Sunday, September 22, 2019

On The Religious Status of the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover

I believe that John Herman Randall, Jr. has written his book Aristotle 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). Randall attacks Aquinas on several issues. He is particularly unrelenting on the issue of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover which has been identified by Aquinas as a God of religion, but Randall insists that the religious interpretation is incorrect. He 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's a logical explanation, not a physical cause; a natural law, not a force.”

Randall makes the case that the 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 says 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 in Aristotle's early writings we detect a religious significance being attached 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.” The mature Aristotle, Randall notes, 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.”

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