Author Topic: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with  (Read 2801 times)

Offline Dominic

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An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« on: September 04, 2014, 09:28:19 PM »
I would like to propose an Ontological Argument for the existence of God that St. Thomas himself might agree with.  St. Thomas did not agree with St. Anslem's original ontological argument.  However, I think in this form, St. Thomas might have accepted it.  It's really quite simple.  But, perhaps, someone can point out any flaws in it.

The Thomistic Ontological Argument for the Existence of God
1. God, by definition, is a maximally good being.
2. According to St. Thomas, Goodness is equivalent to Existence. (S.T. Part 1, Question 5, Art. 1)  (I believe this is from Plato originally)
3. Therefore, a maximally good being (one who's essence is Goodness) must actually exist.
4. Therefore, God exists.

To elaborate on item 2 from a Platonic perspective (although St. Thomas uses an Aristotelian example in his S.T.), Goodness makes something what it is.  A knife that is very dull and useless for cutting is not a good knife.  In fact, if the knife is so bad at cutting, it would cease to be a knife.  So, Goodness Itself defines existence.  Note that this has nothing to do with something physically existing in the material world.  For example, if a mathematical proof of Fermat's Last Theorem is a good proof, then that proof exists.  However, this doesn't imply the proof has physical existence. 
 

Offline Non Nobis

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Re: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2014, 02:24:00 AM »
I would like to propose an Ontological Argument for the existence of God that St. Thomas himself might agree with.  St. Thomas did not agree with St. Anslem's original ontological argument.  However, I think in this form, St. Thomas might have accepted it.  It's really quite simple.  But, perhaps, someone can point out any flaws in it.

The Thomistic Ontological Argument for the Existence of God
1. God, by definition, is a maximally good being.
2. According to St. Thomas, Goodness is equivalent to Existence. (S.T. Part 1, Question 5, Art. 1)  (I believe this is from Plato originally)
3. Therefore, a maximally good being (one who's essence is Goodness) must actually exist.
4. Therefore, God exists.

To elaborate on item 2 from a Platonic perspective (although St. Thomas uses an Aristotelian example in his S.T.), Goodness makes something what it is.  A knife that is very dull and useless for cutting is not a good knife.  In fact, if the knife is so bad at cutting, it would cease to be a knife.  So, Goodness Itself defines existence.  Note that this has nothing to do with something physically existing in the material world.  For example, if a mathematical proof of Fermat's Last Theorem is a good proof, then that proof exists.  However, this doesn't imply the proof has physical existence.

It seems you could make the same argument to show that anything (your idea of the thing) that by definition is good in any way must exist.  But of course this is false; e.g. a good square circle not only does not exist but is impossible.

Just thinking that "God's essence (maximal goodness) and existence are one" doesn't prove His existence.  You don't even know that a being of this description is possible.  You don't know His essence well enough to see even His intrinsic possibility (if you did you would see His existence).

St. Thomas doesn't prove the existence of God straight from the mind, from ideas about Him.  His arguments move from effect to cause, from creatures to the Creator.
[Matthew 8:26]  And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm.

[Job  38:1-5]  Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said: [2] Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? [3] Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me. [4] Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding. [5] Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
 

Offline Dominic

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Re: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2014, 01:37:25 AM »
You brought up some excellent points. 

It seems you could make the same argument to show that anything (your idea of the thing) that by definition is good in any way must exist.  But of course this is false; e.g. a good square circle not only does not exist but is impossible.

I understand how strange this sounds but I believe this is correct:  Any thing that is good must exist since Goodness is equivalent to Being.  But it must not be just my idea of the thing, the thing itself must actually be good for it to exist.  If I think that a dull knife is good for cutting, that doesn't make it a good knife so it doesn't exist as a knife.  In your example, a square circle is a logical impossibility based on contradictory definitions therefore it cannot exist. A contradictory definition is not a good definition of a shape. And since it's not a good definition, it has no existence as a definition.  In other words, it's not a definition at all.  But a definition of an abstract square exists since that's a good definition of shape.   Likewise, the definition of an abstract circle exists as well. 

Just thinking that "God's essence (maximal goodness) and existence are one" doesn't prove His existence.  You don't even know that a being of this description is possible.  You don't know His essence well enough to see even His intrinsic possibility (if you did you would see His existence).

