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Why Aquinas’ Argument for God Succeeds and Others Fall Short

Thomas Aquinas

NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series. The second part will be shared on Wednesday.

Does God exist? Readers here at Strange Notions are well aware that throughout the centuries there have been no few attempts in constructing arguments to support an affirmative answer to this question. This is no less true today (I previously took a shot at making my humble contribution to the discussion here at Strange Notions, which you can read in six parts). Christian philosophers have put forth a considerable amount of effort in constructing supporting arguments for God’s existence. As good as some of these arguments are, however, in my opinion they often fall short in accomplishing what arguments in the Thomistic tradition accomplish.

For example, the transcendent creator that one arrives at in the modern presentations of the Kalam cosmological argument does not escape the question “What created the creator?” Such a creator, at least without employing Thomistic metaphysical principles, can only be seen as very powerful but not pure power or act itself—the purely actual being. The Kalam creator is merely a being among other beings and not the ipsum esse subsistens (“subsistent being itself”) of the Thomistic tradition that makes the question “What created the creator?” as incoherent as the question “Who is the bachelor’s wife?” Furthermore, the transcendent creator of the Kalam argument, as presented in modern formulations, only escapes the boundaries of physical time but does not escape what the medieval philosophers called aeviternity (outside of temporal, material existence but still not the absolute eternity of God – i.e., the mode of being of the angels). The Kalam creator of modern arguments is still subject to movement from potency to act; thus subject to change; thus subject to being caused; hence once again the question “What created the creator?”

The purpose of this two-part series is to offer a metaphysical approach to God’s existence that follows closely the Thomistic tradition (a bit different than my previous set of articles on God’s existence posted here at Strange Notions) and is not subject to the weaknesses mentioned above. The methodology employed for the present approach is partially inspired by Fr. Joseph Owens’ method found in his book entitled An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, which in turn draws from St. Thomas Aquinas’ “existential proof” as found in his work entitled De Ente Et Essentia (On Being and Essence). The argument presented in this article takes the modus tollens form of a conditional syllogism:

Premise 1: If all of reality consisted only of those things whose being is accidental and prior to its nature—i.e., a thing that does not have being by nature—then nothing would exist.
 
Premise 2: But things do exist.
 
Conclusion: Therefore, all of reality cannot consist of only things whose being is accidental and prior to its nature. There must exist within all of reality at least one thing that has being essentially and whose act of being is coincident with its nature—i.e., its nature and being are one and the same.

For the present article I will assume that the reader affirms Premise 2—namely that he or she and the world around us exists. Consequently, Premise 1 will be the sole focus for arriving at the conclusion but only after three preliminary metaphysical principles are established, which are drawn from Fr. Owens book mentioned above: 1) the accidentality of being to nature in sensible things, 2) the priority of being to nature in sensible things, and 3) every entity whose being is accidental and prior to its nature—whether sensible or non-sensible (immaterial)—it must receive being by some agent outside itself.

After we arrive at the type of being stated in the conclusion, we will then proceed to deduce the various attributes that make such a being worthy of the traditional term God.

The Accidentality of Being for Sensible Things

Concerning sensible things, metaphysicians often speak of at least a conceptual distinction between what a thing is and that it is—the distinction between the nature (essence) of a thing and its being (existence). But is there any justification for such an idea? Fr. Joseph Owens offers two lines of reason by which one can arrive at this conclusion.1

The first line of reason considers the two ways in which a sensible thing can have being. First, a thing can have being in the world that exists outside thought or imagination. For example, a house may have being today in the world outside the minds of the neighborhood residents though not tomorrow if the city is going to demolish it to make room for downtown parking. This way of existence is called real being.

The other way that something may exist or have being is in the mind or imagination—what metaphysicians call cognitional being. For example, the aforementioned house would have existed in the mind of the architect (cognitional being) before it existed in the outside world (real being). Or the house could exist in the mind of the residents (cognitional being) while the house is standing and even after it is destroyed.

