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Sunday, September 22, 2019

On The Religious Status of the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover

I have posted a number of times on John Herman Randall, Jr.’s book Aristotle—but here’s one more post, which I think will be my last on this topic. I believe that Randall has written his book with two purposes in mind—first to explicate Aristotle’s philosophy, and second to destroy Thomas Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle (and basically the entire medieval tradition of Aristotelianism). This is especially apparent from his severe attacks on Aquinas for his view that Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover must be identified with the God of religion.

Randall notes that motion is eternal—you can trace a “particular” motion to the one that has caused it, but there was never a time when motion began. Like time itself, motion has no beginning. He sees the Unmoved Mover as both the final and the formal cause of motion. He writes, “The Unmoved Mover has nothing whatever to do with any “creator” of motion, any “beginner” of “initiator” of motion—with any “first cause” in any temporal sense of “first.” It is a logical explanation, not a physical cause, a natural law, not a force.”

He insists that the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover must not be identified with God of any religion. “It is not even the eternal “sustainer of the world, in a Neoplatonic sense; for to Aristotle, the world does not need to be sustained, it needs rather to be explained and understood.” He asserts that Aquinas was indulging in double talk when he identified Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover with the God of religion. But in one passage, he accepts that the early Aristotle did attach a religious significance to the Unmoved Mover: “Of course, it appears that the early, Platonistic Aristotle, who presumably set down Book Lambda, did attach religious feeling to the ultimate postulate of his cosmological theory, to his ultimate principle of explanation for the world of processes.”

Randall goes on to note that the mature Aristotle had no interest in religious thinking. “The one thing the mature Aristotle did not understand and apparently had no interest in investigating, was religion. This makes the use of his thought by the great medieval traditions as a religious apologetic seem a colossal irony.”

Related:

On John Herman Randall’s Atheistic Aristotelianism

Randall’s Doubts About Aquinas

Aristotle’s Philosophy Is Not Closed, But Open

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