Thoughts from a young theologian

Posts tagged “philosophy

Aquinas and the Existence of God: Contingency Part II

All of our knowledge comes to us from our senses. That’s a very Aristotelian and Thomistic first principle. If I couldn’t see, smell, hear, touch or taste, I could not know anything. For Aristotle, the process by which we attain knowledge of the sensible things of this world, he called abstraction. Abstraction is the picking up of certain aspects of a sensible object and leaving other parts of it behind. It’s for him, the way we think. He proposed 10 categories of objects, i.e. 10 things we can “pick up” when looking at an object namely: substance, quality, quantity, relation, time, place, action, passion, situation and habit. If I look, for example at a fire hydrant, I notice first of all that it is a fire hydrant (substance). I see that it is red (quality). I see just one hydrant (quantity). I see it’s on the corner of such and such a street (place). I see what’s being done to it (passion) — like if there’s a dog peeing on it… c”,) I can also see what it is doing (action) so if it’s spewing water out or not.

Of these categories, apart from the first one which is the substance (what something is), the rest are accidents of it. Accidents are those which don’t make a fire hydrant be a fire hydrant. I can spray paint that hydrant into blue, changing its color (quality) but it would still be a fire hydrant. Accidents do not exist apart from the substance but neither does a substance exist without accidents (except God). When I say red, I can’t just say red… It’s always a red something… c”,) Similarly, when I look at a fire hydrant, apart from picking up what it is, I can also pick up a number of things about it (that it is red, or in this place, etc…)

Substance is the thing that makes a thing be what it is… It is both the individual, particular existing thing (i.e. this particular fire hydrant on this intersection) and the universal, general thing (the idea of what a fire hydrant is). Not all hydrants are alike… The hydrant on Granville might be very different from that on Seymour. The individual, particular existing thing may differ but the idea always remains the same.This universal idea of a fire hydrant is called its essence. It is what allows me to go up to you and start talking about fire hydrants with you. I assume you know exactly what a fire hydrant is. It is the common idea we both have of what a fire hydrant is… in short, it’s its definition.

St. Thomas, looking at all things noticed that one of the accidents of everything is their existence. The essence (the definition… what it is) is separate from its existence (that it is). How do we know that? By experience! If existence was part of something’s essence, it cannot not exist. It would have to exist forever. If existence (that we are) is part of what makes us human, we can’t help but continue existing… forever. But we’re confronted with death everyday!! That we exist is not what defines us at humans… In a way, it’s just an attribute of ours. The best way of showing that essence is not existence in anything is by going back to what I was talking about earlier on abstraction. It is very possible for us to abstract existence out of something. When I look at John, for example, I can abstract his essence (that he is a man) separately from his existence (that he IS). He doesn’t have to be the way he is… In fact I can consider him in my mind wearing a top hat or having purple hair or being on the planet Mars. I can even consider him dead at that very moment. His very existence as he is this very moment is not part of what he is because it is something that is always changing. That distinction is super important because from once you make it, you’ll be led to the same conclusion Thomas had!!!

If essence is different, separable from existence… if existence is just an accident of something then our existence is, in a sense, a gift! It has got to come from something that is pure existence. Hmmmmmmm…. There’s something for you to think about… I’ll finish this little mini paper-blog next time! Take care and God bless!!!

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Aquinas and the Existence of God: Contingency Part I

As promised, I have been working on (mostly in my mind) how to present to you guys what I’ve been learning about St. Thomas Aquinas and his way of showing the existence of God to you. It’s still something that I’ve been running around a few times in my head, trying to get it to the point where it’s totally clear to me so I’ll only really be presenting it how I understand it… There may be a couple of things that’ll be missing… but here goes…

St. Thomas Aquinas actually has 5 ways of showing the existence of God. These include the argument for the (1) unmoved mover, (2) uncaused cause, (3) contingency, (4) cause of all limited perfections in being and (5) teleological argument. Of these, the only one that I’ve been learning inside out (and getting pretty fascinated by) is the argument from contingency.

Before I jump into it though, I think it’s worth noting a little nuance. First of all, Aquinas came up with 5 “ways” to show God’s existence… not 5 “proofs” of His existence. The reason for this is a proof is more than often attained a priori (or deductively) rather than a posteriori (inductively). A priori or deductive reasoning is one that goes from what is universally known to a specific application of that principle. It forms the heart of a logical syllogism and its conclusions follow of necessity (they need to be true… they can’t be false). If the premises that they present are true, then the conclusions that they make need to be true too. An example is the syllogism below:

All men are mortal (universal first principle)
Socrates is a man
Therefore Socrates is mortal (particular application of the universal truth)

Because Socrates is a man, he cannot not be mortal. The deductive syllogism (a priori) is the most powerful of them all but it is also that which is most easily debunked because all you need to disprove it is to bring to me one instance where the universal first principle fails to disprove it… Find me one man who is immortal and the whole argument falls flat.

