We began the last lecture by drawing attention to a passage in which Thomas Aquinas distinguishes four orders. And one of them was the moral order that we talked about last time. The first one is the order of things in themselves that is established by the Creator. Knowledge or science that bears on that would be theoretical knowledge and the apex of such knowledge is that wisdom that comes to be called metaphysics. That is the ultimate explanation of everything in the universe in terms of its first causes. Some lecturers drew attention to the opening panorama of Aristotle'sMetaphysics, all men by nature desire to know, and saw how in spelling that out, in analyzing that claim, he moves slowly but inexorably towards the view that I just mentioned, namely that the culminating wisdom is to know, understand all things in terms of their ultimate cause that is God. So theology oddly enough is the ultimate discipline in philosophy.
It's a paradoxical fact that our minds, which are made to know the first cause of all things, have such difficulty in acquiring that knowledge. But it is only in a painstaking time-consuming way that we can move from knowledge of the things around us to knowledge of the ultimate cause of those things. This is an acquisition. When we reflect on what is called metaphysics we know from other considerations that we've gone into that there is a plurality of philosophical sciences. When we talk about the order of learning metaphysics came as the ultimate activity towards which all philosophical endeavor is tending. This is the ultimate discipline, first philosophy of Aristotle.
But what is the difference between this science, wisdom, metaphysics, first philosophy on the one hand and the sciences that come before? I don't mean what is the difference between it and logic or what is the difference between it and ethics. We can invoke that passage about the four orders and get a kind of quick answer to that. But what is the relationship between this culminating theoretical science metaphysics, and other theoretical sciences such as natural science and mathematics? This is the way in which the matter is approached in the course of the metaphysics of Aristotle or whenever Thomas Aquinas takes up this question as to the nature of the ultimate and defining discipline of philosophy. How does it relate to, how can we distinguish it from other theoretical sciences? In commenting on the theological treatise of Boethius, it is called the De Trinitate, On the Trinity, Thomas had occasion, because of the way in which Boethius goes out there, to talk about the distinction between natural science, mathematics, and theology, metaphysics. What is the approach to an answer to that question? How would they compare to one another? One of the things we notice, and Thomas insists on this in his comments on Aristotle and elsewhere: if there weren't certain proofs that had been established in the course of doing natural philosophy, natural philosophy would be wisdom. It would be the culminating discipline of philosophy.
What are these proofs that indicate that it is not a sufficient science to fill the bill as far as being wisdom goes? In the course of the Physics of Aristotle described matter and form as being the constituents of anything that comes to be as the result of change. It's true, but it's the least we can say about the product of any change. Then Aristotle at that level of generality goes into what we mean by causes if causes are going to be invoked to explain the changes that they play. What do we mean by motion? I indicated what his definition of motion was. There is an analysis of what time is, what place is and so forth. And finally at the end of this work in Book Seven, but more particularly in Book Eight, we have the proof of a prime mover. And I've indicated what the bare bones of that proof looked like. But it's the upshot of everything that has gone before in this work.
What the argument comes down to is: what we are aware of in the changing world requires that there be something, some cause that is not itself subject to change. An unmoved mover. Every mover in the cosmos in moving is moved. When I place my hand on this podium the warmth of my hand is transferring itself to this cool surface. But of course the cool surface is acting on my hand as well. So there is kind of a reciprocal causality. That is what he means by a moved mover. He means that; he means more besides. What is meant by saying that God is an unmoved mover is that he is a cause unlike any of the causes in the set of natural things. That proof, in other words, is the realization, the basis for the realization, that to be and to be material are not identical. To be and to be changeable are not identical. Without that proof we would not have any secure confidence, conviction, certainty that being has any application beyond material being.
Furthermore, as Thomas likes to point out in this connection, in the course of doing natural science, in the course of reflecting on intellection, we come to realize that understanding is not a material process, it is not a physical change. It depends on physical changes antecedently and so forth, but the thing itself, understanding, simply is not a physical activity. It is not a physical change. This is another instance in which we have a proof of something that exists and which is not material. I suppose even on the moralistic interpretation you could say that. So in two instances, as Thomas stresses, in the course of doing natural philosophy we prove that there is something that escapes the characterization of natural things as such. The prime mover and the human soul. Now that indicates or that opens up the possibility of a science beyond physics, After the Physics, and also different from mathematics.
