Friday, February 19, 2010

The Fourth Way in Syllogistic Form


I. The Text (ST I.2.3c)

"The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God."

II. The Argument in Syllogistic Format:

P1A: If a perfection, P, is predicated “more” or “less” of things (p), then P exists at its maximum (m).
P2A: Being, Truth, Goodness, etc. are perfections, P, that are predicated “more” or “less” of things (p).
CA: Therefore, Being, Truth, Goodness, etc., are perfections, P, that exist at their maximum (m). 

P1B: If a perfection, P, exists at its maximum (m), then P is the cause of all perfections in that genus (c).
P2B: Being, Truth, Goodness, etc., are perfections, P, that exist at their maximum (m).                          
CB: Therefore, there is a cause of Being, Truth, Goodness, etc.--this is what we call God (c).

III. The Argument in Symbolic Format:
P1A: p    ®    m
P2A: p
CA: \ m

P1B: m   ®    c
P2B: m
CB: \ c

IV. Legend
P1A:, P1B:, etc. = "Premise 1 of argument A," "Premise 1 of argument B," etc.
CA, CB = "Conclusion of argument A," "Conclusion of argument B," etc.
x = "It is true that x."
x ® y = "if x (is true), then (is true)."
\x = "Therefore, x (is true)."
p = "A perfection, P, is predicated “more” or “less” of things."
m = "P exists at its maximum."
c = "P is the cause of all perfections in that genus."


Br. Gabriel Thomas, OP said...

I think there are a few problem with your syllogism with reference to the so-called 4th way.

1. I have to deny the Major of B. There is no necessity relationship between a perfection existing at its maximum and it being the cause of all perfections in its genus - save it being an exemplary cause. Thomas' use of the the perfections that are transendentals is important here. It is not just that they are perfections at their maximum but it is that they are the kind of perfections at their maximum that make them the cause of all other perfections in their genus.

2. Unless I am missing something the Conclusion of B does not follow formally from the premises with consideration to the middle terms to be dropped.

3(?) Possibly also, it would seem to be necessary to demonstrate that the Transendentals are of a genus for God to be their cause in this line of argumentation.

Don Paco said...

Your comment is a bit foggy and I'm not sure I understand whether you are saying:

a) I misrepresented Aquinas' argument, or

b) Aquinas' argument is not a sound argument.

I assume that you mean (a). If that is the case, what exactly would be your suggestion? That is to say, please give me the correct form of syllogism so that I can correct what I've done wrong.

Br. Gabriel Thomas, OP said...

Allow me to restate the problems, as I see them.

First, there is a problem with the Major Premise of Syllogism B (as you provide it). The reason why premise is false is due to Thomas' argument. Without going into the whole history of the problem of the 4th way (many contemporary students of Thomas have explained the problem) it is sufficient to note that Thomas (and all his contemporaries) were working with a faulty translation of Aristotle which confused exemplary causality with efficient causality. As you can see by the text itself Thomas is trying to make a case for efficient causality but he is actually proving exemplary causality. This is why I noted that there is no necessary (efficient) causal relationship between a perfection at its maximum in its genus and those below it (by degree) in the same genus.

Further, this type of argument does not work with all perfections as such but only properly works with the Transendentals because of the type of perfection that they are by definition.

The second problem is concerning the formal construction of Syllogism B. Following normal conventions the conclusion that you derive requires an explanation as to how it can be that God is the efficient cause of the Transendentals. Currently, based on the major and minor premises the conclusion would read: Therefore, Being, Truth, Goodness, etc., are perfections, P, that are the cause of all perfections in their genus. I think, however, this may be part and parcel with the overall problem of the text of the 4th way.

My third possible problem can be derived from what I have said above.

So, fundamentally it seems to be a problem in Thomas.

Michael said...

Br. Gabriel,

There is no problem with the argument.

The key to the proof is that transcendental perfections, unlike their variable counterparts, are not self-limiting. If what is not self-limiting is therefore found in limited form, this presents a problem the solution of which is the conclusion of this proof.

As Fr. G.H. Joyce, S.J. explains:

"When one and the same perfection is found in different beings, it is impossible that they should possess it independently; all must have received it from one and the same source. And if the perfection in question is one, the idea of which connotes no imperfection, the source from which it is received is none other than the perfection itself, subsisting as an independent being. Now the things of our experience possess in common the perfections of being or reality, of goodness, of truth, and of unity: and these are perfections which involve no idea of imperfection. Hence we must admit the existence of the Real, the Good, the True, the One. Moreover, it may be shewn that these are not distinct the one from the other, but are one supreme and infinite Being."

(Principles of Natural Theology, c. 3:

Of course, whether this proof can be literally extracted from the precise text of St. Thomas is a historical, rather than philosophical, question.

But, following Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, it is always the case that the more interesting question is not "Did this or that philosopher say a (or not-a)?" but rather "Is a (or not-a) actually true?"

Fr. Joyce's presentation, in any event, is the "4th way" as neo-Scholastics present it, "4th way" referring generally to a proof which reasons from limited instantiations of transcendental (and thus, not inherently limited) perfections, to their unlimited Source.

Br. Gabriel Thomas, OP said...

@Michael - I do think that what you suggest is one of the possible ways that one can reconcile the problem with the argument. However, it does bring up a much bigger problem.

The statement that you quote seems to require us to view the 4th way through a highly Platonic lens. However much Thomas appropriated from both major schools of Neo-Platonism it is a rare case that he appropriates Platonism as such. With respect to this, for Fr. Joyce to be correct we would have to admit ideal forms in the Platonic sense. However, as a rule, Thomas only concedes the notion of ideal forms as existing in the mind of God but not having procession in re.

Generally Thomistic realism assumes Aristotelian reductionism while at the same time not conflating the Transendentals. Rather, Thomas admits to a convertibility between them. Because of this I would be very hesitant to say that they are an actual unity or even that they find a unity in God. Depending on how that notion is taken it might negate the proper understanding of the analogy of being (This is a common problem with modern and some contemporary Thomists and is a problem that they share with the Commentators).

The other option of interpretation that I could see in his statement is via Plotinus in the doctrine of the Plenitude of Being. However, whenever this arrises in Thomas he is always careful to qualify it (unlike Bonaventure). Because, if it is wholly appropriated then it admits necessity in God. Or, at the least, this position begins to follow the Scotus notion of the univocity of being.

I'm not arguing that the 4th way is false as such, but rather, that a case cannot be made for efficient causality according to the argument as it is presented. And hence the problem with its transposition into syllogistic formulation.