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Motion in the First Way

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  • Motion in the First Way

    What did Aquinas mean?

    -------------

    Is the first way of Aquinas about scientific motion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    So many times, when I encounter atheists on the internet and they want to know why I believe in God, I ask them a simple question. I want to start with the first of the five ways of Thomas Aquinas. I don’t want to know what you think of the argument first. I just want you to tell me what the argument is.

    It happened again yesterday with someone making a statement not just about what the first way was, but about all the ways of Aquinas and why they are all wrong. Again, not what I had asked for. It’s really a simple request. First, tell me what the argument is so we can make sure we’re discussing the same argument.

    The number of atheists that have met this request so far is zero.

    Not only that, but what they think are devastating objections are really the same ones I hear all the time and one of the most popular ones is that this is bad science. We understand motion differently now. So what’s wrong with that?

    For a start, let’s look at the argument itself.
    The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

    Aquinas tells us what motion is in this. It is the reduction of potentiality to actuality. What does that mean? Think of actuality as what is. Think of potentiality as what could be. That what could be is also not necessarily good or bad. I am sitting down right now in actuality. I have the potential to stand up and I could do so. On the other hand, I am alive in actuality right now, and I have the potential to be dead. Let’s hope that’s not any time soon.

    So what is motion? Pretty much, any kind of change whatsoever.

    “Okay. But the objection still seems valid. Isn’t physical change a kind of change?”

    Of course, it is. The problem is that the objection acts as if that is the only kind of change Aquinas has in mind. It is not. Just my mind going from one idea to another is from potentiality to actuality. Let’s take a look at another example. Angels.

    At this, an atheist can say “But angels aren’t real!”

    Irrelevant question. If we are studying Aquinas’s system, we have to realize that he thought they were real. So what does he say?

    Prima Pars. Question 53. Article 2.
    On the contrary, If the angel be moved from one place to another, then, when he is in the term “whither,” he is no longer in motion, but is changed. But a process of changing precedes every actual change: consequently he was being moved while existing in some place. But he was not moved so long as he was in the term “whence.” Therefore, he was moved while he was in mid-space: and so it was necessary for him to pass through intervening space.

    I answer that, As was observed above in the preceding article, the local motion of an angel can be continuous, and non-continuous. If it be continuous, the angel cannot pass from one extreme to another without passing through the mid-space; because, as is said by the Philosopher (Phys. v, text 22; vi, text 77), “The middle is that into which a thing which is continually moved comes, before arriving at the last into which it is moved”; because the order of first and last in continuous movement, is according to the order of the first and last in magnitude, as he says (Phys. iv, text 99).

    The technical stuff doesn’t really matter at this point. What does matter is that Aquinas speaks of motion twice. He speaks of that for angels. In Q. 50 and Article 2, he quotes Dionysus to make his point.
    On the contrary, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv): “The first creatures are understood to be as immaterial as they are incorporeal.”

    Thus, motion plays to things that are not physical as well. Laws of science do not change that. We could hypothetically have a world where we were all angels and a group of holy angels and a group of fallen angels got together to discuss ultimate reality and there are somehow atheist fallen angels. The argument would still work.

    This is also why science cannot touch this argument at all. As long as you have any change going on, you have the motion that is needed in the argument. Those who jump to science misunderstand the argument greatly.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters
    (And I affirm the virgin birth)
    Is the first way of Aquinas about scientific motion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out. So many times, when I encounter atheists on the internet and they want to know why I believe in God, I ask them a simple question. I want to start with the first of the five ways … Continue reading Motion in the First Way

  • #2
    If I understand what you're trying to get at here, you have your own special personal way of understanding Aquinas's First Way.

    The traditional reading of Aquinas' First Way is something like:
    ??? -> motion -> motion -> motion -> motion -> ...
    The "???" is God.

    And anyone scientifically informed in the modern world just says "motion is kinetic energy" and kinetic energy can be transformed to other types of energy (e.g. potential energy) in a huge variety of ways so actually the idea of "motion -> motion -> motion -> ..." is wrong and actually energy changes type regularly (e.g. rolling a ball up a gently sloped hill and it stops moving once all its kinetic energy has become gravitational potential energy and/or heat energy from friction, and motion doesn't beget motion in the sense that the ball stops moving).

    And basically you want to replace that with:
    ??? -> change -> change -> change -> ...
    The "???" is God.
    Energy changing from one type to another counts as 'change' for the purpose of this.

    IMO by doing this you've defended the argument against immediate dismissal from modern science in terms of how motion and kinetic energy work. But you've done so at the expense of turning this into a completely pan-standard First-Cause / cosmological argument. There seems no difference between the word "change" in your argument chain and the word "cause".

