Aristotelian view of God

Aristotelian view of God

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The Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian views of God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 have been influential in Western intellectual history.

The Metaphysics

In his book on first philosophy, which most now call the Metaphysics
Metaphysics (Aristotle)
Metaphysics is one of the principal works of Aristotle and the first major work of the branch of philosophy with the same name. The principal subject is "being qua being", or being understood as being. It examines what can be asserted about anything that exists just because of its existence and...

, Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 discussed the meaning of "being as being". Aristotle concluded that "being" primarily refers to the unmoved mover
Unmoved mover
The unmoved mover is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action...

s, and assigned one of these to each movement in the heavens. In the Aristotelian
Aristotelianism is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. The works of Aristotle were initially defended by the members of the Peripatetic school, and, later on, by the Neoplatonists, who produced many commentaries on Aristotle's writings...

 theory, each unmoved mover continuously contemplates its own contemplation, and everything that fits the second meaning of "being" by having its source of motion in itself, moves because the knowledge of its mover causes it to emulate this mover (or should).

Aristotle's criticism of Plato

Aristotle devotes special attention to the Platonic theory
Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism...

, according to which ideas
In philosophy, idealism is the family of views which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing...

 are the ultimate principles of Being. That theory, he contends, was introduced to explain how things are, and how things are known; in both respects, it is inadequate. To postulate the existence of ideas apart from things is merely to complicate the problem; for, unless the ideas have some definite contact with things, they cannot explain how things came to be, or how they came to be known by us. Plato does not maintain in a definite, scientific way a contact between ideas and phenomena—he merely takes refuge in expressions, such as participation, imitation, which, if they are anything more than empty metaphors, imply a contradiction. In a word, Aristotle believes that Plato, by constituting ideas in a world separate from the world of phenomena, precluded the possibility of solving by means of ideas the problem of the ultimate nature of reality.

The principles of being

In the metaphysical order, the highest determinations of Being are Actuality
Potentiality and actuality
In philosophy, Potentiality and Actuality are principles of a dichotomy which Aristotle used throughout his philosophical works to analyze motion, causality, ethics, and physiology in his Physics, Metaphysics, Ethics and De Anima .The concept of potentiality, in this context, generally refers to...

 (entelecheia - Greek: ἐντελέχεια) and Potentiality (dynamis
In philosophy, Potentiality and Actuality are principles of a dichotomy which Aristotle used throughout his philosophical works to analyze motion, causality, ethics, and physiology in his Physics, Metaphysics, Ethics and De Anima .The concept of potentiality, in this context, generally refers to...

- Greek: δύναμις). The former is perfection, realization, fullness of Being; the latter imperfection, incompleteness, perfectibility. The former is the determining, the latter the determinable principle. Actuality and potentiality are above all the Categories
Category of being
In metaphysics , the different kinds or ways of being are called categories of being or simply categories. To investigate the categories of being is to determine the most fundamental and the broadest classes of entities...

. They are found in all beings, with the exception of the Supreme Cause, in whom there is no imperfection, and, therefore, no potentiality. God is all actuality, Actus Purus
Actus purus
Actus Purus is a term employed in scholastic philosophy to express the absolute perfection of God. It literally means, "pure act."Created beings have potentiality that is not actuality, imperfections as well as perfection. Only God is simultaneously all that He can be, infinitely real and...


All other beings are composed of actuality and potentiality, a dualism which is a general metaphysical formula for the dualism of matter and form, body and soul, substance and accident, the soul and its faculties, passive and active intellect. In the physical order, potentiality and actuality become Matter and Form. To these are to be added the Agent (Efficient Cause) and the End (Final Cause); but as the efficiency and finality are to be reduced, in ultimate analysis, to Form, we have in the physical order two ultimate principles of Being, namely, Matter and Form. Aristotle's Four causes
Four causes
Four Causes refers to a principle in Aristotelian science that is used to understand change. Aristotle described four different types of causes, or ways in which an object could be explained: "we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause", He argued...

 -- Material, Formal, Efficient, and Final—are seen in the case, for instance, of a statue:
  • The material cause, that out of which the statue is made, is the marble or bronze.
  • The formal cause, that according to which the statue is made, is the idea existing in the first place as exemplar in the mind of the sculptor, and in the second place as intrinsic, determining cause, embodied in the matter.
  • The efficient cause, or Agent, is the sculptor.
  • The final cause is that for the sake of which (as, for instance, the price paid the sculptor, the desire to please a patron, etc.) the statue is made.

Mere potentiality without any actuality or realization (Prima materia in Latin) nowhere exists by itself, though it enters into the composition of all things except the Supreme Cause. It is at one pole of reality, He is at the other. Both are real. Primordial matter possesses what may be called the most attenuated reality, since it is pure indeterminateness
Indeterminacy (Philosophy)
Indeterminacy, in philosophy, can refer both to common scientific and mathematical concepts of uncertainty and their implications and to another kind of indeterminacy deriving from the nature of definition or meaning...

, God possesses the highest and most complete reality, since He is in the highest grade of determinateness. To prove that there is a Supreme Cause is one of the tasks of metaphysics the Theologic Science. And this Aristotle undertakes to do in several portions of his work on First Philosophy.

In the Physics
Physics (Aristotle)
The Physics of Aristotle is one of the foundational books of Western science and philosophy...

he adopts and improves on Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

' teleological argument, the major premise of which is "Whatever exists for a useful purpose must be the work of an intelligence". In the same treatise he argues that, although motion is eternal, there cannot be an infinite series of movers and of things moved. Therefore there must be one, the first in the series, which is unmoved, to provide movement without being moved: described in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 as proton kinoun akineton and in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 as primum movens immobile.

In the Metaphysics he takes the stand that the actual is of its nature antecedent to the potential, that consequently, before all matter and all composition of matter and form, of potentiality and actuality
Potentiality and actuality
In philosophy, Potentiality and Actuality are principles of a dichotomy which Aristotle used throughout his philosophical works to analyze motion, causality, ethics, and physiology in his Physics, Metaphysics, Ethics and De Anima .The concept of potentiality, in this context, generally refers to...

, there must have existed a Being Who is pure actuality, and Whose life is self-contemplative thought (noesis noeseos). The Supreme Being imparted movement to the universe by moving the First Heaven, the movement, however, emanated from the First Cause as desirable. In other words, the First Heaven, attracted by the desirability of the Supreme Being "as the soul is attracted by beauty", was set in motion, and imparted its motion to the lower spheres and thus, ultimately, to our terrestrial world.

According to this theory God never leaves the eternal repose in which His blessedness consists. Will and intellect are incompatible with the eternal unchangeableness of His being. Since matter, motion, and time are eternal, the world is eternal. Yet, it is caused. The manner in which the world originated is not defined in Aristotle's philosophy.


This influenced Anselm
Anselm of Canterbury
Anselm of Canterbury , also called of Aosta for his birthplace, and of Bec for his home monastery, was a Benedictine monk, a philosopher, and a prelate of the church who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109...

's view of God, whom he called "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". Anselm thought that God did not feel emotions such as anger or love, but appeared to do so through our imperfect understanding. The incongruity of judging "being" against something that might not exist, may have led Anselm to think that he had proved God's existence.

Many medieval philosophers made use of the idea of approaching a knowledge of God through negative attributes. For example, we should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term, all we can safely say is that God is not nonexistent. We should not say that God is wise, but we can say that God is not ignorant (i.e. in some way God has some properties of knowledge). We should not say that God is One, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being.

Aristotelian theology was accepted by many later Jewish philosophers
Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy , includes all philosophy carried out by Jews, or, in relation to the religion of Judaism. Jewish philosophy, until modern Enlightenment and Emancipation, was pre-occupied with attempts to reconcile coherent new ideas into the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism; thus organizing...

, such as Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

, Gersonides
Levi ben Gershon, better known by his Latinised name as Gersonides or the abbreviation of first letters as RaLBaG , philosopher, Talmudist, mathematician, astronomer/astrologer. He was born at Bagnols in Languedoc, France...

, Samuel Ibn Tibbon
Ibn Tibbon
Ibn Tibbon , is a family of Jewish rabbis and translators that lived principally in Provence in the 12th and 13th centuries.- Prominent family members :Prominent members of the family include:...

 and many others; their views of God are considered mainstream by many Jews of all denominations even today. Aristotelian theology was also accepted by many later Christian and Islamic philosophers and theologians in the medieval era, notably Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...