INTELLIGIBLE BEING AND FIRST PRINCIPLES – Summary Points of Thomistic Principles

(please excuse the indentation issues. Not sure why its left-flushing everything)


Thomistic Realism  differs from

1) Phenominalism – philosophy of appearance

2) Evolutionism – philosophy of becoming

3) Psychologism – philosophy of the ego


Intelligible Being and First Principles

The first idea which the intellect conceives, its most evident idea into which it resolves all other ideas, is the idea of being. Grasping this first idea, the intellect cannot but grasp also the immediate consequences of that idea, namely, first principles as laws of reality:

1) “The intellect’s first act is to know being, reality, because an object is knowable only in the degree in which it is actual. Hence being, entity, reality, is the first and proper object of understanding, just as sound is the first object of hearing.”


2)  The being, which our intellect first understands is not the being of God, nor the being of the understanding subject, but the being which exists in the sense world.


3)  This doctrine rises above two extremes –

a)        that of absolute realism held by Plato; that universals exist formally outside the knowing mind.

i)                 Platonist realism claims to have at least a confused intuition of the divine being (which it calls the Idea of Good

b)       that of Nominalism, which denies that the universal has any foundation in individual sense objects, and reduces it to a subjective representation accompanied by a common name.

i)                  Nominalism opens the door to empiricism and positivism, which reduce first principles to experimental laws concerning sense phenomena


4)  Here lies the point of departure in Thomistic realism

a)        By reflection on its own act of knowledge the intellect comes to know the existence of that knowing act and its thinking subject.

b)       In intellective knowledge, the universal comes first; sense is restricted to the individual and particular.

c)        This limited moderate realism of Aristotle and Aquinas is in harmony with that natural, spontaneous knowledge which we call common sense

d)       These principles are laws, not of the spirit only, not mere logical laws, not laws merely experimental, restricted to phenomena, but necessary and unlimited laws of being, objective laws of all reality


5) Our intellect seizes at once its opposition to non-being, out of which knowledge arises the understanding of first principles, the first being the principle of contradiction: Being is not non-being.


6) Principles

a)        Non-contradiction: the declaration of opposition between being and nothing

b)       Causality or sufficient reason : Everything that is has its raison d’etre, in itself, if of itself it exists, in something else, if of itself it does not exist.

i)                This principle is subordinated to the principle of non-contradiction.

ii)               It is to be understood analogically, according to the order in which it is found, whether that order is intrinsic (the nature of a circle related to its characteristics): or extrinsic (cause, efficient or final, to its effects)

c)        The principle of substance: “That which exists as the subject of existence is substance, and is distinct from its accidents or modes.”

i)                This principle is derived from the principle of identity, because that which exists as subject of existence is one and the same beneath all its multiple phenomena, permanent or successive.

ii)              Inversely, being is now conceived explicitly as substantial

iii)             The principle of substance is simply a determination of the principle of identity: accidents then find their raison d’etre in the substance.

d)       The principle of efficient causality also finds its formula as a function of being: Every contingent being, even if it exists without beginning, needs an efficient cause and, in last analysis, an uncreated cause

e)        The principle of finality: Every agent acts for a purpose (or end). Depending on its level of being it may:

i)               first, a tendency merely natural and unconscious

ii)              secondly, this tendency may be accompanied by sense knowledge

iii)             thirdly, a tendency is guided by intelligence, knowing its purpose as purpose

f)        The first principle of natural law is derived from this principle: “Do good, avoid evil”  is founded on the idea of good, as the principle of contradiction on the idea of being. In other words: The rational being must will rational        good, that good, namely, to which its powers are proportioned by the author of its nature


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: