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God in the Aristotle

Metaphysics Book XII is usually considered the culmination of Aristotle’s work in metaphysics, and in it he offers his teleological system. Before he draws any grand conclusions, he begins with the idea of substance, of which there are three kinds: changeable and perishable (e. g. , plants and animals), changeable and eternal (e. g. , heavenly bodies), and immutable. If all matters are perishable, then extreme obliteration of everything is inevitable. But Aristotle emphasizes two perpetual concepts: motion and time.

If time were created, then there must have been no time before the creation, but the very concept of “before” necessitates the concept of time. On the other hand, as he argued in his works of natural philosophy, the only continuous motion must be circular. Thus he returns to the idea of the Unmoved Mover, for only such a being could generate eternal circular motion. The Unmoved Mover is the final initiator of the universe, and it is pure actuality, containing no matter since it is the very cause of itself.

In order for the Mover to be unmoved itself, it must move in a non-physical way, by inspiring desire. Aristotle presents the Mover the identity of God, but this figure is unlike most standard conceptions of a divine being. Although Aristotle affirms that it is a living creature and embodies the pinnacle of goodness, it also has no interest in the world and no recognition of man, for it exists in a completely transcendent and abstract state.

The activity of God–if it can be called such–is simply knowledge, and this knowledge is purely knowledge of itself, because an abstracted being is above sense and experience and can know only what is best. Some have construed this to denote that God, in knowing itself, utterly knows everything else, but Aristotle flatly denied this view. In fact, he believed, for example, that God would have no knowledge of evil. The contention for a Prime Mover flinched from Aristotle’s concept of change and causation.

There could not be an absolutely first (or last) change. For given that alteration entails pre-existing substance (or potentiality) and a pre-existing efficient cause to impose form on the matter (to actualize the potentiality), there must have existed before a supposed first change something capable of being changed and something capable of causing change. But then to justify why these potentialities (for being altered and for producing change) were actualized at a certain time just priori to that time, that is, a change before the supposed first change.

Change therefore, or movement, must be eternal…. This Prime Mover, interminable, unchanging and limiting no element of matter or unrealized potentiality keeps the heavenly bodies moving and maintains the eternal life of the universe…. He established that theories ought to hang on upon proof, and if at any future time they are ascertained, ‘then credence must be given to the direct evidence of the senses more than to theories’. Aristotle establishes the existence of God by influence of the above-mentioned principle: “priority of act over potency. “

This proof may be summed up as follows: Becoming is the passage from potency to act. This evolution cannot be achieved devoid of alluring to a mover which would activate the potency. But again, this mover, if it be in the series of becoming, would derive its motion from a second, and so on. Such tracing of the entity moved and the mover cannot go on into an infinite series, for, if so, the problem of becoming would remain unsolved. It is necessary to stop at a prime mover which would be outside this series of becoming, and which moves but is itself unmoved, the immovable Mover, God.

The essentiality of welcoming the idea that the first and immovable Mover does not depend on the fact of whether becoming has a beginning. Even if the world is without a beginning (as Aristotle supposed it to be, because of his lack of a concept of creation), its becoming would remain ever inexplicable without a prime, immovable Mover, the absolute cause of all becoming. Encompassing thus originated his evidence for the existence of God; Aristotle gives himself to the task of determining God’s nature.

God is Pure Act, intermingled with no potency. Since, according to the doctrine of Aristotle, knowledge of the world would imply duality between knower and known, he denies to God any knowledge of earthly becoming. Consequently, God is thought, which revolves upon itself, Thought of Thought, as Aristotle expresses it. Cosmic certainty has an enunciated purpose toward God, and in this sense God moves the world. But He is not the Creator of this cosmic reality, and does not have any direct relationship to it.

He is the commendable (final) cause and the proficient cause of becoming, but He is ignorant of this reality and hence does not govern it. If we compare the God of Plato (Highest Good) with that of Aristotle, we can say that in both there remains dualism: God is distinct from uncreated and co-eternal reality. Aristotle’s evidence for the existence of God owing to the concept of becoming is superior to that of Plato, whose proof consists in the intelligible substratum of all intelligible things (Ideas).

Aristotle’s elucidation is forthrightly metaphysical, while Plato’s is logical. With indication to the nature of God, while Plato acknowledged in God the attribute of modeler or fashioner of the material universe (Demiurge), and hence also recognized the attribute of providence, these endowments are absent from the God of Aristotle. Consequently, although advancement in metaphysics is attained through Aristotle’s proof for the existence of God, in matters of religion Aristotle’s contribution involves a step in reverse. Reference Metaphysics, II, 994a and b; Physics, II, 3 and 7.

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