Sunday, June 22, 2014

God is Everywhere


1.  Having established in the previous article that God is present in all things, Thomas asks whether God is everywhere.  Though the subject of this article seems to differ from that of the previous article, in fact this one functions mainly to answer certain objections that arise from speaking of God as located.

2.  Against the claim that God is everywhere, he proposes three objections.  The first is from the fact that location is an accident of corporeal things, which God is not.  

3.  The second is from a rather convoluted bit of reasoning about the nature of place: since just as a moment in time cannot be present in multiple times, in the same way whatever is indivisible as regards its permanence must be fixed to one place.  Since God is permanent, he must be in only one place, and therefore not everywhere.

4.  The third is an improved version of the second objection from the previous article: whatever is wholly in a place does not exist outside of it.  But supposing God is in some place, then because God is simple, all of him must be in that place, which means that he cannot be in any other place, and therefore is not everywhere.

5.  His Sed Contra is taken from the words of God to Jeremiah in the 23rd chapter of that book: “I fill heaven and earth.”  The text is worth re-visiting in context.

6.  In the Corpus we find a peculiar abundance of the word “place” (locus), which makes the text somewhat difficult to read.  He distinguishes between two ways we can think about “place”: as the location of things, and as location in itself.  

7.  In the first case, God is in every place, because he is in all things (as established in the previous article), giving each thing existence, power, and operation.  In the second case, he is in every place by giving it its own potential to be a place (Thomas calls this the place’s “locative power” or virtus locativa).

8.  He gives a further argument, which is that a thing is said to be in a place if it fills it.  God fills every place, not in a corporeal way that excludes the presence of other things, but rather by giving existence  to the things that fill every place.

9.  In response to the first objection he distinguishes between location by dimensive quantity and location by power.  Material things have dimensive quantity, and this gives them place (the “where” of a material thing corresponds to the limits or dimensions of its matter), but incorporeal things, not having matter, are located by their power or their effects.

10.  The second objection, being convoluted, requires a great deal of clarification.  He solves the objector’s difficulty by distinguishing between kinds of indivisibility: indivisibility as the limit (by way of division) of a continuum, and the indivisibility of incorporeal substances.  The objector’s argument applies to the former, but God is an instance of the latter.  God is indivisible because he is immaterial, not because he is utterly determined as to place or time.  And he is permanent not because (as with points) his species excludes all other possible places, but because he is pure act and cannot change.  But God is located because he touches all things, great and small, by his power, and thus is everywhere, in everything.

11.  Since the third objection is concerned with what it means to be “wholly present”, Thomas offers an analysis of the different sorts of wholes.  A whole is always spoken of relative to its parts, and there are two kinds of parts: parts of an essence, and parts of a quantity.  Since the quantity of located things is always commensurate with the quantity of their place (i.e. place is relative to the matter of what is placed), what is quantitatively wholly in a place cannot be outside of it in any way.  But the same does not hold true of things in their essences, because the quantity of location is not commensurate with a thing’s essence.  He uses the example of whiteness: the essence of whiteness is fully present in every part of a white object’s surface, and yet it is also in other parts of the surface as well.

12.  He concludes by pointing out that since a whole is only spoken of relative to parts, incorporeal substances (e.g. Angels and God) have no totality, so there is nothing at all to exclude them from being in multiple places simultaneously.


- Only bodies are in places.
- What is permanent cannot be in multiple places.
- What is totally in one place cannot be anywhere else.

- God is in every located thing, giving it existence, power and operation.
- God is in every place, giving it the power to be a place.
- God fills all things, by his presence in everything that exists.

- Incorporeal things are located not by contact of matter but by contact of power.
- The indivisibility of a point on a continuum differs from the indivisibility of an essence.
- Totality of place is only commensurate with totality of matter, not with totality of essence.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

God in All Things


1.  Having discussed God’s infinity in the previous question, St. Thomas next examines one of the features that seems to follow from infinity: ubiquity, or presence in every place and every thing.  The first article asks whether God is present in all things.  This article is, with those of QQ. 2 and 7, one of the most difficult yet. (Cajetan’s commentary spans two and a half folio pages, which is as long as that of any article yet covered.)

2.  Against the presence of God in all things, Thomas proposes four objections.  The first is from Psalm 112 (113), which says that God is above all things.  Second, from the principle that what is in something is contained by it.  Third, because God’s power enables him to act on things that are far from him, so that he need not be present in all things.  Fourth, because God is not present in the demons.

3.  His Sed Contra is from the principle that a thing is present wherever it works.  And since Isaiah says that God has wrought all our works in us (“omnia opera nostra operatus es”), God must be in all things.

4.  In the Corpus, he explains that God is in all things neither in their essences nor as an accidental feature of them, but by his agency.  In order to understand his demonstration, we need to work through some points regarding the nature of created being.  

5.  Thomas compares the existence of creatures to the illumination of air by the sun: the air does not have light by its own essence, but receives it accidentally, only insofar as it is continually illuminated.  Being in creatures is an accidental perfection superadded to their essences, similar to the addition of light to air.  What does this mean?  Every essence considered in itself without the act of being is mere potency, non-existing.  By themselves, things do not exist, because they cannot give themselves being.  It is clear from this, then, that it belongs to created being to be received.  But Thomas compounds this claim with another: that created being is not only received initially, but is continually sustained by another, just as the brightness of the air ceases as soon as the illuminating power of the sun is removed from it.

6.  In order to understand Thomas’s claim about the conservation of creatures in being, we need to further examine the nature of accidents.  Recall from earlier that an accident is a form received by thing which does not remove its substantial form (i.e. the form that makes it a unity and gives it its species) but adds to it a particular quality or feature not specified in its essence.  Accidents are of various kinds.  We can divide them into the latter nine of Aristotle’s Categories (Quantity, Quality, Relation, Place, Time, Position, Habit, Action, Passion), but we can also divide accidents based on their relation to the essence of their subject.  For example, it belongs to physical bodies to have a particular place.  If the chair is placed in the corner, it has received a particular accident by virtue of that placement.  The accident is not part of its essence, but is merely a specification of what was already in the essence indeterminately: to be a chair is to have some place, though it doesn’t belong to the essence to specify which place.  

7.  But while some accidents are mere determinations of the essential attributes of their subjects, (as quantity is an essential attribute of matter, which we discussed in the previous question), other accidents do not belong to the essences of their subjects at all.  For example, acceleration does not belong to inert bodies, but is always caused in them by the intervention of some force, and ceases when the force ceases.  Luminosity is not a feature of air, except when the air receives the energy necessary to excite it into a luminous state.  When the influx of energy ceases, the luminosity ceases as well, because it does not belong to air to be luminous, except as the expression of the power of another.  Where on the one hand accidents like the position of a body are essential intrinsic potencies of the subjects in which they inhere, these non-essential accidents are relative potencies, which are in things only to the extent that they enter into a real relation with another.

8.  Once we have made this distinction, it is clear that the being of creatures belongs to the latter genus of accident, because to be a creature is to be created, and to be created is to receive not just the determination of one’s being as to kind or degree, but to be determined as to one’s existence altogether.  Existence in creatures is a relative potency, a potency only with reference to another.  But once we accept this, the question becomes whether that relative potency is actualized by mediation or directly.

9.  Here we need to pause again and note the difference between the accidental existence of creatures and other accidents possessed by them.  Where all other accidents are specifications of a thing’s being with respect to quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, habit, action, or passion, and exist in a subject, in the sense that they are dependent on it for their being, existence itself is an accident only insofar as it is separable from that which exists, and does not belong to its essence.  Esse is not a property of things, and does not exist in them, nor is it, properly speaking, “received” by them, since without it there is nothing to do the receiving.  This is important for determining whether it would be possible to give a thing existence by the mediation of another.

10.  St. Thomas answers that the act of God by which he gives all things beings is direct and interior, without any mediation.  His demonstration is based on the claim that created existence is an effect proper to God, thus excluding the possibility of any intermediate cause.  This is because it belongs to God alone to exist by his own essence, so that he is being itself, subsisting in itself (ipsum esse per se subsistens).  But if created existence is a relative potency in things, accidental to what they are, then each thing’s existence must be due to another.  Since all being is traceable ultimately to God, who is being itself, God is one cause of the existence of creatures.  But since without the act of being, a thing would not exist at all, this kind of effect cannot be produced with the cooperation of an instrumental cause, since the act of being is not made (as from matter) out of the existence of another, but out of nothing.  

11.  This puts us in a position to provide a summary argument for the conclusion of the article.  The existence of things is a relative potency of their essences, which is actualized only by the direct and continuous intervention of an extrinsic cause.  But since existence is not a quality or form added to something pre-existing, but is the first form, by which all other forms come to be and in which they inhere, the existence of one thing cannot be matter for the creation of another.  Therefore the act of existing is caused and conserved in creatures solely by God, without whose direct agency they would cease to be altogether.  And since, as Aristotle says in Book VII of the physics, an agent is always present (by its power) in that in which it acts immediately, God is present in all existing things, not just in their possession of non-essential qualities, or in their substantial forms, but in their very existence, which is primary and fundamental in them.  Therefore he is not only present, but present with the greatest degree of interiority.

12.  Further elaboration on these points is provided later on in the Prima Pars (cf. QQ.44-45, 103-104).

13.  He answers the objections as follows.  The first is clear: God exceeds all things by the excellence of his nature, but he is present in them by his agency.  

14.  In the second reply he distinguishes the way corporeal things are in each other from the way spiritual things are in each other.  In bodily things, “being in” is the same as “being contained by”, but in spiritual things “being in” implies the existence of a thing’s effect or the presence of a thing’s power.  Spiritual things, rather than being contained by what they are in, contain them, so that God, rather than being contained by creatures, contains them all by his power.

15.  To the third he answers that nothing acts at a distance except through some medium.  Since God acts in things immediately, they are not distant from him.  Instead, we say things are distant from him because he is above them by his excellence, or because of some defect in them on the part of nature or grace, which enhances their dissimilitude to him.

16.  To the fourth he says that insofar as they they are things (inquantum sunt res), God is in the demons, but insofar as their natures are deformed (i.e. by sin), God is not in them, since God is not the principle or the cause of sin.  For things without any deformity of nature, God can be said to be in them without qualification.


- God is not in things, but is above them.
- God is not contained by anything.
- More powerful things can act at a greater distance.
- God is not in the demons.

- An agent is always conjoined with that in which it acts immediately.
- Created existence is a proper effect of God.
- Thus God creates and sustains everything in existence immediately.
- A thing’s existence is innermost to it.
- Therefore God is present in all things most profoundly, not as a part or accidental feature, but by his agency.

- God is above things by his excellence, but in them by his agency.
- Spiritual things, unlike bodily things, contain what they are in, rather than the opposite.
- Every cause that acts at a distance acts through a medium, but God is the immediate cause of existence.
- God is in the demons insofar as they are, but not insofar as they are deformed by sin.

Friday, June 20, 2014

On Infinite Actual Multitudes


1.  Finally, Thomas considers the possibility of an infinite multitude of things.  This article is very difficult, as it brings in a lot of logical and metaphysical considerations that we have not heretofore encountered.  (As an indication of this, Cajetan’s commentary on this article fills two full folio pages in the Leonine edition.)  Our treatment of it will be relatively brief.  

2.  In support of the possibility of an infinite actual multitude he proposes three objections: First, because potency is potential by virtue of its ability to become actual.  Thus if there is a potentially infinite multitude, then there can be an actually infinite multitude.

2.  Second, because it is possible for any species to be actualized, and there are infinitely many different possible shapes, so that there could be infinitely many actual figures.

3.  Third, because nothing opposes the addition of new members to a multitude, and thus there is no reason to say that one could not go on adding to a multitude to infinity.

4.  For the Sed Contra he cites a familiar verse from the book of Wisdom.

5.  In the Corpus he begins by distinguishing between an absolutely (per se) infinite multitude and an accidentally (per accidens) infinite multitude.  According to Avicenna and Algazel, it is possible for an infinite multitude to exist accidentally but not per se.  The distinction is obscure, and given that he rejects both kinds of infinity I will omit it here.

6.  Thomas’s solution to the question is that every multitude must have a determinate species, and the species of multitude are numbers, which are determinate and finite and measured relative to one.  This argument seems to suffice in itself.  One could add a variety of mathematical considerations, but I find myself incompetent to do so at present.  If one were to bring St. Thomas into conversation with modern mathematics, I think it would be necessary to come to terms with what Kant calls the “quid facti” of modern mathematical notions, i.e. their actual basis in experience and their logical genesis.

7.  He answers the first objection by pointing out that every potency is reduced to act in accord with is own being.  This means that though a given multitude has a certain infinite potency to it, that potency is reduced to act by stages, through the addition of successive determinate multitudes to the original, and is always further extensible.  Infinity signifies a lack of determination, not an absolute quantity.

8.  In his reply to the second, he draws a comparison between the the infinite species of geometrical figures and the infinity of the natural numbers.  Just as we cannot produce an infinite number simultaneously, but only by a successive counting out of numbers, the infinity of possible figures cannot be produced simultaneously, but by succession, so that even though there are infinitely many potential figures, they cannot all be made to exist simultaneously.  

9.  He answers the third objection by pointing out that while no particular species of multitude is opposed to the addition of another to it, the notion of an infinite multitude is opposed to every particular species of number, and therefore it is impossible for a multitude to be actually infinite.

10.  When we examine these arguments, we find that they all reduce to the same claim: that actually existing creatures are determinate in their essences and therefore, if they are material things, determinate in their quantity, since quantity is one of the essential features of matter.  Thus since an infinite thing is indeterminate as to its quantity, nothing infinite can exist, either by way of multitude or magnitude.


- Potency is potential because it can be made actual.  If there is an infinite potency, then there can be an infinite actuality.
- Every species can be actualized.  There are infinite species of geometrical figures.  Therefore there can be an actually infinite multitude of geometrical figures.
- There is nothing contradictory in the notion of a multitude of adding to it up to infinity.

- Every actual multitude must belong to a species of multitude, but multitudes are specified by their number, and determinate numbers are finite, and measured by one.

- Infinite potencies are made actual successively, and are infinite by the fact that they can always be made greater, not because they are ever actually infinite.
- An infinite set of potential species can be generated successively but not simultaneously.

- The notion of an infinite multitude is opposed to every particular species of multitude.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On the Impossibility of an Infinitely Large Object


1.  The two remaining articles in this question concern infinity of matter: on the part of magnitude (i.e. size or extent) and multitude (i.e. countable number).  These articles are both of interest to those concerned with the philosophy of mathematics and cosmology.

2.  In support of the supposition that there can be an infinite magnitude (i.e. a material thing of infinite size), Thomas offers four objections.  First, because the concept of an infinite magnitude is used in mathematics, e.g. in geometry when we postulate infinite lines.  Second, because there is no contradiction between the nature of magnitude and the notion of limitlessness, and whatever is not strictly contradictory in nature is possible.  Third, because a continuum is infinitely divisible, and if something can be divided into infinite parts, it can be made of infinite parts, and thus can be added up to an infinite magnitude.  Fourth, because time, being the quantity of motion, receives its quantity from the magnitude of motion, and therefore since it is possible to have an infinite time, it must be possible for there to be an infinite magnitude.

3.  For his Sed Contra, he makes a curious argument.  He says that every body must be finite, because  to be a body is to have a surface, and to be a surface is to limit the extent of a body.  I am not sure that this is a valid argument, though perhaps one could salvage it.

4.  In the Corpus he begins by distinguishing between infinity of magnitude and infinity of essence.  He established in the previous article that nothing but God can be infinite through its essence, and now wants to show that nothing can be infinite in magnitude.  He divides his consideration of this question into two parts: first, regarding natural material things; second, regarding the objects of mathematics.

5. In the case of natural material things, he observes that every actually existing material thing has a substantial form, and is thus determined by that form to a particular essence, with particular accidents, etc.  Thus material things have a particular place, and a particular quantity. To be infinite is to lack determination as to quantity (since infinity signifies a lack of limitation, and quantities are only determinate by being limited), and therefore no material being can be actually infinite in magnitude, though as we have discussed they can have a kind of potential infinity.

6.  He argues for the same conclusion again using the example of motion.  Natural material bodies are capable of motion, and he says that an infinite body could not move, since it would occupy every place.  This does not seem to be true, since there could be an infinite plane of some finite thickness, still capable of motion.  However, he provides another argument from motion, on the basis of the idea of circular motion.  Every body is capable of being rotated.  But if we have an infinite body, the rotation of the body would require some parts of it to traverse infinite distances, which is impossible.  Moreover, if two points in the body are infinitely distant, then they could never be connected to each other, which seems to contradict the idea that they are part of the same body.

7.  As for mathematical objects, he observes that mathematical objects are abstracted from particulars, and are therefore potentially real.  If one actually existed, it would have to exist under a particular form, with particular accidents, as said above.  And thus the mathematical body would have to have a finite quantity for the same reasons just given.

8.  In response to the first objection, Thomas points out that geometers don’t deal with actually infinite lines: rather, they take lines that are actually finite and mentally abstract their quantity from them as necessary for the construction or demonstration at hand.

9.  To the second he responds that infinity is not opposed to the notion of magnitude generally speaking, but it is opposed to the notion of any particular species of magnitude (i.e. any sort of thing that has magnitude), and thus because infinity is impossible in every species, it must be impossible in the genus, even if the notion of the genus doesn’t exclude it by itself.

10.  His response to the third involves a clever distinction.  He observes that the division of a whole into parts is the resolution of a thing with one form into the quantity of matter which makes it up.  In this way there is a potential infinity, because one can continue to divide the matter however one likes.  But when we add one thing to another, each addition increases the form of the whole, and this happens to a determinate extent, because the forms of existing things are determinate.  So while on the side of matter there is a potential infinity because of its divisibility, on the formal side there is no actual infinity, because every addition remains an addition of determinate quantity, and therefore finite.

11.  Finally, he resolves the fourth objection by pointing out that movement and time are successive, and not simultaneous wholes.  Thus though one can speak of the “whole time” or the “entire journey”, only one given moment of that time or that journey is actual at each instant, so that even though a length of time or a path of movement could be potentially infinite, this would not produce any actual infinity.


- Mathematicians use infinite objects.
- There is nothing contradictory about the notion of an infinite magnitude.
- If a magnitude can be infinitely divisible, it ought to be capable of infinity by addition.
- An infinite stretch of time is possible, so an infinite magnitude must be possible as well.

- Actual material things exist in determinate substantial forms with determinate accidents, and therefore have finite quantities.
- This is true also of mathematical objects, if they existed actually and not just in the mind.

- Mathematicians abstract the actual quantity from real objects and consider them only under the aspects convenient to the task at hand.
- Infinity is opposed to every particular kind of magnitude, and therefore must be opposed to magnitude in general.
- The infinite divisibility of a thing is on the part of the potency of matter, but an infinity by addition would require an infinity on the part of form, which is impossible as explained in the corpus.
- Time and movement are successive and not simultaneous wholes: though an infinite time could pass, only part of that time would be actual at any given moment.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Kinds of Infinity in Creatures


1.  Thomas continues his discussion of God’s infinity by asking whether any thing other than God can be infinite by its essence.  The main function of this article is to work out the kinds and degrees of infinity in creatures.

2.  Thomas provides three arguments to show that things other than God can be essentially infinite.  The first is from God’s power: since God himself is infinite, and a thing’s power is proportionate to what it is, God could create an infinite effect.

3.  The second objection is from the nature of the intellect.  As Aristotle says, the mind is potentially all things. Thus, since the mind can come to know what is universal and what extends to everything, it can be said to have an infinite power.  But nothing can have an infinite power unless its essence is also infinite, since a thing’s power is proportionate to its essence.  Thus every created intellectual substance is infinite in its essence.

4.  The third objection is from the nature of prime matter.  Prime matter, recall, is pure potency without any form.  Prime matter, he says, is infinite, but we have earlier established that it is distinct from God.  Therefore something other than God is infinite.

5.  His Sed Contra is taken from Aristotle, the third book of the Physics.  Since the infinite has no beginning, and everything other than God has its origin in God, nothing other than God can be said to be absolutely infinite.

6.  In the Corpus he clarifies.  Things other than God can be said to be infinite in a qualified way (secundum quid) but not absolutely (simpliciter).  He considers three cases: material things, forms received in matter, and separate forms subsisting in themselves.  In the case of material things, though they are relatively infinite by their potency to an infinite variety of forms, still actually they are limited by the forms they presently possess, and no material being is utterly unformed, since as we have discussed elsewhere, to be utterly unformed would be to cease to exist.  In the case of forms received in matter, there is no infinity at all, since the form itself is limited by its proper act, and it is further limited by being received into matter, since this particular matter receives this particular form only to the extent that it is capable, as determined both by its quality and by its quantity.  Finally, in the case of separate, subsisting forms, (of which the angels are examples, according to St. Thomas), though there is an infinity because the form is not limited by its reception in matter, still the form is limited by its determination to a particular nature, and by the fact that its existence is received from another.  Thus unlike God’s act, which has an utterly unlimited nature, and in which act and essence are one, the angels are not absolutely infinite.

7.  He answers the first objection by observing that it is contrary to the notion of a made thing for its essence to be identical with its existence, since otherwise it would not be made.  And as God cannot make something so that it is unmade (since this is absurd), it follows that he cannot make something which, being utterly unlimited in its being, has its very existence from its essence.  He can, however, make things which are relatively infinite, as discussed above.

8.  The infinity of the intellect is that of a form not received in matter: absolutely separate in the case of angels, and separate by not being the act of any bodily organ, in the case of the human intellect.  Both of these will be discussed extensively in the later questions of the Prima Pars.

9.  He answers the third objection by pointing out that prime matter is not an actually existing thing, and its infinity is both a potential infinity, and is infinite only secundum quid, because prime matter is in potency to become only finite, natural things (and could never become God).


- God, being infinitely powerful, could create an infinite being.
- The intellect is capable of receiving all forms, and is therefore infinite.
- Prime matter is infinite.

- Things other than God can be called infinite secundum quid, but not simpliciter.
- Existing material things are infinite in their potency to become an infinite variety of things, but are limited by their possession of a particular form.
- Forms received in matter are finite both on account of the matter in which they are received, and by their own essential finitude (as to their nature, existence, origin).
- Separate, subsistent forms are infinite by their separation from matter, but finite inasmuch as their existence is received and terminated by a particular, finite essence.

- To be infinite simpliciter a thing would have to supply its own act of existing.  But this is by definition impossible for a creature.
- The infinity of the intellect is that of a separate form.
- Primary matter does not exist in itself; its infinity is both potential and absolutely limited.

God's Infinity


1.  Having concluded his examination of the ways God can be said to be good in himself and relative to creatures, Thomas devotes several questions to the different modes of God’s limitlessness: as regards magnitude (Q.7), place (Q.8), and time (QQ.9-10).  These questions, with the discussion of God’s one-ness (Q.11) conclude his examination of the divine essence (QQ.3-11), which is followed by an intense examination of the knowability and naming of God (QQ.12-13), and then the lengthier treatise on the divine operations (QQ.14-26).  We will see that these last five questions on the essence conclude the “negative” portion of the treatise on the One God (QQ.2-26), and the later questions will proceed in light of the doctrine of analogy laid out in QQ.12-13.