    I would say that the First Cause argument is generically philosophically thought-provoking. But at face value the "???" seems likely to be something mathematical. The argument doesn't give much reason at all to think the "???" shares many attributes that we might want to attributed to God, e.g. consciousness / sentience.
    "I hate him passionately", he's "a demonic force" - Tucker Carlson, in private, on Donald Trump
    "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism" - George Orwell
    "[Capitalism] as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evils. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy" - Albert Einstein

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Starlight View Post
      If I understand what you're trying to get at here, you have your own special personal way of understanding Aquinas's First Way.

      The traditional reading of Aquinas' First Way is something like:
      ??? -> motion -> motion -> motion -> motion -> ...
      The "???" is God.
      Depends on if you are going with a horizontal argument or a vertical one.

      And anyone scientifically informed in the modern world just says "motion is kinetic energy"
      Oh right. We get to redefine the term Aquinas used into a meaning he never gave to it and then plug it back in.

      and kinetic energy can be transformed to other types of energy (e.g. potential energy) in a huge variety of ways so actually the idea of "motion -> motion -> motion -> ..." is wrong and actually energy changes type regularly (e.g. rolling a ball up a gently sloped hill and it stops moving once all its kinetic energy has become gravitational potential energy and/or heat energy from friction, and motion doesn't beget motion in the sense that the ball stops moving).
      I'd like to think you have a point here, but it's more you like the sound of your own voice.

      And basically you want to replace that with:
      ??? -> change -> change -> change -> ...
      The "???" is God.
      Energy changing from one type to another counts as 'change' for the purpose of this.
      Do you mean horizontally or vertically? It's okay. I'll wait for you to google what that means.

      IMO by doing this you've defended the argument against immediate dismissal from modern science in terms of how motion and kinetic energy work. But you've done so at the expense of turning this into a completely pan-standard First-Cause / cosmological argument. There seems no difference between the word "change" in your argument chain and the word "cause".
      Actually, there is. A change is the actualization of potential. A cause is that which brings about the actualization of potential.

      I would say that the First Cause argument is generically philosophically thought-provoking. But at face value the "???" seems likely to be something mathematical. The argument doesn't give much reason at all to think the "???" shares many attributes that we might want to attributed to God, e.g. consciousness / sentience.
      Sigh. If only Aquinas had just taken the time to write something after the five ways to establish the nature of the God whose existence He had shown. Sure would have been nice if he had done that. Right?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Apologiaphoenix View Post
        Do you mean horizontally or vertically? It's okay. I'll wait for you to google what that means.
        I doubt googling the words "horizontal" and "vertical" is going to come across whatever meaning you are making up here. You can't invent your own terminology and expect anyone else to overly care about your terms.

        If only Aquinas had just taken the time to write something after the five ways to establish the nature of the God whose existence He had shown.
        Then those arguments constitute ones people might actually care about.

        Generally speaking, I think most people (including atheists, scientists, philosophers etc) are happy with the idea of their being a first cause. It's simply regarded as reasonable to assume it's something mathematical or law-of-physics-ish. Reasons for thinking it's "God" seem about as much as reasons for thinking the desk in front of me is "God".
        "I hate him passionately", he's "a demonic force" - Tucker Carlson, in private, on Donald Trump
        "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism" - George Orwell
        "[Capitalism] as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evils. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy" - Albert Einstein

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Starlight View Post
          I doubt googling the words "horizontal" and "vertical" is going to come across whatever meaning you are making up here. You can't invent your own terminology and expect anyone else to overly care about your terms.
          Except I'm not making it up. Bill Craig has a horizontal argument. Aquinas has a vertical one.

          But I understand you're not familiar with contrary thought.

          Then those arguments constitute ones people might actually care about.

          Generally speaking, I think most people (including atheists, scientists, philosophers etc) are happy with the idea of their being a first cause. It's simply regarded as reasonable to assume it's something mathematical or law-of-physics-ish. Reasons for thinking it's "God" seem about as much as reasons for thinking the desk in front of me is "God".
          Except Aquinas gives you the reasons after He demonstrates God.

          Bad Aquinas! How dare you make Starlight read further for answers to the questions!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Apologiaphoenix View Post
            Bill Craig has a horizontal argument. Aquinas has a vertical one.
            I've read plenty of things written by both authors at various times. Full books by Craig, not full books by Aquinas since Summa Theologica weighs in at 1000-3000 pages depending on the version / publisher. I don't recall either author using the terms "horizontal" or "vertical".

            Obviously attempting to google the words "horizontal" and "vertical" is not going to achieve anything productive since it's going to give hits on the standard English definitions of those words, so do you want to actually tell us what you are using those words to mean, or shall I just speculate wildly?

            But I understand you're not familiar with contrary thought.

