Thomas Aquinas Archives

More Generally: Historical Thinkers (316)

August 24, 2021

Apophaticism and Religious Pluralism

Many world religions include some tendency toward, or tradition of, apophaticism, the view that the divine (or ultimate, or absolute, the object of our religious devotion) defies description in human language, and we must therefore restrict ourselves to saying what the divine is not. However, most of these religions are also committed to texts or traditions which appear to describe the divine in various positive ways. Puzzles arise when we attempt to combine these traditions of negative (or apophatic) theology and positive (or kataphatic) theology. If we can speak truly of God only by negation, what are we to make...
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March 16, 2020

An Argument that Divine Knowledge Must be Active

Among the basic assumptions of classical philosophical theology are God's aseity and impassibility. The former is God's attribute of being a se (literally, from Godself) in such a way that God is in no way derived from or dependent on anything else. The latter is God's attribute of being incapable of being acted upon (nothing can do anything to God). In humans, when we know something we believe it because its true, and in the typical case this 'because' is at least partly causal. (This raises notorious problems for, e.g., mathematical knowledge, but never mind that.) If, however, God is...
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February 24, 2020

Making (Non)Sense of Apophatic Theology

Recently, I've been trying to sort out the historical context of Berkeley's remarks on the divine attributes—and particularly the doctrine of analogy—in Alciphron 4. As this text shows, early modern philosophers were much more knowledgeable about, and influenced by, medieval philosophy than is often assumed. So I've been reading up on medieval understandings of analogy and apophaticism. Unrelatedly, I've also been reading through Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief. This is a hugely influential book, and I'd read—and even taught—the crucial central portion of the book but (I must admit) this is my first time reading it cover to cover. In part...
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February 19, 2020

Aquinas on the Meaning of 'God'

In the recent analytic philosophy literature on the meaning of the word/name 'God', it is common to begin by distinguishing two positions. In the first place, we might think of 'God' as abbreviating a definite description like 'the being than which none greater can be conceived' or 'the being which is worthy of worship' or 'the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good creator of the universe'. Some philosophers stipulate that they are using the word this way, but this kind of account is unsatisfactory as a description of how the word 'God' is used in English (or how its translations are...
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November 18, 2019

Moderate Divine Simplicity

According to the weak doctrine of divine simplicity—endorsed by nearly all theists—God has no proper parts. That is, there is no literal composition in God. According to the strong doctrine of divine simplicity—rooted in Neoplatonism and given classical expression by philosophers such as ibn Sina, Maimonides, and Aquinas—there is in God no metaphysically real complexity of any kind. For instance, in a human judge mercy and justice are two different traits of character that could come into conflict, but God's mercy just is God's justice which just is God. Further, according to the strong doctrine, God's essence just is God's...
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August 8, 2018

What is 'Acausal Thomism'?

In yesterday's post I discussed a view I called 'acausal Thomism'. I think I got the name from Tom Flint's article on divine providence in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, but I don't have the book with me now and the Google and Amazon previews are being uncooperative. In any event, in the comments on yesterday's post, both Mike Almeida and Brandon Watson suggested that this view was in need of clarification. I employed it in yesterday's argument, and I also said that I lean toward endorsing the view. So here I'll try to clarify exactly what I mean...
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October 20, 2015

May 20, 2013

Omnipotence and the 'Delimiter of Possibilities' View

Aquinas notes that some analyses of omnipotence have a serious problem: they reduce the apparently substantive claim "God is omnipotent" to the trivial claim that God "can do all that He is able to do." Now, perhaps it is true that to be omnipotent is to be able to do everything God is able to do (or at least that omnipotence entails this), but this is hardly an illuminating analysis. In several places in his Anselmian Explorations, Thomas Morris defends the view that the Anselmian God is the 'delimiter of possibilities.' This view has been endorsed by other Anselmians, and...
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January 29, 2013

A Theistic Argument for Compatibilism

One often hears it asserted that most theists are metaphysical libertarians. This seems to be supported, at least in the case of theistic philosophers, by the PhilPapers survey where target faculty specializing in philosophy of religion, who were overwhelmingly more likely to be theists than their peers in other specializations (72.3% for religion specialists vs. 14.6% overall), were also overwhelmingly more likely to be libertarians (57.4% vs. 13.7%). (Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to compare theists to non-theists across the board, so we just have this correlation among religion specialists.) Now, I suppose there are some reasons...
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January 15, 2013

A Hypothesis about the History of the Concept of Voluntariness

In Aristotelian physics, natural objects are characterized by their teleology, i.e. their tending toward certain ends. According to St. Thomas, what makes an event a voluntary action is that the subject of the event has knowledge of the end toward which the action is directed. Post-Galileo, physics is not about teleology in this way. Instead, physics is about laws, rules according to which events unfold. Accordingly, many early modern philosophers hold that a voluntary action is an event which unfolds according to a rule which has been adopted by the subject of the event. The clearest statement of this idea...
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May 17, 2012

A Brief History of Christian Conceptions of the 'Soul'

It is sometimes said that Christianity presupposes the existence of a soul, that, due to the progress of science, this view is no longer credible, and that, therefore, Christianity can no longer be taken seriously. It is very probable that there are some combinations of views, widely held among self-identified 'Christians', which can be effectively criticized along these lines. However, there are several puzzling features about this line of thought. The first is that it is not clear what the relevant 'progress of science' is supposed to be. Neuroscience is indeed advancing, but it can hardly be considered so advanced...
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September 13, 2010

What is Supposed to be Proved in Aquinas's Five Ways?

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'...
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October 8, 2008

Baber on the Real Presence

Some of the papers to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference have now been posted. Mine isn't up yet, but I will provide a link when it is. For now, I want to point readers to a paper by the University of San Diego's Harriet Baber which she has entitled simply "The Real Presence". We have previously discussed here the difference between transubstantiation and real presence. Baber describes this quite nicely in her introduction...
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December 26, 2007

Aristotle and Transubstantiation (Some More)

Tim Troutman (formerly known as "The God Fearin' Fiddler") of The God Fearin' Forum has responded to my latest discussion of Eucharistic theology and Aristotle. Perhaps I have not been very clear. Whatever the case, Tim persistently misunderstands both my claim and my argument for it. I am going to try to make what I am claiming very clear here:
The doctrine of transubstantiation, as expounded by Trent, is rendered incoherent by any system of metaphysics sufficiently different from Aristotle's.
This should not be confused with any of the following claims, which I do not make...
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November 2, 2007

Transubstantiation vs. Real Presence

The God Fearin' Fiddler has a post up on the historical significance of transubstantiation which has led to some interesting discussions. The principle problem with this post and the discussion that follows it, however, is that no one seems to understand the difference between transubstantiation and the Real Presence. Unfortunately, I'm not an expert on this either, but I do think I know enough to clear up some historical and metaphysical confusion. I am going to use two principal sources - session 13 of the Council of Trent, and the relevant article from the Catholic Encyclopedia - to explain the historical development and specific content of the doctrine of transubstantiation, and then attempt to show two things...
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May 2, 2006

"Three Persons, One Substance" - Paradox or Solution?

I seem to have opened quite the can of worms in my post on Church dogma the other day when I said: There seem to be some clear (to me) cases of Christian dogma that are not obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture. For example, consider the formulation of the trinity as three persons (Greek hupostaseis and/or prosopa, Latin personae) in one substance/essence (Greek ousia, Latin essentia and/or substantia). This type of formulation is extremely common in the Christian tradition, and is derived primarily from the Chalcedonian Creed. However, I don't think we can say that it is obviously uniquely deriveable...
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