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PHIL 250A Study Guide - Final Guide: Plotinus, Enneads, Thirty-Nine Articles


Department
Philosophy
Course Code
PHIL 250A
Professor
Andrew Stumpf
Study Guide
Final

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PHIL 250A: Ancient & Medieval Philosophy
Exam Preparation
Part A: Paragraph answers on 7 of 10 topics
Possible topics & answers:
Module 11.....
1. Sacred Doctrine Among the Other Sciences
- In the ten articles that make up the first question of the Summa Theologiae, Thomas
makes the following points. First, the science of theology is needed, over and above
philosophy (which can also attain many of the same truths), mainly for the purpose of
salvation (the restoration of human beings to God). God is the goal of human life, but
God is beyond the grasp of our natural reason, so in order to know and to reach God we
need divine revelation, which we receive through the virtue of faith. (This is why Thomas
thinks faith is a source of knowledge.) Theology also contains truths necessary for
salvation that can also be known by human reason, Thomas says. However,
"...the truth about God, such as reason can know it, would only be known by a few, and
that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors; whereas man’s whole
salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order
that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was
necessary that they be taught divine truths by divine revelation." Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologiae: Ia, q1, a1 (As cited in Cahn, 459)
This first article also makes very clear how Thomas understood the aim and purpose of
theology. It was to lead human beings to the saving knowledge of God, understood as the
object of all human desire and the source of our life and being. In this, Thomas was no
different than Plotinus, whose teaching as represented by the Enneads had a similar
pastoral purpose. And Plotinus was an interpreter of Plato, in whose teaching a similar
thrust can be discerned. The only difference, from Thomas’s perspective, is that the great
philosophers of the past could only reach God at the end of all their inquiry, and could
never conceive God accurately since they lacked the privileged understanding given to
those who receive divine revelation of the truth about God.
- In the next few articles, Thomas explains what kind of science sacred doctrine is. It is
more like the sciences of optics or music than it is like geometry or arithmetic, he tells us,
because the latter “proceed from principles known by the natural light of the intellect”
while the former “proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science.”[1]
The point of this analogy is that theology takes its starting points from a science higher
than itself, namely from God’s own knowledge of God. This shows, Thomas believes,
that theology has a greater certitude than any other science, since it is based on God’s
own self-knowledge which can never err, while other sciences base themselves on “the

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natural light of human reason, which can err.”[2] Taking his cue from a classical,
Platonic-Aristotelian understanding of wisdom as knowledge of the highest causes,
Thomas declares that sacred doctrine is the pinnacle of wisdom, since
"...he who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely God, is
most of all called wise…. But sacred doctrine essentially treats of God viewed as the
highest cause, for it treats of him not only so far as He can be known through creatures
just as philosophers knew Him… but also so far as He is known to Himself alone and
revealed to others. Hence sacred doctrine is especially called a wisdom." Thomas
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: Ia, q1, a6 (As cited in Cahn, 462-3)
Although arguments based on the authority of other human beings are ordinarily the
weakest sorts of argument, Thomas says, “the argument from authority based on divine
revelation is the strongest.”[3] Again, this makes sense in the context of his claim that in
revelation, we are given access to the very knowledge that God possesses.
2. The Existence of God
- The only thing many students of Philosophy ever learn about Aquinas is his famous five
ways of proving the existence of God. But as you can see from the diagram summarizing
its contents below, these arguments take up only a tiny fraction of the Summa, and the
significance of their role in its overall structure is debatable.
Overview of the Summa Theologiae
— The Knowledge of God
God
What concerns the divine essence.
Whether God exists (in three articles).
1)
Whether the proposition God exists is self-evident?
2)
Whether it is demonstrable (that God exists)?
3)
Whether God exists?
(What is not) the manner of His existence.
What concerns His operations — His knowledge, will, power.
What concerns the distinction of Persons.
What concerns the procession of creatures from Him.
The Rational Creature's movement to God
Christ Who as man is our way to God
Some take the five ways as foundational to the project of natural theology — if we can
prove by pure reason that God exists, then we have a hope of showing how all the other
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claims of theology are rational as well. Given what we have just learned about the nature
of sacred doctrine, however, it would seem somewhat odd if Thomas sought to make
everything in theology depend on five briefly sketched rational arguments. After all,
didn’t he just tell us that God transcends the capacities of our natural reason? Further, in
the second sub-sub-division of Part I, where Thomas tells us about what God is like, he
characterizes God’s essence in terms of what God is not, rather than what God is. This is
consistent with the negative theological approach (the via negativa) which Aquinas
learned from Pseudo-Dionysius through his teacher Albert the Great. Our minds are
simply not naturally capable of grasping the being of God as God really is in Godself.
With all this in the background, let’s now ask about Thomas’s proofs for God’s existence.
What exactly are they supposed to prove, and how do they go about doing so?
The Five Ways
- The two main objections Thomas raises in article 3 against the claim that God exists
consist in (1) the problem of evil, and (2) the lack of any need to appeal to God to explain
whatever we wish to explain.
- “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works,
unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”
Way 1
1.
There is motion.
2.
Everything in motion is moved by something other than itself.
3.
Either there is an infinite regress of moved movers, or there is an unmoved mover
4.
An infinite regress would mean that there is no beginning of motion.
5.
Without a beginning, there would be no motion.
So,
6.
An infinite regress would undermine the possibility of motion, contradicting what is
obvious (namely, premise 1, that there is motion)
Thus,
7.
There exists an unmoved mover.
8.
To speak of God is (at least in part) to speak of an unmoved mover.
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