Daily Archives: March 14, 2013

Aquinas’s argument from distinction

Reading Aquinas, I’ve found another argument for the existence of God to add to my list:

The distinctions between things can’t result from chance since they are stably ordered; so they must result from some causal tendency. But not that of a cause acting by necessity of its nature, for nature is determined to one course, and so nothing that acts by necessity of its nature can intend distinction of things as such. So their distinction must result from the intention of a knowing cause; the consideration of distinction seems to be intellect’s prerogative, and Anaxagoras attributed distinction to intellect. But the universal distinction of things can’t result from some secondary cause’s intention, since all such causes are themselves part of the universe of distinct causes. So there must exist a first cause [i.e. God] — as such distinguished from all others — intending the distinction of all things.

— Summa contra Gentiles, 1.50 (McDermott translation)

I’ll comment on this line of argument later, since at this point I am only able to understand it in a very shallow manner, but it seems worth pursuing, and I think it ties into some of my recent epiphanies on the subject of agency.

I am interested in this mainly as an argument for the existence of God, but the secondary conclusion (actually the primary one in the context of the larger text), that God intends the distinction of all things, is also striking. Seijio Arakawa makes a similar point in his Brief Experimental Theology of Heaven and Earth:

The purpose of Earthly human existence (or, at least, the aim to which Earthly existence has been repurposed after the Fall) is not only to produce a number of saved individuals; it is to produce an unimaginable variety of them. (Otherwise, we would have to believe that human variations are always a product of sin or corruption, or at best irrelevant; such a belief certainly interferes with the commandment to love thy neighbour.)

The idea that distinction as such is good and is intended by God could be seen as one of the main things that differentiates Western religion from Eastern.

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Synchronicity: Cats look like slugs

This past Tuesday night I was mopping the floor, and the cats were charging around chasing the mop. Something about the way they were moving made my wife say, “Don’t you think they look like slugs?” Actually, she said that mostly in Chinese — “牠們很像 slugs, 你不覺得嗎?” — but with slugs in English, since the corresponding Chinese word (蛞蝓) is rather obscure.

I didn’t quite see it. “Slugs? But slugs are slow.”

“Well, they look like fast slugs.”

She went on to mention their slug-like appearance three or four more times that night and the next morning.

*

The afternoon after this, I was tutoring one of my students, who has been practicing his English reading comprehension with a simplified version of Treasure Island. I don’t have a copy of the book, but he brings it to our classes with him and we begin each session by talking about the chapter he has just read. This time, I asked him how far he had gotten in the book, and he opened up to chapter 18 — the second paragraph of which reads as follows:

I could not paddle and I saw that I would be drowned or dashed to death on sharp rocks if I came closer to shore. And I saw what looked like giant slugs on the rocks. These, I later learned, were sea lions, barking in the sun.

So that’s twice in less than 24 hours that I encountered carnivorous mammals being rather improbably compared to slugs — and although sea lions are biologically caniform, linguistically they are lions, a kind of cat.

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