Within the Aristotelian system Nature is radically pervaded by Telos. It can become intelligible only if we see it as a universe through and through teleological.
In Chapters 4 to 6 of Physics II Aristotle discusses the problem of chance and spontaneity, complaining that: “There are some who ascribe this heavenly sphere and all the worlds to spontaneity. They say that the vortex arose spontaneously, i.e., the motion that separated and arranged in its present order all that exists.”16 The first thing Aristotle points out in this context is that chance cannot be the cause of what happens with constancy or for the most part.17 Constancy and determinateness cannot be caused by chance, for chance is the exact opposite to the latter. For Aristotle a thing comes to pass by nature or as a result of thought or by chance. The disjunction is absolute. Things which happen by nature or as a result of thought both belong to the class of things which are for the sake of something. 18 So chance is a name for incidental events which, however, are secondary by-products of actions by nature or deliberation. A per se cause by its nature is determinate, whereas incidental causes are indeterminable and indefinite.19 The incidental occurs and is possible only within the sphere of what happens by nature of deliberate intent. “It is clear then that chance is an incidental cause in the sphere of those actions for the sake of something, which involves purpose.”20
So chance is really not a cause stricto sensu. It is rather an unintended intersection of different events which happen by their nature or are deliberately intended. Therefore, it is “contrary to rule,”21 and as such it is unstable and “none of the things which result from it can be invariable or normal.” 22 Aristotle further explains that chance occurs only as the contrary of deliberate intention; hence it is possible only within the “moral sphere” or where deliberate intention is present, and thus he excludes it in inanimate things, lower animals, children. These cannot do anything by chance because of lack of deliberate intentionality in them. However, he grants to inanimate beings and animals spontaneity.23 Spontaneity results from an action “by nature” but one producing an unintended result under the influence of an external agent. Spontaneity connected with deliberate intention may result in “chance.” Both chance and spontaneity are sources of change since “in this sort of causation the number of causes is infinite.”24 Their effects remain always incidental and no incidental cause is prior to cause “per se.” “Hence, however true it may be that the heavens are due to spontaneity, it will be true that intelligence and nature will be prior causes of this All and of many things in it besides.”25
In the last statement we can clearly see that the universe is primarily caused by “intelligence and nature” and these two belong, as previously stated, to the class of agents which always act for an end, i.e., for “that for the sake of which.” Finality reigns there.
The evidence for the priority of finality is, for Aristotle, constancy and determinateness. Both are rooted in the metaphysical structure of each being and here the form is the final cause. Prime matter, being their potency, does not contain determination of any kind. We mean prime matter as such, because there certainly exists a “sequence of forms” in nature, and prime matter already informed, actualized by some form, seems to be “disposed” rather to this form than that one. There remains therefore the form in beings which contributes constancy, determinateness and finality to Nature. Those few remarks are only logical sequelae of what has been said before on the role of form within the Aristotelian notion of finality.
We already mentioned that for Aristotle chance is incidental, not truly even a cause per se, indeterminate and, so to say, a secondary by-product within the sphere of what happens “by nature and deliberation.” As such, chance can never be a source of finality in the universe in any sense whatsoever; it is by definition its very opposite and can be conceived only in reference to purpose and order. Direction towards ends is for Aristotle evident when works of nature are comparable to human actions whose purposiveness is obvious and cannot be denied. There exists a strong parallelism and similarity between human purposive activity and the activity of other beings in Nature. Aristotle says: “If, therefore, artificial products are for the sake of an end, so clearly also are natural products. The relation of the later to the earlier terms of the series is the same in both.”26
In another place he emphasizes again: “It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present 27 because we do not observe the agent deliberating.” Deliberation is not necessarily present, for example, in art, though art is not thereby lacking purpose.
In any ordered series of steps in an action that tends to a completion, all earlier steps are for the sake of the last one. “Now surely as in intelligent action so in nature; so it is in each action if nothing interferes. Now intelligent action is for the sake of an end; therefore, the nature of things also is so. Thus if a house, e.g., had been a thing made by nature, it would have been made in the same way as it is now by art; and if things made by nature were made also by art they would come to be in the same way as by nature.”28
In human works we observe the determination of the earlier steps in action by the later and ultimately by the “completion” the end, the purpose in an intelligent activity. The former steps become “means” to the later steps which lead to completion in the series. “Future” dominates the “now.” The “now” is and is determined and produced for the sake of the “not yet” realized, but intended future achievement. The different elements of activity are united into a coordinated series and become members of a sequence of activities as means (moments in the whole flow of action) precisely because they are necessary and must exist in this and not in another sequence if the purpose is to be attained. So the very order and determinate sequence of realization, the ordering of many into a unified series of directed activities and the regularity with which this ordering necessarily occurs are leading to a purpose-completion. Directionality which is achieved through and by orderly sequence already defines the completion as future purpose. There is a similarity between human intelligent activity and activities that are accomplished by nature. If in human action the orderly relationship of the later to the earlier constitutes the finality of the whole activity it is clear that the same is done by works of nature.
