Saturday, June 7, 2014

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.

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