In chapter 14 of The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics, Norris Clarke presents a few arguments for the the ultimate source of all being, which he takes to be God. Here is my summary of the arguments he presents in the chapter. In part 1 of this series, I’m going to try to summarize and explain Clarke’s first argument from a caused being to the infinite source or cause of all being.
Argument 1: From any conditional being to one infinite source of all being
- There must exist at least one self-sufficient or uncaused being.
Clarke has readers look directly to our everyday experience. We notice that everything that we encounter is contingent, that is to say that it could have been the case that the stuff we see didn’t exist. In Clarke’s own words they are “not self-sufficient for their own existence but depend on other beings outside of them for their [existence], either to bring them into existence or to maintain them in existence, or both” (216). To take his example, look at ourselves. We depend on our parents for existence, and also the oxygen that we take in and the nutrients we receive from the food we consume. Our existence is dependent on these factors (and many others).
Clarke takes an objection, and a common one at that. Can there be an infinite regress of causes? So being A is caused to exist by being B, and when we get to being B we see that it too is caused to exist by being C, and so on and so forth. Can it be that this chain stretches out towards infinity? Clarke rightly answers no. Here’s why: suppose we have a an infinite amount of boxcars that are all connected to each other and it’s in motion. We ask ourselves, “What caused boxcar A to move?” Well it’s the pushing of boxcar B. Similarly we asked about what caused boxcar B to move, and we say C. We keep asking, and asking, and asking but never arrive at a point in which we can say it’s motion began. We are left with no reason to suppose why or how it began it’s motion. But of course if there is no reason or cause of it’s motion, then the boxcar would be motionless since these boxcars have nothing in its being which would cause it to move.
Or look at ourselves. Assuming we have free will, when I move my arm to scratch my nose, the movement of my hand is actualized by my arm, my arm by my muscles, and my muscles by neurons firing (or whatever else goes on in this complicated process). Eventually we must get to a point in which there’s simply an unmoved mover. Something to get the process started and going. My arm can’t just be suspending in the air scratching my nose for an infinite amount of time without being caused by something. And if these causes go back infinitely, we have no reason to suppose that my arm would be suspended in the first place.
So to make sense of the motion of the boxcar, my arm, and the existence of the contingent “stuff” we see, there must be at least one uncaused or unmoved being or “thing” to get it all started.
Clarke’s rejection of an infinite regress is stated this way:
Given that being A here and now exists, categorically, not conditionally (i.e., as an “is,” not an “if” statement). Now suppose one tries to explain the actual existence of A thus: A exists only if B, B only if C, C only if D, and so on to infinity, in an endless series of “only if” statements. In this case, since each member depends on the conditions for its existence being fulfilled by another, and these conditions in turn remain endlessly unfulfilled, the entire series remains conditionally (“iffy”) in its existence. Unless one of the members along the line exists unconditionally, categorically, with no more conditions to be fulfilled, then the original existence of A itself becomes only conditional. There could never be a categorical affirmation of anything at all (nothing but “only ifs”). But the original A does exist, categorically and unconditionally, as a fact, not “iffily.” (218-219).
Clarke concludes that “there must exist at least one self-sufficient being” (219).
2. Any being that is self-sufficient for its own existence or is uncaused must be infinite in perfection.
One way Clarke supports this is via reductio ad absurdum:
- Suppose there exists a finite self-sufficient being.
- This being would have to be the total ultimate source of all attributes within it, including existence.
- It cannot be the case that the ultimate source of a perfection would posses this perfection in a limited way, imperfect way since the being in question is the ultimate source of this perfection.
- But in virtue of being finite, this finite being possesses these perfections in a limited, imperfect, or less than full way.
- Therefore, there does not exist a finite self-sufficient being.
So, if there is a being that is self-sufficient for it’s existence, it follows, then, that this being cannot possess existence or any other perfection in a limited, imperfect, or less than full way, and thus it cannot be finite. This being can be either finite or infinite. Thus it must be infinite in perfection.
3. There can be only one such infinite being.
This argument is represented straightforwardly by another reductio ad absudrum:
- Suppose there were two such beings, that is, two self-sufficient infinite beings.
- These two beings are distinct from one another and cannot in anyway be each other.
- If these two beings are completely distinct from one another, then one of them lacks something the other doesn’t.
- Therefore, one self-suffucient infinite being lacks something the other doesn’t.
- If each being didn’t lack something the other had, then there would just be one being since the beings would be entirely identical to each other.
- If one lacked something the other one doesn’t, then one being lacks a perfection.
- A self-sufficient infinite being is one who has all perfections
- One of the two self-sufficient infinite being’s lacks a perfection
- Thus, there cannot be two self-sufficient infinite beings.
Clarke thus concludes the argument in the following way:
“Either the universe is unintelligible, or there must exist one and only one Infinite Source of all other beings, both of their actual existence and of all the perfections (goodness) within them. It is at once Infinite Being and Infinite Goodness, in which all finite beings participate both for their existence and their goodness” (221). In my next post, I’ll cover Clarke’s second argument.