This seems to be the core of the whole argument. Now since the activity of any being flows from its nature it reveals the purposive character of works of nature. Aristotle gives examples from the life and activities of birds and animals. Specifically he mentions spiders, ants; the way the swallow builds its nest, the spider the network, the ants their anthills. Later on he mentions plants, and seeds. Ultimately, since nature means primarily prime matter and form, the form remains the ultimate principle of action bearing the character of “that for the sake of which.” This action, however, is purposive, as has been shown.
Aristotle does not even suspect that the above line of argumentation would be attacked as anthropomorphism. He simply points to the same elements in human intelligent activity and the works of natural beings, living and non-living outside of the human sphere. Since he does not see any difference between the two, his reasoning is for him conclusive: “It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not see the agent deliberating.” Thus he concludes firmly: “It is plain then that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose.”29
The problem of how in Aristotle's philosophy the Unmoved Mover is related to the universe is very much in place in our discussion because it throws light on the question whether Aristotle taught finality as solely immanent in the universe, or transcendent to it, or both?
Although the twelfth book of the Metaphysics starts with the problem of substance 30 the whole argument of it leads ultimately to the existence of the Unmoved Prime Mover as the ultimate final cause without whose existence neither movement in the world nor its unity and inherent order, nor its structure as a universe, an interacting whole, a unified system could be explained. The existence therefore of the Unmoved Prime Mover is a necessity conferring unity and grounding all previous considerations of the Physics.
The form which is the principle of internal finality in all beings composed of potency and act explains the natural, internal, limited attainment of self-perfection, self-fulfillment within the limits of each being. It is a moved-moving-mover constitutive of the internal good of each thing. All considerations related to this problem leave us still with a multi-verse rather than with a universe.31 We would not even be capable of explaining “why this form and this thing are one.”32
To explain movement in general, Aristotle concluded to the existence of the Prime Unmoved Mover. If in the series of causes, i.e., of moved-movers, an infinite regress is to be avoided, there necessarily must exist an absolutely first Prime Mover. This Prime Mover must be Pure Act since act is ontologically prior to potency.33 Thus the Prime Mover must be Pure Act. Since, however, motion in the world is eternal–like the existence of the world – the Prime Mover must be an eternal Pure Act, for eternal motion postulates an eternal Mover. Consequently the Unmoved Prime Mover is “…that which is first in respect of complete reality.”34 The causality the Prime Unmoved Mover exercises is restricted by Aristotle to final causality. The Unmoved Prime Mover is the highest End and contains the highest Good in Itself, for “…the good is in the highest degree a principle.”35 The causality of the Prime Unmoved Mover is that of an end, a purpose: It acts by attraction grounded by its Worth, Plenitude of Perfection, Highest Good. To the possible question how an Unmoved Mover may act in such a way Aristotle replies: “That final cause may exist among unchangeable entities is shown by the distinction of its meanings. For the final cause is (a) some being for whose good an action is done, and (b) something at which an action aims; and of these the latter exists among unchangeable entities, the former not. The final cause then produces motion as being loved, but all other things move by being moved.”36
Chapter ten of the Metaphysics opens with the question: how does the universe contain the good and the highest good, whether as something separate and by itself or as the order of the parts in the world? Aristotle answers that the good is present in the world in both ways using the example of an army and its leader. The good of the army is in order and in the leader, but more in the leader than in the order because the leader does not depend on the order, but the order on him.
Since all things are ordered together, this world is an ordered connected system. The unity of, its order is contributed to it by the Unmoved Prime Mover acting on the world as its Ultimate Final Cause. The immanent finality of Physics is transcended by the transcendent finality of Metaphysics. The limited imperfect reality demands a First Cause containing the fullness of Actuality, whose attractive action ultimately makes intelligible all striving and all activity and without which, as the ground of intelligibility of immanent finality, the universe would remain a total and impervious, opaque mystery.Although Aristotle affirms that on the Prime Mover the Heavens and Nature depend,37 it is worthwhile to consider briefly what is understood by the function of the Prime Mover in relation to the world. The Prime Mover moves the heavens directly, and only indirectly, secondarily, the subcelestial world. It is closest to the first heavens to which it communicates the circular movement. The influence communicated by the Prime Mover is restricted to contributing movement and nothing else.38 For Aristotle, thought is the most divine in all reality. 39 Thus the Prime Mover is Thought, Pure Act of Thought, but since such Thought must think only the Best, it must remain absolutely closed upon itself. Activity ad extra, or even thinking something else than His Own Thought, would detract from the Prime Mover's dignity, it would disturb its happiness, and it would make it dependent on the object of thought. Aristotle gives argumarguments for this viewpoint both in the twelfth book of Metaphysics and in the eighth book of Nicomachean Ethics.