Some people when they talk about metaphysics question that you first of all have to prove that there is somethingmaterial before you can have the science of metaphysics. Why don't we just invoke intuition and say I have an intuition of being? I have had colleagues who are eloquent in presenting this particular view and would invite students to look out the window, say at a tree, and be struck not simply by it being a tree but by its existence, by its being. That's a wonderful thing to be struck by, but you are not being struck by anything other than material being. The tree is a material being, its existence is to exist as a tree. The idea that just by being enthralled by the existence of material things you somehow grasp existence as such, as something not tied down to material things -- you don't find anything like that in Thomas Aquinas. There are no intuitions of being in that sense in Thomas Aquinas that would simply put us in the possession of certain knowledge that there is immaterial being.
The only way we can arrive at that knowledge is by way of proof, and you can see how this sits with what we have been seeing as the procedure of Thomas's philosophizing, which he takes to be tied down to our natural procedure in knowing. The things that are obvious to us are the material sensible things around us. If we are going to know anything else we are going to have to come to that knowledge by way of proofs which use premises which are truths about sensible reality. There is no other way. What we have been saying about Thomas's language, of course, is hooked on to that realization as well. So step one when we think about what metaphysics is for Thomas Aquinas, it is meta phusica, it comes after the physics. There would not be any need for a science of being as such if being were identical with material being. Only if we have these proofs do we have the conviction and basis for a science that will have as a subject being as being.
Being as being. This is the phrase that is given as designating the subject of metaphysics, the culminating wisdom towards which the whole of philosophy, all the philosophical sciences are aimed over a long period of time. This is a puzzling phrase, being as being. In the introduction to the Metaphysics that we have referred to any number of times we are told that the painstaking process is going to terminate in knowing all things in their first cause. All things, now herebeing as being, this is what the phrase is meant to pick out, and it is puzzling for a number of reasons. Because if we say we want to look at everything now in terms of their being a being and not in terms of their being this, that or the other kind of being, that's a job -- that there is some single sense of being that is operative in this quest for knowledge.
A moment's reflection will lead us to realize that, as Aristotle put it, being is said in many ways. That is, it is a term that has a plurality of meaning. Then the question always has to be, when it is used, what sense do you have in mind?Much as a certain use of healthy would lead us to ask what use do you have in mind? if we are puzzled about it. But with a term like being, with any analogous term, we are always going to have to know what sense of the term am I supposed to be thinking of when you say you are interested in everything insofar as it is a being. It would be wrong to think that being as being is some kind of univocal phrase, as if it applied just as such and with exactly the same meaning to anything you could mention that would count as among the things that are.
So the first step in understanding what is going on in what is called metaphysics and whose subject matter is said to bebeing as being is what sense of being are we to have in mind in understanding that phrase. The recognition that is an analogous term of course enables us to move beyond that puzzlement and to get some response to it. What we have seen about analogous terms is that they have a plurality of meaning, that it is an ordered set, there is a primary meaning which is the controlling meaning in that set. In the example of healthy that is invoked, the healthy dog is what we primarily mean by healthy, and if we say his food is healthy or exercise is healthy we are invoking that primary sense of healthy and this reference to it. This proportion of the later meanings to that first meaning, that's what we mean by an analogously common term.
So if we say that being is an analogous term, then we are going to ask what is the primary meaning of the term? The answer is going to come: substance. Why? Because if we say that colors exist, or that dimensions exist, or an activity exists, these are properties of characteristics of some thing. Some thing whose existence is quite different from theirs. We early on talked about a child learning how to play the piano. And being able to play the piano, that capacity exists as an existent capacity of the little child. But the way in which the child exists is different from the way in which these incidental properties, colors, capacities, ills and so forth exist.
So when we consider that as Aristotle goes on at great lengths, as Thomas goes on at great lengths, we think of the various ways in which we use the term being. What's going to emerge is that the focal meaning, the primary analogous meaning of being, is substance. So then once this is established we would say, ah well then the science of being as being is tantamount to the science of substance. And that's true, but the problem shows up again right away becausewe ask ourselves now is substance a univocal term? If substance has the same meaning, let's say, and to anticipate could substance have the same meaning as said of a material object and as said of an angel, or of God? Of course we wouldn't hesitate, I hope, and say that doesn't sound likely.
