Objection to the First Way

Objection: The First Way starts from some particular motion or change and concludes to a mover that is unmoved. But it only need to be unmoved with respect to that particular motion. If something gets heated up, it only requires something that isn’t heated up (like a fire). But it’s laughable to think that something that is only unmoved with respect to some particular motion could be called a divinity. All sorts of mundane natural things are unmoved in this way.

Response: Edward Feser apparently takes this objection as of great moment – in response to it he has to stipulate that The First Way reduces to a proof for creation from a background assumption of existence as such as an actuality. I disagree with this reading but take it as beside the point here. The simpler response is that while it is true that, say, some fire is unmoved in some respect to some particular heating up, the fire as such doesn’t explain the heating up. Fires can’t heat an object simply by existing – for then a fire in the my basement could heat something on the moon. These sorts of causes have to also be made proximate or local to their effects, which requires not just the fire but whatever brought it to the thing it’s heating or started it in the right area. The necessity of these auxiliary motions to a cause that is unmoved in some way ensures that a sufficient account of a natural cause can never be unmoved even with respect to a particular motion.

In the FW’s STA is targeting a primary, non-natural being. They describe ways that nature is caused. In the first, he takes nature as the mobile (and for all our snickering about Aristotle, we seem to agree with him on this. All fundamental units of physics are descriptions of his kinesis)



  1. Roland said,

    June 13, 2016 at 2:48 am

    I’ve also never been particularly fond of Feser’s proposed “solution” to the objection. But wouldn’t you say that making approximate causes proximate is a matter of per accidens causation as opposed to the required per se causation in view in the argument?

    I’ve tended to approach this objection by considering various motions at higher levels of generality: the fire causes motion that is heat, but it does not cause motion as such. Nothing natural can cause motion as such, since all natural things depend on motion.

    With this response I’ve always hit up against the question of angels, but that’s more because I don’t really understand what motion looks like for angels.

    • June 13, 2016 at 9:14 am

      wouldn’t you say that making approximate causes proximate is a matter of per accidens causation as opposed to the required per se causation in view in the argument?

      You’ll have to say more – at the moment I don’t see how proximity is accidental to fire being able to heat something up. I see that proximity is accidental in the sense that one can have fire without it, but not in the sense that one could have heating without it.

      Your solution might be closer to STA’s since it is an appeal to equivocal causes which played a very important role in his own system. But the advance in physics has seemed to leave these behind, at least as features of the world outside of consciousness (though I have sympathy with consciousness as a feature of all natural systems).

      • Roland said,

        June 15, 2016 at 4:46 am

        I’m not saying that *proximity* is accidental to a fire’s causing heat, since that fire is by nature limited and therefore requires proximity of the relevant kind to cause through this limitation. Rather I’m suggesting that the *making proximate* (that is, the change of place) is accidental to the fire’s heating. The fire’s heating, then, depends per se on its proximity but per accidens on its being made proximate.

        I don’t see how modern physics could even in principle make the equivocal causes I’m referring to obsolete. To borrow an example from Lonergan, when Peter stabs Paul with a sword there are three per se causations: Peter’s moving the sword, the sword’s piercing Paul, and Peter’s piercing Paul with (or through) the sword. The sword pierces (as the fire heats) but this is only because Peter moves it (as God causes motion in the fire) making it an instrument (as God causes heating through fire). Physics has nothing to say about this because it’s not interested in the per se causal chain as such, but every per se causal chain (as such) will include some instances of equivocal causation.

  2. David said,

    June 13, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Is the fire not also in motion itself? It seems we can chase change into deeper and deeper levels of chemistry and physics – oxidizing carbon, electron energy levels changing, electromagnetic fields being perturbed, an exchange of photons – but no end in sight, unless we return the analysis to act and potency, and arrive at something with no potentiality whatsoever. (Maybe I’m just repeating Feser’s solution that you reject.)

    • June 13, 2016 at 10:28 am

      This solution changes the particular motion in question from heating to something else. This particular motion might have its own unmoved mover too without it being anything but unmoved in a way any natural thing can be unmoved.

      When I talk about the necessity proximity I’m gesturing at the idea that local motion is the foundation of other motions, but it has to arise from a substance that actualizes without being in local motion (which would make an unmoved mover by definition beneath the foundation of natural motion, and so supernatural). I’d hear out a guy who claimed that kinetic energy fits this description (an I even argued for this a few days ago as a part of a theistic argument) but such a claim is not presumptively true.

      I think both Feser and I recognize that this proof is taking place in a space outside of physics, but we have different ideas of what this means.

  3. David said,

    September 10, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    I’m persuaded by your position that STA was aiming for the minimal criteria for divinity. But if this is the case, I’m stumped as to how he then reaches a being of Pure Act. (In SCG, and the Compendium anyway. In ST, he’s got 4 other ways to help him get there.)

    Can it be argued that locomotion is the foundation for ALL other motion? STA seems to get to “unmovable” immediately, but without a principle of “the lower is moved by the higher” it’s hard to see how. And that principle doesn’t seem clear or self-evident to the modern mind.

    It seems the logical possibility of a first mover of all natural motion, but movable in some supernatural way, is still on the table. But STA’s theology takes off from something that is absolutely unmovable.

    I don’t expect you to entertain this question, but hey, I might as well throw it out there. 🙂

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