            Sure, I read dozens of apologetics books as a teenager, did a philosophy major at university, wrote a book about the diversity of views in Christian theology, and have spent 20 years browsing Christian theology and apologetics forums... because I'm "not familiar with contrary thought". Sure.

            Except Aquinas gives you the reasons after He demonstrates God.
            Great for him. Let's imagine I can't be bothered reading 1000 pages on the subject. Perhaps you can condense his most pertinent points into a paragraph? Or make it tomorrows thread topic if you like.

            Bad Aquinas! How dare you make Starlight read further for answers to the questions!
            Bad you for saying the answers are supposedly somewhere within the 1000s of pages of Aquinas' works without giving a clearer reference. Given his writings on that topic are not famous in philosophy the way his 5 Ways argument is, I've inclined towards assuming that whatever he says is a very bad argument otherwise it would presumably be more widely known.

            A quick google suggests Aquinas doesn't give decent arguments on the topic. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy comments on the topic:
            even if the cosmological argument is sound or cogent, the difficult task remains to show, as part of natural theology, that the necessary being to which the cosmological argument concludes is the God of religion, and if so, of which religion... Although Aquinas was quick to make the identification between God and the first mover or first cause... such identification seems to go beyond the causal reasoning that informs the argument.
            "I hate him passionately", he's "a demonic force" - Tucker Carlson, in private, on Donald Trump
            "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism" - George Orwell
            "[Capitalism] as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evils. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy" - Albert Einstein

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Starlight View Post
              I've read plenty of things written by both authors at various times. Full books by Craig, not full books by Aquinas since Summa Theologica weighs in at 1000-3000 pages depending on the version / publisher. I don't recall either author using the terms "horizontal" or "vertical".


              Obviously attempting to google the words "horizontal" and "vertical" is not going to achieve anything productive since it's going to give hits on the standard English definitions of those words, so do you want to actually tell us what you are using those words to mean, or shall I just speculate wildly?

              A quick search using the terms "craig horizontal aquinas vertical" yields sufficient results.


              Sure, I read dozens of apologetics books as a teenager, did a philosophy major at university, wrote a book about the diversity of views in Christian theology, and have spent 20 years browsing Christian theology and apologetics forums... because I'm "not familiar with contrary thought". Sure.

              You seem deficient, much like your understanding of American politics despite years of observation.


              A quick google suggests Aquinas doesn't give decent arguments on the topic. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy comments on the topic:
              even if the cosmological argument is sound or cogent, the difficult task remains to show, as part of natural theology, that the necessary being to which the cosmological argument concludes is the God of religion, and if so, of which religion... Although Aquinas was quick to make the identification between God and the first mover or first cause... such identification seems to go beyond the causal reasoning that informs the argument.
              The cosmological argument isn't intended to get to "the God of religion, and if so, of which religion".
              P1) If , then I win.

              P2)

              C) I win.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Starlight View Post
                I've read plenty of things written by both authors at various times. Full books by Craig, not full books by Aquinas since Summa Theologica weighs in at 1000-3000 pages depending on the version / publisher. I don't recall either author using the terms "horizontal" or "vertical".

                Obviously attempting to google the words "horizontal" and "vertical" is not going to achieve anything productive since it's going to give hits on the standard English definitions of those words, so do you want to actually tell us what you are using those words to mean, or shall I just speculate wildly?
                Craig's argument is a horizontal one. It starts from a point in time and goes forward to our point in time.

                Aquinas's is vertical. It doesn't start necessarily at any point in time and could hypothetically work with an eternal universe. Aquinas said reason alone can't tell you the world had a beginning.


                Sure, I read dozens of apologetics books as a teenager, did a philosophy major at university, wrote a book about the diversity of views in Christian theology, and have spent 20 years browsing Christian theology and apologetics forums... because I'm "not familiar with contrary thought". Sure.

                Great for him. Let's imagine I can't be bothered reading 1000 pages on the subject. Perhaps you can condense his most pertinent points into a paragraph? Or make it tomorrows thread topic if you like.
                Ah yes. Condense numerous chapters in a paragraph. Well said from the mind that doesn't bother.

                Bad you for saying the answers are supposedly somewhere within the 1000s of pages of Aquinas' works without giving a clearer reference. Given his writings on that topic are not famous in philosophy the way his 5 Ways argument is, I've inclined towards assuming that whatever he says is a very bad argument otherwise it would presumably be more widely known.
                It's the section RIGHT AFTER the one where he demonstrates the existing of God. You know, the doctrine of God.

                Maybe he just figured people reading his book would turn the page.

                A quick google suggests Aquinas doesn't give decent arguments on the topic.
                That settles it I guess.

                The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy comments on the topic:
                even if the cosmological argument is sound or cogent, the difficult task remains to show, as part of natural theology, that the necessary being to which the cosmological argument concludes is the God of religion, and if so, of which religion... Although Aquinas was quick to make the identification between God and the first mover or first cause... such identification seems to go beyond the causal reasoning that informs the argument.
                So the problem with the argument is that it doesn't prove what it was never meant to prove.....

