Philosophical Antecedents To Thomas Aquinas’ “Second Way” -- By: Richard G. Howe
CAJ 10:1 (Spring 2012) p. 45
Philosophical Antecedents To Thomas Aquinas’ “Second Way”
In this article I will explore the relevant antecedents to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae in order to argue that such antecedents are essential for a proper understanding and interpretation of his famous arguments for the existence of God, known commonly as his Five Ways; paying particular attention to his Secunda Via or Second Way. My primary concern is the philosophical ideas that serve as the background and context within which Thomas’ arguments must be situated and interpreted. In seeking to highlight these philosophical ideas and to show their relevance to his arguments, I will set out the immediate context of the Five Ways, briefly summarize the relevant works that Thomas wrote prior to and during his writing the Summa Theologiae himself, and finally briefly explore the ideas that serve as the arguments’ broader philosophical context.
The Five Ways are no doubt the most famous pericope of the writings of Thomas. They have found their way into almost every text
CAJ 10:1 (Spring 2012) p. 46
book that deals with the existence of God. It is my contention, however, that these arguments are often taken out of their philosophical context. which has left a misimpression on many as to what Thomas’ case for the existence of God actually is.1 As philosopher William Lane Craig observes:
Probably more ink has been spilled over his celebrated Five Ways for proving the existence of God than over any other demonstrations of divine existence, and yet they remain largely misunderstood today. No doubt this is because these five brief paragraphs are so often printed in anthologized form and are therefore read in isolation from the rest of Aquinas’s thought. To take these proofs out of their context in Aquinas’s thought and out of their place in the history of the development of these arguments will tend only to obscure the true nature of the proofs.2
It is my contention that a consideration of the Five Ways in their proper context, with a particular consideration of their philosophical backdrop, will show that the Five Ways themselves are stronger arguments than they might first appear. Philosopher Richard J. Connell recognizes the importance of considering these issues when examining Thomas’ arguments, noting especially the Second Way. “The second way . . . requires many considerations on agent causes that Aquinas takes up in several contexts, and which are omitted from the proof as it is presented in the Summa.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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