Tuesday, October 7, 2008

God and Philosophy (É. Gilson)

Some quotations from the book: Étienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1941)

p. xiv …I discovered that the only context in which the metaphysical conclusions of Descartes made sense was the metaphysics of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

p. 9 note 9: The two notions of life and of blood are inseparable in a Greek mind. Since the Greek gods have no blood, they cannot lose it, and consequently they cannot die.
–– Cf. Iliad, Bk. V, vv. 339–342.

13 A world where everything came to men from without, including their feelings and passions, their virtues and their vices, such was the Greek religious world.

22 By far the hardest problem for philosophy and for science is to account for the existence of human wills in the world without ascribing to the first principle either a will or something which, because it virtually contains a will, is actually superior to it. … The Greek gods are the crude but telling expression of this absolute conviction that since man is somebody, and not merely something, the ultimate explanation for what happens to him should rest with somebody, and not merely with something.

23 …Greek philosophy was a rational attempts to understand the world as a world of things, whereas Greek mythology expressed the firm decision of man not to be left alone, the only person in a world of deaf and dumb things.

23 When Plato says of something tat it truly is, or exists, he always means to say that its nature is both necessary and intelligible.

27 …in Plato's mind the gods were inferior to the Ideas.

31 …the soul is to Plato the very pattern after which men have formed their notion of god.

32 What makes Aristotle's metaphysics an epoch-making event in the history of natural theology is that in it the long delayed conjunction of the first principle with the notion of god became at last an accomplished fact.

33 The only question [vis-à-vis Aristotle's notion of divinity] is: Can we still have a religion? The pure Act of the self-thinking Thought eternally thinks of itself, but never of us.

34 With Aristotle, the Greeks had gained an indisputably rational theology, but they had lost their religion.

37 Provided only that it be somebody or something which they can mistake for somebody, they [men] may eventually worship it. What men cannot possibly bring themselves to do is to worship a thing.

43 What is perhaps the key to the whole history of Christian philosophy… is precisely the fact that, from the second century A.D. on, men have had to use a Greek philosophical technique in order to express ideas that had never entered the head of any Greek philosopher.

44 [Insofar as it worshiped God as HE WHO IS,] Christian revelation was establishing existence as the deepest layer of reality as well as the supreme attribute of the divinity. … As Professor J. B. Muller-Thym aptly remarks, where a Greek simply asks: What is nature? A Christian rather asks: What is being?
–– Muller-Thym, On the University of Being in Meister Eckhart of Hochheim (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939), p. 2

58 note 11: The man of Plato stood in no need of being made partaker of the divinity, because he himself was a god; hence, for Augustine, the necessity of stripping the man of Plato of what made him god, namely, his natural aptness to know truth.* We will find Thomas Aquinas confronted with the contrary difficulty, namely, that of turning the eminently natural man of Aristotle into a being being susceptible of deification.

* Consider also J. Ratzinger: "Using Plato, he [R. Guardini] makes explicit the knowledge of man's incommeasurability with the truth. In reality, man must appear foolish to himself when he risks speaking of the truth yet has no choice but to expose himself to this risk––and he must do so precisely in the recognition of his own absurdity. Only the presence of both elements, that is, the courage to search for the truth and the humility to accept one's ridiculousness, enables man to maintain the right mean between truthless cynicism and self-righteous fanaticism."
–– Cf. Stationen und Rückblicken (Würzburg, 1965), 41–50; as cited in The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), p. 92, n. 20.

59 Time and again… Augustine has attempted the same demonstration of the existence of God as the only conceivable cause of the presence of truth in the human mind.

61 note 12: Augustine… never reached a wholly existential notion of being.

64 …such is the natural order followed by our rational knowledge: we first conceive certain beings, then we define their essences, and last we affirm their existences by means of a judgment. But the metaphysical order of reality is just the reverse of the order of human knowledge: what first comes into it is a certain act of existing which, because it is this particular act of existing, circumscribes at once a certain essence and causes a certain substance to come into being. … In Saint Thomas' own words: dicitur esse ipse actus essentiae––"to be" is the very act whereby an essence is.
–– Cf. Qu. disp. de Pot., qu. VII, art. 2, ad 9.