So if we want to talk about substance we'd better concentrate first of all on undeniable substances. That is substance as thing, autonomous thing, that we could not possibly have any question about -- physical object. But this is the great puzzle of the procedure in Metaphysics. It begins by saying, "There is a science that says being is being and the properties that belong to it as such." This is a direct quotation from Aristotle at the beginning of the fourth book of theMetaphysics. He goes on to show it is different from natural science, it is different from mathematics, and consequently we do have a new science. This is the science that we are seeking, as Aristotle said. Then he goes through what I've just gone through. It's being as being, but being is said in many ways, it has a plurality of meaning. It is an analogous term in Thomas's terminology. That means it has a primary sense which is the controlling sense in understanding its other and secondary uses. What is the controlling sense? Substance.
We seem to be home free: all we have to do now is concentrate on substance. But when we look at the actual analysis, when we look at what Thomas and Aristotle actually do, it can be astounding. They say let's talk about physical substance, let's talk about physical objects. I thought we were in metaphysics, what are we talking about material substances for? The reason is that we have to do so in order to get a sense of the term substance that will not be restricted to material substances, and will be applicable to those things which we on the basis of our proofs and natural science know to exist, will be applicable to them in a different but related substance.
So it is not the case when metaphysics is undertaken that we come up with a common meaning of being and we say this applies to everything no matter what it is. That would be a univocal understanding of the term being. There have been people like Duns Scotus who thought that we had to do that, because if we didn't do it we wouldn't be able to have a proof of the existence of God, because there wouldn't be any traffic between created and uncreated beings. That isn't the way Thomas perceived, and he is much closer in this to Aristotle than Scotus is. Thomas is saying: the only way we are going to get an understanding of substance that does not get tied down to material substances is by taking another long look at material substance. And if you were to look at the books that make up Aristotle's work that is called the Metaphysics you are going to find book and chapter and passages on and on that look to be indistinguishable from the kind of thought that you run into in natural science. This can be, as I say, puzzling if we think that he ought to be talking about being in some kind of univocal sense. You can say let's talk about that and then that will be applicable to all the things that are.
It might be that that misunderstanding is invited by the way in which we begin. If we don't pay too much attention to what actually is being said we are going to talk about being as being and the suggestion seeming to be that there is a sense of being that will apply to anything whatsoever that exists. And I suggest that would be pretty soon disturbed when we watch the subsequent analysis and the reminder that being as such, in any way, being is an analogous term. Then we get to substance. But substance is not a univocal term as applied to material and immaterial substances as well. So we have to ask ourselves, how can the term substance be applied to something other than a material thing. This is always the project, how can we move from what we were sure of, the sort of thing that makes up the natural object of the human intellect sensible things -- how can we move beyond that. If you look at the analyses on being in the commentary on the Metaphysics that Thomas wrote or in the early work that he wrote On Being and Essence, you will find that this is precisely what he is doing. He looks first of all at material things and tries to get clear about them and understands them in a way that enables him to extrapolate and talk about non-material things.
Look at On Being and Essence in that regard and see the movement from material substance to angels to God. That is a kind of sketch that Thomas gives of metaphysics and it draws attention to what I am drawing attention to here, and that is that we have to earn the right to talk about immaterial things. Even though we are convinced there are things that exist apart from the material order, in order to be able to speak of them sensibly we have to go through this analysis of material substance and find in that analysis a warrant for using this term of the immaterial. And what Aristotle does, what Thomas does, is to say, form in the material substance is act and matter is potency. And act is always prior to potency. I'm moving very swiftly here but this is the way the analysis goes.
So they suggest this: in the material substance the form is more substance than the matter. That's a funny way to talk about physical objects. In one sense it's as if you could have one that would be just form -- but that's what the recognition is pointing towards. If there were an immaterial substance and if in material substance form is more substance than matter, couldn't we then talk about or understand the immaterial substance as form, as a form not in matter but subsistence?
It takes a long time. I've done it very quickly. And you might be convinced by it so easily you might wonder why Aristotle took so many books of the Metaphysics to establish this. But seriously, if you read what goes on in the seventh book of the Metaphysics and the eighth book of the Metaphysics, you will see what I am saying. The attention that is paid in wanting to talk about immaterial substances, the necessary attention that is paid to material substance.
