The One and the Many Argument Summaries Part 1

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

  1. 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:

  1. Suppose there exists a finite self-sufficient being.
  2. This being would have to be the total ultimate source of all attributes within it, including existence.
  3. 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.
  4. But in virtue of being finite, this finite being possesses these perfections in a limited, imperfect, or less than full way.
  5. 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:

  1. Suppose there were two such beings, that is, two self-sufficient infinite beings.
  2. These two beings are distinct from one another and cannot in anyway be each other.
  3. If these two beings are completely distinct from one another, then one of them lacks something the other doesn’t.
  4. Therefore, one self-suffucient infinite being lacks something the other doesn’t.
  5. 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.
  6. If one lacked something the other one doesn’t, then one being lacks a perfection.
  7. A self-sufficient infinite being is one who has all perfections
  8. One of the two self-sufficient infinite being’s lacks a perfection
  9. 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.

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12 comments
  1. The argument doesn’t follow. There cannot be an infinite regression, true. But the conclusion then must be that there must exist an eternal thing, not that there must exist an eternal being with infinite perfections and blah blah. Please provide an argument that leads to that conclusion.

    • David said:

      Hello, Neil.

      A being is simply “that which is,” as defined by Clarke. If you want to call this being a thing, then sure. There must exist an infinite thing. This conclusion was already made evident in the post “Clarke concludes that “there must exist at least one self-sufficient being” (219)”. I even said the following: “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.” Not sure if you read it entirely or just glanced over it, but it’s there. We’re in agreement. Now, this being is obviously either finite or infinite. It cannot be finite, therefore it’s infinite and that was demonstrated by the reductio. So, I’m not sure how the conclusion doesn’t follow when it was clearly argued for. Whether one thinks the argument is unsound or not is another question. However, I, and Clarke, did argue for it.

  2. Right, one uncaused thing. So that is where it all went bad. He supposed it to be a being from the start. He never offered an argument why it is a being and not a thing. I will argue why it is a thing.

    So we agree with the first part, that there must exist something eternal. Good. Let’s not use being until we can justify it. We agree that “something” must be eternal. Please don’t call it a being until you justify it. Now onto the the second argument.

  3. 2. Any being that is self-sufficient for its own existence or is uncaused must be infinite in perfection.

    This part doesn’t follow. Notice, he doesn’t say, “something that is self-sufficient.” How did he jump from argument one, which is that something must be eternal, to argument 2, a BEING …?

    Properly, if he wished to be neutron and consistent, should have written.

    2. Any thing or being that is self-sufficient for its own existence or is uncaused must be infinite in perfection.

    But still, it doesn’t follow. A self-sufficient something needs to be infinite in perfection, unless infinite in perfect only means whole perfect, meaning it doesn’t have an infinite amount of perfections, but the perfection it does have is complete, whole, infinite, but using infinite that way is just odd.

    I will offer a concept that doesn’t fit his second argument.

    Pureon A. It’s positive attribute is its existence. It doesn’t have an attribute, but rather its attribute is the same as its existence. Nothing in argument 2 address this, because of point 2. Point 2 is not supported either.

    Here is point 2.

    2.This being would have to be the total ultimate source of all attributes within it, including existence.

    How did he make that leap from point 1?

    1.Suppose there exists a finite self-sufficient being.

    He jumps from suppose there exist a finite self -sufficent being, to this being would have to be the total ultimate source of all attributes within it. What? Why attributes? Why not the total ultimate source of the attribute within it?

    I will argue for a finite self-sufficient thing.

  4. 1.There exists a finite self-sufficient thing with ONE perfect attribute being positive.
    2.This thing is the total ultimate source of that ONE attribute within it and within its existence.
    3.It cannot be the case that the ultimate source of a perfection would posses this perfection in a limited way, imperfect way since the thing in question is the ultimate source of THIS ONE perfection. (I wish to stress that this finite self-sufficient thing is the ulitmate source of ONE perfection, that is A perfection, not more than one.)
    4.In virtue of being finite, this things possesses this ONE attribute in the most perfect way.
    5.Therefore, there can exist a finite self-sufficient thing.

  5. So then how do we get to the conclusion that the eternal somethingness must be an enity being many perfect attributes, rather than a few finite things have each one perfect attribute?

    Pureons are the answer. A simple concept. Something that has within its existence to cause momvement. I even gave an example.

    Pureon A’s are positive.
    Pureon B’s are negative.

