Axioms, Chance, Providence

John C. Wright’s article Last Crusade: The Promise of Peace (April 9, 2017) exposes why moral agnosticism makes impossible the advent of leftist utopian promises.

A commenter wrote in the thread: “I don’t subscribe to the belief that conscience comes from God, but this is a minor quibble.” I admired the irony of the proposition and, reading it again later, I felt compelled to find out how Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain already answered the quibble. The following arguments are inspired from Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics: Seven Lectures on Being (full text). A few relevant quotes are reprinted at the end of this post.

So, let us quibble first with the MATERIALIST’s argument:

  1. Axiom : a cause must be greater, or at least equal, to its effect.
  2. Physical, empirical matter is inferior to immaterial, non-empirical things such as soul and conscience (characteristic of the self and the capacity to act).
  3. Therefore, physical matter cannot be the cause of non-material, non-empirical phenomena.

Then with the PANTHEISTIC argument:

  1. According to the axiom of finality, an agent is a being which can determine itself to act, either reflexively (in and on oneself) or transitively (exerting an action on other beings, including creation).
  2. The eternal, cyclical world of metempsychosis is deemed to be one undetermined being.
  3. Therefore, it cannot be an agent nor a patient (caused, moved by another). The movement, the action our senses perceive is deemed to be a deception, thus an evil, in this worldview.

The belief that multiplicity and motion must be a deception is a logical conclusion from the premise that there is no determination, hence no finality, but the premise is false. It is a statement contradictory to the metaphysical axiom of SUFFICIENT REASON (or grounds for being), which calls for the determinate nature of every being, as well as to the axiom of FINALITY, which calls for a preordination of every nature, or essence. Preordination takes place in the creative mind before any being comes to existence, either ex nihilo (including the creation of a new soul at conception) or by rearrangement of existing things.

Since they deny the principles of sufficient reason and finality, the pantheistic premises are automatically contradictory to the first principle, the axiom of IDENTITY, by negating the existence and distinction of multiple beings, as well as the distinction between being and non-being. The pantheistic position is then in itself a reductio ab absurdum (reduction to impossible) of statements denying the first three metaphysical principles, and demonstrates its own absurdity, as well as the self-evidence and necessity of the metaphysical axioms.

Finally, to help the distinction between final and efficient causality, let us quibble on what exactly is CHANCE, or random (there is only one word in French: hasard).

Following the Aristotelian and scholastic theory, a chance event is the accidental encounter of two or more chains of causes.

  1. Every single cause in each line is determined (finality) to its particular effect (efficient causality), and not to the outcome arising from the encounter.
  2. Infinite regression being impossible, all causal chains go back to the Prime Mover.
  3. Therefore, the accidental encounters of lines of causality, having no preordination (final cause) in the created order, arise directly from the Principle of all things, through His ever flowing act of creation.

This is why Christians call random PROVIDENCE and see it as the way in which God nudges us or circumvents things so that His will be done, in spite of the accidents of nature (due to the imperfection of second causes) and in spite of moral evil (due to created agents exercising wrongly their free will).

Evil does not indeed create anything or rearrange things in creative ways, it only destroys or subtracts from their being or prevents some good from happening. It is not creation, but de-creation. However, God can make happen better and greater things instead of those evil has destroyed or thwarted, and He can make whole anew beings that evil has diminished.

Providence may not stand out from second causes for most people, but those who have eyes to see know by experience that the workers work in vain if God does not build the house.


QUOTES – The square brackets mark my additions or cuts.

Quotes from Summa Theologica (I II, i, 2):
“Matter [prima materia] receives form only in so far as it is moved by an agent, for nothing reduces itself from potency to act. But the agent does not move without intending an end or as preordained to an end. Ex intentione finis.” The formula is wholly general and universal. “For unless the agent were determined to a particular effect it would not do one thing rather than another. If, therefore, it is to produce a determinate effect, it must be preordained to a particular thing which is its end. This preordination which in a rational nature is effected by the rational appetite we term the will, is effected in other natures by what is called the natural appetite.”
(Jacques Maritain, Preface to Metaphysics, 6th Lecture, Principle of Finality (Second Aspect), no. 7. Supplementary Observations)

The sole preordaining [final causality] agent on which CHANCE events depend is the First Cause. For the rest [efficient causality] they depend on the mutual interference of secondary causes without any preordination in the created order.
(Preface to Metaphysics6th Lecture, Principle of Finality (Second Aspect), no. 8. Supplementary Observations)

Since every created cause is, as a cause, more than the effect, and at the same time, as created, less than itself and the effect together, in order to act it must be itself perfected and brought into action by another. Nothing therefore, absolutely nothing, could be produced here below, […] if the created universe were not open to the action, virtually transitive, of the pure act [God], which, as Aristotle said, touches it without being touched by it, if a continual current of causal efficacy were not being poured without ceasing into creatures from the bosom of subsistent Intellect and subsistent Love. This is what is termed, in barbarous phraseology, physical premotion.
(Preface to Metaphysics. 7th Lecture. I. The Principle of Causality. No. 3)

There are also principles which are corollaries of these great primary axioms [identity, sufficient reason, finality, causality]. For example, the principle of sufficient reason and the principle of causality involve the four following subordinate principles.
—That in virtue of which anything is must be greater or at least not less than it. Propter quod unumquodque et illud magis, aut saltem non minus.
—That in virtue of which anything is must be better than it. Id propter quod aliquid est, oportet melius esse.
—That which is by itself [per se, in virtue of its own essence] is prior to that which is not by itself. Quod est per se (per suam essentiam) prius est eo quod non est per se.
—Whatsoever possesses anything by participation is reducible to that which possesses it by its essence as its principle and cause. Omne quod habet aliquid per participationem reducitur ad id quod habet illud per essentiam sicut in principium et causam.
(Preface to Metaphysics. Conclusion of the series)