Old Principles

Philosophy begins with the search for principles. Thales spoke of water as the origin of all things, Anaximenes spoke of air. Empedocles thought that fire, water, air, and earth were mixed by Love and separated by Strife, and Plato gave us the Forms.

When Aristotle approaches the subject of principles, he does so in a different manner than his predecessors. He is answering Parmenides' doubts about change, and in so doing he establishes the true principles of change and of things themselves.

In all change, something goes from something to something else. The something else is the "to which" and the original something is the "from which." Consider a man becoming musical. A man goes from being unmusical to musical. There is a real sense in which the "unmusical" is a type of non-being, so there is a problem. It is impossible that something (musical) should come from nothing (unmusical).

Aristotle's answer is thus: There are actually three principles of change. Unmusical cannot become musical of itself just as red cannot become blue. The privation, unmusical, does not acquire the musical form, it must inhere in something else. In our example, man would be the underlying subject of change. Unmusical man becomes musical man.

For Aristotle, the privation is non-being per se and matter is only non-being per accidens. Matter is the potency that is able to receive the act of form in order to constitute a material substance. Matter, privation, and form are thus the principles of change.


Creatio ex Nihilo

 Since God’s essence is His existence, existence belongs to Him in virtue of His essence. An existence that is subsistent per se, though, must necessarily be one. Because of this, all other things have existence by participation and are therefore caused by God.

If all things which exist come from God, God does not require any pre existing material to act.

Matter itself is caused by God.

Moreover, act is prior to potency. But if God created from pre-existing matter, His first act would presuppose some potency. Potency, then, would be prior to act, which cannot be true.

So not only is God a creator but the Creator, the sole cause that requires no more universal cause than Himself in order to act.


Per se cause of existence...

Consider the question "What is hot?"

At a basic level, we can answer this question by listing things we experience that can become hot. Water, wood, metal, etc. are all examples of this. More generally, we can answer it by saying that something is hot if it has heat. Notice the distinction that now arises. A metal, for instance, can become hot but it can only do so if it receives heat. But heat, in a sense, is also hot. Heat, though, does not become hot upon the reception of some other thing. Heat is hot of itself, and it is through participation in heat that other things become actually hot. Put simply, heat does not need to have heat because heat is heat. It is not hot accidentally but essentially. Therefore, it is the cause of heat in all other hot things. 

Being is analogous to this. All things which are have being but only in an accidental way. Returning to heat for a moment, we know that wood or water cannot be the per se cause of heat even if they are hot because neither of these substances are necessarily hot. They are indifferent to heat, at one time having it and at another time lacking it. In a similar way, the objects of our experience at one time exist, i.e. have being, and at another time do not (death, decay, change, etc.). These are things that have being, but having being is not enough to be the per se cause of being just as being hot is not enough to be the per se cause of heat in things. What actual existence requires, then, is a cause which does not merely have (participated) being but, in fact, is Being Itself.

In God there is not distinction between essence and existence.


The Perfection of God

As Pure Act and First Mover, God moves all things to their perfections. A cause, though, must always contain within itself, in some way, the perfections of its effect. God, then, must contain within Himself all of the perfections in creatures, albeit in an eminent way.
As that which is simple, God possesses the perfection of all creatures in a unified way. This means that there is no distinction among the perfections in God, for they exist as one in him.
As that which possess all perfections in a unified way, God cannot possess accidents. From the unity and simplicity of God, we can see that all of His perfections are identical to His essence. No perfection in God exists accidentally.

This is not to say that the various names we apply to God are synonymous, they are not. This is true even though they ultimately all name what exists in God as one.