An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

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An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  Andy on Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:06 am

I'm not sure if you all agree philosophy - especially when concerned with theological matters - belongs to the science-section.
But I'm not sure where to put it really.

Anyway: this semester I had a course in which we read a few section of the Summa theologia - partly in Latin! - from Thomas Aquinas.
In this work he elaborates his infamous 'quinque viae', his 5 ways to demonstrate the existence of God.
But while these are often thought to be attempts to 'prove' - he doens't use that word - the existence of God, they can also be read a bit differently.

Now, it is probably impossible to say Thomas meant for this alternative reading to be. There are some obvious reasons to stick to the more conventional reading.
Thomas was a 13th century Benedictine monk and he formulates these 'quinque viae' in a Quastio that deals with the problem wether or not God's existence can be demonstrated - a stance which he affirms and then elaborates in these 5 'ways that show us God'.

But even in spite of these obvious motivations, one aspect about these 'god proofs' should strike the modern day reader: in none of his 'demonstrations' does he actually mention God while elaborating them. He puts forward 5 logical-metaphysical arguments which he hold to be at work in reality and than concludes them with some variation on 'And this is what people call God'. Actually: one of these argumentations doesn't even end with such a formulation - it was either forgotten by Thomas or by a very early transcriber of this gigantic corpus.
So you could also read these 'quinque viae' from an anthropologic point view: Thomas concludes that people see God into phenomena - it is rather odd that he refers to what 'people' think and thus doesn't even speak for his own right.

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Sat Jan 14, 2012 4:22 pm

It's as if he's just explaining what people mean when they use the word God.

Long, long ago I remember a teacher who quoted Thomas as stating that his Summa was all "vanity." And I believe that teacher belonged to a religious order.

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  Andy on Sun Jan 15, 2012 12:06 am

Well, the Church sure didn't really know what to make of him.
The integration of the Aristotelian - and thus "heathen" - corpus that had been refound was a controversial project at the time and Thomas took this further than anybody had ever done.

Shortly after his dead numerous statements of Aristotle were officialy declared blasphemous, including elements that had been recuperated by Thomas.
But it only took a few decades for the minds to change radically: Thomas was reinstated by the catholic church and became a saint very quickly and even went on the obtain the title of supreme teacher of Christian faith.

Among modern day philosopher it's bon ton to state that Thomas wasn't a philosopher but rather a theologian - from a quantitave point of view this is cerainly reasonable. And yet he did write one of the very rare works of medieval philosophy which is completely devoid of theologic matters, De ente et essentia at the wee young age of 18 or so.
So in some way, the supreme teacher of a religious doctrine is at the same time a transitional figure between a world in which "science" was fully incorporated by and made subordinate to the contect of that religious doctrine and a world in which "science" has reclaimed its autonomy.

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:42 am

I've often said that using logic or science to prove the existence of God would be blasphemous--because The Church demands belief based in Faith.

So maybe Thomas was not as blasphemous as I thought. geek

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:50 am

pinhedz wrote:Long, long ago I remember a teacher who quoted Thomas as stating that his Summa was all "vanity."
It's coming back to me now--it was not a teacher who told me that.

It was that very suspicious man in Charlie Wikman's neighborhood that Charlie took me to visit when he was rebelling against his parents.

Charlie told me that this man was a "humanist."

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Sun Jan 15, 2012 2:04 am

Who can say how that "humanist" might have warped my young mind. Suspect

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  Andy on Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:16 am

Well, the entire question of the relation between 'science' - say: non-doctrinal rational inquiry in the broadest of senses, "philosophy" should you prefer that term - and 'theology' - understood to be a science itself! - forms one of the principal issues of "medieval" philosophy from the age of the Churchfathers up until the aftermath of Galileo, with Descartes as the first true post-medieval thinker.

So the idea that demonstrating the existence of God through the sciences is blasphemous was cerainly true during certain ages, but far less controversial during others. Godproofs are actually quite common.

Thomas' brilliance lay in his intuition to treat the domain of the sciences as the effects of God. That way he could do justice to many aspects of Aristotelianism that were superior to the neo-platonic (Augustinian) concepts of his time. And through Aristotle's notion of a hierarchy in the sciences based upon their level of abstaction he was also able to argue that a study of this "creation" through scientific rather than theological inquiry would have to lead to the same conclusions. Theology, the sacra doctrina studied God through the Revelation, metaphysics lead to the scientia divina which found God through the understanding of the nature of his creation.
Given the context of the time, what Thomas really did was give a huge promotion to "science".

This strong unity between revelation and creation became already problematic prior to the beginning of the rennaissance - when the Plague ravaged 1/3rd of Europe's population, it became hard to maintain that this was the work of a benevolent God. Which is one of the reasons why nominalism came on the scene - a new deep distinction between faith and science.
What Galileo did was to trespass this line again, but now from the other side: he maintained that his math - a product of man - was so of such a nature that if it told the earth moved around the sun, it meant this was actually physically the case. A dictate to God - hard to stomach for a doctrine that was alreadt falling apart.

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Wed Jan 18, 2012 1:49 am

If proving the the existence of the God of the old testament becomes too difficult, one common ploy is to find something that without a doubt exists, and declare: "Let's call that God."

For example: Behold the beautiful/imposing/incomprehensible [fill in the blank here]. I don't know how it came to be, but whatever force or being created it, that is "God."

Creationists start out with that argument, and somehow make their way from there to preaching the bible. scratch


Last edited by pinhedz on Wed Jan 18, 2012 2:00 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Wed Jan 18, 2012 1:57 am

To claim that ignorance is a proof is a ploy used by both the creationists and by Kant. Shocked

The creationists claim that if scientists cannot explain the process by which blood that did not clot evolved into blood that does clot, that means that it must be a miracle and the truth of the Book of Genesis is thereby proven.