2.  Question 7 deals with God’s infinity in his essence, and the first article asks whether God is infinite at all (recall the old “an est” -> “quid est” structure: first we inquire whether God is infinite, and then follow up questions which clarify the mode of his limitlessness).  He proposes three objections: first, that what is infinite is infinite by a lack of determination, ad thus infinity is a kind of imperfection; second, that the categories of infinity and finitude belong to quantity, which is proper to bodies, which God is not; third, that to be limited is to be finite, and God is not all things, so that God is not infinite in being.

3.  For the sed Contra he cites the first book of St. John Damascene’s treatise on the Orthodox Faith.

4.  In the Corpus he begins with a short excursus on the opinions of the ancient pagan philosophers, and then proceeds to solve the question of God’s infinity by examining the meaning of infinity as regards matter and form in things.  It is to be noted that Thomas focuses mainly in this article on the infinity of a thing’s essence or nature.  Thus he observes that matter is infinite in nature because as matter it is in potency to any number of possible forms that it might receive.  Thus in matter, infinity is indeed a kind of imperfection, as the first objection suggests.  But on the part of form, limitation comes from two sources: first from the intrinsic limitations of a particular form as to the nature of its act; second from the matter in which a form is received, because matter contracts the extent of a form (per materiam formae amplitudo contrahitur).  For most forms, this contraction could nonetheless be said to be concomitant with perfection, because without its reception into particular matter, the form has no existence.  But if a form is separate from matter an dsubsists in itself, then its amplitude or fullness is not contracted or limited at all, and thus it can be said to be infinite, not in potency the way matter is, but in its own act.  Then, if the nature of that act is unlimited by any potency at all, as God’s is, the form could be said to be absolutely and essentially infinite.  Thus God, who is pure subsisting form, removed from all matter, and pure act, without any potency, is infinite.

5.  Thomas omits the reply to the first objection, since it is solved by the Corpus.  To the second he responds by saying that quantitative infinity is an infinity on the part of matter. He demonstrates this by pointing out that a figure or shape, which consists of a certain limited quantity of matter, is limited by its form.  Thus an unlimited quantity of matter would be matter unlimited by any form or figure.  And this case has already been discussed in the Corpus.

6.  The third objection he answers by observing that God’s distinctness from creatures is already clear because he subsists in himself, which is true of no other creature, and that being, which is received from God by creatures, subsists in him alone, so that he is radically separate from them. 


- Infinity signifies a kind of imperfection.
- Infinity is a quantitative category.
- To be truly infinite a thing’s being cannot be limited by the existence of things distinct from it.

- Infinity in matter is indeterminacy as regards form, and thus signifies imperfection.
- Infinity in form is a removal of the limitations provided by particular matter, and thus signifies a kind of perfection.
- In God form subsists totally without matter, and thus has a kind of infinity.

- See Corpus
- Quantitative infinity is a kind of material infinity, since an infinity quantity is infinite by the lack of a determinate shape or figure.
- God is distinct from creatures by virtue of his self-subsistence, which is the reason for his infinity, and does not detract from it.

Whether Creatures are Good by their own Goodness, or by God's


1.  Having established that God alone is good by his very essence, Thomas concludes his discussion of the divine goodness by asking in what way the divine goodness supplies or accounts for the goodness of creatures.  This is one of the rare articles of the Summa in which the Corpus reflects a refinement of the arguments in the objections, rather than a refutation of them.

2.  There are two objections.  The first is taken from Augustine’s 8th book On the Trinity.  The quotation suggests that when we abstract from created individuals and look at hte goodness itself by which they are good, we will come to see God as the good of every good.  And since every thing is good by its own goodness, it seems that every thing is good by the goodness of God.

3.  The other objection is from Boethius, who observes that everything is called good to the extent that it is ordered to God.  Thus if God is the end and perfection of all things, it would seem that everything is good by the goodness of God.

4.  For the Sed Contra, he observes briefly that everything is good to the extent that it has being (inquantum sunt), and everything is by its own act of being, not by God’s act of being (the alternative being the sort of pantheism refuted in Q.3, A.8), so that everything is good by its own goodness, and not by the divine goodness.

5.  In the Corpus, he spends some time discussing the Platonic theory of forms, according to which every common form subsists independent of its instances as a substance in its own right.  Though Thomas rejects this theory in general, referring to an abundance of reasons present in Aristotle (some of which are listed in the Leonine edition), he grants that it is true without qualification (absolute verum) that there is a first thing that exists and is good by its very essence, which we call God.  And since everything receives its own act of existing from God, and its own proper perfection from him as well, and these perfections grant to creatures a certain limited and defective participation in or likeness to the divine perfection and goodness, it is possible to say that things are, in a sense, by participation in the dDivine Being, and likewise that they are Good, in a sense, by participation in the Divine Goodness, even though strictly speaking each thing’s goodness is its own, and each thing’s being is its own, lest we collapse into the absurdity of claiming that God enters into composition with things, or is somehow admixed with creatures.


- God is the good of every good. (Augustine)
- Every goodness is good by being ordered to God. (Boethius)

- Plato said that every individual has its form by participation.
- Plato was wrong in general, but right as regards being and goodness.
- Though each thing has its own proper act of being and its own proper goodness, still these properties of creatures exist in themselves by participation in the divine act of being, and the divine goodness.

Whether Creatures are Essentially Good


1.  Having established that God can be called “the highest good,” Thomas next asks whether God alone is good by his own essence (per essentiam suam).  He offers three objections.

2.  The first objection is from the convertibility of the transcendentals.  The transcendentals are the terms that are totally co-extensive with being (ens): every being is one, true, good, a thing, and something (unum, verum, bonum, res, aliquid).  Thus wherever “being” occurs we should be able to substitute the others, since to be a being is to be, to be one, to be true, to be good, to have a determinate nature, and to be an individual.

3.  The objection is that, since “being” and “good” are convertible terms, it follows that every being, by that very fact, must be good, and therefore ought to be said to be good through its own essence.

4.  The second objection is from the definition of goodness as what all things desire.  Everything desires being itself, and the being of a thing must be its good, but things are what they are by their essences, so that everything is good by its own essence.

5.  The third objection is from a kind of infinite regress.  If a thing is not good by its essence, then we must say that its goodness does not belong to its essence, but to something else.  But then this other thing must have its own goodness, which would then have to belong to a third thing, etc. so that ultimately something must simply be good by its own essence, and therefore we might as well place goodness in the essence of every particular thing, and say that everything is good by its own essence.

6.  His Sed Contra is taken from Boethius, who says that everything other than God is good only by participation.

7.  In the Corpus of the article, Thomas distinguishes three degrees of goodness in creatures: existence (or being constituted in esse), accidental perfections, and the attainment of the end.  None of these perfections belong to creatures by their very essence, since no creature exists by its essence (or it would not be created), accidental perfections are by definition added to the goodness found in a thing by its essence, and the attainment of the end is what all creatures, being mobile and changeable, strive towards.  Rather than being good by their essences, perfection is added to creatures to the extent that they have being.  God, on the other hand, exists by his own essence, has no accidental perfections, and is utterly immobile.  Thus it belongs to God alone to be good by his own essence.

8.  Thomas’s answer to the first objection is somewhat difficult.  He says that the term “one” does not indicate perfection, but a lack of division.  Every being is united in itself.  But he notes that every being is united in its own act, but composite when both act and potency are taken into consideration.  This is to say that beings, as beings, do not include in themselves all the possible perfections of their essences, but only the perfections present in their actuality at a given time.  But beyond the actual perfections of a thing, its essence specifies possible accidental and final perfections which it will achieve or fail to achieve, depending on the perfection of its act.  Thus only that being in which there is no potency but only act would be simply and utterly good, and good by its own essence, which is identical with its act, namely God.