This is also St. Thomas Aquinas's objection to Anselm's Ontological Argument.  We as creatures cannot know God's essence well enough to use that proof.  I believe St. Thomas would say that Anselm's Ontological Argument is valid but only God can use it since He only has complete knowledge of His Own essence. But, I don't think it's necessary to have a complete knowledge of God's Essence for the proof I proposed to work.  We only need to assume that God's Essence is whatever is maximally Good.  Then, by St. Thomas' own statement, He must exist.  That's why I thought St. Thomas might agree with my proposed argument.

St. Thomas doesn't prove the existence of God straight from the mind, from ideas about Him.  His arguments move from effect to cause, from creatures to the Creator.

I believe that the Ontological Argument also moves from creatures to Creator.  It moves from the goodness of creatures to the Ultimate Goodness.  This was also St. Bonaventure's and St. Francis's method of using the goodness in Creation to move our mind upward to arrive at the Ultimate Goodness.  St. Bonaventure wrote about this in the 'Mind's Journey into God.'  The goodness of things are vestiges, or footprints, leading to the Ultimate Goodness.  Plato also wrote about this in the simile of the Sun.
 

Offline LouisIX

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Re: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2014, 06:16:21 PM »
This seems to be subject to all of the same criticisms of Anselm's Ontological Argument.
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Offline Non Nobis

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Re: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2014, 12:33:43 AM »
This seems to be subject to all of the same criticisms of Anselm's Ontological Argument.

I think so, but I'll comment on Dominic's post directly too.

I understand how strange this sounds but I believe this is correct:  Any thing that is good must exist since Goodness is equivalent to Being.  But it must not be just my idea of the thing, the thing itself must actually be good for it to exist.  If I think that a dull knife is good for cutting, that doesn't make it a good knife so it doesn't exist as a knife.  In your example, a square circle is a logical impossibility based on contradictory definitions therefore it cannot exist. A contradictory definition is not a good definition of a shape. And since it's not a good definition, it has no existence as a definition.  In other words, it's not a definition at all.  But a definition of an abstract square exists since that's a good definition of shape.   Likewise, the definition of an abstract circle exists as well. 

Goodness in an idea (whether the definition is good and/or the thing is good) does not guarantee an actual existing thing.  (St. Thomas can't be saying that.) For example one can define a "perfect knife" as one that cuts through any material thing at all.  The definition is not self-contradictory (God could make such a knife), and such a knife would be good, but it need not exist. A good unicorn is (probably!) not a self-contradictory idea, but the thing itself (probably!) does not exist. 

Quote
Any thing that is good must exist since Goodness is equivalent to Being.  But it must not be just my idea of the thing, the thing itself must actually be good for it to exist.

That's just it, the idea of a being whose essence is "whatever is maximally good" is just an idea.  You  haven't proven that ACTUAL maximal goodness is possible (if it is, then it must ACTUALLY exist.)

St. Thomas doesn't prove the existence of God straight from the mind, from ideas about Him.  His arguments move from effect to cause, from creatures to the Creator.

I believe that the Ontological Argument also moves from creatures to Creator.  It moves from the goodness of creatures to the Ultimate Goodness.  This was also St. Bonaventure's and St. Francis's method of using the goodness in Creation to move our mind upward to arrive at the Ultimate Goodness.  St. Bonaventure wrote about this in the 'Mind's Journey into God.'  The goodness of things are vestiges, or footprints, leading to the Ultimate Goodness.  Plato also wrote about this in the simile of the Sun.

The Ontological Argument does get the idea of that which is maximally good (equivalent to "that than which nothing greater can be conceived") from creatures, and it goes from there to the Creator. Going from creatures to Creator is common among all Saints and theologians. But the problem is that the Ontological argument tries (and fails) to be a logical proof of God's existence, not just a raising of our mind to Him.  St. Thomas in his fourth proof of the existence of God (and in all his proofs) shows that God is actual because His creatures (degrees of goodness) must have a cause.  The argument is explicitly effect-to-cause in form (creatures to Creator, in that way). It doesn't arise from trying to put enough of God's greatness in our head and pulling out His existence.

I think that perhaps various arguments have St. Thomas' ideas at least fuzzily at the core (in the mind of the prover and listeners), and the fact that the conclusion is "God exists" makes listeners who are believers accept the proof as valid.  But surely it is important to use correct reasoning, especially to convince non-believers.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2014, 12:36:41 AM by Non Nobis »
[Matthew 8:26]  And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm.

