Now that we have looked at the arguments for an uncaused being (Post #2 in the series) and absolute simplicity (Post #3), we are in a position to ask the question, “Is this uncaused being, absolutely simple?”
Absolutely Simplicity Reviewed
Let’s start by reviewing the concept of simplicity. As presented in the previous post any being that is not absolutely simple by definition has boundaries or restrictions. Thus, even the electromagnetic field, with its ability to unify electricity and magnetism is still distinct from, and incompatible with, other kinds of fields, for example the gravitational field. So, the question of whether an uncaused being is absolutely simple is really a question of whether or not an uncaused being can have restrictions.
Existence and Essence – Two Key Principles
Recall that an uncaused being exists through itself. The proof that an uncaused being must be absolutely simple is centered on the following fundamental Thomistic principles:
- Existence – The act of being
- Essence – A particular way of existing (e.g., existing as a horse, or a rock, or a proton)
According to Aquinas, all created (i.e. caused) beings are composed of both essence and existence. Thus, every real created being is a composition of “what it is” and “its act of existing”. It is essence that limits something to a specific type of being (e.g., a horse). It is the act of existing that makes something real as opposed to imagined. Thomas deduced that these limited real beings must have their source in simple or pure existence – that is, existence not restricted or bounded by essence. He referred to this pure being as “being in itself”.
He recognizes pure being as not only unrestricted but uncaused, because it constitutes the ground of all other beings. Thus, if it had a cause, that cause would need to come from outside of all being – a logical contradiction in terms (see post #2). This purely simple being is the cause of all caused beings, and because it has no restrictions or boundaries is able to unify all lower orders of reality.
Could There be More than One Unrestricted Being?
This brings up a frequently asked question, “Why does Thomas believe that there is only one simple and uncaused being? Couldn’t there be two or even more?”
His position is based on the following premises:
- If there are multiple uncaused beings, there must be a difference between those beings. If they are identical in all respects then they are one.
- If there are differences, then at least one of those beings must be restricted (i.e., limited by essence and thus not absolutely simple). But given that there can be no restrictions in “pure being” there must be only one unrestricted being.
Thus far we have used philosophical inquiry to discover that there must be one, absolutely-simple, uncaused being that is the cause of all other beings. In our next and final post in this series we’ll examine if philosophy can tell us anything more about this uncaused being.
Joseph Miller is the Executive Director of the Magis Center