Slow walk through the Fourth Way

1.) Among things, some are more and less good, true, noble, etc.

Invenitur enim in rebus aliquid magis et minus bonum, et verum, et nobile, et sic de aliis huiusmodi.

2.) But more and less are attributed to different things when they approach, in different ways, something which is maximal, just as a hot thing more or less approaches what is maximally hot.

Sed magis et minus dicuntur de diversis secundum quod appropinquant diversimode ad aliquid quod maxime est, sicut magis calidum est, quod magis appropinquat maxime calido.

Leibniz makes this premise the main difference between what is more and less in extension or multitude and what is more and less in perfection. In the first sense more and less is measured by the parts of the things compared whereas in the second sense it is measured by the whole nature of the things compared. So five is greater than two in virtue of having three more parts while one man is greater than another in virtue of being a more perfect instance of the nature shared by both. The common nature shared is the limit and maximum that allows us to reckon one person greater than another.

Thomas’s heat example is taken from a theory about heat that saw fire as a sort of chemical substance that mixed with things to make them hot in exactly the same way that alcohol mixes with things to make them intoxicating. Just as things are more and less intoxicating relative to pure alcohol (which is exactly how we list their ABV) so too things were more or less hot relative to pure fire (which we usually just call “fire”).

3.) So there is something maximally true, best, and maximally noble and, as a consequence, there is a maximal being, for things which are maximally true are most of all beings, as is said in II Metaphysics.

Est igitur aliquid quod est verissimum, et optimum, et nobilissimum, et per consequens maxime ens, nam quae sunt maxime vera, sunt maxime entia, ut dicitur II Metaphys.

A conclusion from above

4.) But what is maximal in any genus is the cause of all other things in that genus, as fire, which is maximally hot, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there is something which is a cause of existence, goodness and of any perfection in all things, and this we call God.

Quod autem dicitur maxime tale in aliquo genere, est causa omnium quae sunt illius generis, sicut ignis, qui est maxime calidus, est causa omnium calidorum, ut in eodem libro dicitur. Ergo est aliquid quod omnibus entibus est causa esse, et bonitatis, et cuiuslibet perfectionis, et hoc dicimus Deum.

The fire example is explained in (2), and Thomas here makes it explicit.

The Fourth Way thus proves not that the greater or lesser perfections require some separate subject of maximal properties, but that the very goodness in things is a manifestation of goodness itself. As an analogy, when you say this drink is 85% alcohol and therefore more intoxicating than the drink with 15% alcohol, you’re not comparing it to a maximum in the sense that you compare them both to some third drink that is pure alcohol – what you mean rather is that the 85% drink itself exists as a more complete instance of pure alcohol. That is, you’re talking about something in things in a more and less complete way, though understood not qua material cause but qua more and less perfect realizations. There is a sense in which the Fourth Way describes things as more and less good by the amount of God they have in them, though this “amount” can’t be understood in the line of as a material cause but as a realization of some ideal. To understand God as a material component had more or less in things would simply repeat the mistake of confusing the more and less of quantity with the more and less of perfection, but once one clarifies the sort of amount he’s talking about, a thing is more or less true, good and noble by the amount of God of it contains or fails to contain.

It follows from this that natures, so far as they are standards of what is good, true, noble, or in any way perfect are nothing more than the mixed and variegated modes in which divinity can be manifested.

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