So, with the distinction between real being and cognitional being in place, the question arises, “How does this distinction indicate that a thing’s nature and its being are not entirely the same?” To use the aforementioned example of the house and apply it to the above reasoning, one may say that the house has real being today, will lose that way of being tomorrow when it’s demolished, but still retain cognitional being in the minds of the neighborhood residents. If the nature (essence) of the house remains the same as it loses one way of being and acquires another, then apparently the nature of the house is at least conceptually different than its being.2

The second line of reason for demonstrating the distinction between the nature of sensible things and their being follows the abstraction of forms in human intellection. Consider the example of man’s knowledge of a tree. When one observes an oak tree, he or she abstracts the nature (form) of treeness and then is able to apply that idea to any other mode of existence that the nature of a tree may have—such as a pine tree.

Now, the nature (essence) of a tree, in and of itself, cannot include any particular existence it may have. For example, if treeness was determined to exist only in the pine tree way, then no oak trees would exist. Similarly, if treeness was determined to exist only in the oak tree way, then no pine trees would exist. But pine and oak trees do exist. Therefore, treeness itself does not include the oak tree mode of being or the pine tree mode of being. The same would apply for any mode of being for a tree. Consequently, being does not belong to the nature of a tree.

So, in light of the two lines of thought above, one can conclude that the nature of a sensible thing must be distinct from its being. In other words, being lies outside the nature of sensible things.

Now, as metaphysicians point out, if being does not belong to the nature of sensible things, then being must be an accident (i.e., non-essential) for sensible things. This is based on the metaphysical principle that whatever is in a thing that does not belong to it by nature belongs to it accidentally—e.g., the red triangle does not have redness by nature but only accidentally. “But,” one may ask, “How can being be an accident when it transcends (hence the term transcendental) the nine Aristotelian accidental categories of being?” As Fr. Joseph Owens answers in his book, although it cannot be an accident in the “predicamental sense,” or what metaphysicians call a “narrow sense,” it still can be considered an accident in a “wide sense” simply because it is not part of a sensible thing’s nature.3

The Priority of Being to Nature in Sensible Things

The second preliminary metaphysical principle is the priority of being to nature or essence in sensible things.

At first glance it seems pretty obvious that being is prior to nature since if being was not ontologically presupposed, then there would be no nature. “But,” one may object, “Does not being itself arise from composition within the thing, and consists in that composition? For example, being is not found in the mere matter of sensible things nor is it found in the mere form of sensible things but only in the composition of the matter and form. Therefore, it seems that the component parts, namely form and matter in this case, are prior to being.” How does one respond?

As Fr. Joseph Owens explains, the answer lies in the fact that principles of nature that constitute the being of a sensible thing, namely form and matter, are secondary and concomitant aspects under which being is conceptualized and do not express the deepest character of being—namely act or perfection.4 Being is the actuality or perfection of whatever is actual or perfect in a thing—it is actuality unqualified.

For example, being is the actuality of the act of being a man or the actuality of the act of being a horse. There can be neither an act of being a man (form and matter) nor an act of being a horse (form and matter) without actuality or being. So, as Fr. Owens concludes in his book, “As an existential composing it [being] is absolutely prior in actuality to the nature it makes be.”5 The bottom line is that without being the composite nature of a sensible thing would not exist. Being, therefore, is ontologically prior to nature for sensible things.
 
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post on Wednesday!
 
 
(Image credit: ###)

Notes:

  1. See Joseph Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics (Houston, Texas: Center for Thomistic Studies, 2011), Chapter 7.
  2. Fr. Joseph Owens proves that the distinction between nature and being in sensible things is a real distinction in Chapter 7, but this can only be proven after subsistent being is shown to exist.
  3. See Owens, pg. 71.
  4. See Owens, pg. 73-74.
  5. Owens, 2011, pg. 74.
Karlo Broussard

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After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • The problem with the syllogism is that you have no way of ruling out that all things are and exist non-accidentally.

    The conclusion really needs to be that "at least one, or all things...", or you need to defend the premise that "not all things can exist non-accidentally".

    There really are only a few possibilities. All reality is necessary or part of reality is necessary and the rest was caused by something necessary.

    There is an equivocation here with respect to existence. Building a house causes an arrangement of matter to exist. So, in a sense, the house did not exist, then it did. But this is a completely different thing than the matter that makes up the house existing versus not existing. We are not talking about re-arranging pre-existing matter in that case, but matter coming into existence.

    When one imagines building a house we do not create the house in our imagination in any way, we create the concept of the house, which is not in any way the house itself.

    From what we can tell about creating things by rearranging matter, this happens a
    all the time, indeed it is happening continually and usually without the involvement of any mind or agent. Stars form, matter fuses into new elements, cells divide, and so on. As for matter coming into or out of absolute existence, we never see this, we only ever observe it rearranging itself.

    We don't know if matter is necessary or contingent upon something else that is necessary. Nor do I think we have any basis to place probabilities.

    • "The problem with the syllogism is that you have no way of ruling out that all things exist non-accidentally.

      The conclusion really needs to be that "at least one, or all things...", or you need to defend the premise that "not all things can exist non-accidentally".

      There really are only a few possibilities. All reality is necessary or part of reality is necessary and the rest was caused by something necessary."

      I don't know of any philosopher, theist or atheist, who believes that everything in the universe necessarily exists, in it's current matter and form. Do you know of any? Or do you believe this yourself? It seems obviously false for there are *many* things in everyday experience that are unnecessary (some would say nearly all). You and I are but two examples; neither of us *had* to exist.

      "There is an equivocation here with respect to existence. Building a house causes an arrangement of matter to exist. So, in a sense, the house did not exist, then it did. But this is a completely different thing than the matter that makes up the house existing versus not existing. We are not talking about re-arranging pre-existing matter in that case, but matter coming into existence."

      There is no equivocation. Existence simply means the state of being real. In the first case, a house does not exist (i.e., is not real) until the proper matter (e.g., bricks, nails, wood) comes together with the proper form (e.g., houseness). When you build a house, you combine certain matter, which existed in one form, into the form of houseness thus bringing a previously non-existent house into existence. What was not previously real then becomes real.

      In the second case, which by necessity had to occur before any material things could come into existence, God brought matter into existence (i.e., made it real) when no matter previously existed. Contemporary cosmology seems to confirms this fact. There is a definite point before which no matter existed (nor energy, nor space, nor time.) But then matter came into existence at, or slightly after, t=0. Matter did not exist (i.e., was not real), and then it was.

      I see no equivocation. In both cases, something was made real when before that point, it was not real. This is what it means to give something existence.

      "When one imagines building a house we do not create the house in our imagination in any way, we create the concept of the house, which is not in any way the house itself."

      Indeed. Using philosophical language, we conceive of the form. But the house isn't real (i.e., it doesn't exist) until that form is instantiated through matter.

      "From what we can tell about creating things by rearranging matter, this happens all the time, indeed it is happening continually and usually without the involvement of any mind or agent. Stars form, matter fuses into new elements, cells divide, and so on. As for matter coming into or out of absolute existence, we never see this, we only ever observe it rearranging itself."

      Of course matter and form are combining all around us, trillions of times per second. Things come into, and go out of existence, at a mind-boggling rate. (This is confirmation, of course, that no being in this world exists necessarily. The fact that beings go *out* of existence is ample evidence; a necessarily existent being must always exist.)

      You then suggest that matter itself exists necessarily, or at least that it doesn't come into or go out of existence. But here's the problem: matter never exists, as such, by itself. You can't say "matter exists" or "matter doesn't exist" because there's no such thing as matter in itself. Matter only exists under particular forms: it must have a particular density, texture, color, speed, etc. In other words, matter only exists in a particular way and could exist in any number of other ways. You can't isolate matter from a particular form and talk about it existing or going out of existence.

      On a related note, this helps explain why the universe itself cannot be necessary (i.e., why the universe is contingent). The smallest particles we are aware of are quarks. In order for the universe to be necessary, it would have to be true that it is impossible for these quarks to not exist. It also has to be impossible for these particular quarks to not exist in order to say they are necessary. But couldn’t we have a universe with different fundamental matter? If we could, then the matter that exists can’t be necessary since it could be different. Its contingent nature would still require an explanation in something else.

      Finally, you suggest that matter takes on new forms "all the time...and usually without the involvement of any mind or agent." I'm curious how you know this. How can you prove that *anytime*, much less "usually," there is no agent responsible for combining matter and form? We would both agree, I hope, that just because no physical agent is evident, that doesn't mean no causal agent at all is necessary.

      "We don't know if matter is necessary or contingent upon something else that is necessary. Nor do I think we have any basis to place probabilities one way or the other."