9.  We should pause for a moment here and discuss the notion that things are composed of act and potency.  What does this mean?  Each thing is whatever it is by its own form or essence.  But in most things the essence determines not only what a thing presently is, but also the sorts of things it can become.  The sampling is potentially a full grown tree, the closed book is potentially open, etcc.  The sapling is not potentially a microprocessor.  The book is not potentially a baby.  The real features of things determine not only what they are, but what they can be, and hwo they can become whatever they are in potency to becoming.  Because this determination as to a thing’s possible becoming is clearly and really in things themselves, we call this fact about them “the real composition of act and potency.”

10.  Thomas’s reply to the second objection gives us occasion to discuss another sort of “real composition” in things.  He answers the objection by pointing out that each thing is good insofar as it has being (esse), but the essence of created things are not simply the same as their existence, or it would be necessary to say that each thing is the source of and reason for its own being, and is thus uncreated, which is absurd.  Rather, a thing’s goodness flows from its existence or being (esse) and is determined or limited by its essence.  Thus creatures are really composed not only of act and potency (what they are and what they can become in their essences), but also of essence and existence (what they are, and the extent to which they are at all).  In God, of course, there is neither composition, as was established abundantly in Q.3.

11.  Finally, Thomas resolves the third objection by explaining in what way the goodness of a thing can be distinct from its essence without thereby being a different thing altogether.  The objection bears some similarity to the paradox of the “third man” raised against Plato’s theory of forms: if each man is human not by his own humanity but by the form of man, then by what form does the form of man possess its humanity? And by what form does that form possess its humanity, etc. ad infinitum.  Thomas answers that although the goodness of each thing is not the same as its essence, that does not mean that this goodness is a distinct thing altogether: the goodness of a thing is either its existence, or its accidental perfections ,or its end, all of which are in the thing to the extent that it has being (esse), but none of which are possessed by it merely on account of its essence.


- It is implied by the convertibility of the transcendentals.
- Being itself is good, and things are what they are by their essences.
- Otherwise we seem to fall into the third man paradox.

- Goodness in creatures is on account of existence, accidental perfections, and the attainment of the end.
- None of these things belong to creatures simply by their essence.

- Things are one in their act but not as regards their potency.
- Things are to the extent that they have esse, not by their essences.
- Goodness in creatures is existence, accidents, end, none of which are merely the essence, but none of which are distinct subsistent beings either.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Goodness of God in Comparison to Creatures


1.  Having established that it is fitting to call God “good”, St. Thomas asks whether he is the highest good.  This article and the ones following are especially fruitful for reflection, since knowledge of God’s supreme goodness is necessary for a proper understanding of the value of created things and for a proper relationship with God himself.

2.  Against the claim that God is the highest good, Thomas proposes three objections.  The first is from the fact that when we call God the highest good, we seem to be marking out an accidental characteristic of his goodness within the genus of good things: just as the tallest man is tallest by virtue of having more added to his height than is present in other men, so it would seem the highest good must have something added to it to make it the greatest of its kind.  But we have already established at length that there are no accidental perfections in God, nor any sort of composition, and therefore it seems he ought not to be called the highest good.

3.  The second objection is from the definition of the good given by Aristotle, which we have already discussed at length (quod omnia appetunt).  Since, it is observed, nothing is really universally desired except God, it seems that actually nothing is good other than God.  Thomas cites Christ’s line to the rich young man in Matthew 19:17 “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”  But if only God is good, it is incorrect to say that he is the highest good, since this phrase implies a comparison among many.

4.  The third objection is from the fact that by calling something the “highest” or “greatest” we place it in a genus with other things to which it is compared.  But God is not in any genus, as was established in Q.3 A.5.  So God must not be the highest good.

5.  His Sed Contra is taken from Augustine’s De Trinitate, Book I.

6.  In the Corpus, Thomas explains the supremacy of God’s goodness by giving a more thorough analysis of equivocal causation.  First, he clarifies that to call God the highest good does not place him in a genus or order with creatures.  God is called Good because all desired perfections flow from him as first cause.  However, they do not flow from him as from a univocal cause, but as from an equivocal cause.  We have discussed this distinction above, but should repeat it here.

7.  A univocal cause transmits the form it possesses to another under the same ratio as it possess the form itself.  Thus one warm thing may warm another, so that what is heated shares the same form (heat) as what caused the form in it (a hot thing), even if to a lesser extent.  But an equivocal cause communicates its own form to another under a different ratio, as for example the sun and other stars that preceded it (under the current cosmology) communicate life to everything on earth, first by producing the matter (heavy elements), then by drawing them into their sphere, and finally by radiating them in such a way that they become alive.  The sun itself is not alive, and yet there is a kind of superiority to the stellar act by which it seems to produce and ultimately animate everything herebelow.  Note, however, that living things do not receive the stellar form under the same ratio—were that form to be imposed on them, they would be totally destroyed (recall the story of Zeus and Semele)—and yet it is difficult to deny (assuming the current cosmology is correct) that every form received by ordinary vegetable and animal life short of rationality is caused by the movement of the stars.  

8.  Thomas says merely that the form of fire, while made possible by the sun and in some way imitating it, is distinct from the sun’s act.  This remains true under current astronomical theories: the sun is hot by nuclear fusion, whereas normal fire is hot by the heat of combustion.  The two acts are formally very different, and yet the latter must be said to be caused by the former, because without solar fusion there would not be combustible matter, either remotely (since the existence of the heavy elements is caused by the sun) or proximately (since most combustion is the release of energy stored in things by the reception of solar energy).

9.  To say that God is the highest good is like saying that the sun is the greatest fire.  It is true, both in that the form which characterizes fire under our ordinary conception of it (namely the production of heat) is present pre-eminently in the sun, and in that the Sun is the ultimate efficient cause from which the form of every fire is received.  God is pre-eminently good, as that which is supremely desirable, and he is also the cause of the goodness of everything that exists.

10.  In response to the first objection, Thomas clarifies that the phrase “highest good” (summum bonum) does not signify any addition to goodness, but only a logical addition in our notion of goodness, relative to the goodness of creatures .  The comparative relation between God’s goodness and that of creatures does not exist in God, but in creatures, and especially in the mind of man comparing the two.  To return to our earlier example of the tallest man, there is something really added to the height of the tall man, such that he has the height of everyone else, and more, just as if we found the most perfect sphere, it would have the spherical form possessed by all other spheres, with the additional accidental perfections that make its sphericity superior.  But God is good simpliciter, not by any accidental perfection but simply in himself, and thus his superiority as the highest good is not by virtue of any addition, but is only judged to be "highest" with reference to the inferiority of creatures which lack what he has, by an infinite inferiority.  

11.  Thomas will return to this difficulty later on, in QQ. 12 and 13, but the important things to retain here are: first, that goodness in God is not an accidental perfection but is identical with his essence in its utter simplicity; second, that in comparing God to creatures the real basis of the comparison is not a real relation in God to creatures, but a real relation in creatures to God.  God is not good because he has more of the same goodness that creatures possess; he is good in and of himself, and the goodness of creatures is real by virtue of its participation in the divine goodness.  Both of these points will be further elaborated in the two following articles.

12.  He answers the second objection with two points: first, that the definition of goodness means that whatever is desired has the ratio of goodness (quidquid appetitur rationem boni habet), not that every good is desired by every thing.  Second, that the line in Matthew means that God alone is good by his essence (which is the subject of the following article).

13.  He answers the third objection by distinguishing normal modes of comparison with the comparison intended in the phrase “highest good”.  Where in a normal comparison there must be some common genus which includes both of the things compared, when we compare God to creatures we compare him per excessum, by excess, as one who transcends every genus, and is thus in goodness superior to every kind and species.


– “Highest” indicates an addition or accidental perfection, but these are not present in God.
– No one is good but God, therefore he is the only good, not the highest.
– To be the highest belongs to something in a genus with other comparable things, but God is not in any genus.