So that is the way, I think, of describing what we are doing in metaphysics. We talk about it as a science, as I mentioned -- that opening of the fourth book of the Metaphysics, there is a science which studies being as being. This is to invoke the logic of the demonstrative science that Aristotle developed in the Posterior Analytics, and we might on that basis think: this is going to be a science that we will be able to identify in its procedures, that will look very much likeGeometry. And you are in for a huge surprise, because while the Metaphysics is spoken of, and seriously spoken of, in terms of those demands of the demonstrative plan, it is so elusive in its intent and in its object that it seems to fall short all the time of that kind of methodological rigor. And we are told that at the beginning of the Metaphysics as well as at the beginning of De Anima that things which are most knowable in themselves are least knowable by us.
But a little bit of knowledge and even of an imperfect kind of those noble things is preferable to a great deal of knowledge of lesser things. That is a false dichotomy, of course, because what I am stressing here is the only way we are ever going to know anything grounded about things other than material things is by grounding it in a knowledge of material things. This understanding of the metaphysical thought of Thomas Aquinas is of a science that while it is described in terms of the canons of demonstrative science, the formal requirements of a demonstrative science that was developed by Aristotle in his logical writing, it doesn't neatly fit in to those categories at all. We always get the sense that we are doing something that is extremely elusive. There is a recurrent phrase in Aristotle's Metaphysics, the science that we are seeking. And anyone who reads those fourteen books is going to be struck by the fact we always seem to be about to do something, and when are we going to do it. And when we set out to do something we seem to turn back and look at things that we presumably studied already, and why are we taking this further look at that? My suggestion has been, there is method in this madness, we are looking now at material things in order to get some purchase on them that will enable us some grasp of them, will enable us to say this term substance which applies most obviously to material things can be used to talk about these things whose existence we've gotten an intimation of in those proofs that are alluded to in natural science.
So we can talk about separated substances. Now that is an achievement. It is not just: here are material substances and here are immaterial substances. No, it is known and named off of an analysis of material objects, physical substances. And that's why the procedure of the Metaphysics can seem to be so glacial and sometimes even leaden -- because Aristotle was trying to do this in such a way that it works. He, like anyone, could talk about the transcendent and of beauty itself and so forth. He was a Platonist for twenty years, and in his early writings he has the same tendency as Plato does: the topics of goodness and justice and abstractions like that are just sort of out there and that sometime prior to the soul's incarceration in the body it was just directly aware of those things, and when the soul was put in the body it forgot them and learning is remembering these things. Aristotle writes that too. But he came to see that the basis for talking about separated things in that way just was not adequate, that the arguments for them were inadequate to establish that there indeed are immaterial things, the platonic ideas, the platonic form.
But from the very outset we can bet that Aristotle is saying: I want to be able to put that kind of claim on a firm footing. And that is an understanding of metaphysics as developed by Thomas. That is exactly what he is doing. He is saying:this is the way in which we can perceive, this is the way we can move from substance to separated substance.
What the characterization then of metaphysics might be is this, it is a analysis of physical objects, of physical substance in order to acquire knowledge of and a vocabulary to speak less obscurely about the Divine. I deliberately put it in that kind of complicated way because as I said at the beginning it's one of the paradoxes of our existence that we have an intellect for the sake of knowing the first cause, and yet the first cause is so incommensurate with our intellect that the only way we can come at that knowledge is indirectly, obliquely, through knowledge of other things and by taking the names of those things we first know and extrapolating them of the immaterial and ultimately of God.
Another way of putting this then would be to say that metaphysics is aimed at coming up with grounded divine names. In other words a justifiable talk about God. And again I suggest because of the familiarity of religious belief and the familiarity for Aristotle of Greek religion and the Platonic philosophy that it would seem that you could just talk indiscriminately or you could choose to talk about material things or choose to talk about immaterial things as if they were equally available to you. And what Aristotle came to see and what Thomas endorses is that the only way we can come to some knowledge of the immaterial is through knowledge of the material. Now I'm repeating here, but there is a reason for this, because I feel that if we don't get this we are not going to get the sense of what metaphysics is for Thomas Aquinas. It would be, I think, misleading to suggest that somehow he just has an intuition of existence or something and that immediately propels an end of the metaphysical order. Read him and I don't think you will find anything like that anywhere in Thomas Aquinas, and you will find at least something like what I am insisting on here.