[Job  38:1-5]  Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said: [2] Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? [3] Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me. [4] Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding. [5] Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
 

Offline Dominic

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Re: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2014, 09:01:56 PM »
This seems to be subject to all of the same criticisms of Anselm's Ontological Argument.

I think so, but I'll comment on Dominic's post directly too.

Thank you. Your well thought out comments are very much appreciated. 

Goodness in an idea (whether the definition is good and/or the thing is good) does not guarantee an actual existing thing.  (St. Thomas can't be saying that.) For example one can define a "perfect knife" as one that cuts through any material thing at all.  The definition is not self-contradictory (God could make such a knife), and such a knife would be good, but it need not exist. A good unicorn is (probably!) not a self-contradictory idea, but the thing itself (probably!) does not exist. 

I'm pretty sure St. Thomas said Goodness=Being, 'Hence it is clear that goodness and being are the same really.' (from S.T. Part 1, Question 5, Art. 1, reply to Q.1) I understand your difficulty in believing this but it helps to think in non-material terms.  Remember, in my proof, I never said that God physically exists.  Only that God exists. God exists in the same way that Goodness exists, or (by analogy) the way numbers exist.  (By analogy, because numbers also only exist in light of Goodness.)

I believe a 'perfect knife' does exist.  It exists as the prototype of all knives.  I can't arbitrarily define it as something that cuts through everything.  All I can do is examine a bunch of knives and from that examination, mentally observe the eternally existing Idea of the knife.  It is an immaterial creation of God.  It's how we got the idea to make a knife in the first place.  Just because you can't hold a perfect knife in your hand doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  A perfect unicorn does exist also--as the prototype of all possible unicorns.  If I draw a horse with a horn on its back, is that a drawing of a good unicorn?  I would say not.  How about a drawing of a horse with a horn on it's forehead.  That would be a better unicorn.  How can I judge which unicorn is better unless I can apprehend the Idea of the unicorn?  If I saw a real horse with a horn on it's forehead I would also recognize it as a unicorn.  You may, or may not be able to touch a unicorn.  But you can always recognize one even if you couldn't touch it.  But, one might object, isn't a unicorn just an arbitrary mental creation?  However, it would be vanity and pride to say that I invented the Idea of a unicorn.  I can't create anything, not even seemingly arbitrary ideas like unicorns.  It is God Who has created them.  God is the creator of all Good things material and immaterial (visible and invisible).  However, God Himself is different.  His essence is not some object like a horse with a horn on it's forehead.  He is by definition immaterial and perfectly good.  If God is Goodness Itself and Goodness=Being, then he must exist by definition. 

That's just it, the idea of a being whose essence is "whatever is maximally good" is just an idea.  You  haven't proven that ACTUAL maximal goodness is possible (if it is, then it must ACTUALLY exist.)

I think the problem is really the use of the adjective 'just' in front of the word Idea.  Please see the earlier comment.

The Ontological Argument does get the idea of that which is maximally good (equivalent to "that than which nothing greater can be conceived") from creatures, and it goes from there to the Creator. Going from creatures to Creator is common among all Saints and theologians. But the problem is that the Ontological argument tries (and fails) to be a logical proof of God's existence, not just a raising of our mind to Him.  St. Thomas in his fourth proof of the existence of God (and in all his proofs) shows that God is actual because His creatures (degrees of goodness) must have a cause.  The argument is explicitly effect-to-cause in form (creatures to Creator, in that way). It doesn't arise from trying to put enough of God's greatness in our head and pulling out His existence.

I think that perhaps various arguments have St. Thomas' ideas at least fuzzily at the core (in the mind of the prover and listeners), and the fact that the conclusion is "God exists" makes listeners who are believers accept the proof as valid.  But surely it is important to use correct reasoning, especially to convince non-believers.

I think the Ontological proof is very profound.  God's greatness is not in our heads.   Greatness is real and the definition of Greatness entails it's existence.  We are greater or lesser by our participation in the Ultimate Greatness which is God.  This notion of participation is more general (and intimate) than a simple domino-style cause-effect relationship.  Some people don't like proofs like the Ontological Proof but the great logician Kurt Godel was so impressed by it he created a very detailed  symbolic version of it.  If a great logician like Kurt Godel sees validity in the Ontological Proof, then I should probably take it seriously as well.


