Fleshing out the Fourth Way

The Fourth Way is a general argument that God is X to a maximal degree where X is “things like” (huiusmodi) good, true, dignity, being, etc. This means that God is most of all what we mean by these things, and even though we call other things good this is only because the first things we name are not the highest instances of what deserve that name. We can show this by looking at the great number of things that the Fourth Way is talking about in particular:

1a.) Being. A being exists just as a pair is even, i.e. by definition. But while some group that is by definition even can cease to be even by ceasing to be, what by definition exists can’t cease to exist. The individual we could call a being could only be an individual whose non-existence would involve a contradiction. This is no individual in the universe (all of them have a genesis) nor the universe (which is not an individual but a collection)

2a.) True. A thing is true when it exists relative to an intellect, but a thing only exists relative to a creator.*

2b.) Power. Power is the ability to be responsible for the existence of another.


3a.) Good. A good satisfies an appetite and so the highest good satisfies the highest appetite. But everything desires to exist and all intellects desire truth, and both of these terms are divine from 1 and 2.

Corollary 1: what we seek for ourselves requires going outside ourselves. The desire to for existence  is not limited to our mere desire not to die.

Corollary 2: Here is another vantage point to see the shallowness of understanding divine goodness as “moral perfection”

3b.) Dignity. Dignity belongs to a thing so far as it is an end and not a means. But the highest good, as such, can never be a means but only an end.

3c.) Person. If the person is subordinate to a non-personal highest good then objectification, alienation and the degradation of persons are the highest good of a person. The consequent is a contradiction, therefore, etc.

1b.) Life. To live is to exist in what acts for itself. But a person acts for himself.

4.) One. One is the negation of division, but things are divisible so far as they await some further existence in space, in time, or of their intrinsic matter. But to await further being, as such, is not to be.

5.) Devotion. The limit of devotion is worship. 


Objection: Being heard does not require existence to a divine ear, so truth does not require existence to a non-divine mind.

Reponse: This illustrates the difference between the objectivity of sense and of intelligence. Sense objectivity is content to attain the thing as it is for the one sensing. Whether you’re a dung beetle or not will affect you awareness of sweet-smelling things, whether you are a polar bear or not will affect what temperature is too cold or oppressively hot. But intelligence seeks an objectivity that is just the thing itself and nothing more – the pure object unconditioned by subjectivity. But to attain this requires a pure “being seen” from no perspective, i.e. from no limited vantage point. What we mean by objectivity, and so truth, cannot involve a vantage point within the things we seek to understand.

This allows another development:

2c.) Beauty. The beauty appropriate to this sort of thing is sublimity, and the sublime is that which overwhelms the cognitive powers. But perfect objectivity totally overwhelms all created cognitive powers, therefore.




  1. Josh said,

    March 31, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Could you expand upon (4), especially with respect to the meaning of “await some further existence”? Does it follow from this taht divisio is convertible with non-being?

    • March 31, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      That’s just another way of saying that things are divisible do far as they are potential. The difference is that I spoke of potency under its temporal dimension. No future, no potency and vice versa.

      • Josh said,

        March 31, 2016 at 7:40 pm

        Right, that makes sense, thanks. I guess my second question is motivated by reasoning which could be expressed as an aporetic triad:

        1. The privation of any notion which is convertible with being is convertible with non-being.
        2. Unity is a notion which is convertible with being, and its privation is division.
        3. But division is not convertible with non-being, since whatever is divided in the relevant sense is always in potency (which is not non-being).

        Something like this line of reasoning seems to be motivating Scotus’ move away from the position that transcendental notions are also perfections.

      • March 31, 2016 at 7:45 pm

        The interesting way to approach this question is through STA’s idea of “transcendental multitude” He’s pretty quiet about it when discussing the transcendentals, though.

        But going down that road may not touch on your point. We Scholastics are trained to give boringer answers like “potency as both being and non-being secundum quid while act is being simpliciter, and (1) is true simpliciter and (3) is not.” Harumphf!

        There might be something to the idea that “one” is only reached after our idea of being has been brought under the judgment that “this is not that”, and it therefore not a simple apprehension (cf. the ad. 4 here)

    • Jeremy Daggett said,

      April 2, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      Scotus denies that the Transcendentals are perfections?

      • Josh said,

        April 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm

        Actually on the second thought what I said above might be sloppy. I am more confident that Scotus rejects the position that transcendentals are perfections qua transcendental. He includes certain notions amongst the transcendentia that are only transcendental when considered as disjunctions (e.g. infinite-or-finite; necessary-or-possible), for example. If these “disjunctive transcendentals” are not perfections, then perfection cannot be a per se attribute of transcendental notions.

        There are no disjunctive transcendentals in Thomas, but it’s not even clear for him that unum is a perfection (see ST 1.6.3 ad 1, for example). That’s why I think it’s a bit of a sticky question even in Thomas.

  2. Jeremy Daggett said,

    April 2, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    I was reading the 4th way the other day and was struck by one thing in particular. He is obviously using univocal concepts all the way through. Take for example the following:
    “Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.”
    But we know that 11 questions later he argues for analogical concepts. (At least, that is the common interpretation– some argue that Thomas and Scotus are much closer than the party bosses in the respective camps allow.) But that seems to dooms his argument to fall to the Fallacy of Equivocation. Or am I missing something?

    • April 3, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      I think there are two things here:

      (1) As Aquinas uses the term, the principle (or in this case, the maximum) of a genus is only analogically called by the name of the genus. But precisely because we do reasonably infer, all the time, from from members of a genus to its principle he doesn’t think analogy necessarily involves the fallacy of equivocation.

      (2) I don’t think Aquinas would actually think that talk of ‘analogical concepts’ and ‘univocal concepts’ makes much sense — that’s a later way of talkin, which is why people can sometimes argue that Scotus and Aquinas might not be quite so inconsistent with each other as is often thought, since we have to take into account the fact that they are using the terms differently. For Aquinas, ‘univocal’ and ‘analogical’ and ‘equivocal’ apply to predications (or impositions of names, but he understands that on the model of predicating ) — a concept is not equivocal or univocal or analogical in itself for Aquinas, but only as predicated of something. (Actually, only as predicated of at least two things.)

  3. Josh said,

    April 2, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    @James RE: transcendental multitude

    Thanks for the comment. The second link takes me to ST 1.30.3, which only has three objections. Did you mean to link to ST 1.11.2?

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