The Fourth Way of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Fourth Way: The Argument from Degrees of Perfection
- Among beings, we see that there are some that are more good and others less good, some more noble and others less noble, some more true and others less true, etc…
- But “more” and “less” (ie: degree of perfection) are determined by their relation to a “most” (ie: a greatest perfection) as one rock is determined to be hotter than another because it is closer to what is “hottest.”
- So there is something which is greatest in goodness, in nobility, in truth and, as such, something which is greatest in being, since greater and lesser degrees of perfection reference a greatest degree, and it is better to be than not to be.
- Now, the greatest degree of perfection is the cause of all perfections in any particular being.
- There must, therefore, be a cause of all goodness, nobleness, truth, and every other perfection in all beings, and this we call God.
All things that are good, noble or true participate in the perfections of goodness, nobility or truth. The degree to which they participate in these perfections is what determines whether they are more or less good, more or less noble, more or less true. This is how the greatest degree of perfection is the cause of all perfections. So, something that is more noble than another participates in the perfection of nobility to a greater degree than something that is less noble. Just so, a thing has being because it participates in the perfection of being. It’s better to be than not to be, so things that exist participate in a greater degree of being than those that don’t exist, obviously. Since the greatest degree of perfection is the cause of all perfections in any particular being, then there must be a greatest Being that is the cause of all being, just as there is a greatest good, a greatest nobility, a greatest truth that are the causes of all goodness, all nobility, all truth. Now, for Thomas, this greatest Being is not only the cause of all being, but of all goodness, nobility, truth and, indeed, of every perfection, because every other perfection is rooted in being, since no being could possess any other perfection unless it first participated in the perfection of being. A “perfection” is something that is good and something one ought to have according to one’s nature, while a privation is the lack of a good thing that one ought to have according to one’s nature. According to human nature, humans should have two arms. To have only one arm, by a genetic anomaly or for whatever reason, would be a privation. Of course, the first perfection is to exist, while the greatest privation would be to not exist. God, being pure Act and pure Being, is the Being that possesses all perfections and no privations.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.