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Volume 19, Issue 1, 2019

Jeffrey Dirk Wilson
Pages 85-105

A Proposed Solution of St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Third Way” Through Pros Hen Analogy

St. Thomas’s Third Way to prove the existence of God, “Of Possibility and Necessity” (ST 1, q.2, art. 3, response) is one of the most controverted passages in the entire Thomistic corpus. The central point of dispute is that if there were only possible beings, each at some time would cease to exist and, therefore, at some point in time nothing would exist, and because something cannot come from nothing, in such an eventuality, nothing would exist now—a reductio ad absurdum conclusion. Therefore, at least one necessary being must exist. Generations of critics and defenders have contended over St. Thomas’s proof. This article argues that the principle of pros hen analogy is implicit in the Third Way and that once identified explains the ontological dependency of possible beings, as secondary analogates, on the first necessary being, as primary analogate. Thus, without the necessary being as primary analogate, possible beings simply could not exist. The fact that they do exist is evidence for the existence of the necessary being. St. Thomas makes synthesizes the principle of pros hen analogy, as found in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, with the Neoplatonic principle of participation. Aristotle develops pros hen analogy in contradistinction to univocal and equivocal predication as well as to genus in Metaphysics 4.2, 11.3, 12.3-5. Since Scotus and re-enforced by modern analytic logic, philosophers have almost universally regarded any kind of analogical predication as a sub-category of equivocal predication and, thus, implicitly occlude the possibility of considering pros hen analogy in their readings of the Third Way. Distinction of per se and per accidens infinite regress and of radical and natural contingency are also central to understanding the Third Way. While resolving apparent problems in the Third Way, the article also seeks to rehabilitate the doctrine of pros hen analogy as a basic principle in Thomistic and, indeed, Aristotelian metaphysics.

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