Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

SECTION 2. -- The Argument of the First Cause.

Thesis III. -- Not all things are effects of causes, but there exists an unproduced First Cause, endowed with intelligence and free-will, in other words a personal God.

25. Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason,{1} acknowledges that the human mind cannot divest itself of the idea that everything that has a beginning has a cause. However, he demurs to the objective certainty of this principle when applied to particular cases without limitation. According to him it is one of those judgments which he was pleased to call synthetic a priori judgments, judgments, that is to say, which we are constrained by a natural necessity to accept as universally true, although they are neither self-evident nor verifiable by experience.

26. Yet if we would not fall into the abyss of universal scepticism,{2} we must admit the objective validity and universal range of the principle of causality rightly understood. Our reason demands absolutely that we should say that whatever does not exist of absolute necessity, cannot exist without a proportionate cause. That this principle must be admitted as universally valid, will become clear by showing its connection with the principle of contradiction. We lose all hold on truth the moment we cease to acknowledge the principle of contradiction, that is to say, as soon as we allow that the same thing under the same aspect may be and not be at the same instant. But the principle of contradiction stands or falls with that of causality. That which does not exist of absolute necessity is of itself only contingent, depending for its existence on a condition outside itself: otherwise, existing unconditionally, it would be an absolutely necessary being. If we suppose that there was in any particular case a beginning of existence without cause, in other words, that a violation of the principle of causality took place: this could not happen without there being an instant in which a mere possible thing -- a thing, that is to say, which depends for existence on a condition external to itself -- really depended upon itself as the condition of its existence; and this would be a manifest violation of the principle of contradiction.

Moreover, this principle is not only violated if we admit a beginning of existence without cause, but also if we admit such a beginning without a proportionate cause; namely, without a cause which considered in its totality contains a perfection at least equal to that of the effect. For if it did not, the excess of the effect over its cause would really be without any cause, in violation of the principle of contradiction.

27. By means of the same principle of causality we now go on to prove that there must be something self-existing. For the present we do not inquire whether the thing self-existiug be matter or mind, whether it belong to this world as a part of it, or whether it be above this world. The only truth to be established is this. Not all beings can be effects; there must be something which is a cause without being the effect of another cause, and this something must be self-existent.

Our argument is as follows: Everything in so far as it is an effect is indebted for its actual existence to some other thing. But supposing there be no self-existent being, then the totality of being must be an effect, no matter whether it be a finite or an infinite series of various kinds of being. Gonsequently in that supposition whatever falls under the concept of existing being past or present, must be indebted to another being for its existence. But this is evidently absurd; for it cannot be true without the existence of something beyond the bounds of what falls under the notion of existing being. Therefore the supposition that there is no self-existent being is unreasonable, and the assertion of a self-existent being is demanded by reason.

28. A strong confirmation of this truth is to be found in the fact already mentioned, that neither materialists, nor evolutionists, nor pantheists are bold enough to give an explanation of the origin of the present world, without supposing an eternal something, either "Matter," or the "Unknown," or the so-called "Absolute," or the pure "Ego," or the "Idea" of Being, or the "Will," or the "Unconscious." What they all refuse to admit is the existence of an intelligent and free self-existent being, a personal God, distinct from and superior to this material world and to mankind. The task now remains to show that the same principle of causality, which led us to acknowledge a self-existent being, leads us further to the conclusion that this self-existent Being is personal.

29. The human soul is an immaterial (spiritual) and free being. But the First Cause of an immaterial and free being cannot be a material being, and one constrained by an irresistible natural impulse to the production of its effects. Consequently the First Cause of the human soul must be an immaterial free being, which implies that we must consider a self-existent spiritual and free being to be the first cause of man. But such a being is manifestly distinct from, and superior to the material world and to man. Therefore the existence of a self-existent being, immaterial and free, superior to the material world and to man, cannot reasonably be denied; or what amounts to the same, the existence of a personal God is evident.