In contrast to this, the inductive reasoning (a posteriori) is a weaker form of reasoning. It starts from lots of things that are true and draws out the universal truth that binds them all together. The conclusion it draws though may not follow of necessity. Most science follows the process of inductive reasoning. In our labs we most often try and statistically show through a number of repeated experiments a conclusion that can apply universally. There’s a good chance that the conclusion we draw from it is true, but it does not follow of necessity. An example of this is as follows:

Drinking and driving cause mortal accidents

This is a form of inductive reasoning because the conclusion doesn’t follow necessarily. There are some people who are drunk who manage to get themselves home. There’s a good chance you’ll get into an accident based on the statistics and number crunching that we have but there’s also a chance you don’t.

For Aquinas, the way we show God’s existence is always inductively and not deductively. God is infinite and eternal therefore you cannot start with a universal understanding of God because it’s not at all possible to universally understand God. There’s no truth higher than infinite Truth!!! The only way to show God’s existence is by inductive reasoning–i.e. from the particular circumstances. This makes sense from a faith point of view too. If there is one proof that exists that definitively, without question shows God’s existence, than are we still free to believe and accept Him? c”,) This is of course not to say that the inductive arguments St. Thomas gives us are weak and poor arguments… Actually, they’re really pretty sound and super fun to use… but you’ll have to come back next time to hear them… I don’t want to end up writing a thesis blog… Hehehheeeh Happy Sunday everyone and God bless!!!


Exam week!!!!!!

Sorry for the lack of posts!! It has been a super intense, crazy week. Last week, I had 3 papers due–two for philosophy and one for religion. This week, I’ve got a philosophy and a Latin exam, which isn’t that bad considering that the theologians have about 6 exams, I think, this week… Two works out just fine for me.

That’s why I’ve been able to scrounge up a little bit of time to post… So other than the exams, there has been a few things happening here. This Sunday was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe so Pablo, one of the theologians here, organized a little pilgrimage from our residence to the shrine we have for Mary on the abbey grounds. It’s maybe only a 10 minute walk, at most, between the two locations but it was made all the more special by the fact that we did it in the dark, after Vespers and we had a huge banner of Mary and a couple of tiki torches to accompany her. Thankfully, the weather held out for us and although the grass we had to walk on was a little damp, it wasn’t raining. Here are some pictures from the event.

Today also, in need of a break after studying mostly metaphysics (and I’ll also be studying Latin later tonight, after catechism), I went by the minors seminary and found out that they were busy putting together the monastery newsletter Pax Regis. I ended up spending about an hour there helping them out… The minors are a really interesting group… I’ve been kind of getting to know them just a little bit over the past four months but for the most part, we don’t really mingle too much. They’re all high school kids with high school thoughts and a high school schedule. Their schedule actually, is far more rigorous than ours here at the major seminary. They’ve got almost every single hour booked–mandatory PE class, mandatory band practice, mandatory work on Saturday. Everything is set in stone for them whereas for us, as i’ve shown you with my schedule earlier on, the only things set for us are our classes and community prayers and meals. The rest of the day, we plan on our own…

Another time that I was a little bit free, I needed a break and took a walk with some majors (I was writing my philosophy papers and my mind, after a few hours of non-stop thinking and writing was turning to mush). We went over to the farm to visit some of the brothers working there and some of the animals. I promise you that I’ll definitely go back there with my camera and take some pictures because it is quite a sight to see. If you’ve ever been in the abbey and had a little bit of its beef, whether it’s steak or stew or liver, it’s all homegrown here. We visited some of the chickens and we saw some of the humongous cows that are there. There’s even a barn dog (I forgot his name) who watches over the place… The minors go there every Saturday to scoop up (with shovels) the cow poo… It’s one of their work chores… Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for some minors to have some fun with the poo by smacking it really hard with their shovel and spraying it all over the place… This might give you an idea of why majors and minors don’t mix… 🙂

Anyway, I promise to go back there with a camera for next time…

Also, this is actually my last week up here in the Abbey. I will be leaving on the 21st for home so I’m not 100% sure how many posts I’ll be able to put up while at home… I mean how interesting can things get at home right? 😛 I am hoping to see people though so if you’re available between the 22nd of December and the 4th of January, please get in touch with me and let’s chat!! c”,) Once things settle down here (after Friday hopefully), I’ll be sure to post up those pictures I promised of the Advent Program and talk a little bit more about what I learned on the Eucharist! God bless!!!

P.S. Please pray for me… I’m having a bit of a tough time with community living this week