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The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Elders, Leo J. The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters. New York: E. J. Brill, 1990. ix + 332 pp. n.p.--This book is the second volume of a two part study, The Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas in a Historical Perspective. In the first part, the author concentrated on Aquinas's understanding of "common being"; in this part he considers Aquinas's account of the existence and nature of God. Elders largely follows the order of the first questions of Aquinas's Summa theologiae. He begins by examining Aquinas's views about the demonstrability of God's existence and then devotes considerable attention to the Five Ways. Succeeding chapters present and discuss Aquinas's account of standard divine attributes: simplicity, perfection, goodness, infinity, immutability, eternity, and unity. There are then two chapters on knowledge, one on our knowledge of God, and one on God's knowledge of himself and of other things. The last three chapters examine God's creation and conservation of things in the world, His power over creation and His providential guidance of it.

Elders's grasp of Aquinas's material and of the history of Western philosophy is exemplary, and scholars within the Thomistic tradition will undoubtedly find a great deal in his expositions of Aquinas with which they can agree. Considered, however, as a contribution to a dialogue with those who are not already committed Thomists, the book is less successful. Elders not infrequently limns Aquinas's position in lines that reproduce the letter of Aquinas's thought but fail to capture its spirit. To take just one example, consider what Elders has to say about Aquinas's account of God's knowledge. In explaining Aquinas's position on the question whether God knows things other than himself, Elders says that for Aquinas God knows things other than himself insofar as he causes them: "The importance of this [point] . . . cannot be strongly enough emphasized: God's knowledge of things other than himself can only be based on his causality. He knows things because he is their cause and he knows them in and through his causality" (p. 230). Elders goes on to say that according to Aquinas, God knows "all things which exist at any time, whether past, present, or future. . . . God's knowledge . . . knows whatever will come to be in the succession of time" (p. 234). What Elders apparently does not see here is that the positions he is ascribing to Aquinas commit Aquinas to a thoroughgoing theological determinism which leaves no room for human free will at all. As Elders describes it, Aquinas's position is that God knows everything occurring in time in virtue of his causing it to occur, and that would include, of course, actions on the part of any human will, sinful as well as virtuous, since actions of the will are also things that "come to be in the succession of time."

The appearance of inconsistency in Aquinas's thought is only strengthened by what Elders goes on to say about Aquinas's account of God's knowledge of future contingents. Aquinas holds that God does know future contingent things, and Elders is concerned to show that Aquinas's position here requires the doctrine of divine eternity. Future contingents, Elders says, "can be considered . . . in their causes; [but] since these are not determined to one effect, they cannot give certitudinal knowledge" (p. 237). Instead, Elders argues, the real presence of future contingent things to God in his eternity is required for God to know them: "Without their being present, God cannot know them with certitude" (p. 239). The reason Elders gives for this claim is that God "knows these things as they exist in reality. There is no science without existing things as its object" (p. 238). Now Elders in fact emphasizes the point that God's knowledge of future contingents, like His knowledge of everything else, is just a function of His causality: "God's knowledge is a causal knowledge so that God knows things because he makes them. . . . With regard to this point, the same applies to God's knowledge of FCT [future contingent things] as to that of other things" (p. 238). But if God knows things only insofar as he causes them, then to hold, as Elders does, that a consideration of the causes of future contingent things is insufficient to give knowledge of them is equivalent to saying that God cannot have knowledge of future contingents. Furthermore, although it is the case for human knowledge that whatever is known must already be the case, this is not so for divine knowledge on the account of it Elders has given, namely, that God knows whatever He knows in virtue of causing it to be. In God's case, knowledge is logically prior to and causative of the existence of what is known. It is a mistake, then, to say as Elders does that without "their being present, God cannot know them with certitude." Rather, the converse is the case: without God's first knowing them, they cannot be. For God there are no existing things without divine science as their cause, rather than no divine "science without existing things as its object."

So if Elders is right in the claim that God's knowledge is always and only causative, then not only is a consideration of the causes of future contingents sufficient for God's knowledge of them, contrary to what Elders supposes, but in fact knowledge of the causes is the only way in which God can know future contingents, and the doctrine of eternity is not needed at all. On the other hand, if Elders is right in supposing that knowledge of causes is insufficient for knowledge of future contingents, then it must be the case that God's knowledge of future contingents is not just a function of God's causality, contrary to what Elders says. As Elders presents Aquinas's position on God's knowledge of future contingents, then, it looks inconsistent: for Aquinas it both is and is not the case that God knows future contingent things solely in virtue of causing them. The appearance of inconsistency seems to me to be an artifact of Elders's presentation, however, and not a feature of Aquinas's account itself, and I am inclined to suppose that here too the problems with Elders's presentation stem from an inability to capture the heart of Aquinas's account.

For reasons of this sort, Elders's book is likely to be successful mainly in addressing those already committed to Aquinas's views in natural theology, who will find much in Elders's exposition to agree with.
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Author:Stump, Eleonore
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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