      As explained above, we cannot speak of matter itself as necessary or contingent because there's no such thing as matter in itself. Matter only exists under particular forms--it has no existence by itself. We do know, however, that all material things are contingent, for the reasons given above.

      • I am not saying that I know the origins of reality. I am saying I don't know. I don't know if it is necessary, or contingent on something distinct, whether natural or supernatural. I can't answer for Carrol or Russell. I think both are commenting on the limits of our ability to know ultimate origins, this limit being we can only place probabilities to a certain extent, at which point all we can say is this stuff just "is". Ultimately, all philosophies run up against this wall. For me it is the very early universe, for theists it is a God.

        You are using the same equivocation with respect to existence and the "two of us". I agree the arrangement of matter into us two individuals is contingent, but the existence of the matter that makes us up? I can't say whether its existence is contingent on anything or not.

        I think the equivocation is clear, we are getting confused by labels such as real and create. What I am saying is that the process of arranging matter into different forms is a different process than creating matter our of non-matter. We cannot use our experience of the re-arrangement of matter guide us on our understanding of if,
        or how matter itself came to exist as opposed to it not existing. This is exactly what you and Karlo are saying we can do.

        It is hard to continue this conversation unless we can distinguish these two kids of existence.

        Yes, space, time, energy, matter; these are the material universe, I see no reason to accept that the existence of these is contingent, compared to the various arrangements of them which clearly is contingent. I know the latter through observation, I have nothing to observe to guide me on the former.

        I don't know if it is possible for quarks to not exist, or for some other fundamental particle to exist. I don't see how we can place probabilities one way or the other.

        No I can't be certain in my knowledge of just about anything, it may be that all activity in the cosmos is absolutely contingent on some mind or minds causing it. From water freezing to stars exploding. I just see no evidence of a mind causing most changes in matter, compared to those that do appear that way, such as houses being built and so on.

        I think we both can speak of the set of all material in isolation, it is the material universe itself, If this is someway necessary, or a brute fact, then that is just the way it is. By contrast it may be contingent on some other natural state of affairs, or something supernatural. But even the supernatural would then be a brute fact without explanation. Who knows, even the supernatural may not be the end of the line, some other distinct form of reality may be fundamental. But this is all speculation, guessing in the dark. It is fine and fun to do, but wrong to say one of these alternatives is evident from facts in the material universe.

      • I don't know of any philosopher, theist or atheist, who believes that everything in the universe necessarily exists, in it's current matter and form. Do you know of any?

        Short list of philosophers who accept or are sympathetic to the idea that the universe necessarily exists.

        Baruch Spinoza (states that God had no choice in creating the universe, Ethics 1P33)

        Shamik Dasgupta (thinks that the PSR entails necessitarianism and thinks that the PSR is true, "Metaphysical rationalism." Noûs (2014).)

        Michael Della Rocca (thinks that the PSR entails necessitarianism (PSR, p. 9) and thinks that the PSR is true, "PSR." Philosophers Imprint (2010).)

        David Lewis (he believed that all possible worlds are actual worlds ("On the Plurality of Worlds." (1986)), and therefore everything that can exist does exist in some possible world.)

        Or do you believe this yourself?

        I suspect that the universe necessarily exists and that the physical laws are necessarily the way that they are and could not have been another way.

        • Ladolcevipera

          Short list of philosophers who accept or are sympathetic to the idea that the universe necessarily exists and that everything in the universe necessarily exists exactly as it is

          Not to mention Plotinus. For him the first cause is the One. From the One proceeds all being as a by-product of self-contemplation. It is the need of all good of diffusing itself. There is no beginning and no time in this production. But the One does not cause the material world in a direct way, but by means of Nous (Intellect) and Soul.

          I suspect that the universe necessarily exists and that the physical laws are necessarily the way that they are and could not have been another way

          Just a thought: Aren't physical laws also a question of trust? We implicitly trust that the physical laws will still be the same to-morrow as they were at the beginning of time and as they are to-day. They are true of course since they work and help us understand and get a grip on the universe. But our understanding of the universe may be only a small part of the story. Maybe "reality" is much bigger than we can possibly know.