So we could put it in this way, metaphysics is a search for the Divine name. It's a search for the the common notes of anything whatsoever, not in a univocal sense but in the way in which terms that apply to material things can be extended to mean and to apply to ultimately God. In the first intimation on the basis of proof that Aristotle has of God he is called a prime mover. He is understood clearly with reference to the changing world around him and it might seem to be simply a negative way of designating him to say: well, he's not a moved mover. But we are indicating that he is a cause. We are going to have to ask ourselves what does the word cause mean as applied to God? That kind of question is intended to underscore the fact. What if someone asks us what a cause is -- there are all kinds of things that we are going to refer to and they are going to be right around us. The cue ball hits the eight ball and moves it.
We have to find out what we mean by the term cause by looking around at its obvious application in the sensible world in our ordinary experience. This is the same word that we are going to use when we say that God is the first cause. The question is how can we use this term whose meaning has been established in these ordinary workaday ways. How can we use that to talk about God? We don't want to say he's a cause in the same way that the pool player is the cause of moving the cue. We can see the problems involved with that. So even calling God a cause raises this enormous question as to how a term can be common to God and to creatures, and we're going to say it's not univocally common. Some people were tempted by the thought that they don't mean the same thing at all, they are just equivocal. Moses Maimonides, the great Medieval Jewish Aristotelian, toyed with this idea that our words never tell us anything about God, they only tell us what he is not, so when God is called a cause don't expect that to tell you anything about him: it just tells you that he isn't like something else. Thomas responsed to that: that would make it seem that it didn't matter what we called God, because you can always say it doesn't mean much to our beings.
But it does matter what we call God, and the discussion that I'm embarking on now that will take me into the next lecture is in effect the Divine Name, because I'm describing metaphysics again. Remember it is the inquiry which is meant to issue in a vocabulary that will enable us to express our knowledge of God in an intelligible way. When we do that we are going to see that we are talking about the use of words whose native habitat is ordinary human experience of the material world and of ourselves and extrapolating those and using those to talk about God. That is the problem, so to speak, or the fact of the Divine Name. And we'll see that this is true. The philosopher has to move in the way that we are talking about, and ultimately he hopes to know something about and be able to say something meaningful about God.
But isn't revelation different? I will use that distinction in order to give a sense of the distinction between theology and philosophy. Theology is based upon revelation, God telling us things about Himself. But isn't that different? Thomas says no. He will say: when God speaks to us He speaks our language. Hebrew may not be your language, but He uses a human language, and it can be translated into your language. Many people are scandalized by the metaphors of the Old Testament -- the way in which God is a burning bush, He is the lion of the Tribe of Judah. And you wonder. Good heavens, these don't seem to be very uplifting ways of talking about God. I mention in a similar connection in an earlier lecture the nature of Christ's teaching in the parable. And of course the Incarnation itself is an indication that when God reveals Himself to us He does it in a way that we can see and touch. Remember Thomas: he wanted to put his hands into the wounds and so forth. That's very human. We have to have that point of reference in order to go beyond the physical. The metaphysical is always beyond the physical, and it depends upon it for us in the way of understanding and in the way of learning something about it. There is no difference in this regard, Thomas suggests, between Scriptural language and philosophical language about God. In all cases it is using words whose primary obvious meaning is not God but things, creatures.
And then the question that arises is: how can those terms be used to talk about God? This is the problem of analogy, which, as I suggested earlier, permeates the thought of Thomas Aquinas. We cannot escape it; it is a feature of our language; it's a feature of our capacity, limited as it is, to come on the basis of our natural powers to some kind of knowledge about God. When Thomas talks about the Divine attribute he sometimes will say, well you know there are three kinds of terms that we attribute to God. There are relative terms, there are negative terms, and there are positive terms. By relative terms he means if you say God is a cause you are relating Him to His effects. If you say God is the Lord you are referring Him to His subjects. That's what he means by relative: if God had no subjects He wouldn't be Lord. That seems to be the idea: if there were no effects God wouldn't be a cause. So there is a sense in which these are relative to things other than God in the meaning that they have.
Some terms are applied to God merely negatively. We say God is timeless: that's what we mean when we say He's eternal. He is changeless, He is unchangeable. He is not constricted to some particular place and so He is everywhere. These are negations of God of characteristics of physical objects. But there are some names that are used of God positively. When we say God is wise we don't mean that He is the cause of human wisdom, we mean that God is wise. When we say God is just we don't just mean that He is the source of justice such as it is in the world, but that He is just. And so too with any number of divine attributes. We are saying God truly is these things; these give us some sense of the Divine Nature. So we are dealing here always when we deal with the divine attributes, or the names of God, with shared terms, analogous terms, analogous terms we have defined as terms which are common to several things but in a variety of meanings. They have a plurality of meanings in their different uses, but this is an ordered set of meanings. One of them is controlling or primary. In the case of names common to God and creatures the primary or controlling meaning of the name is obviously always going to be what that term means in discourse about the world and about ourselves and so forth.