                You might as well Aquinas's argument doesn't work because it doesn't tell you how to bake an apple pie.

                Give an argument about why the first way alone fails.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Diogenes View Post
                  A quick search using the terms "craig horizontal aquinas vertical" yields sufficient results.
                  Okay thanks, it does. Having read those... I still don't care about the difference as I am happy to grant a 'first cause' regardless of whether it is horizontal or vertical.

                  The cosmological argument isn't intended to get to "the God of religion, and if so, of which religion".
                  Indeed. And that is why it doesn't greatly interest me in a religious context, because it doesn't get anywhere religiously useful if it succeeds: As an atheist, I think the cosmological argument succeeds... it just doesn't prove anything religiously useful.
                  "I hate him passionately", he's "a demonic force" - Tucker Carlson, in private, on Donald Trump
                  "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism" - George Orwell
                  "[Capitalism] as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evils. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy" - Albert Einstein

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Apologiaphoenix View Post
                    Craig's argument is a horizontal one. It starts from a point in time and goes forward to our point in time.

                    Aquinas's is vertical. It doesn't start necessarily at any point in time and could hypothetically work with an eternal universe. Aquinas said reason alone can't tell you the world had a beginning.
                    Thank you for finally providing that clarification.

                    As I said to Diogenes, I am not personally overly worried about that difference, and happy to accept the concept of there being a first cause.

                    Give an argument about why the first way alone fails.
                    I think it succeeds. It just doesn't remotely come anywhere near proving the existence of God. It shows a first cause. A first cause isn't "God" anymore than gravity is "God" or 1+1=2 is "God".
                    "I hate him passionately", he's "a demonic force" - Tucker Carlson, in private, on Donald Trump
                    "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism" - George Orwell
                    "[Capitalism] as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evils. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy" - Albert Einstein

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Starlight View Post

                      Indeed. And that is why it doesn't greatly interest me in a religious context, because it doesn't get anywhere religiously useful if it succeeds: As an atheist, I think the cosmological argument succeeds... it just doesn't prove anything religiously useful.
                      The cosmological argument isn't intended to be "religiously useful" though if you thought it succeeds, you wouldn't be an atheist.
                      P1) If , then I win.

                      P2)

                      C) I win.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Diogenes View Post
                        if you thought it succeeds, you wouldn't be an atheist.
                        I think it (versions of it anyway) logically succeeds as an argument in proving that there is a 'first cause'. Hence I think it "succeeds". I do not see any reason to think the first cause is God anymore than I see any reason to think gravity is God (and in fact see various reasons to think the first cause cannot be God), hence I can be an atheist despite thinking the argument succeeds.

                        It is philosophically interesting to ponder what the first cause could be exactly, in the same sort of way as it is mathematically interesting to ponder why exactly 1+1=2, or philosophically interesting to contemplate the idea of perceiving color. But in terms of religion, it's not a reason not to be an atheist.
                        "I hate him passionately", he's "a demonic force" - Tucker Carlson, in private, on Donald Trump
                        "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism" - George Orwell
                        "[Capitalism] as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evils. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy" - Albert Einstein

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Starlight View Post
                          I doubt googling the words "horizontal" and "vertical" is going to come across whatever meaning you are making up here. You can't invent your own terminology and expect anyone else to overly care about your terms.

                          That is supremely ironic given how you're 'reinventing' a term Aquinas uses (motion) into something narrower and different, and then you think how anyone who wants to understand what Aquinas was actually arguing should overly care about your thoughts on his arguments.
                          ...>>> Witty remark or snarky quote of another poster goes here <<<...

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MaxVel View Post
                            That is supremely ironic given how you're 'reinventing' a term Aquinas uses (motion) into something narrower and different, and then you think how anyone who wants to understand what Aquinas was actually arguing should overly care about your thoughts on his arguments.
                            If you're not going to bother to read the thread enough to post a coherent comment, maybe don't bother? AP is the one trying to reinterpret Aquinas. I am the one barely caring about the subject.
                            "I hate him passionately", he's "a demonic force" - Tucker Carlson, in private, on Donald Trump
                            "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism" - George Orwell
                            "[Capitalism] as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evils. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy" - Albert Einstein

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Starlight View Post
                              If you're not going to bother to read the thread enough to post a coherent comment, maybe don't bother? AP is the one trying to reinterpret Aquinas. I am the one barely caring about the subject.
                              Right. I mean, all I did was quote Aquinas himself on what he means by motion.

                              Should I have quoted Freud or Marx or someone else instead? Maybe they knew better what Aquinas meant than Aquinas did.

                              Comment

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