          • William Davis

            Just a thought: Aren't physical laws also a question of trust? We implicitly trust that the physical laws will still be the same to-morrow as they were at the beginning of time and as they are to-day. They are true of course since they work and help us understand and get a grip on the universe. But our understanding of the universe may be only a small part of the story. Maybe "reality" is much bigger than we can possibly know.

            You are correct that this is an assumption. It is entirely possible that the laws of physics are actually different in different parts of the universe. This could explain "fine tuning" in that we would necessarily only be here to observe the universe in a place where the physical laws are capable of supporting life.

    • Owens' argument is not using "accidental" in the sense of contingent. He's using it in the sense of not belonging to the essence of a thing. This is not a Leibnizian-style necessity/contingency argument. It's an argument in the order of efficient causality, which is quite different.

      • I am not sure of the nuances of the terminology being used here. How is Owens using "accident"? I'm somewhat unfamiliar with this concept of essences. Perhaps you could set that out a bit.

        At this point I can't say I even understand what is being said in premise one.

        I don't subscribe to a metaphysics of essences and accidents. What we say things are, in my view is labels that refer to one or a number of vague abstracted categories. I suppose in terms of their ontology, I am more of a reductionist. Meaning a brown bear, "is" a bear, a kind of bear, an individual individual bear, and a number of constantly changing chemicals, which are themselves moving and interacting sub-atomic particles and forces and who knows fundamentally. I don't see an essence there, not even at the quark level.

        • Presumably bears have a nature that distinguish them from, say, human beings. You know that you are a human being, and not a bear. Or, to put it another way, you know that "a human being" is a true answer to the question "what am I?", and "a bear" is not.

          Moreover, one has to posit an essence in order to say that some mutable thing comes into being or goes out of being. For example, certain changes, such as being burned to death, change me in such a way that I no longer exist, even though what I was made out of continues to exist in one form or another. Other changes, such as simply overheating on the beach, don't cause me to cease existing. Those changes are accidental changes. A change that would kill me would be an essential change. If you admit that things come to be and are destroyed, while that out of which they are made precedes and succeeds them (at least sometimes), then you're admitting there's some kind nature or essence that inheres in things.

          For the purpose of this argument, though, I don't think you need to accept the full Thomistic idea of essence. The general notion that things have natures is enough.

          As for how Owens uses "accident," he's just using it in the general sense of some feature of a thing that is not part of the nature of the thing. (E.g., it's not part of the nature of a human being be white. Having dark skin doesn't make one any more or less human.)

          • But this depends on what you mean by "nature" what you are describing to me seems to categories that are vague and themselves mutable. We have a category "bear" and "human", but these are context-specific and do not seem to have any objective meaning. What you are describing is attributes of things that we have classified into categories, I do not see any inherent nature in them, which I think is really code for this concept of essence.

          • You think that your being a human and not a bear depends on the context?

          • I wouldn't use the word context or thnk of it as "me" being a human or a bear as if I could be either. Depending what you mean by context, yes.

      • I'm confused by your analysis. "Accident" and "essence" in P1 are applied to "being". "Accidental being" would mean that the thing's existence isn't part of its essence. "Essential being" would mean that the thing's existence is part of its essence.

        Can you give me an example of a thing that possibly exists (but does not necessarily exist) whose existence is essential?

        Can you give me an example of a thing that necessarily exists whose existence isn't essential?

        • The terms "accidental being" and "essential being" don't appear in the argument, as far as I know. The argument does talk about being as accidental, which again, just means that being is not part of the nature of a thing.

          This is different from arguing from the contingency of things to a necessary being. It could be the case (and I think in fact is) that any beings whose existence and essence are really distinct are contingent, and that the set of such beings depends on a being whose existence and essence are not really distinct.

          But that's a potential consequence of this argument, not something presupposed or argued by it. And it doesn't follow straightforwardly either. Some would argue that a simple being, whose nature is existence, would necessarily create certain composite beings. Even Aquinas spoke of angels as being necessary in a certain sense.

          • It could be the case (and I think in fact is) that any beings whose existence and essence are really distinct are contingent, and that the set of such beings depends on a being whose existence and essence are not really distinct.

            Assume you're right. What's the substantial difference between this argument and contingent being -> necessary being argument?

            Even Aquinas spoke of angels as being necessary in a certain sense.

