I'm not a Medieval scholar, so I don't really know what I'm talking about, but that's ok. Sobel's fifth chapter is concerned with Aquinas's Second Way, one of the classic texts for the cosmological argument. Sobel raises some concerns about the premises, but for the most part he finds them plausible (though he may ultimately reject one or more of them). His main concern is that, as he schematizes the argument, a fallacy of equivocation occurs at the very end. Sobel reads the 'good' part of the argument as (perhaps) justifying the 'Preliminary Conclusion':
(8) "[There is] a first cause among efficient causes" (ST I q2,a3 p. 22) - more fully, there is, for all sensible things that have efficient causes, a first cause that does not have an efficient cause and is not itself a sensible being. (p. 174, brackets and emphasis original)
I want to suggest that Aquinas's intention was to demonstrate (8a) and stop there. Take a look at ST I q2,a2:
Reply to Objection 3. From effects not proportionate to the cause no perfect knowledge of that cause can be obtained. Yet from every effect the existence of the cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects; though from them we cannot perfectly know God as He is in His essence.
When Aquinas takes up, in q3, the question "Whether God exists?", he is, I think, adopting this strategy. The line of thought is this: pick any sensible object you like. We can show that something, x, was the first cause of that object. Since the object exists, x must exist (or have existed). In fact (though we can't prove it) x is God.
This, I take it, is what Aquinas alludes to at the end of each Way when he writes:
this everyone understands to be God.
to which everyone gives the name God.
This all men speak of as God.
this we call God.
this being we call God.
This reading might seem odd to us today, but I think it makes a lot of sense given how the beginning of ST is framed. In articles one and two, Aquinas frames the debate as one over whether the existence of God is provable or whether it is an article of faith. He concludes that the existence of God should in principle be provable, and only then asks the question "Whether God exists?" as a way of introducing proofs. From this perspective, the de re conclusion is to the point, insofar as, on this reading, Aquinas has proved the existence of something, and that something is (it is agreed by all parties to the debate) God.
(A concluding biographical note: this reading of the words "this all men speak of as God" and the related phrases was the one I came away with when I was first introduced to the Five Ways by the late James Ross, but I can't remember whether Ross endorsed it, or if it was just the way I read the text.)Posted by Kenny at September 13, 2010 11:11 PM
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