Volume 85, Issue 4, Fall 2011
The Strangeness of An Unmoved Mover
Aquinas, Wittgenstein, and “The Sense of Life”
This essay is a discussion of Aquinas’s argument “from motion” to the existence of God as the argument is found in his Summa Contra Gentiles. The aim
of the essay is to suggest an approach to Aquinas’s argument that emphasizes its particular context, where “context” signifies not so much the assumed Aristotelian physics as Aquinas’s larger project of carrying out “the office of a wise man,” namely, “to order things.” Construing the relevant “ordering” as a making sense of things—indeed of “the whole of things”—the argument from motion is thus seen as part of an attempt to make sense of what, following Aristotle, can be called “the whole of life,” that whole within which any one of us must live out his or her particular life. Several ideas found in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus are introduced in the conviction that they may help at least some of us to see the “strangeness” of the conclusion of Aquinas’s argument, the conclusion, namely, that the first principle of the whole of being is an “unmoved mover”—the strangeness of which conclusion, it is argued, is essential to its significance.