            This may be a good counter-example. Maybe God has to create angels. God doesn't have a choice. In that case, angels would be necessary (not contingent), since their existence follows necessarily from God's existence, but they couldn't exist without God, and so their existence isn't part of their essence.

            Would that be close?

          • The difference between this argument and the contingent being/necessary being argument is that this one doesn't begin from whether something might or might not be. It starts out from some particular thing that actually exists, and it asks if that existence is conceptually distinct from what the thing is. It's a very different starting point.

            I think your second paragraph gets at what I'm trying to say pretty well. One could accept Owens argument here and still think that there are beings that are necessary in the sense of existing in all possible worlds, even if they depend in those possible worlds on an simple being. (I don't think that, but there has to be a further argument to resolve the matter. Also, Aquinas meant something different by necessary than that God was compelled to create, but it's not really that important for this issue.)

          • Great! Thanks for the patient explanations.

  • The argument presented in syllogistic format applies to sets of things, which, as sets, are not within human ontological experience. Consequently, ontological conclusions cannot be drawn as alleged. Also, in every material thing, being and nature are fully harmonious. A being may be prior to the nature of a material entity, but in that existing material entity, being is not prior to nature.

    • Thank you for confirming what I think is a recent discovery of this. I have now understood Aristotle's principles to apply, as in a modern context of analytic a priori statements to apply to formulation of truth. I have recently related these three principles to the third category of Kant's critique: the first - Identity, on which he bases his categor8ical imperative; the second the hypothetical, which assumes the principle of non-contradiction as its basis: (and thus the importance of denying the consequent; affirming the https://www.physics.smu.edu/pseudo/examples_logic.html

      • You are much more familiar with Kant than I, so I am not able to address your analysis. I took one course on Kant over fifty years ago. My impression is that he asked, “How can we have intellectual knowledge of existing things?” After much thought he answered, “We can’t. We can only know the modes of our own thinking.” In my judgment, Kant was all about half of epistemology; about the knower isolated from the known.
        In contrast, Plato and Aristotle asked, “How can we have intellectual
        knowledge of existing things, when intellectual knowledge is universal and material things are particular?” Plato surmised that sense knowledge, which is particular, jogs our memory of previously known universals. Aristotle proposed that we have the intellectual power to abstract, the universal nature of a material thing from sense knowledge of it in its existence, because each material thing is a composite of a universal principle and principle of particularity.” Thus we know the nature of a material thing intellectually, while we know its particular existence, sensually. In other words, we know the thing itself. We do not just know our own thought process as Kant would say. We do not just remember the universals from some prior intellectual experience as Aristotle’s major professor, Plato, had said.

        • I believe Kant's 'point' was that there is not always a correlation between 'the universal nature of a material thing that is known intellectually, and the "principle of particularity" which is known sensually. Thus with respect to the sensual, the Modern Age did then truly begin with the doubt Descartes expressed with his 'knowledge' of the sensual, and ended after much debate between the Empiricists and the Rationalists, with Kant's critique of the limits of pure intellectual knowledge of universals if these were taken out of a context in which these were related to the individual judgment of particulars.

          He expressed this as: the concept without the precept (intuition or perception, or knowledge of the particular) is empty. The Precept without the concept is blind.
          I am just beginning to understand that I don't think Kant went far enough, and perhaps there is more faith put upon a logic dependent on abstract intellectualizations, than upon good judgement of and knowledge of 'particulars'. Perhaps, it is in the particular that Kant attributes the in-itself. Some philosophers following Kant identified the 'thing itself'
          with the Will, rather than the Intellect. The modes you speak about with respect to Kant, - may I identify these were the method of knowing that Kant calls, 'knowing for itself' - i.e. I suppose from the point of view of human knowledge and rationalization.

          No need to respond, unless you wish to correct a specific comment. I thank you for your response. I have been attempting for many years to understand why the ancients are so confident that they know 'the thing in itself'. If the thing itself is, (my understanding of: "Thus we know the nature of a material thing intellectually, while we know its particular existence sensually" merely of the sensual, this would seem to conflict with the predominant focus on the importance of the intellectual - (as in the will and the intellect are immaterial- which I recently discovered was again a contrast with the merely sensual, rather than the material world per se.) So thank you for making this dilemna between the moderns and the ancients a little clearer for me.