65 Philosophers have not inferred the supreme existentiality of God from any previous knowledge of the existential nature of things; on the contrary, the self-revelation of the existentiality of God has helped philosophers toward the realization of the existential nature of things.

67 …a decisive metaphysical progress, or, rather, a true metaphysical revolution was achieved when somebody began to translate all the problems concerning being from the language of essences into that of existence.

69 note 17: The primacy of essence, which makes existence out to be one of its "accidents," appears in the doctrine of Duns Scotus as a remnant of the Platonism anterior to Thomas Aquinas. In a straight existentialist metaphysics, it would be much more correct to speak of the essence of an existence than to speak, with Duns Scotus, of the existence of an essence (essentia et eius existentia).

70–71 …existence is not a thing, but the act that causes a thing both to be and to be what it is. … in our human experience, there is not thing whose essence it is "to be," and not "to-be-a-certain-thing."

72 BY revealing to the metaphysician that they [i.e., things, since no thing's essence is to exist] cannot account for their own existence, all things point to the fact that there is such a supreme cause wherein essence and existence coincide. … forcing its way through that crust of essences which is but the outer coating of reality….

73 …"all knowing beings implicitly know God in any and every thing that they know."
––Cf. Qu. disp. de Ver., qu. 22, art. 2, ad 1.

79 …Descartes has come after the Greeks with the naïve condition that he could solve, by purely rational method of the Greeks, all the problems which had been raised in between by Christian natural theology.

82 It is a well-known fact that Descartes always despised history….

86–87 If we look at God as the only possible explanation for the existence of such a world [i.e., a purely mechanical, extended world à la Cartesianism], his main attribute must necessarily be not the self-contemplation of his own infinite Being, but his self-causing all-powerfulness, source of his creative causality. … Since the ultimate philosophical function of his God was to be a cause, the Cartesian God had to be possessed of any and every attribute which was required of the creator of a Cartesian world. … In short, the essence of the Cartesian God was largely determined by his philosophical function.…

88 …a God whose very essence is to be a creator is not a Christian God at all. The essence of the Christian God is not to create but to be.
–– Cf. Pascal's Pensé II, §77: "I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God."

90 "By Nature, considered in general, I am now understanding nothing else either than God, or the order and disposition established by God in created things."
–– Descartes, Méditations, VI, ed. Adam-Tannery, IX, 64.

93 The world of Descartes had been a world of intelligible laws established by the arbitrary will of an all-powerful God; Malebranche's originality was to conceive God Himself as an infinite world of intelligible laws. Nothing more closely resembles the supreme Intellect of Plotinos than the divine Word of Malebranche.

95 [According to Malebranche, this, our, world] is not, absolutely speaking, the most perfect possible world, but it is at least the most perfect world which God could possibly create, given that it had to be a world ruled by universal, uniform, and intelligible laws. A congeries of individually perfect things would not be a whole, nor would it be a world, because it would not be an order of things regulated by laws.
–– Cf. Entretiens sur la métaphysique et sur la religion, Vol. II, chap. Ix, sec. 10, pp. 209–211.

96 Clearly enough, the notion of perfection is here taking precedence over the notion of being.

97 Existences are given to a Cartesian only through, and in, essences. God himself could not be posited as actually existing were it not for the fact that his idea is in us, and that, as it is found there, it involves existence.

99 …the God of the Monadology was but the Good of Plato, solving the problem of which world to create….

100 The greatest metaphysician among the successors of Descartes was Spinoza, because, with him, somebody at last said about God was Descartes himself, if not as a Christian, at least as a philosopher, should have thought and said from the very beginning. Descartes had been either religiously right and philosophically wrong, or philosophically right and philosophically wrong; Spinoza has been wholly right or wholly wrong….

101 But a God who "exists and acts merely from the necessity of his nature," is nothing more than a nature. Rather he is nature himself: Deus sive Natura.
–– Cf. Spinoza's Ethics, Part I, Appendix, p. 30 and Part IV, Preface, p. 142 à la Everyman's Library edition.

102 A religious atheist, Spinoza was truly inebriated with his philosophical God. … As a philosopher, and toward his own philosophical God, Spinoza probably is the most pious thinker there ever was.

103–104 I, personally, would not speak lightly of Spinoza's religion. It is a one hundred percent metaphysically pure answer answer to the question how to achieve human salvation by means of philosophy only. … Spinoza is a Jew who turned "Him who is" into a mere "that which is"; and he could love "that which is," but he never expected that he himself would be loved by it. The only way to overcome Spinoza is, in a truly Spinozistic way, to free ourselves from his limitation by understanding it as a limitation. This means, to grasp Being as the existence of essence, not as the essence of existence; to touch it as an act, not to conceive it as a thing. Spinoza's metaphysical experiment is the conclusive demonstration of at least this: That any religious God whose true name is not "He who is" is nothing but a myth.

105 The God of the Deists was not a first intelligible principle like the Good of Plato, the self-thinking Thought of Aristotle, or the Infinite Substance of Spinoza.

108 …the fact that there is no Demiurge does not prove that there is no God.

109 Yet the Criticism of Kant and the Positivism of Comte have this in common, that in both doctrines the notion of knowledge is reduced to that of scientific knowledge, and the notion of scientific knowledge itself to the type of intelligibility provided by the physics of Newton.

110 If we compare it with the Kantian revolution, the Cartesian revolution hardly deserved such a name.

114 Today our only choice is not Kant or Descartes; it is rather Kant or Thomas Aquinas.
––Cf. Rudolf Eucken, Thomas von Aquin and Kant, ein Kampf zweier Welten (Berlin, Reuther and Richard, 1901).

127 Supposing they ultimately consist of nothing else, how can we account for the existence [or, the why] of the very order of molecules which produces what we call life, and thought?

131 note 12: The marked antipathy of modern science toward the notion of efficient cause is intimately related to the nonexistential character of scientific explanations. … Since the relation of cause to effect is an existential and metaphysical one, it appears to the scientific mind as a sort of scandal which must be eliminated.

132 Yet the fact that final causes are scientifically sterile does not entail their disqualification as metaphysical causes, and to reject metaphysical answers to a problem just because they are not scientific is deliberately to maim the knowing power of the human mind.

133 We do not need to project our own ideas into the economy of nature; they belong there in their own right. Our own ideas are in the economy of nature because we ourselves are in it.

134 Through man, who is part and parcel of nature, purposiveness most certainly is part and parcel of nature.

136 A world which has lost the Christian God cannot but resemble a world which had not yet found him. Just like the world of Thales and of Plato, our own modern world is "full of gods." There are blind Evolution, clear-sighted Orthogenesis, benevolent Progress, and others which it is more advisable not to mention by name. … Millions of men are starving and bleeding to death because two or three of these pseudoscientific or pseudosocial deified abstractions are now [in 1941] at war.

140 note 19: Design appears to them [scientists] as a fact whose existence calls for an explanation. Why then should not the protons, electrons, neutrons, and photons be considered as facts whose existence also calls for some explanation? In what sense is the existence of these elements less mysterious than that of their composite? … If the cause for the existence of organisms lies outside the nature of their physiochemical elements, it transcends the physical order; hence it is transphysical…. if there is nothing in the elements to account for design, the presence of design in a chaos of elements entails just as necessarily a creation as the very existence of the elements.

143 The ultimate effort of true metaphysics is to posit an Act by an act, that is, to posit by an act of judging the supreme Act of existing whose very essence, because it is to be, passes human understanding. Where a man's metaphysics comes to an end, his religion begins.

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