It is the case that what is first in our knowledge is of course not what is most perfect or noble in reality, as I mentioned. What is most perfect in reality is God, the first cause. We say that the term that is common to creatures and God but when we extrapolate it we have to worry a lot about the nature of that extrapolation to God. What we can say once that is done is that what we are talking about when we talk about God is first so that the order of naming where creatures are first and God is second, the flip of that in the order of reality is that God is first and of course what we know first are second or are creatures of God. So in that very way of putting it, we have to overcome the fact that what is obvious to us, what our language primarily means, are the things around us. As we work with extension of these terms to God we want to make sure that we don't think that He is secondary in the order of reality in the way in which He is secondary in our knowledge. He comes only later in our knowledge, but rather we reverse that process and say in the order of being He is primary and creatures are secondary.
If Thomas tells us, as he does, that the Divine attributes can be thought of as either relative, or negative, or affirmative, it is clear that the application of analogy is to the positive or affirmative names of God, and these are shared names. Obviously when we say timeless we are not talking about a term that is common to God and creatures; when we say that God is infinite or non-restricted, we are not talking about a term that's common to creatures and God; we are denying a feature of the sort. The problem of analogy certainly doesn't arise in the way in which it does with positive names. While we are saying God is wise, God is just, God is merciful, God is intelligent, the only way we can get hold of the meaning of those attributions is to notice that the terms involved, the attributes, are not peculiar to God. This isn't a peculiar language that we've fashioned, a theological language, to talk about God. No, what is happening obviously is that we are taking terms from the common domain, terms that we learn how to use in very ordinary circumstances. We say of someone: he's wise. Socrates is wise. Then the question is: how can that term meaning that be applied to God?
So again shared terms in the way in which healthy is shared by the various analogous uses that we talked about before or the way in which being is shared by the many things that are called being. Now what Thomas suggests is a kind of intrinsic analysis of the account or ratio or meaning of the term and suggests that it's the complexity of the perfection that is signified and the way of signifying it. Where you have an analogous term you have the perfection, like healthwhich is in all the meanings of healthy but the way it's signifying it varies. The subject of health would be the way we would fill out the meaning for Plato. Cause of health would be the way we would fill it out for exercise and so forth. So we can think of a kind of form here with a perfection and then a blank for the way of signifying it, and what Thomas will give as a kind of summary statement about analogous terms, that they have the same perfection signified but they signify it in different ways. And those different ways of signifying it are what generate the different meanings that we are talking about, one of which is primary and controlling.
When Thomas has drawn attention to that kind of a composition of a meaning, the perfection in the way it's signifying a perfection, then he is able to avail himself of a technique that he learned from Denis the Areopagite (called, after the time of Thomas, the Pseudo-Denis or Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite). Denis Areopagite is mentioned in Acts as a convert of Saint Paul, and the writings that Thomas is referring to as of Denis date from about the year of 500. So we have a choice here between either thinking that this man lived an enormously long time, or he is using Denis Areopagite as a kind of pen name and he can't seriously be taken to be this convert of Saint Paul. Thomas didn't know the impossibility of this fellow being who he claimed to be through this kind of pen name. Denis's works are enormously interesting and rich in their content. He had a technique, a kind of process that he thought we should go through in thinking about the Divine name.
One of the works of the pseudo-Dionysius is the De divinis nominibus in the Latin that was translated from the Greek. Thomas wrote a commentary on that. So he is really taken by and influenced by what Denis had to say about appropriate thought about the Divine attributes. They are both, of course, concerned not simply with what philosophers can say but what we say on the basis of our acceptance of revelation as true thanks to the gift of faith. What Denis suggests is that we go through this process, we say God is just, God is life. We say that, that's the Via Affirmationis, the way of affirmation. But then that is followed by the Via Negationis, and we say God is wise but, you know, God is not wise, meaning he's not wise like Socrates. I mean, Socrates had to get that way and he might go gaga and lose it. So being wise and being Socrates are things that are put together and can be taken apart, but we don't want to say that God's wisdom is something He could lose. Or something that He gained. That isn't what we want to say.
