Introduction to Classical Christian Metaphysics – Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 3 we introduced the four causes which give a complete explanation of a thing. In part 4 we introduce the concepts of being and goodness.

Metaphysics is the study of being, as such.  Act, potency, form, and matter are all aspects of being.  Edward Feser comments that “being is the most comprehensive concept we have, applying as it does to everything that exists, so that there is no way to subsume it under something more general.”

Being is an analogical notion, so it cannot be applied univocally to all beings.  “[M]aterial things and angels can both be said to have being, but material things are composites of matter and form while angels are forms without matter; created things and God both have being, but in created things essence and existence are distinct and in God they are not; and so forth.”

The good is convertible from being (they are both transcendentals).  According to Feser, “Something is good to the extent that it exists as, or has being as, an instance of its kind.”

As Aquinas says, “everything is perfect so far as it is actual. Therefore it is clear that a thing is perfect so far as it exists; for it is existence that makes all things actual.”

There is more, however, to the essence of goodness than existence.  A thing is good because it is in some way desirable or appetible.  Joseph Owens relates, “Goodness, accordingly, is being when considered in relation to appetite.  It adds nothing real to being, for it is merely being itself, now conceived as appetible.”

Aquinas summarizes, “Hence it is clear that goodness and being are the same really. But goodness presents the aspect of desirableness, which being does not present.”

A chair is good insofar as it accomplishes its purpose (i.e., final cause) of providing a place to sit.  In a metaphysical sense, the chair “desires” to provide a place to sit; that is why it was created.

A heart is good insofar as it accomplishes its purpose (i.e., final cause) of pumping blood.  In a metaphysical sense, the heart “desires” to pump blood; that is why it was created.

Note that these are not examples of moral goodness, though.  The transcendental notion of goodness contains more than human morality.  Morality is a subset of transcendental goodness, having to do specifically with the desirableness of human behavior.  In other words, human behavior is good in so far as it accomplishes the final causes for which human beings were brought into existence.

In part 5, we look at ultimate being: God.

  • sean

    The way my understanding of this is, is that form describes how material things are arranged, and matter describe what it is that is arranged. I can accept this notion. However, if angels are form without matter, then what exactly are angels made of?

  • Angels are not made out of anything. They are pure forms.

  • sean

    I see, coming from a materialistic standpoint I didn’t think about that.

  • sean

    Well, I’m hung up on this though, because even if something non-material could exist, that doesn’t match your definition of form, since form describes how matter is put together, and there isn’t any matter in that entity.

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