Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 92, 2018

Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life

Steven Baldner
Pages 211-222

Thomas Aquinas and Natural Inclination in Non-Living Nature

Thomas Aquinas recognizes natural inclination to be present everywhere in nature, and this inclination is always toward what is good both for the natural thing itself and also for the universe as a whole. Thomas’s primary example of natural inclination is found in the four simple elements, which have natural inclinations to their natural places. The inclination of these non-living elements is then the basis for understanding that natural human inclinations are towards goods for the human person and that the whole world shows a universal intelligent ordering toward what is good. I argue, however, that the natural inclination of non-living, natural bodies to ends that are good for the elements themselves makes good sense in Thomas’s cosmology, but not in ours. Natural substances still show finality in our cosmos, but in a more restricted way than what Thomas was able to find.