    When two pureon A’s are close together, they repell each other. When two pureon B’s are close together, they repell each other. When a pureon A and B are close together, they attract one another. If then reality was full of these pureons, movement must exist. There is no other positibility. Pureons must move because of their very nature and existence. It is only because they exist that movement happens.

    1. Pureon A is a positive/attractive attribute. It doesn’t have this attribute. It is this attribute. Pureon A doesn’t have this attribute, but rather the attribute is identical to its existence. It is its existence, which is its essence, which is this positive attribute.

    Same with Pureon B. it is a negative/push attribute. It doesn’t have this attribute. It is this attribute. Pure B doesn’t have this attribute, bur rather the attribute is identical to its existence. It is its existence, whcih is its essence, which is this negative attribute.

  6. So given all that I typed above, how do we conclude that it is impossible for pureons to exist as the uncaused cause for all movement?

    • David said:

      Ok, it seems to me you’re equivocating with being. I made it very clear that “being” simply means “that which exists.” It *is* a *thing*. You keep wanting to think of a “personal being” of some sort. That is *not* what is in the argument. We haven’t even gotten to know whether this being is personal or not. A being is simply a thing. A carpet is a being. The clouds, the trees, my jeans, etc. Just so you know, the title and purpose of the chapter from which this argument is taken is “The Final Unification of All Being: The Search for the Ultimate Source of All Being.” Just so you can be clear on what is trying to be accomplished here. So your whole talk of “don’t call it a being until you justify it” is completely besides the point. You have something else in mind.

      Clarke goes throughout the whole first half of the book outlining what being is, what it’s made of, and the structures it contains. He starts with the beings of our common experience. He goes through great lengths to show that the beings of our common experience are “multiple, finite, sharing common essences or nature, and undergoing change” (212). He shows all the metaphysical underpinnings of these things. He explains act/potency, essence/existence, form/matter, etc. I’m simply trying to give you a backdrop of the book and how he gets where he’s at.

      So, the problem is simply this: is our universe self-sufficient or is there an ultimate transcending source of all being? Understanding of efficient and final causality is pertinent here.

      You write, “2. Any being that is self-sufficient for its own existence or is uncaused must be infinite in perfection.
      This part doesn’t follow. Notice, he doesn’t say, “something that is self-sufficient.” How did he jump from argument one, which is that something must be eternal, to argument 2, a BEING …?”

      I’ve already addressed this. It does follow. You’re simply being caught up with the word “being” in thinking it means something like the common definition of a “personal being” and I already defined it as “that which exists.” There is *no* problem here. You’re equivocating and misunderstanding that everything is a being.

      You also wrote, “‘2. Any thing or being that is self-sufficient for its own existence or is uncaused must be infinite in perfection.
      But still, it doesn’t follow. A self-sufficient something needs to be infinite in perfection, unless infinite in perfect only means whole perfect, meaning it doesn’t have an infinite amount of perfections, but the perfection it does have is complete, whole, infinite, but using infinite that way is just odd.
      I will offer a concept that doesn’t fit his second argument.
      Pureon A. It’s positive attribute is its existence. It doesn’t have an attribute, but rather its attribute is the same as its existence. Nothing in argument 2 address this, because of point 2. Point 2 is not supported either.”

      What Clarke means, and I agree, by infinite perfections is that it is “unlimited in its qualitative fullness of all perfections” (220). The reason is it must account for being the efficient cause of all other being (which is why one must have a good understanding of efficient and final causality). Now, I don’t understand why you think it’s odd.

      You wrote, “How did he make that leap from point 1?
      1.Suppose there exists a finite self-sufficient being.
      He jumps from suppose there exist a finite self -sufficent being, to this being would have to be the total ultimate source of all attributes within it. What? Why attributes? Why not the total ultimate source of the attribute within it?”

      It’s simple: 1 is an assumption granted as a set up for a reductio. The second point follows in that it’s simply what the definition of being the “self-sufficient” being that exists as the cause of everything else. If it was only the ultimate source of the attribute within it, which I have no reason to believe btw, it wouldn’t make sense that it is the efficient cause of all yet it only is the source of one thing.

      “1.There exists a finite self-sufficient thing with ONE perfect attribute being positive.”

      Ok, why is that? You’ve given an argument but given no warrant to accept your premises. First of all, how can there be a finite self-sufficient thing with only one attribute? We have already granted that there is a self-sufficient being. It’s either finite or infinite. You deny that it’s infinite and say it’s finite and it’s the ultimate source of one attribute. I actually think it’s incoherent to maintain that such a being can be finite AND self-sufficient. Clarke actually demonstrates why and it’s a trade on the argument used to justify premise 2.
      1. Suppose it were finite.
      2. It follows it would be “one determinate, limited mode of being” in such a way that it wouldn’t possess the attribute in a full perfect manner.
      3. It’s possible that there could be another finite being with a different limited mode.
      4. There must be a reason for why this finite being with one determinate, limited mode of being exists and not some other.
      5. It either caused itself to be or something else caused it.
      6. It did not cause itself to be.
      7. Therefore, something else caused it.
      8. Therefore, if it were finite, something else caused it.

      As Clarke puts it, “it requires an independent efficient cause or source of being to determine it to exist as this finite mode of being. But since no finite cause can ever be self-sufficient, we must eventually come to some infinite cause or ultimate cause of all these finite beings” (220).
      This would also cast doubt on premise four of your argument. So, it just doesn’t work to posit some finite self-sufficient being. It’s unintelligible.

      Your Pureon example was unclear for me. Sorry. Also, I would appreciate if you could try and condense your responses to as little comments as possible. It makes it easier to address all you said if it were found all in one post rather than split up into eight separate comments. Thank you!

  7. About finite version infinite. I think we are on different pages here.

    Your concept of God is also finite in that it doesn’t possess an unlimited amount of attributes. If it has 10 or 100 attributes that is still finite. Now, it could possess 10 attributes fully or infinitely, but that is a different concept.

    In this way, Pureon A possesses its one attribute infinitely. If a being can possess 10 or 100 or any finite number of attributes, and possess them infinitely, then a being can possess just one attribute infinitely.

    Pureon A must be infinite then, considering your use of the word, If it is not, then neither is your concept of God, unless it possess an infinite number of attributes infinitely.

    Because of this, the argument against a finite being doesn’t hold.

    Now, can one finite being, possessing one attribute infinitely cause the world that exist? No. I’m not arguing for that.

    Rather, I am arguing that there are many base types of pureons: pureon 1, pureon 2, pureon 3, pureon 4, or if you wish to letter them, A, B, C, D …

    Each pureon type, pureon 1, pureon 2, etc possesses one unique attribute infinitely, so each one is infinite in this way, but finite in that it is a single being with one attribute. It is also infinite in age, for it is eternal, self-existing.

    BTW, I am not counting self-existing as an attribute. If so, then each pureon would need to have two attributes.
    Of the many types of pureons, there are googolplexes of clones of each type, so googolplexes of pureon 1, and googolplexes of pureon 2, etc. Each pureon has a unique attribute, which it expresses infinitely.

    All the pureons as a collective then would have within their very existence to interact and cause everything in the universe to emerge. The sun, in all its power, is at its core just interacting pureons. All the power the sun gets is from those pureons interacting. Every property in everything is an emergent property from the base information interacting, which I call pureons.

    “3. It’s possible that there could be another finite being with a different limited mode.”

    This is then false. There could not exist another base type. Every possible base type is accounted for. And besides, pureons are infinite in their one mode. The collective is infinite in every possible mode.

    Pureons can and are self-sufficient. Nothing is needed to make them exist.

  8. While I wait your responce for my previous post, here is another argument to ponder. I don’t think anyone on theology web will be able to rebut it, but perhaps you can.

    Argument Four.

    1. God is omnipresent.
    2. All that exist must be filled with God.
    3. There can exist no place where God is not.
    4. Nothingness cannot exist. From 1, 2, and 3.
    5. God created matter.
    6. God had to create matter from something. From 4.
    7. All that existed before creation is God.
    8. God created matter from himself.
    9. Matter is the essence of God.

    The above argument should be written if God exist, God is … but that would make it harder to follow. The argument is easily bypassed by saying that God and something else always existed, or by saying God is not omnipresent, unless you have no issue with matter being the essence of God, which most likely you do.
    From argument 3 and 4, we can see that nothing can exist outside God, so God couldn’t even create an extrinsic nature. He must create from himself, which then would be a change to his intrinsic nature, thus God could never create anything if God were omnipresent.
    Argument from 3 and 4.

    1. God is omnipresent.
    2. Nothing can exist outside God. (From 1.)
    3. God has no extrinsic nature.
    4. Matter is not the substance of God (Unless you believe argument 4, that matter is God.)
    5. God is eternal.
    6. Matter is not eternal.
    7. Because nothing can exist outside God, God cannot create matter from something else.
    8. If God creates matter from himself, then God’s intrinsic nature changes, the very thing God is would be at least partly changed to matter.
    9. Because God is eternal, God’s intrinsic nature cannot change.
    10. God could not create matter.

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