 

Offline Dominic

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Re: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2014, 11:04:55 PM »
Here's a reference that might help to understand the Catholic (and Platonic) Teaching that Goodness = Being.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, article on The Good:

In conclusion, we may now state in a word the central idea of our doctrine. God as Infinite Being is Infinite Good; creatures are good because they derive their measure of being from Him. This participation manifests His goodness, or glorifies God, which is the end for which he created man. The rational creature is destined to be united to God as the Supreme End and Good in a special manner. In order that he may attain to this consummation, it is necessary that in this life, by conforming his conduct to conscience, the interpreter of the moral law, he realizes in himself the righteousness which is the true perfection of his nature. Thus God is the Supreme Good, as principle and as end. "I am the beginning and I am the end."

Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06636b.htm

 

Offline Non Nobis

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Re: An Ontological Argument that St. Thomas could agree with
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2014, 08:52:55 PM »
I believe a 'perfect knife' does exist.  It exists as the prototype of all knives.  I can't arbitrarily define it as something that cuts through everything.  All I can do is examine a bunch of knives and from that examination, mentally observe the eternally existing Idea of the knife.  It is an immaterial creation of God. ...  He is by definition immaterial and perfectly good.  If God is Goodness Itself and Goodness=Being, then he must exist by definition.

A (non-abstract) perfect creature does not exist in the mind - even in God's mind - in the same way as it would if it were actually created. It is "just in the mind", unless it is a also a part of reality beyond mental reality. This includes spiritual creatures.

God is not a creature, but, we are speaking (to the atheist) of the idea of God which is only in our mind.  Since we don't know that "Goodness itself" is even possible, deducing that God must exist because "Goodness=Being" is not logical.  "Goodness itself" is not a definition that we can understand,  like that of abstract mathematical object. The atheist can have the idea of triangularity in his mind but he can't do this with the idea of God.

I think that "Goodness Itself" and "a being than which nothing greater can be conceived" essentially mean the same thing; St. Thomas says Goodness=Being, but even we can see that "a being than which nothing greater..." MUST, by its very essence (if we see it is possible), have existence.  We just must prove that such a being is possible.  So, I think your ontological argument is not essentially different than St. Anselm's

I think the Ontological proof  is  the truths about God associated with the Ontological argument are very profound.  God's greatness is not in our heads.   Greatness is real and the definition of Greatness entails it's existence.  We are greater or lesser by our participation in the Ultimate Greatness which is God.  This notion of participation is more general (and intimate) than a simple domino-style cause-effect relationship. 

I actually think that this (as modified) AND the following from your other post are quite true.  I think that St. Thomas Aquinas believed them. God's Goodness is His Being. God's definition does entail His existence. In fact, God's existence is self-evident in itself.  Our participation in God's goodness is most profound. St. Thomas just teaches that God's existence must first be reached through our neediness as creatures, rather than through definitions that we can't grasp.

Here's a reference that might help to understand the Catholic (and Platonic) Teaching that Goodness = Being.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, article on The Good:

In conclusion, we may now state in a word the central idea of our doctrine. God as Infinite Being is Infinite Good; creatures are good because they derive their measure of being from Him. This participation manifests His goodness, or glorifies God, which is the end for which he created man. The rational creature is destined to be united to God as the Supreme End and Good in a special manner. In order that he may attain to this consummation, it is necessary that in this life, by conforming his conduct to conscience, the interpreter of the moral law, he realizes in himself the righteousness which is the true perfection of his nature. Thus God is the Supreme Good, as principle and as end. "I am the beginning and I am the end."

Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06636b.htm



As I said, this is excellent.

Some people don't like proofs like the Ontological Proof but the great logician Kurt Godel was so impressed by it he created a very detailed  symbolic version of it.  If a great logician like Kurt Godel sees validity in the Ontological Proof, then I should probably take it seriously as well.

I would rather take it seriously because it came from St. Anselm; and then dispute it with St. Thomas Aquinas.

Here is one place where St. Thomas disputed it:

Quote from: St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, II 11 [3]
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm#11

...from the fact that that which is indicated by the name God is conceived by the mind, it does not follow that God exists save only in the intellect. Hence, that than which a greater cannot be thought will likewise not have to exist save only in the intellect. From this it does not follow that there exists in reality something than which a greater cannot be thought. No difficulty, consequently, befalls anyone who posits that God does not exist. For that something greater can be thought than anything given in reality or in the intellect is a difficulty only to him who admits that there is something than which a greater cannot be thought in reality.
[Matthew 8:26]  And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm.

[Job  38:1-5]  Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said: [2] Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? [3] Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me. [4] Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding. [5] Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?