New look at Fourth Way

(It’s my fate to find another one every time I teach it, and be convinced I’ve finally seen the solution. Of course, this latest account is the definitively correct one.)

Hypothesis: when St. Thomas talks about things that are more and less good, true, noble (GTN) in the Fourth Way, he first means say, a man that can be more or less virtuous, a car that can be more or less reliable, a patient that is more or less healthy. He’s not comparing diverse subjects, but one subject that can be more or less perfect.

Why does this matter? Because it’s self-evident that when one and the same thing can be (i.e. is potential to) more or less good that there is a form (the act of the GTN) and what is potential to the form (the subject of act and privation.) Therefore, what can be more or less GTN is not such essentially but contingently, either as an accident or substantial form more or less perfectly in matter.

What is not such by essence is caused by what is. Whenever A is B, this is either per se and first, or the reason A is B is because some X is B per se and first. If being a falcon is not first of all what it is to fly, there is something that flight is per se and first, and falcons fly in virtue of this. If being fire is not what it is to be hot, there is something that is heat per se and first, and fire is hot in virtue of this.

Therefore, there is something GTN per se and first. This is a non-composite being that is supremely GTN, and this is what all call God.

The per se and first of “flies” and “hot” enter into composites, but the per se and first of GTN cannot since it is precisely as composite that they are not per se and first.


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