30. Is there any flaw in this reasoning? Surely no one who admits the first premiss upon which the argument is based, can reasonably object to the rest. What it means is this. The human soul, that is to say, the inmost principle of thought and will in man, differs altogether from everything material. We call it therefore a spiritual being, by which we understand a being not composed of parts, as matter is, but complete in its simple essence, and able to act and to exist by itself without being united to matter. Freedom also we attribute to the soul, by which we mean a power of self-determination existing in the will. The human soul is free inasmuch as its will is able to choose or not to choose any object presented to it by the understanding, as long as that object does not appear desirable under every possible aspect.

But are we sufficiently warranted in making these assertions? Are they more than an attempted answer to some of the deepest psychological problems, supported, it is true, by the authority of mediaeval schoolmen, but directly opposed to the tendency of modern thought? Can it then be reasonable to take for the basis of the solution of the most important philosophical questions such a debatable fact as that of the existence of a spiritual human soul endowed with free-will?

These are questions which no doubt suggest themselves to some of our readers, and we are bound not to pass them by unanswered, although the complete answer belongs to Psychology.{3}

31. The answer to the question, whether our soul be an outgrowth of matter or an immaterial being, must not be given a priori, but must be based on facts. As the tree is known by its leaves, its flowers, and its fruit, so does the human soul manifest its nature by its ideas, its judgments, and its desires. It is to these that we must give our attention in order to become convinced of the spirituality of the soul.

There are two sorts of ideas in us, sense ideas (or phantasms, imaginations) and intellectual ideas. A sense idea is an internal representation of a phenomenon, or of a combination of phenomena, that have impressed themselves upon one or more of the organs of sensation with which the human body is endowed. An intellectual idea is the expression of being under a more or less general aspect. The difference between the two will be best seen in concrete instances. I have a sense idea of a circle, if I represent to myself a perfectly round plane figure; I have an intellectual idea of a circle, jf I know what constitutes the being, the essence of a circle, its "whatness," or what is commonly called its definition. My sense idea of a circle is as variable as the magnitudes of circles are, but in each representation it corresponds only to one magnitude; my intellectual idea of a circle on the contrary is as invariable as the definition of a circle considered not in its verbal expression, but in its meaning; and at the same time it is applicable not to a limited number of circles, but to all possible circles. In the same way the sensile idea or phantasm of a man corresponds either to one particular man or to several men perfectly resembling one another in external appearance, but the intellectual idea of man or the mental expression of what is meant by the word "man" is applicable to all possible men.

32. This premised, we admit readily that our sense ideas or imaginations are caused directly by organic impressions, and require the immediate cooperation of a material organ, the sensitive nerves and the grey matter of the brain. Moreover, because of the substantial union between soul and body, the formation of intellectual ideas and the rise of indeliberate desires connected with them, is also largely dependent upon the imagination, and consequently upon the state of the brain and the whole nervous system as acted upon by the external corporeal world. We allow therefore that the human brain may be called the organ of understanding inasmuch as it is the organ of imagination, the operation of which in this our mortal state is a prerequisite to the working of the understanding. To this must be added that we cannot by direct intuition get intellectual ideas except of things represented by our imagination. The consequence is that to a certain extent a change in the operation of the imagination naturally carries with it a change in the operation of the underatanding. There is thus some foundation for the expression borrowed from mathematics, that the understanding is a "function of the brain;" since by "function" mathematicians mean a quantity so connected with another quantity that any change in the one is accompanied by a corresponding change in the other. But the expressions referred to must not be taken to mean that our intellectuai knowledge consists of sense impressions. Mr. Herbert Spencer is therefore wrong in saying: "Feelings are in all cases the materials out of which in the superior tracts of consciousness, Intellect is evolved by structural comgination.{4} And again, he is wrong in speaking of our senses thus, "The impressions received by these senses form the materials of intelligence which arises by combination of them, and must therefore conform to their development." {5}

33. Against theories such as these we maintain that our intellectual ideas, our rational judgments. and our deliberate resolutions cannot possibly be the effects of organic impressions either hereditary or acquired.

A man who knows what mathematicians mean by the word "circle," and what philosophers understand by the term "rational being," has an intellectual idea of the words "circle," and "rational being." No doubt he has also in his brain the phantasms of circular figures seen before, and the phantasms of many rational beings with whom he has conversed. Again, there are in his brain the organic impressions of the words in which the explanation of "circle" and "rational being" are given to him. But there is a vast difference between these phantasms in whatever combination they may be taken, and the meaning of the words, "circle" and "rational being." Organic impressions can only lead to the representation of what has really affected our organs. But the meaning of a word cannot really affect an organ; for it is not an existing particular thing which can move and change, it is the term of an act of our mind, it is that which our thinking mind manifests to us as something really belonging to those particular things which, on account of their similar natural properties, are denoted by the words in question. Consequently, the meaning of a word as known by our minds is something which has no proportion to organic movements, and therefore cannot in anyway be considered as the result of organic action. This holds good about the meaning of any word, but especially of such terms as, "Being in the abstract," "Impossibility," "Causality," "Spirit," "Infinite perfection," "Consciousness," "Intellectual idea," "Infinitesimal," "Differential calculus," finally, "the Unknown," as explained by Mr. Spencer himself.

34. Moreover, as intellectual ideas expressing things in general, by their very applicability to an unlimited number of things, infinitely surpass the effects which can reasonably be attributed to organic impressions, so neither can the concomitant consciousness which we have of the existence of these ideas in us be explained on the hypothesis of mere organic causation. I think for instance of the signification of the word "spirit," and whilst I entertain this thought I also know that I am entertaining it. Thus the thinking principle denoted by the pronoun "I," is at once the thinking subject and the object of its own thought. Assuredly this could not be, unless this principle is an immaterial being; for in matter no particle acts upon itself, but one particle acts upon another. Therefore the thinking principle in man which is called the soul, must be an immaterial spiritual being.

35. If intellectual ideas and the reflection of the mind upon them are due to quite another principle than matter, much more must this be said of intellectual judgments and the concomitant reflection on them. Let us take the principle of contradiction: "Nothing can be and not be at the same instant and under the same respect." As often as we enunciate this principle, we affirm that there is absolute opposition between any perfection and the negation of the same. We feel certain about this opposition, not only with regard to the past and present, but also with regard to all future time, and with regard to all possible perfections to which the concept of being may be applied. How could the knowledge of the unlimited value of that principle be attributed to an organic impression, without admitting an effect infinitely superior to its total cause?

36. The spirituality of the human soul, following as it does from the preceding considerations, is the foundation of that freedom of will by which man is enabled to become master to a large extent, not only of the rest of the visible creation, but of his own actions, so far as they are dependent upon his deliberate resolutions. It is because we have a spiritual soul, that we are able to consider one object under many aspects, and to weigh the motives which recommend its choice or dissuade it. As our reasonable will is a property of the same spiritual soul, which is the spring of our intellectual ideas and judgments, we cannot be necessitated to the choice of any object, so long as reasons against that choice present themselves to our mind. We often have to decide whether we will follow the reasonable counsel of a friend, or stubbornly and selfishly take our own way; whether for the sake of charity we will undergo an inconvenience, or for the love of pleasure procure ourselves a superfluous comfort; whether we will act upon an approved moral maxim, or yield to the mere impulse of anger, pride, or other passion. In all these cases we are responsible for our choice, unless the use of reason be so disturbed in us as to make reflection impossible. Our own consciousness bears witness to the fact that whatever we choose deliberately, we choose without being necessitated to the choice. It is for this reason we experience remorse and self-reproach, when we have chosen ill. And as we naturally hold ourselves responsible for our deliberate volitions, so our very nature inclines us easily to forgive indeliberate offences committed by others, however grave they may be; whereas nothing provokes us more than deliberate malice. All these internal facts can be explained only on the admission of the truth, firmly recognized by mankind taken as a whole, that our deliberate resolutions depend upon the free choice of our reasonable will. Whoever, with the pantheist Spinoza{6} and other monists or determinists, denies this freedom of will, not only puts himself in glaring opposition to the common good sense of mankind, but also implicitly denies the essential distinction between praiseworthy virtue and blameable vice;{7} nay, he teaches a doctrine which leads to absolute scepticism; for he cannot hold his opinion without confessing a natural and indelible tendency of the human understanding to accept what in his view is a mere delusion, the notion that man in some of his actions is a deliberate, free, and responsible agent.

37. If man's soul were nothing more than a principle of growth, of individual and specific bodily development, of sense-perception, and of animal appetite, then, of course, he could strive after nothing but what is in harmony with animal craving, or tends to individual organic comfort, or to the good of kith and kin; and he would do even these actions with a certain specific uniformity, at dumb animals do them, always in the same way. But man by his free-will rises infinitely higher. He alone in the whole animal creation, sits down deliberately to meditate how he may do things better than his ancestors have done for centuries before him; he alone has invented and continually makes progress in the arts; he alone cares for the study of nature; he alone utilizes it for intellectual purposes. He alone is free either to yield to the immoderate cravings of animal appetites, or to subject them to the demands of reason and conscience; nay, he is able deliberately to struggle against sensible pleasure, deliberately to mortify his passions, deliberately to aim at the "higher things." The evidence of these facts has induced Mr. A. R. Wallace, who is called by Mr. Mivart "the surviving chief of the encompassed and besieged citadel of Darwinism," to throw in his lot with those who maintain the spirituality of the soul. In his Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection,{8} after having shown that man's mathematical, musical, and artistic faculties cannot be accounted for by the hypothesis of evolution,{9} Mr. Wallace thus continues: "The special faculties we have been discussing clearly point to the existence in man of something which he has not derived from his animal progenitors -- something which we may best refer to as being of a spiritual essence or nature, capable of progressive development under favourable conditions. On the hypothesis of this spiritual nature, superadded to the animal nature of man, we are able to understand much that is otherwise mysterious or unintelligible in regard to him, especially the enormous influence of ideas, principles, and beliefs over his whole life and actions. Thus alone we can understand the constancy of the martyr, the unselfishness of the philanthropist, the devotion of the patriot, the enthusiasm of the artist, and the resolute and persevering search of the scientific worker after nature's secrets. Thus we may perceive that the love of truth, the delight in beauty, the passion for justice, and the thrill of exultation with which we hear of any act of courageous self-sacrifice, are the workings within us of a higher nature which has not been developed by means of the struggle for material existence."{10}

38. We have therefore a right to say that the fact affirmed in the major premiss of our argument for the existence of a personal God, viz., the spirituality of the soul (§ 29), cannot be reasonably doubted. But if we must admit this fact, we cannot but allow its legitimate consequences. It is evident that there must be a cause of the human race. Astronomers and geologists, palaeontologists and historians agree, that man did not always exist. How then did the first man come into existence? We pass over the question as to the origin of his body; but whence came his spiritual freely-electing soul? A spiritual and free being cannot be the outcome of a mere organic development. Therefore the cause of the human soul must be an agent itself spiritual and free. And if you suppose this agent to be not a self-existing but a created spirit -- which hypothesis we shall discuss later on -- that created spirit must have a self-existing spirit for its First Cause. This follows evidently from the impossibility of any series of produced causes which is not dependent upon an unproduced First Cause; an impossibility we have proved in § 27. The conclusion is that the First Cause of the human race is a spirit, self-existent and freely-choosing, in other words, a personal God.

{1} Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Translated by M. Müller), p.8

{2} To understand fully the intrinsic absurdity of universal scepticism the reader may consult The First Principles of Knowledge, by the Rev. John Rickaby, especially c. viii. pp. 134-147.

{3} These questions, all-important as they are, do not belong to a treatise on Natural Theology. For anything like a satisfactory discussion of them we must refer back to the Manual of Psychology (Stonyhurst Series), by the Rev. M. Maher, pp. 361-393, also pp. 443-467; and to the Manual of Logic (ibid.), by the Rev. R. F. Clarke, pp. 105-120, also pp. 140-157. We shall, however, be consulting the convenience of our readers by indicating at least the outline of the argument of which the fuller development Is to be found in the books referred to.

{4} Principles of Psychology, Vol. I. p. 192.

{5} Ibid. p. 388.

{6} Cf. Spinoza, Ethics, Part II. prop. 48, and Part I. Appendix.

{7} Spinoza denies this distinction explicitly: 'No action considered in itself is either good or bad.' (Ethics, Part IV. prop. 59, towards the end of the demonstration.)

{8} London: Macmillan and Co., 1889.

{9} Pp. 466, seq.

{10} Ibid. p. 474; cf. ib. as far as p. 476; cf. Dublin Review, Jan. 1890, "Darwinianism," by M. Mivart.

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