– God is the highest good: by pre-eminence, and because he is the equivocal cause of every perfection in creatures, though his goodness differs from the goodness of creatures inasmuch as it transcends every kind of created goodness, and thus cannot enter into ordinary comparisons with them.

– The reference point for God’s goodness is the inferiority of creatures, which lack the fullness and simplicity of his perfection.  God is not good by being raised up from among creatures.
– God alone is good as his own goodness.

– God is the highest not by a direct comparison within a shared kind, but by excess, transcending every kind.

The Goodness of God


1.  Having settled the main logical questions about the ordinary concept of goodness as applied to creatures, Thomas next speaks of the goodness of God, the relationship between God’s goodness and his essence, and the relationship between divine goodness and creaturely goodness.  This question builds in a fairly predictable way on what has been set down already in the question on the divine perfection, but is obviously important for later questions on divine providence, predestination, mercy, etc.

2.  The first article of this question asks whether it is fitting for God to be good, and it grows out of some of the conclusions reached in the previous question.  Thomas proposes two objections: first, that the ratio or measure of goodness consists in a thing’s mode, species and order (cf. Q.5 A.5), whereas God is not ordered to anything; second, that goodness is defined as “quod omnia appetunt”, what all things desire, whereas a thing is desired only to the extent that it is known, and many things do not know God.

3.  His Sed Contra is from Lamentations.

4.  The argument in the Corpus is straightforward: A thing is good to the extent that it is desirable, and everything desires its own perfection; but the form and perfection of an effect have a likeness to the agent cause, since everything acts to produce its own likeness (omne agens agit sibi simile), thus to whatever extent the effect is perfect, it has its perfection from its cause, which must therefore be at least as perfect and at least as good.  Therefore God, who is the cause of all things, must be more perfect than anything else, and thus more desirable, and thus best of all.

5.  He answers the first objection by noting that to have mode, species, and order belongs to creatures, and to created goodness.  God’s goodness does not have mode, species, or order, except virtually as the cause of these things in the goodness of creatures.

6.  The answer to the second objection is lovely and worth reflecting on at length: all things, by desiring their proper perfections, desire God himself, insofar as the perfections of all things are to some extent likenesses of the divine act of being (similitudines divini esse).  He then divides the extent of things’ desire for God: some desire him knowing him to some extent as he truly is, and these are rational creatures; others are capable of knowing goodness merely by sensible cognition (brute animals); others have an inner inclination without knowledge (natural substances below animals).


– It was established above that the integral parts of goodness are mode, species, and order; which do not apply to God.
– The good is what all things desire, but to desire requires knowledge, and not all things know God.

– Things are desirable on account of their perfection, and perfect on account of their cause.
– Thus whatever perfection or desirability is present in an effect must be present preeminently in its cause.

– The integral parts of created goodness are mode, species, and order.

– All things are inclined to their natural end, which is their perfection, but that perfection is perfect by virtue of its likeness to God, and so all things tend toward God, whether by knowledge properly speaking, or the intimation of sensible goods, or by a mere inclination without knowledge of any sort.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Useful, the Delightful, and the Honest


1.  Finally, having settled everything else, Thomas inquires into the division of goodness into three degrees or kinds: the useful, the honest (usually translated “virtuous”), and the delightful (usually translated “pleasant”).

2.  The objections to his division of goodness into these three kinds are simple: first, that goodness ought to be divided into the ten categories of Aristotle (Substance, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Place, Time, Posture, Habit, Action, Passion) and not be restricted to the category of Quality (as useful, honest, and delightful all are, being accidental perfections).  Second, that a genus is properly divided into opposites (e.g. birds into flying and flightless), which these three are not.  Third, that the three are co-dependent on each other, which means that they cannot divide goodness, since they often coincide.

3.  He cites Ambrose for his authority in the Sed Contra.

4.  In the Corpus he grants that the division arises in the first instance from the different kinds of human good: some things are useful to man insofar as they help him achieve his end; other are honest insofar as they are desired for their own sake, as the ends to which human desire tends; others are delightful as goods in attainment of which the will rests.

5.  Thomas sets out to apply this division to goodness universally.  Useful goods are those through which a thing passes as it tends toward its ultimate end or rest.  Honest goods are those things which terminate the motion of things, i.e. toward which things ultimately tend.  Delightful goods are those which characterize the act of a thing in a state of final rest.

6.  He answers the objections as follows: first, that goodness is divided into the ten categories in the consideration of different aspects of the being of a subject, but as regards goodness itself, the good is divided into useful, honest, and delightful.

7.  Second that the division given is not by an opposition of things (as different species under a genus, like in the example given above), but by an opposition of rationes: though they may coincide in things, they are separable based on the different ways they relate to the ultimate perfection of a thing, and can be isolated from each other, as demonstrated by the existence of things which are delightful without being honest, or useful without being delightful, etc.

8.  Third, he orders the varieties of goodness, and says that they are all called “good” by analogy to one: the honest good.  After the honest, the pleasant or delightful is second, and the useful last.  This division and ordering is very important and will recur numerous times throughout the Summa.


– Goodness should be divided by the ten categories.
– Goodness should be divided into opposites.
– The three divisions are co-dependent.

– The division given is one of aspect or ratio, not a division of subjects.
– The useful is what a thing passes through toward its end.
– The pleasant or delightful is what a thing rests in at the end of its movement.
– The honest is what a thing tends toward for its own sake.

– Goodness applies to all of the categories, but is not properly divided by them.
– The division given is a division of rationes, not of things.
– The division given is a division by analogy to one primary good: the honest.

Mode, Species, and Order


1.  Having established various basic logical features of the notion of goodness in the preceding articles (its distinction from being, its logical posteriority to being, its universality, and its proper specification among the four causes), Thomas asks about the measure (ratio) of being in created things: whether we can define a thing’s goodness by its mode, species and order.

2.  At first sight this article may seem to be an arbitrary scholastic logic-chopping exercise with little broader relevance.  In fact, the considerations presented here will be essential when we come to later discussions of evil in creatures.  Without an adequate way of specifying the extent of a thing’s goodness, it becomes impossible to specify the extent of its defects.

3.  Against the division of goodness into mode, species, and order, he proposes five objections.  In the first objection, he cites Augustine’s Literal Commentary on Genesis, in which he identifies the “number, weight and measure” mentioned in Wisdom 11:21 with mode, species and order.  The objection, then, is that since the verse says that being is ordered thus, if the rationes of being and goodness differ, what defines the one cannot also define the other, and thus mode, species, and order cannot define the extent of goodness.

4.  The second objection finds a problem in the fact that mode, species, and order are all called good in themselves, so that if they are the defining modes of goodness, we end up with an infinite regress, where the priority of one to the other is lost, and it no longer makes sense to call mode, species, and order the determinants of the ratio of goodness.

5.  The third objection is that evil deprives a thing of mode, species and order, but evil cannot eliminate the goodness of a thing completely, so that goodness must consist in something else.  Evil deprives a thing of mode by deformity, of species by decomposition or corruption, and of order by removing it from its proper end.

6.  The fourth objection is from the fact that the ratio of evil consists in mode, species, and order.  But since good and evil are contraries, they ought not to have the same ratio.

7.  The fifth sets Augustine against Ambrose.  Augustine equates order with “weight”, but Ambrose says in his commentary on the Hexaemeron that light has no weight or number, so that some good things must elude the supposed ratio of goodness.

8.  For the Sed Contra he cites Augustine’s treatise on the Nature of the Good.

9.  In the Corpus he elaborates on the meaning of “mode”, “species”, and “order”.  Everything is called good insofar as it is perfect, and perfect insofar as it lacks nothing according to the mode of its perfection.  But things exist in their own forms, which presuppose certain things and from which certain things follow.  The “mode” or “measure” of a thing is the extent to which its material and efficient principles are in order.  Is it well made? From properly disposed matter?  Is its own act effective in bringing about those things due to its nature?  “Species” refers to the species of a thing, i.e. the form that sets it apart from other kinds, determines its distinctive characteristics, its unity and end.  “Order” refers to the end in particular, the dignity of a thing’s intended perfection and the extent to which it achieves it.  Thus the three constitutive aspects of goodness can be summarized as “principles”, “act”, “end”, or to put them into questions we might say: What is it made of/by? What is it? What is it for?  And under each of these three aspects we can identify the goodness of a thing.

