The Philosophy of Being of Thomas Aquinas (Thomas of Aquinas)June 26, 2021
Thomas Aquinas is first and foremost a theologian. Therefore, theology and philosophy were intertwined in his work. In this unit, Aquinas’ views on philosophy will be discussed and evaluated. The main problems that will reveal his philosophical understanding and his difference from other philosophers are presented below.
In order to reveal Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on Being (Latin: esse), first of all, it is necessary to have knowledge about certain concepts. One of the most important concepts of the period, “Creation Theory”, comes first. Our world is filled with more individual objects than we can count. To make these objects intelligible (Latin: intelligibilis), we assume that each of them is individuals under certain species. From this point on, the questions in our minds arise spontaneously: Where does this multiplicity of objects come from? Is there anything “something” that causes this multitude to hold together? It is observed that this multiplicity is constantly in a process of formation and decay/extinction. Does this process have any “meaning”? Is this world an eternal existence; Or was there a time when it didn’t exist like everything on it, and will there be a moment when it will disappear?
According to Thomas Aquinas, the perfection of the universe demands such a multiplicity and inequality between beings. Because no entity in the universe has the power to represent divine perfection on its own. God has placed everything in a hierarchy of competence. At the top of this hierarchy are the angels. Thomas Aquinas calls these immaterial substances. The existence of angels can also be known by the mind. According to him, as a result of reasoning, we can conclude that there will be an important gap in the creation process without them. Humans are just below the angels. Man has a partly material existence and partly a spiritual existence. Next comes animals, plants and finally the four elements air, water, fire and earth. Each of these can be thought of as a layer. Those who are at the bottom of the uppermost layer, that is, angels and those who are at the top of the layer below it, that is, humans are in contact with each other. Thus, there is no interruption between different existences; creation exhibits a fluid feature from one layer to the next. According to Thomas Aquinas, there are many different forms as well as different existences. At the bottom are the forms of the basic elements (formae elementorum). These forms are at the bottom because they are closest to matter. Above them are the compound forms, and above them are the vegetative forms (animae plantarum). Above the vegetative forms or spirits are the animal spirits (animae brutorum), and above the human spirits (animae humanae).
According to Thomas Aquinas, every created being is limited and determined. In this respect, it is never possible for God to simply create Being. Had it been so, God would have created himself; this is clearly impossible. There is something that limits and determines everything created. This is something other than their existence, which Thomas Aquinas calls “whatness” (quidditas) or “essence” (essentia). Therefore, the existence and essence of creatures are never identical. This state of identity is valid only for God. For God is mere action. The fact that God is a mere act means that he has only an actual structure. Since there is no potential element in God, God is not subject to physical motion; that is, it is not subject to change. At this point, we can say that there is no material element in God. Therefore, He is what He is, identical with himself, One. Since there is no transition between his essence and existence, God has a causeless existence. However, all beings other than Him have a cause.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook