Five ways to the one argument? Revisiting Thomas and Anselm on demonstrating God

Presentation for the upcoming Eleventh International Thomistic Congress, Sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Thomistic Institute Angelicum, 19-24 September 2022 in Rome.

This paper explores the relationship between Thomas’s five ways (ST Ia Q.2, A.3), and the ‘a priori’ arguments he rejects (ST Ia Q.2, A.1). Their different treatment is usually accounted for by his shift from an Augustinian to an Aristotelian epistemology. The central aim is to reformulate the five ways as five preliminary versions of the one argument in the Proslogion, similar to how the Monologion provided many arguments that were afterwards subsumed under the one argument. The five ways all employ a notion of ‘greater than’ and a form of metaphysical reasoning that is more succinctly employed in the one argument.

Instead of a categorical opposition between the two kinds of arguments, this suggests a gradual distinction in the diversity and length of the dialectical structures that are employed to demonstrate God. Bonaventure’s argument ‘si Deus est Deus, Deus est’, which he presents after a series of Augustinian and Anselmian arguments, is then the culmination of this gradual shortening of the dialectical structure. The verb ‘demonstrate’ indicates that the strength of these arguments ultimately depends on the directness with which they point towards God, under an illuminationist epistemology whereby any truth participates in the highest truth which is God Himself.

Moreover, Lydia Schumacher has questioned the traditional dichotomy between Augustine’s and Thomas’s epistemology, arguing that both were aiming at a gradual restoration of the imago Dei at the cognitive level to ultimately enable the enquirer to see all of reality as close as possible to how we were originally meant to see it, and were thereby merely employing different philosophical tools for doing so. She might be stressing their epistemological continuity too much, but in line with the overall argument it can bolster the claim of seeing the different approaches as a difference in degree instead of in kind.

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