    • Dear Bob, concerning your comments about being not being prior to nature in the existing material entity, you may want to look over the section above when I reference Fr. Joseph Owens' response to the objection that being arises from the composition of a thing. It seems to me that Fr. Owens provides a solution to your problem. Secondly, things whose nature and existence are distinct is a part of our experience - the house in the article say - and we're simply asking if all of reality can consist of those types of things given their nature.

      • You didn't say being distinct from nature, but being prior to nature. That correction does not solve my other objection. We can initiate an inquiry into being, but based on that which we experience, not on that which we do not experience, namely 'all of reality'.

        • Dear Bob, the inquiry into being IS based on what we experience. Notice above that I start with our experience of sensible things (e.g., the house and the tree) and upon reflection we discover the accidentality and priority of being for such things - as demonstrated above. We then ask the question, "Given this information, can all of reality consist only of such things?" In other words, can we account for the existence of the sensible things of our experience if reality only consist of things whose being is accidental and prior to its nature? It's a perfectly legitimate question. We don't have to have experienced all of reality to ask this question because it is not based on induction. It is a metaphysical question--namely "what accounts for the very existence of such things whose being is accidental and prior to its nature?" In part 2 of this article I show that the only answer is that there must exist at least one entity whose being is not accidental and prior to its nature. So, I don't see how the argument would necessitate that we experience "all of reality" as you suggest. We start with a sensible thing and then inquire to whether such a thing can exist under a specific scenario - namely reality without a thing whose being is essential and coincident with its nature. The answer to that inquiry will be provided in part 2.

  • William Davis

    It's entirely possible that existence is a property of the substance the universe is made of. The substance isn't just matter, as we now know that matter and energy are interchangeable (the conversion of matter into energy inside of stars is the primary source of energy in the universe, though this conversion is caused by gravitation, which is a property of all matter). If existence is an inherent property, then there is no need for an explanation for the existence of the substance the universe is made of. Note that so far as we can tell, it is impossible to make matter/energy not exist (First Law of Thermodynamics). Thus, the property of existence seems to be unremoveable...this would suggest (but not prove) that the existence property is inherent and not bestowed by a third party.
    Bringing houses and man-made objects into the picture misses the point altogether in my opinion. We're not talking about objects, we're talking substance :)

    • Dear William, you're right in saying that if existence is intrinsic to the nature of something then there would be no need to explain that thing's existence by something outside itself. The question, however, is "Can the anything of the material order of things, i.e., the universe, be such a thing. I argue in the negative when I begin address the divine attributes of self-subsistent being, which will be in part 2 of the series.

      • William Davis

        I will patiently wait for part 2 then :)

  • Doug Shaver

    Karlo, I get the impression that this argument depends on a supposition that Aristotle was correct in his metaphysics. Am I correct about that impression?

    • Peter

      My problem with Aristotle and Aquinas is that they were unaware of the effects of extreme gravity on time, which ultimately undermines causality. The signs of the Creator for me lie in the appearance of design.

      • George

        how do you know what design is? how do you identify it? do you think everything, literally everything we experience, is designed?

        • Peter

          In the light of modern discoveries, I find the appearance of design to be a better indicator of the existence of a Creator than metaphysics. The cosmos has the overwhelming appearance of being designed and I can see no evidence to suggest that the cosmos is anything other than what it overwhelmingly appears to be.

    • That's incorrect, actually. This whole argument revolves around a real distinction between being and nature, which Aristotle rejected. Joseph Owens actually also wrote the monumental scholarly work demonstrating this, "The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics."

      • Doug Shaver

        Thank you for the clarification, Thomas.

    • Can you elaborate on this?

      • Doug Shaver

        Brian, I'm trying to formulate a response to your query. It's been difficult, but I'm still working on it.

        • Thanks, but I am sure you have better things to so in the summer!

          • Doug Shaver

            Reassuring myself that I'm making sense has a pretty high priority. So does discovering that I've made a mistake, if that's what happened.

  • Thanks for your Karlo. Allow me to draw your attention to the image. I may be totally wrong, and I stand to be corrected, but if my memory serves me right the image you have with the article is that of Saint Dominic by Fra Angelico.