of the Existence of God
Philosopher Edward Feser has a new book out in which he puts forth five arguments for the existence of God. These are not the “Five Ways” of Aquinas so it might be refreshing to discuss one or all of these. At the very least this OP may introduce readers to arguments for the existence of God which they had previously been unaware of.
The five proofs are:
- The Aristotelian Proof
- The Neo-Platonic Proof
- The Augustinian Proof
- The Thomistic Proof
- The Rationalist Proof
: The Aristotelian Proof
Chapter 1 defends what I call the Aristotelian proof of the existence of God. It begins with the fact that there is real change in the world, analyzes change as the actualization of potential, and argues that no potential could be actualized at all unless there is something which can actualize without itself being actualized—a “purely actual actualizer” or Unmoved Mover, as Aristotle characterized God. Aristotle developed an argument of this sort in book 8 of his Physics and book 12 of his Metaphysics. Later Aristotelians such as Maimonides and Aquinas developed their own versions—the first of Aquinas’ Five Ways being one statement of such an argument. These earlier writers expressed the argument in terms of archaic scientific notions such as the movement of the heavenly spheres, but as modern Aristotelians have shown, the essential kernel of the argument in no way depends on this outdated husk. Chapter 1 aims to present the core idea of the argument as it might be developed by an Aristotle, Maimonides, or Aquinas were they writing today.
: The Neo-Platonic Proof
Chapter 2 defends what I call the Neo-Platonic proof of God’s existence. It begins with the fact that the things of our experience are in various ways composite or made up of parts, and argues that the ultimate cause of such things can only be something which is absolutely simple or noncomposite, what Plotinus called “the One”. The core idea of such an argument can be found in Plotinus’ Enneads, and Aquinas gave expression to it as well. Indeed, the notion of divine simplicity is absolutely central to the classical theist conception of God, though strangely neglected by contemporary writers on natural theology, theists no less than atheists. Among the aims of this book is to help restore it to its proper place.
: The Augustinian Proof
Chapter 3 defends an Augustinian proof of God’s existence. It begins by arguing that universals (redness, humanness, triangularity, etc.), propositions, possibilities, and other abstract objects are in some sense real, but rejects Plato’s conception of such objects as existing in a “third realm” distinct from any mind and distinct from the world of particular things. The only possible ultimate ground of these objects, the argument concludes, is a divine intellect—the mind of God. This idea too has its roots in Neo-Platonic thought, was central to Saint Augustine’s understanding of God, and was defended by Leibniz as well. This book puts forward a more detailed and systematic statement of the argument than (as far as I know) has been attempted before.
: The Thomistic Proof
Chapter 4 defends the Thomistic proof of God’s existence. It begins by arguing that for any of the contingent things of our experience, there is a real distinction between its essence (what the thing is) and its existence (the fact that it is). It then argues that nothing in which there is such a real distinction could exist even for an instant unless caused to exist by something in which there is no such distinction, something the very essence of which just is existence, and which can therefore impart existence without having to receive it—an uncaused cause of the existence of things. Aquinas presented an argument of this sort in his little book On Being and Essence, and many Thomists have regarded it as the paradigmatically Thomistic argument for God’s existence.
: The Rationalist Proof
Chapter 5 defends a rationalist proof of the existence of God. The proof begins with a defense of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), according to which everything is intelligible or has an explanation for why it exists and has the attributes it has. It then argues that there cannot be an explanation of the existence of any of the contingent things of our experience unless there is a necessary being, the existence of which is explained by its own nature. This sort of argument is famously associated with Leibniz, but the version of it I defend departs from Leibniz in several ways and interprets the key ideas in an Aristotelian-Thomistic way. (Hence, while it is definitely “rationalist” insofar as it is committed to a version of PSR and to the thesis that the world is intelligible through and through, it is not “rationalist” in other common senses of that term. For example, it is in no way committed to the doctrine of innate ideas or other aspects of the epistemology associated with continental rationalist philosophers like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. And its interpretation of PSR differs in key respects from theirs.)
For whatever reason I’m starting my reading with the rationalist proof. Because, you know, everyone here is always so rational. 🙂