search for the source of spontanaeity which is assumed at the outset to be somewhere in the subject. To be clearer, if the source of an object is the subject, where in the subject is that source located? Reason? Practical reason? Judgment? Aesthetics? and so forth.

    Maybe we could share the blame with Wolff, who likewise is just awful.

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