Kant says: "...it [pure reason] will confer an inestimable benefit on morality and religion, by showing that all the objections urged against them may be silenced forever by the Socratic method, that is to say, by proving the ignorance of the objector."

So, does this mean that if I lack a bullet proof explanation of my own for the origin of the universe, that I must accept any explanation presented by anyone else?

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Wed Jan 18, 2012 2:04 am

pinhedz wrote:If proving the the existence of the God of the old testament becomes too difficult, one common ploy is to find something that without a doubt exists, and declare: "Let's call that God."

For example: Behold the beautiful/imposing/incomprehensible [fill in the blank here]. I don't know how it came to be, but whatever force or being created it, that is "God."
A common grade-school proof of God used to be "I don't think that anyone who studies astronomy could truly not believe in God."

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  Andy on Wed Jan 18, 2012 6:06 pm

pinhedz wrote:
So, does this mean that if I lack a bullet proof explanation of my own for the origin of the universe, that I must accept any explanation presented by anyone else?

No, it doesn't.

I'm unfamiliar with this particular quote - Kant only wrote 7 gazillion pages, so this ignorace makes me blush just a little Embarassed -, but even without any precise knowledge of the context in which this phrase is found I'm pretty confident that that's not what he means.

His emphasize obviously lies on morality. That he mentions religion in the same breath makes perfect sense if you keep in mind that his conception of religion in his critical period is based entirely on the moral philosophy he has come to develop. Start reading Die Religion innerhalb die Grenzen der blossen Vernunft - not sure about its English title, probably something like Religion within the bounds of pure reason and you'll notice that the opinion part is concerned with drawing a picture of the 'condition humaine' from a moral p-o-v.

So you don't have to understand religion in the sense of a doctrine which has the absolute answer of how the universe was made.
Knowledge about the origins of the universe exceeds human factulties according to what Kant wrote in the Kritik der reinen Vernunft.
And there are good reasons to assume that Kant's own vision of these matters was quite different from what we are being taught by christianity: Kant helped put forward one of the first versions of the theory that our solar system emerged from a nebular structure, for instance.

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  pinhedz on Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:43 am

The quote from Kant (sorry about it being in English) is on page 15 (out of 20) of the Preface to the 2nd Edition of the Kritik.

I was a bit taken aback by it, because he had been very rational up until that point (and I'm sure he didn't mean it like it read).

Kant seems very wordy. Much of what he is saying is simply that the practice he calls "speculative reason" is like a kid with a chemistry set randomly mixing chemicals together, burning, boiling or melting them--whatever comes into his head, just to see what happens. Whatever happens is verifiable by direct observation, which is a good thing, but the blind fumbling is the height of inefficiency, and it would take forever to work out the principles of chemistry that way.

If, however, the chemist first formulates his own principles of chemistry (about chemical bonds and so forth, or whatever), he can then conduct experiments to prove or disprove the principles that he has proposed, instead of using the random approach. And after a finite number of iterations of proposition and experimentation, he should be able to arrive at well demonstrated principles of chemistry. This is what I understand to be the distinction between "pure reason" and "speculative reason."

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Re: An alternative reading of Thomas' "Quinque viae"

Post  Andy on Mon Jan 23, 2012 10:43 am

Normally you should find numerations in the margin of your copy, a bit like the system you find the Bible.
For the second edition kritik der reinen vernunft they will start with a B.
That makes it handy to indicate what section you're speaking about exactly.
In Aquinas' days, for instance, the exact composition of the Aristotelian Corpus in volumes and chapters was different than ours today.
So you'll often find references he makes - he rarely quotes but rephrases very briefly and adds a reference - to Aristotle, but finding the referent in a modern copy Aristotle's work will proof to be quite hard. No No No

Kant is very wordy indeed. He is often said to have been a terrible stylist.
I'm not sure I really agree with that. Not because I think Kant was such an elegant writer, but because almost all philosophers are poor stylist - Plato, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are noteworthy exceptions. The kings of stylistic horros are post-modern French philosophers. But that's usually because they write so extensively to hide they have nothing to say! Laughing Laughing Laughing

As for your remarks on 'speculative reason': you distinguish between verificationism (most noteably associated with the Wiener Kreis, early 20th century) and falsificationism (formulated by former Wiener Kreis-accolyte Karl Popper in Logik der Forschung).
I would agree with you to some extend: as long as the matter at hand is a 'closed system', a domaine in which we are confronted with a set of problems for which we have already marked out the limits within which we will search for an answer. Outside of such a domaine, falsificationism and verificationism really are quite hard to tell a part.

To illustrate: you refer to developping a theory of chemistry first - e.g. how atoms bond and such.
But you could only work out an attempt at such a theory if you have already accepted certain basic notions - the idea of atoms, that they can bond and so on.
Suppose you would present this problem to a group of brilliant students that were thaught at the State University of a depostic totalitarian state.
The head of State hated chemistry in school and therefor has ordered it never to be thaught in his empire.
So we have before us a group of say 15,000 students which are trully brilliant from every point of view, except for the fact that they don't have even the simpelest idea of chemistry. They litteraly have never heard of things like cells, atoms, molecules and such.
Now, we divide them in 2 groups: one will procede by randomly testing in a lab we provide them with and thus they will try to formulate a theory.
The second group will only be allowed in the lab after they have formulated a theory and a set of experiments they will use to test the theory.

I think it's clear to see that the theories developped by the second group will be equally random and undirected as the experiments conducted by the first group. As they could come up with the wildest ideas imaginable, there's no way to tell that falsification will prove to be more fruitfull than verificationism.

If we did give them chunks of our theory of chemistry and than tested them with formulating some problems, the second group might indeed be using a more sound methodology.

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