10.  To the first objection he replies briefly by observing that being has mode, species, and order only insofar as it is perfect ,and therefore good.  He answers the second by pointing out that mode, species and order are generic categories and not substances in themselves, so that they do not require a subsequent account of their constituent goodness, but are rather modes under which the goodness of substances is identified.

11.  He answers the third by observing that evil deprives a thing of mode, species, and order only to an extent, or under some specific aspect.  Each aspect of a thing (e.g. its whiteness or bounciness or courage) has its own mode, species, and order, and thus evil deprives the individual of those only under some particular aspect or according to a particular attribute, and not of the whole substance.  Likewise, he answers the fourth by saying that the mode, species, and order of evil are always with respect to a particular defect.

12.  He answers the fifth objection by clarifying the way Ambrose speaks of light: the objector treats Ambrose’s contrast between light and ordinary physical bodies as if it were proportionate to the metaphorical “weight” of the passage in the book of Wisdom, which it is not.  This variety of misreading is the source of many errors.


– Mode, species, and order constitute the ratio of being, which differs in ratio from goodness.
– To use things which are themselves good to define the goodness of things would entail a logical loop.
– Evil cannot deprive things of their entire good, but it can deprive them of mode, species, and order.
– Evil cannot have the same ratio as goodness, but we define evil by mode, species, and order.
– Not all good things have weight and number (e.g. light).

– Mode signifies a thing’s material and efficient principles and their perfection.
– Species signifies a thing’s form or act.
– Order signifies a thing’s end or ultimate perfection.

– Yes, but they are also (and more fittingly) the ratio of the good.
– Mode, etc. are not spoken of as substances but as aspects of substances.
– Evil only removes them under a specific aspect or attribute.
– Evil has this ratio only with respect to particular defects.
– The objector has failed to respect the (divergent) senses of the two authors.

How is goodness a cause of things?


1.  Next, Thomas asks whether goodness has the ratio of a final cause.  The primary function of this article is to clarify how goodness can be both the first cause and the last cause in different ways.  Against the identification of goodness as belonging to final causes, he proposes three objections.

2.  First, he cites Dionysius, who identifies goodness with beauty.  Beauty being a formal aspect of things, he reasons that it cannot be a final cause, and therefore neither can goodness.  Second, again from Dionysius, he cites the principle that it is from goodness that everything subsists and is, so that goodness must be the efficient (and not final) cause of things.  Third, he cites Augustine, who again ascribes efficient causation to goodness.

3.  For the Sed Contra he cites Aristotle’s Physics.  It is mildly amusing that against the rather high authority of Dionysius and Augustine, he chooses Aristotle for the contrary authority.

4.  In the Corpus, St. Thomas points out the obvious: that since the good is what all things desire (as Aristotle says in the opening of the Nichomachean Ethics) and a final cause is the term or end of an agent’s act, it follows that goodness has the ratio of a final cause.  But he clarifies that the notion of goodness is always also associated with efficient and formal causation: efficient insofar as the end to which an agent moves pre-exists in that which moves the agent to its end; formal insofar as a thing’s motion is the process of it becoming in itself the good toward which it moves.  Thus goodness precedes a thing’s act, follows from it, and is realized in it.

5.  To the first objection, St. Thomas replies with an illuminating remark about beauty.  Beauty and goodness are the same in every subject but are logically distinct: goodness regards the appetitible (he defines goodness yet again as “what all desire”) and beauty regards the visible or knowable (here he also defines beauty as quod visum placet, “that which, being seen, pleases”).  Visible beauty consists in the due proportion of a thing’s parts (note here the word “due”, which implies that the proportion of beauty corresponds to something about the nature of the parts and the proper subordination of those parts to each other and to the whole), just as the intellect delights in the proper proportion of judgments, “for sense also is a kind of reason, and all of the cognitive powers.”  So that, while beauty has the ratio of a formal cause, this is not problematic, as explained in the corpus, because goodness has that aspect as well, but is primarily a final cause.

6.  The replies to the second and third objections do not require any additional clarification.


– Goodness and beauty are the same, but the latter is a formal cause, so the former must be as well.
– Goodness is an efficient cause.

– Goodness is that toward which all things tend and is therefore a final cause.
– Because it precedes motivates the efficient cause it is also secundum quid an efficient cause.
– Because it is the form of things perfected it is also a formal cause.

– Beauty differs logically, as quod visum placet.
– Goodness draws all things to their perfection, and is thus an efficient cause secundum quid.

The Universality of Goodness


1.  Next, Thomas asks about the universality of goodness.  Is every being good?  The question is important for subsequent questions about the universality of God’s role as creator in light of the reality of evil.  Against the universal convertibility of the terms “being” and “goodness”, Thomas proposes four objections.  

2.  The first objection comes from the fact that in some sense “goodness” designates what is added to being, and therefore the being of a thing is contracted by its particular perfections (from being any sort of thing, to this particular thing; from being any possible good to being this particular good).  Thus goodness, as a limitation of being, must be contrary to it, and therefore not every being is good.

3.  The third objection is from the idea of prime matter.  Since the good is in some way desirable, and things are desirable on account of their forms, what lacks form must not be good.  But prime matter by definition is that which lacks any form.  Therefore there are some things that are not good.

4.  The fourth is from the fact that the notion of goodness does not enter into the science of mathematics.  Since every science concerns some set of existing things, if it is possible to examine some beings without reference to goodness, then such beings must not be good.

5.  For the Sed Contra he cites 1 Timothy 4:4.  Since everything other than God is created by God, and every creature of God is good, then everything is good.

6.  The Corpus is extremely brief, and reiterates what has already been discussed above: to be is to be actual, but to the extent that a thing is actual, it possesses the perfection of its act, and to the extent that a thing is perfect, it is desirable (having tended toward whatever it is), and therefore it is called good.  Everything that is, is good.

7.  Thomas addresses the first objection by pointing out that goodness contracts or limits being only in the way substance, quantity, quality, etc. limit being: namely, by determining it to a particular nature.  But goodness in itself doesn’t add anything to being; the notion of goodness as already discussed only adds to the notion of being the idea of desirability, which is already tacitly present in it.

8.  To the second he replies that things are called evil only relatively, by virtue of the non-existence in them of some due good.  This point will be discussed at great length in subsequent questions.

9.  To the third, he replies that prime matter is mere potency, so its goodness is mainly only a potential goodness: but it still has actual goodness in its actual aptitude to being perfected.

10.  To the fourth, he says that mathematical objects have only a logical existence, as abstracted by the mind from real individuals.  Thus the number three (for example) and the notion of an empty set (to use a more modern example) do not exist in themselves, but are notions produced by the mind by the consideration of material quantity in abstraction from the things which have that quantity.  But where the individuals that are numbered have besides their quantity of matter also form, motion, and therefore ends, perfections, and goodness, considered abstractly as quantities they do not have any of these things.  Hence mathematics does not include the notion of goodness, since it does not treat things either as perfect or as perfectible.


– Goodness contracts being to a particular state, and is therefore opposed to it.
– Goodness is opposed to evil things, and some things are evil.
– Prime matter has no desirability and is therefore not good.
– Mathematics is a science; sciences concern being; mathematics does not employ the notion of goodness; therefore the object of mathematics is not good.

– Everything that is, is good.

