Infinite Causal Regress And The “Secunda Via” In The Thought Of Thomas Aquinas -- By: Edward N. Martin
Infinite Causal Regress And The “Secunda Via” In The Thought Of Thomas Aquinas
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Thomas Aquinas often wielded the idea of an infinite regress in his theological and philosophical treatises. In the famous Five Ways, the notion of the impossibility of a regress of events or operations plays a key role in each of the first three proofs for God’s existence. In a similar fashion, Aquinas incorporates this idea in his Summa Contra Gentiles in the section on the existence of God.1 In this later work, it becomes eminently clear that Aquinas derives the idea of the impossibility of an infinite regress ‘among movers and things moved’ directly from the work of Aristotle. According to the opening words of the First Way, Aquinas believed that the argument ex motu was the most evident way to prove God’s existence. It should not surprise us, then, that there is a certain amount of capital appearing in the proof ex causalitate that is borrowed from the proof ex motu.
It is true, though, that there are certain cosmological arguments that are based on the idea of an infinite regress of events in time that Aquinas did not accept. Various arguments of this sort, called today the kalam cosmological arguments, were spawned first in the works of John Philoponus in the sixth century2, and then developed by the Arabic schools of philosophy during the next five centuries. The Western world during these centuries had more or less lost contact with Aristotle’s philosophy; however, the Arabic school both preserved and developed Aristotle’ thought. At issue in the kalam argument is whether reason can tell us that the world has a beginning in time. That is, the kalam brand of the cosmological argument was thought to prove that the world, contra Aristotle and the Greeks, was in fact not eternal, but had instead a beginning in time, was ‘created’, if you will.
Aquinas has proposed in his Summa Theologiae3that there are two types of truths: truths of reason and truths of faith. And he makes it manifestly clear that he accepts the biblical doctrine of creation as a truth of faith, not reason. Aquinas holds that reason cannot prove that the world had a beginning in time. For all he knows and can demonstrate, the world may be ‘created from eternity’ by God: not only dependent on God for its existence, but eternally dependent on God.4
So, there are times in his work in which Aquinas inv...
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