Ancient & Medieval Philosophy: Aquinas and After

History of Western Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy, Pre-Socratics
(based on Greg L. Bahnsen’s lecture series)

Thomas Aquinas said there are two sources of knowledge. One is divine revelation, that is, we can gain knowledge through God revealing truth directly to us. We also gain knowledge through human reason. Aquinas thought he could demonstrate God’s existence through natural reason so that we can establish a foundation on which Christianity can be placed. Reason can also be used to show that it is not unreasonable to believe specific Christian doctrines. Some truths rest on faith in the field of theology and are not demonstrable but are defensible. Other truths in the realm of natural religion can be proved by unaided reason. Reason is the foundation for faith.

Nature/ Reason

He presented five proofs for God’s existence. The first three proof’s deal with Aristotle’s arguments regarding motion and the Unmoved Mover. The fourth proof is an argument for the degrees of perfection. If we have differences of evaluation in the natural world, there must be an objective standard of evaluation-God. The fifth proof is the proof from the governance and design of the world. He attempted to prove God by natural unaided reason. He thinks he has proved the Unmoved Mover, that God is the first cause of everything that is and that God is an absolutely necessary being, that he is the standard for evaluation and that God is the designer of the universe.

Cosmological Argument Critique
1. If we argue for God as the first cause, our background proposition is that everything as a cause, but then why doesn’t God have a cause? Because then we’ll have an infinite regression of causes. The unbeliever might postulate that we have a cyclical or non-linear view of history. We must first have a Christian view of the universe, to posit the linear infinite regress.
2. How do you know that there is one cause, there could be many.
3. We cannot argue for the characteristic of the universe that everything has a cause, to the conclusion that the universe as a whole has a cause. The characteristics of the part does not necessarily mean the character of the whole. If the individual leggos weighs 1 oz, that doesn’t mean the leggo statue weighs 1 oz.

Roger Bacon
He believed that knowledge was useful for the Christian, and he taught testing hypothesis in a scientific fashion. Bacon represents an empirical scientific orientation towards learning. Duns Scotus was a key opponent of Aquinas. He thought Aquinas took a far too intellectual approach to philosophy. Scotus is remembered to be a voluntarist, who maintained it is not reason that is above all, but rather will. God’s will is more basic than a rational plan He is following. Voluntarism says that God can do anything He chooses to do; he is not bound by anything outside of himself. This kind of voluntaristic thinking lead to the question, “Is God so free that He could send the virgin Mary to hell?” Scotus had a unique view of the status of universals. According to him, there is a form for every particular distinct thing. If not, then immortality becomes impossible. Since we can know the differences between individual particulars, what we know must be forms. He believed that there is also a form for all the different forms. It is distinctive enough to be a real object of knowledge, but not distinctive enough to be a separate entity in the world. The universal form can be divided into its parts. For example, we can divide humanity into its form of “Bob, John and Jane.” However, you cannot divide the form of “Bob, John and Jane.” They don’t predicate of anything except their particulars. The end of this process of dividing forms is haecceitas. The haecceitas of anything is not its potentiality or matter, it must be a form.

William of Ockham
The spheres of faith and reason must be absolutely separated. Natural theology is eliminated altogether. Faith does not supplement reason, therefore you can come to different conclusions using faith and reason. The fact that we are to follow faith even though it seems irrational, is no problem because faith is the queen of theology, and reason is the queen of everything outside of theology. He believed that the doctrine of God’s omnipotence leads to the conclusion that we can’t hold to the validity of what we are thinking. God can create delusions and illusions. However, since theology leads to this conclusion, this problem is irrelevant. Ockham promoted the use of reason and rational methodology. He is well-known for Ockham’s Razor. When we have two hypothesis which both give an inadequate account for something, we should go with the simpler hypothesis. It says to shave off unnecessary aspects of an explanation. Ockham distinguished between real science that deal with the world of real things (physics, psychology, biology) and rational science (logic). He believed that universals were just a convenient of way naming all the different particulars. Saying “humanity” was just a good way of referring to “Bob, Bill and Jane.”

Nicholas of Cusa
He was an idealistic pantheistic philosopher who had to a nominalistic view of universals.

Apologetical Assessment
In Anselm we find sophisticated reflection on the relationship between faith and reason. He held that man needs faith in order to have understanding, but he was not consistent with his view. He said, “nothing in Scripture should be urged on the authority of Scripture itself, but that whatever the conclusion of independent investigation should declare to be true…” He did not completely rid himself of autonomy.

Peter the Venerable
He argued for the objectivity of philosophical study as a model of for impartiality.

Abelard held that human reason can pave the way for an initial faith which in turns prepares for the supernatural act of faith. He assigned reason the jurisdiction to find which authority to follow.

Anselm vs. Abelard
Anquinas agreed with Abelard that you could prove the truths of theism through independent reason. In order to guarantee there is room for faith, Thomas agreed with Maimonedes that there is a higher level of religious truth which can’t be penetrated except through divine revelation. Reason builds the lower story of religious truth, and revelation completes the superstructure. Even in the upper story, reason can show the credibility that are believed by faith. The lower story, Thomas used his Five Ways of Proof. In the upper story, Thomas utilized arguments to show that the religious truths were reasonable but not provable. Thomas’ approach to reason and faith ends up having the Christian message absorbed into a secular philosophy of life.

Key Characteristics of the Middle Ages
They have an attempt to bring Church and State together. The Church tends to have dominance over the State. You can see synthesis in their theology as well in terms of being saved by good works and faith, and synergistic regeneration. There is also an intellectual synthesis of natural reason and supernatural faith. There is faith that needs to be synthesized with man’s natural reason. Natural reason can lead to God and religious truths according to Aquinas in order to the foundation to supernatural faith.


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