– Goodness does not add anything to being, except the notion of desirability, which comes by virtue of a thing’s particular nature and perfection.
– Evil is only relative, by virtue of the non-existence of some perfection.
– Prime matter is good in its potency to being perfected.
– Mathematics treats things that are good, in a way that abstracts from the qualities which make them good.

Being is Logically Prior to Goodness


1.  Having established that goodness and being are not really distinct, but only logically distinct, Thomas asks which is logically prior.  Another way of asking this is: which notion is more fundamental: to exist, or to be good?  Against the claim that Being is logically prior to Goodness, St. Thomas proposes four objections.

2.  The first objection is based on the fact that Dionysius places “good” first in the names of God, assigning it primacy.  The second is also from Dionysius, specifically from the fact that the notion of goodness is broader in application (applying to non-existing things, as well as existing things), and what applies more extensive is more fundamental.  The third is from the fact that sometimes non-existent things are desirable (he quotes Christ speaking of Judas), and amounts to the same argument as the second.  The fourth is from the distinct desirability of things over and above mere existence: since goodness applies to more different kind of things than mere existence, it must be prior.

3.  In the Corpus he explains briefly that the meaning of a word is based primarily on what is primarily grasped by the mind in its contemplation of the object being referenced.  But what the intellect grasps first in things is being, since everything is knowable only to the extent that it presents itself to the mind, which is to the extent that it is actual (he cites Book IX of Aristotle’s Metaphysics).  Thus being is prior secundum rationem to goodness.

4.  In response to the first objection, Thomas makes some insightful notes on the order of the four causes.  An agent never acts except on account of some end or goal (agens non agit nisi propter finem).  Thus the final cause is the source and rule of the action of agents.  But a material cause only receives a given form when that form is imposed on it by some agent.  So all of the other causes (material, efficient, formal) fall under the governance of the final cause, which is thus called the “cause of causes.”  Since the final cause is a thing’s perfection, it corresponds to goodness, and thus goodness governs all the other causes.  In this way goodness is prior to being.  

5.  He remarks further, in response to the second objection, that Dionysius attributes broader universality to goodness on account of an idea taken from the Platonists.  Plato sees materiality as a lack of formality (the forms of things, for Plato, are immaterial and separate, and give all reality).  So to the extent that material things can still said to be good, even though they lack being, the thought is that goodness has further scope than being.  

6.  Additionally, since “being” applies only to what is actual, and “goodness” applies also to what is potential, insofar as it can be raised into actuality, there is an appearance of greater universality on the part of goodness.  However, good things are only actually good to the extent that they are actual.  A possible good which is presently absent is not sufficient to make a thing good.  This suffices for the third objection.

7.  To the fourth, Thomas points out that life, wisdom, etc. are all good insofar as they are actual, and when they are actual, they are actualizations or perfections of the being of a thing, and belong to being.  The fourth objection is a good example of a subtle equivocation: the objector borrows the distinction between existence, life, and wisdom from the consideration of the different orders of perfection, and then applies that distinction as if it were a division of genera.  But wisdom belongs to life as a perfection of it, just as life belongs to existence as a possible perfection of it.  Thus the perfection of wisdom is a perfection of being, and the goodness of wisdom is the goodness of being, not a separate goodness.


– Dionysius puts “goodness” first among the divine attributes.
– Goodness applies to non-existing things.
– Non-existing things are desirable.
– Life, wisdom, etc. are good, and not just existence.

– The meaning of a term comes from the notion under which the object signified is primarily grasped by the mind.
– Being precedes goodness in the order of knowledge.
– Therefore logical primacy belongs to being.

– Goodness is first as the governing cause, but not logically first.
– Goodness and Desirability belong to non-existing things only relative to their possible actuality.
– Life, wisdom, etc. are perfections of being, not separate kinds.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Difference between Being and Being Good


1.  In preparation for his discussion of the Goodness of God, Thomas pauses to discuss six points on the nature of Goodness in general.  The first article discusses the distinction between being and goodness: whether it is a real difference present in things (secundum rem) or a difference only according to the idea or definition of each (secundum rationem).

2.  In favor of the claim that goodness and being really differ in things, he proposes three arguments.  First he quotes Boethius, who distinguishes between being and goodness.  Second, he quotes a comment on the De Causis, to the effect that goodness is informed by being, and concludes that goodness must be a consequence of being, and therefore distinct from it.  Third, he notes the difference between goodness and being: a thing either exists or does not exist, and there are no possible intermediaries.  Goodness, on the other hand, admits of more and less.  Thus the two must be different.

3.  The Sed Contra is taken from Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana.

4.  Thomas’s argument in the Corpus is very clean and simple:  A thing is called “good” insofar as it is in some way desirable (he cites the opening line of the Nichomachean Ethics).  A thing is desirable insofar as it is perfect, since all things desire their own perfection.  A thing is perfect insofar as it is in act (as was discussed abundantly in the previous question).  And a thing’s act simply is in the same as its being.  Thus goodness is directly proportionate to being, but is simply a thing’s being considered under the aspect of desirability or perfection.

5.  Before moving on to the replies, we should discuss briefly the distinction between distinctions “secundum rem” and distinctions “secundum rationem”.  If two things differ “secundum rem”, then we call the distinction between them a “real distinction”, because, even if in some cases the two things cannot exist apart from each other (e.g. matter and form in a substance), still what is predicated of one need not also be predicated of the other, because they are different things.  

6.  By contrast, if two things differ “secundum rationem”, but not also secundum rem, then we say that they are “logically distinct”, because although the two are identical, and what is predicated of one is always predicated of the other, still they differ by the aspect under which the single subject of both is known.  The queen of England and the old woman taking a bath may not differ secundum rem, if the same person is referenced.  However, when I speak of the queen, I speak of this person under the aspect of being Sovereign of the United Kingdom, and when I speak of the old woman bathing, I have in mind merely the age of the person and her present activity.  Thus the notion under which the subject is considered differs, and the two are distinct secundum rationem.

7.  In his reply to the first objection, Thomas clarifies the distinction between being and goodness by pointing out the difference between what is designated by goodness simpliciter and being simpliciter.  When we think of being, or act, we think of it by contrast to potency.  To be is to have actuality.  Hence what is called “being” simply speaking is substance, i.e. something that has its own actuality, apart from others, and does not exist in anything else.  (This is what Aristotle calls “primary substance.”)  Every superadded act of being (accidental features, dispositions, knowledge, habits, etc.) is only called “being” secundum quid, because it lacks the primacy of substance, but only exists in another.  

8.  The notion of goodness, on the other hand, isn’t correlated to potency.  Something is good insofar as it is perfect or desirable.  Thus what is good simpliciter is perfect or desirable in itself, without reference to another.    Thus what is called “good” simply speaking is the ultimate desirable, which has every possible perfection, but what has goodness only to the limited extent of its present acutality is called good only secundum quid.

9.  Thomas draws a neat contrast here:  a thing is called being simply speaking in virtue of its substantial form, whether or not that form has any perfections added to it.  But a thing is called good simply speaking in virtue of its ultimate perfection, being raised to act in every way possible for its kind.  When we think of a thing as existing, we think of a sort of basic act which is in potency to perfection.  When we think of a thing as good, we think of the fullness of its act, elevated to its final perfection.

10.  To the second objection, he replies that goodness is informed by being in the sense that the good of a thing simply speaking is the fullness of its actuality, i.e. is the form of the thing’s perfection.

11.  To the third he replies that goodness is more or less relative to superadded perfections, as explained in the reply to the first objection.


– Boethius says that goodness and being are different.
– Goodness is said to be the result of the “information” of being.
– Goodness has degrees, but being is binary.

– Goodness signifies desirability.
– Desirability is proportionate to perfection in act.
– Perfection is the same as fullness of act.
– Actuality is being.

– Being, simply speaking, signifies the substance of a thing.  Goodness, simply speaking, signifies its ultimate perfection.
– Goodness is the quality of being ultimately informed.
– Goodness is more or less to the extent of a thing’s accidental perfections.