Friday, July 12, 2019

The Search for Liberty; Chapter Aristotle’s God

NB: All previous chapters can be found here.

You will note that this chapter is well out of order.  It was bound to happen….

In all cultures and throughout all times, man has been searching for God.  We see this in traditions stretching from the Far East to the sub-continent to the ancient Greek world; this search was not limited to a small tribe located on a speck of land in the far eastern Mediterranean.

Plato’s disembodied Form of the Good became embodied through Aristotle.  Christianity is unique in that it has given us the living example of this embodied Form of the Good, in Jesus.  But this was long after Aristotle.  What was it that Aristotle saw?

Aristotle offers the unmoved-mover.  A is in motion because B has moved it, which is in motion because C has moved B...and so on.  At some point there must be something that is not moved by something else – the unmoved-mover.

Such a mover could not act as an efficient cause, because that would involve a change in itself, but it can act as a final cause—an object of love—because being loved does not involve any change in the beloved.

Aristotle is prepared to call the unmoved mover “God.” The life of God, he says, must be like the very best of human lives.

I am not so sure about this.  With the embodied Form of the Good – Jesus – from a human perspective we cannot say that He lived the very best of human lives.  But maybe this says something about the wrong-headedness of our human perspectives; maybe it says something about what should be our proper ends and purposes.

To further develop Aristotle’s thought:

…Aristotle believed an entity to be most fulfilled and loved when it is actualizing its potential. This would seem to imply that the unmoved mover is constituted by eternal love, wisdom and fulfillment.

Is this starting to sound familiar? It indeed begins to sound like an explanation for the existence of a God. And sure enough, Aristotle does make reference to a God as the unmoved mover within Metaphysics.

Many sources will flatly state that Aristotle’s concept has been disproven – requiring stars and planets to feel love, etc.  I am not so sure.  There was a time that wind and breath were synonymous; even today, a new wind is taken as sign of a coming change – think of your reaction to such a scene in a movie.  How would the wind “know” of a coming change?  Why do we react as if the wind does know?

Motion and emotion come to us from the same place:

Motion: from Latin motionem (nominative motio) "a moving, a motion; an emotion," from past-participle stem of movere "to move" (from PIE root *meue- "to push away").

Emotion: from Latin emovere "move out, remove, agitate," from assimilated form of ex "out" (see ex-) + movere "to move" (from PIE root *meue- "to push away").

The idea that physical science is the end-all of proof is failing, it is losing support.  It was born in the Renaissance and took full fruit in the Enlightenment and it is dying in the meaninglessness of the West – its death blow came in 1914, and its limp body will soon be a corpse. 

In any case, anything Aristotle offered regarding God would inherently be imperfect.  We have, in the meantime, been offered the perfect.


Aristotle’s unmoved-mover is constituted by eternal love, wisdom, and fulfillment.  We have seen this in the life of Christ.  This should answer the question of the end, or purpose, for humans: love, wisdom, fulfillment.  We know the attributes of love, from 1 Corinthians 13.  Paul concludes this:

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Libertarianism without a proper foundation under it is like the thought of a child; for liberty, we must put such ways behind us.


  1. BM,
    The podcast link below by Paul Vanderklay that treats the ideas of Owen Barfield, a friend and mentor of CS Lewis, treats the subjects you raise very well.

    1. Ira, I did see it and it really is good. There is another one by him, examining Jesus as archetype. When I get to this chapter, I may not write anything - just post a link to the video. For now, here it is:

    2. Ira, while going through the PVK / Barfield video again, it struck me that a couple of the concepts that I included in this post I drew from that video.

      No new ideas under my sun...trying to credit all sources proves problematic.

  2. Very good series BM. I like freedom. I like philosophy. I like Jesus. I get all 3 here. One passage causes me to think a bit more:

    "Such a mover could not act as an efficient cause, because that would involve a change in itself, but it can act as a final cause—an object of love—because being loved does not involve any change in the beloved."

    Does the author mean that the unmoved-mover can't have an efficient cause instead of can't act as an efficient cause? Inherent in the name implies that the unmoved-mover is in fact an efficient cause of motion for other things.

    Also, God is described as creator in the Bible meaning the efficient cause of the universe. I know it is a minor detail, but I couldn't quit thinking about it.

    1. Either the authors of the subject piece have a strange understanding of Aristotle, or Aristotle has a strange understanding of God (neither would surprise me); or both. From the subject piece:

      "What, Aristotle asks, does God think of? He must think of something—otherwise, he is no better than a sleeping human—and whatever he is thinking of, he must think of eternally. Either he thinks about himself, or he thinks about something else. But the value of a thought depends on the value of what it is a thought of, so, if God were thinking of anything other than himself, he would be somehow degraded. So he must be thinking of himself, the supreme being, and his life is a thinking of thinking (noesis noeseos)."

      I probably should have done more to examine this statement in the original essay. Aristotle is certainly looking for God, but obviously he is playing on a different field.

  3. Another thought that is interesting to me. I think that Plato discovered the essence of God the Father as the immaterial Form of the Good existing outside of space and time. Then Aristotle recognized that the Form of Good exists within objects as the ideal essence of what they should be, though no object attains to that level of perfection like the Form does. But Aristotle's, or maybe it was someone else who linked the 2 together,great idea was that the Form of God, Form of Man could exist perfectly. Maybe it was a Christian who put those 2 ideas together, I don't know. But it makes total sense philosophically that Jesus is actual Form of Good in the Form of Man.

    But what does that make the Holy Spirit? He is like the immaterial Form of Good that does have some interaction with material reality. He is not objectified in any way other than being God and interacting with creation.

  4. One more post. I wanted to keep them separate as they are separate thoughts. One of my favorite parts of Francis Schaeffer's writing is how he describes coming to faith in Jesus. He came as an atheist through Platonic metaphysics. In Plato's metaphysics there are universals (forms) and particulars (objects). Maybe it doesn't completely mesh with Plato's thinking but Schaeffer had the thought that the true God would in some way reflect that distinction of universal and particular. When he studied Christianity it was the Trinity that convinced him that Christianity had the correct view of God. There was One God (universal) in Three Persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit (particular).

    I think the connection is that the creation has to reflect the creator. In the creation, you and I can think of the perfect triangle or understand that there is a perfect idea of a triangle. This is a universal or form. But then there are imperfect triangles all over creation. In nature, scribbles on paper, shapes made by a carpenter, etc. So if in nature we can see the universal/particular pair, we can know that God exists in the same way. The difference being that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not imperfect just particulars of the Godhood.

    1. In relation to the perfect universal and imperfect particular, Romans 1:23 (NKJV) uses the words incorruptible God and corruptible man. I’m very new to platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics, but their ideas seem sympathetic at least with the Christian God.

      Also, If one was never taught Darwinism, it seems difficult to imagine that many more would not come to your conclusion through contemplating the particulars of creation.

  5. "Such a mover could not act as an efficient cause, because that would involve a change in itself," I really don't understand that. If you move something, you are the agent responsible for making the subsequent mover move.