So we have God is wise, God is not wise. That sounds like a contradiction, the same person saying God is wise and God is not wise. That's why the analysis of meaning into perfection and mode is so important. But what Thomas takes this progress to mean is this, when we say God is wise we are emphasizing the perfection of wisdom. When we sayGod is not wise we are thinking of a creaturely mode of having wisdom, acquiring it, being able to lose it for example. So the next and final step is what is called the Via Immanentia, the immanent way, where we say God is wisdom, or God has wisdom in a way that is wholly beyond our capacity to understand. So the whole process ends in a realization of the very limited way in which our knowledge of created wisdom enables us to get some kind of intimation of what God is. But it falls short of our being able to say I see how wisdom and God are identical. What I see is that I don't want to say that these are separable in the way in which they are in Socrates. It's not that I comprehend the wisdom of God.
While we are successful in terms of analogous names, we are successful in getting some sense and intimation of what God is: this always falls short of comprehension. We don't understand in any full sense what God is. Why? What's the fundamental reason Thomas gives for this? No created perfection exhausts the causality of God. There is an infinite incommensurability between any created perfection and the creator. So the created perfection cannot tell us something about the creator that locks into what he is, in the way in which in a finite cause if we know what it does that tells us pretty much what kind of a thing it is. We might think that is relatively comprehensive knowledge. In God it is always going to fail to be the case because of the incommensurability between the created effect and its cause.
So the recognition of the limitations of our knowledge is built into our understanding of this culminating science of philosophy. As I suggested at the outset this is paradoxical. This is the whole point of philosophy; this is the whole point of our lives. If Aristotle is right, as we suppose he is, we are made for understanding. That's why we have a mind. We use it for lots of practical reasons and so forth. Basically, ultimately, what it's for is to understand the world and its source and so forth. This is the drive of philosophy, in which wisdom will consist. And the closer we get to it the more we seem to be reminded of how imperfect this sort of knowledge is. Don't think that you are locking on to God in such a way you say this is what He is. We are always warned against that, and a fitting humility is induced by the recognition that, as Aristotle said in the famous simile, our mind relative to what is perfect in reality, what is highest in reality, is like the eye of a nightbird when confronted with sunlight. There is just too much for us to understand. There is no way in which we can look at the light and just grasp it. It is always going to elude, and yet it will be the most desirable kind of knowledge that we can pursue.
Again Aristotle: a little bit of knowledge even of an imperfect kind of the most noble thing is preferable to much precise knowledge of lesser things. As I mentioned before, that is a false dichotomy, because the only way we're going to get that little bit of knowledge however imperfect of the Divine is through our knowledge of lesser things. So the nature of human understanding, the path through which the human mind has to go, which has been laid out for us from the beginning in our appeal to the opening of the Metaphysics of Aristotle, is reiterated again and again and again. So the aspiration of the philosopher is in many respects not going to be thwarted, but it's never going to be satisfied in the way in which one might wish. And for a pagan philosopher, that's just about all she wrote when it comes to that kind of realization. Aristotle is very chary of entering into speculation about the existence of the soul after death, although he has mounted a proof for personal immortality when he is correctly understood. The only time that he gives much attention to the condition of the separated soul is in the first book of the Nicomachean Ethics when he asks, in effect, does the misbehavior of one's progeny affect their happiness? Now involved in that of course is the assumption that they're happy, but their happiness might be affected by what their children or grandchildren or great grandchildren do. It's a very puzzling kind of passage, and as I say, Aristotle doesn't pursue it.
Plato on the other hand is eager to talk about the state of the soul apart from the body because he thinks that's the natural condition of the human soul and that this is merely an exile and we will be released from the prison of the body. And then the soul will be what it was meant to be, a thing itself, not a component of a human being but a being in its own right. Plato could be eloquent about that, and he tells us very interesting stories about this. And it is as if the only way he can really point to it is by stories of that kind. We find in other classical literature -- in the Dream of Scipio, for example -- the mounting of the astral ladder on the part of the departed soul. And we know in Dante, in the Paradiso, the way in which the planet figures, as layers or steps to the ultimate celestial imperium. We have stories of that kind trying to overcome our inability to know the condition of souls after death. In this life at least, and from a purely philosophical point of view, there's something dissatisfying about the upshot of philosophy. The whole thing is aimed at something that we just don't seem to be able to get hold of in a satisfying manner, and the reason is our capacity to know and that any knowledge we have is dependent on sense experience.