Monday, June 2, 2014

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 8: Aquinas’s Metaphysics Part 1

Part 8 is the beginning of a series of lectures that follow a philosophical order rather than the Summa’s theological order. First is metaphysics and the following lectures will cover philosophical anthropology, epistemology, and ethics.  Metaphysics is foundational because it deals with what is, what is real and what reality even means.  Everything depends on metaphysics.  If one is a materialist then in philosophical anthropology one will have to deny that humans are essentially different from animals, the materialist denies the soul.  The materialist's epistemology will necessarily be a strict empiricism, without a distinction between immaterial, intellectual, rational knowledge and sense knowledge.  Lastly the materialist will concentrate on material goods only.

Some modern philosophers deny the legitimacy of metaphysics.  This is a materialist position, claiming that metaphysics has no distinctive subject because its subject falls outside the material on which the hard sciences and other specific realms of philosophy focus.

Sciences look at beings, but metaphysics looks at universal properties and laws and principles.  What it means to be a being.  As Prof Kreeft says of Heidegger, Western metaphysics after Plato, is guilty of a “forgetfulness of being” because they focused on what things are forgetting to think about the fact that they are.  Aquinas does consider this and the primacy of the act of existence is at the very center of his view of metaphysics.

Another objection to metaphysics is that it claims a kind of God’s-eye point of view.  Looking at the whole of being as if one could do so from outside, forgetting that we are only part of the whole. Aquinas quotes Aristotle that “philosophy begins in wonder.”  He notes that the wonderis not just about some certain beings but about being as a whole. The very fact that we can raise questions about being in general indicates that we are not merely part(s) of that whole.  We can only wonder about something if we are outside that something.  This idea reminds me of the Gödel Escher Bach book by Douglas Hofstadter.

Hobbesian or Humean empiricism, seems to ignore the very mind that’s doing the reducing of itself to “the scout for the senses.”  These views don't seem to account for the very self that’s asking the questions about oneself.  The argument that this goal of knowing what existence is like this.  The very fact that we have the desire to know what existence is like belies that it is knowable.  We wouldn't have a thirst for a knowledge that we couldn't possibly have would be absurd.

Then we have the principle of analogy.  The principle of analogy solves the problem of how we can know anything about God.  If we view God in human terms it's anthropomorphic: we drag God down to the human level, if the terms used for God apply to humanity.  However, if the terms are equivocal, they tell us nothing about God and we cannot know anything about God.  If the attributes of God are analogical, then we know some reflections of God, though pale and remote—we can know something of God.

The first task in analogical analysis is distinguishing between actual existence and merely mental existence.  Aquinas uses the act of existence to separate the two types of existence.  Actual existent things exist by themselves, but mentally existent things do not.  Things that only exist in the mind cannot give real existence to things because they cannot give what they do not themselves posses.

To Aquinas the “second act” is activity and the “first act” is that of existence.  Existence is always acting, always giving itself to something ontologically—self-giving is built into the very nature of existence.  A theological reason for this is that existence is rooted in the very nature of God as self-giving love, and everything else is in the analogical image of God.

This brings us to unity.  Unity is also analogical, I like the way Prof Kreeft puts this: "God is more one than a human soul; and a human person is more one than an animal, because we can meaningfully say 'I;' and an animal is more one than a plant. And even a plant is more one than a rock, or an atom, or a subatomic particle."

This lecture is too long and complicated to give it a fair treatment in one blog post, so I'll save the second half for another entry.  Unfortunately, I don't have a good picture to include with this entry.