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The argument from degrees or the degrees of perfection argument is an argument for the existence of God first proposed by mediaeval Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas as one of the five ways to philosophically argue for God in his Summa Theologica. It is based on ontological and theological notions of perfection. [1] Contemporary Thomist scholars are often in disagreement on the metaphysical justification for this proof.

Contents

Aquinas's original formulation

The fourth proof arises from the degrees that are found in things. For there is found a greater and a less degree of goodness, truth, nobility, and the like. But more or less are terms spoken of various things as they approach in diverse ways toward something that is the greatest, just as in the case of hotter (more hot) that approaches nearer the greatest heat. There exists therefore something that is the truest, and best, and most noble, and in consequence, the greatest being. For what are the greatest truths are the greatest beings, as is said in the Metaphysics Bk. II. 2. What moreover is the greatest in its way, in another way is the cause of all things of its own kind (or genus); thus fire, which is the greatest heat, is the cause of all heat, as is said in the same book (cf. Plato and Aristotle). Therefore there exists something that is the cause of the existence of all things and of the goodness and of every perfection whatsoever—and this we call God.[2]

Syllogistic form

A syllogistic form collected by Robert J. Schihl follows:

  1. Objects have properties to greater or lesser extents.
  2. If an object has a property to a lesser extent, then there exists some other object that has the property to the maximum possible degree.
  3. So there is an entity that has all properties to the maximum possible degree.
  4. Hence God exists.[3]

Rebuttals

A common argument is that it is not evident that simply because we can conceive of an object with some property in a greater degree, that such an object exists. Richard Dawkins has argued that, for instance, the existence of the property "smelliness" should not be taken as proof that a most smelly possible being, or "pre-eminently peerless stinker" in Dawkins' words, actually exists.[4] It is worth noting in this context that the specific claim that "fire is the greatest heat" is either meaningless or false in the context of modern science, depending on interpretation; there is absolute zero, but there is no absolute "hot". Moreover, even if every perfection is actually embodied in some being, it is not clear that all perfections must be embodied in the same being, nor is this necessarily possible.

Notes

  1. ^ Blackburn, Simon. "Degrees of perfection argument". Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283134-8.  
  2. ^ Medieval Sourcebook: Aquinas: Proof of the Existence of God
  3. ^ Aquinas'/Anselm's Arguments in Syllogistic Form
  4. ^ Richard Dawkins: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God - The Huffington Post

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