We shall examine both places. In chapter 9 of the twelfth book of Metaphysics Aristotle considers the nature of divine thought and he confesses that it involves “certain problems.”40 If it thinks nothing it would be like a man who sleeps, but “what is there here of dignity?” Then he continues: “And if it thinks, but this depends on something else, then (since that which is its substance is not the act of thinking but potency) it cannot be the best substance.”41 So the Prime Mover thinks either Itself or something else, and if something else, then the same thing always or something different. This makes no difference for Aristotle since in the next line he asks:
Are there not some things about which it is incredible that it should think? Evidently, then, it thinks of that which is most divine and precious, and it does not change; for change would be change for worse, and this Would be already a movement. First, then, if 'thought' is not the act of thinking but a potency it would be reasonable to suppose that the continuity of thinking is wearisome to it. Secondly, there would evidently be something more precious than thought, viz. that which is thought of.42
Thinking of something else, then, would make the Prime Mover inferior and dependent on another, besides implying a potency in it. What's more, there are some things “…which it is better not to see than to see.” 43
Thinking these things, then, would be below the dignity and interest of the Thought Thinking Itself. Thus „it must be of itself that the divine thought thinks (since it is the most excellent of thing), and its thinking is a thinking on thinking.” 44
The Prime Mover remains completely closed upon himself. In the same place a little further on Aristotle gives one more reason for his conclusion: in beings that are without matter, there is no difference between thought and the object of thought. Thus the divine thought and its object must be one.45 The conclusion is the same, since ‘thinking in itself deals with that which is best in itself, and that which is thinking in the fullest sense with that which is best in the fullest sense.”46 It follows again, that nothing but its very own thinking can be thought by the Prime Mover–nothing else.
In chapter 8 of Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle discusses the relation between action, 'deeds,' and contemplation. Deeds are not only secondary in this context, but even are “hindrances, at all events to his contemplation.”47 Then, discussing the mode of living of divine beings he continues: “…the circumstances of action would be found trivial and unworthy of gods…Therefore the activity of God which surpasses all others… must be contemplative.” This is the reason why the Prime Mover cannot be an efficient cause. 48
We already know that the content of this contemplation can only be the thought of the divinity itself. Action, deed, efficient causality in other words, is 'unworthy' of God.
It seems obvious that the Prime Mover is, and within the Aristotelian thought, must remain only the initiator of movement on the first heavens. The local movement (circular) is the root of any other. Then from the first heavens it is communicated to the rest of nature.
Let us recall again that for Aristotle the only movement the Prime Mover contributes is to the 'first heavens' and from there, indirectly, this movement reaches 'down' to the rest of nature. The essence of this contribution of the Prime Mover remains in 'being desired,' as the Best among things.
The world for Aristotle is eternal. Both matter and forms are eternal. Insofar as existing itself is concerned, they exist on their own and the Prime Mover remains necessary, as explained above. The Prime Mover is not in any way the efficient first cause of this world. The idea of a free creation, instantaneous and ex nihilo, is completely alien to the system of the Stagirite. If Thomas wants somehow to go over this and 'christianize' Aristotle at this point, he certainly must read into Aristotelian text far more than Aristotle himself would suspect.
The Prime Mover, the God of Aristotle, did not create this world, he did not 'design' this world, he does not think of this world, and he cannot be 'bothered' with anything but his own Thought which he 'eternally thinks.'49
If this is so, then such a God, we must say, has very little to do with the Providence by which the God of a Christian believer cares even for the least sparrow, to say nothing of man.
The Aristotelian God is less than the God of the eighteenth-century Deists. At least the deistic God created this universe, ordered it somewhat as the model of a 'perpetuum mobile' and then left it to its own course.
Where is religion in the Aristotelian scheme of things? Will the Prime Mover, totally enclosed upon himself, listen to the petty voices of mortals? Obviously not. Does he care what happens to individuals? Obviously not. He cannot be bothered.
Does this world reflect the goodness of the Prime Mover? It is hard to see how it could.
It is difficult (not to say impossible), to see how there can be order in this world without the divine intelligence actively ordering it. The immanent finality of beings composed of matter and form, the intrinsic 'entelechy' of each being is one thing; the ordering of beings to each other into a harmonious unified system is another. The latter, however, has not been explained by Aristotle.
Shall we conceive even an immanent teleology of each being a matter which does not need an ultimate reference to intelligence? This is what Aristotle seems to allow.
The reference to the Prime Mover is insufficient and within the context of the Aristotelian philosophy creates a serious difficulty. We said that it is hard to conceive an ordered harmony of the universe which is not ultimately grounded in Intelligence, and that the intrinsic entelechy does not explain it.
There cannot be any doubt that Aristotle was the first in the history of philosophy to elaborate the metaphysical analysis of final cause. But neither Plato nor Aristotle really solved the problem of the relationship between the divinity and the world on one hand, nor did they answer completely the question how finality in the world relates to Intelligence.
For any Christian believer, and St. Thomas was a Christian theologian, the difficulties mentioned above are crucial on many counts: on the metaphysical level they determine the relation between the One and the many, on the level of man's relationship to God they are central for any genuine religion, and insofar as the basic topic of this work is concerned, they throw a light on how St. Thomas' predecessors solved the problem of the relationship of finality considered in itself to its ultimate ground: intelligence.
Neither Anaxagoras', nor Plato's, nor Aristotle's thought was complete in this respect, although very valuable insights have been proposed.
The enormous contribution the Stagirite certainly made should not obscure the fact that his thought shows surprising gaps and inconsistensies.50
1 Metaphysics, I, 3-9: Physic, II,3,8; Parts of Animals, I, 1.
2 Physics, II, 8.199B, 15-20.
3 Metaphysics, 1, 4.105a 15.
4 Physics, III, I, 201a.
5 Ibid., VII, 198a (3); VII, 198a (25); VIII 198b (10) ; VIII, 199b, 30; Metaphysics, I, 983a, 30.
6 Metaphysics, XII, 7, 1072b, 1, 2, 3.
7 Physics, II, 7, 198b, 39. “The essence of that which is coming to be,” i.e., the form; for this is the end or „that for the sake of which.”
8 Ibid. II, I, 192b, 37.
9 Ibid., 193b, 8.
10 Ibid., II, II, 197a, 28.
11 Ibid., 195a, 25.
12 Ibid., 198a, 27. (Emphasis mine)
13 Ibid., 199a, 7 and 8.
14 Ibid., 199a, 27-34.
15 Ibid., 199b, 27-28.
16 Ibid., II, 4, 196a, 24-26.
17 Ibid., II, 5, 196b, 10: “First then we observe that some things always come to pass in the same way and others for the most part.”
18 Ibid., II, 5, 196b, 24.
19 Ibid., 196b, 28.
20 Ibid., 197a, 5.
22 Ibid., 197a, 31-33.
23 Ibid., II, 6, 197b, 14.
24 Ibid., 198a, 3-5.
25 Ibid., Chap. VI (end).
26 Ibid., II, 8, 199a 18.
27 Ibid., II, 8, 199b 27.
28 Ibid., 199a, 10-15.
30 Metaphysics, XII, 1. 1069a.
31 Ibid., 10, 1075b 24: “Again, if besides sensible things no other exists, there will be no first principle, no order, no becoming, no heavenly bodies, but each principle will have another principle before it, as in the accounts of the theologians and all the natural philosophers.”
32 Ibid., 10, 1075b 35.
33 Ibid., XII, 8, 1074a 35; 1073a 25; 1073a 35; also chap. 6, 1071b 20.
34 Ibid., XII, 5. 1071a 35; 6, 1071b 4; 7, 1072b 11.
35 Ibid., 10. 1074b 38.
36 Ibid., XII, 7. 1072b.
37 Ibid., XII, 7, 1072b. 7.
38 L’interprétation de St. Thomas consiste a Dire que le ciel et la terre dépendraient de Dieu dans leur existence même. Or c'est là un point de vue qui parait bien étranger à l'esprit d'Aristote. Il dit que ce qui dépend du premier moteur c'est d'abord le ciel, ensuite et secondairement la nature. C'est qu'en effet, le premier moteur séparé se trouve plus proche du premier ciel et lui communique ainsi un mouvement circulaire plutôt que du centre. L'action de Dieu ne serait donc pas créatrice, mais motrice seu1ement. Aime Forest, La structure métaphysique du concret selon Saint Thomas d’Aquin. (Paris, 1956), p. 319.
39 Metaphysics, XII, 1012b.
40 Ibid., XII, ch. 9, 1074b. 15.
42 Ibid., below.
43 Ibid., below.
46 Ibid., XII, 7. 1072b. 19.
47 Nicomachean Ethics, 8, 1178b. 5.
48 Ibid. (Emphasis mine)
49 Ibid., 8, 1178b, passim.
50 Josef Schmitz, Disput uber das Teleologische Denken (Mainz: Matthias- Grunewald Verlag, 1960), p. 111.