The Fourth Way

Category: Philosophy
Author: Hecate

 Aquinas’s fourth argument for God’s existence supposes that there are gradations of perfectness in beings. For example some things are more and some less true, which means that there is a certain maximum that they derive their property from, and this view is a lot like Plato’s idea of the good. It argues that there is “something which is most being” and that thing is God. In this paper I will set forth both the acceptable and the insufficient sides of this premise as objectively as possible, and I will try to offer a better phrasing that would make the road from the premise to the conclusion more consistent.

 To start with, it is understandable why Aquinas would come up with this premise, for there are indeed different gradations in quantities and qualities of things; for example some chairs are smaller, some people are wiser, and so on. Following this statement we arrive at the conclusion that there must be a smallest or a wisest thing; so a wise person’s wisdom does not come from himself, but comes from a perfect source of wisdom, meaning that the person does not own its quality and is inferior to this perfect concept. However, this premise is flawed, because there are a lot of concepts and if there is a better version for each and everyone it implies that God is not single. Even if he is, Aquinas does not explain why this perfect being is certainly God; for it could be another force like an infinite energy out of which every feature derives.

 Another point worth considering is the idea that the ultimately good thing is the cause of less good things. The problem with this is that it could mean that God is not so perfect after all. For if something is that perfect, why does it cause less perfect that is flawed things? There are two possible answers to this question. The first is that God cannot create perfect things; which contradicts the omnipotence of God. The second is that God will not create a perfect thing in fear of being destroyed or overthrown; yet this also degrades and anthropomorphizes God.

 One more reason why this premise does not exactly lead to the conclusion is because it is contradictory. For if God is the combination of the perfect essences of every concept then how can we explain negative concepts like evilness, ugliness or laziness? Does not it contradict the very nature of God? But if we say that these negative things are separate from God, then we are admitting that there is something with as much being as God. It sounds as if there are multiple Gods or God-like creatures, which cause different things. This in turn means that God is not the sole superior power above us.

 At first glance Aquinas’ fourth premise seems to lead to the conclusion that God exists, yet it is easy to disagree with for the reasoning it employs has some gaps in it. It is necessary to explain or at least guide the reader as to why God creates evil and how can he be single if everything has its own perfect model. In my opinion, this premise could be strengthened if we paraphrase it like this: There are different levels of gradation in everything from good things like beauty to negative traits like hideousness. All of these derive from a single God, for he is the only one that has absolute perfection. We cannot know his true intention in creating flawed things and seemingly evil things, it is beyond our understanding. However, we can only suppose that God is either testing us or making us stronger by exposing us to these things.