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Aquinas and Spinoza’s Philosophical Framework Essay

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2020

Introduction

Comparing Aquinas and Spinoza’s philosophical framework explaining the existence of God brings about two commentaries. The first one calls out the simplicity and elegance of Aquinas’ framework as he focused the discussion on five critical points. The second commentary calls out how Spinoza’s framework was created based on adopting Aquinas’ insights and integrated it into his own work.

However, one can make the case that Spinoza’s magnum opus was not a mere mimic of Aquinas’ work because he used his predecessor’s insights as scaffolding materials to create a more nuanced argument on the discussion regarding the existence of God. This paper will attempt to prove this argument by providing an overview of Aquinas’ five-point framework, and pointing out that Spinoza borrowed extensively from Aquinas’ work only to turn around and create a framework based on unique insights.

Comparing Aquinas and Spinoza’s Theological Framework

Taken all together, the five points are anchored on concepts like origins, cause, standard, and order. With regards to the first point or the first method to prove the existence of God, Aquinas’ arguments focused on the concept of causality, so that God is the first cause or the primary mover. In the second level, Aquinas builds upon the first, but in reality, he was talking about the same thing, that God is the one who initiated the whole process.

When it comes to the third level, the said ancient philosopher focused on the concept of origins, creating the idea that everything emanated from God. In the fourth level of discussion, Aquinas highlighted the concept of a standard or a rule wherein everything is measured against the standard called God. In the final level, the philosopher pointed out that God is the conductor, directing everything to follow a certain path.

It is interesting to note that although Spinoza created a unique system in describing his arguments to prove the existence of a Higher Being, some of his ideas came from Aquinas. An overview of Spinoza’s work fails to reveal any type of acknowledgment recognizing Aquinas’ contribution to the study of divinity as the inspiration for some of his insights.

Spinoza Builds on Aquinas’ Work

Using Aquinas’ work as some sort of scaffolding in order to build Spinoza’ theological edifice is evident after reading the definition component of the said theological discourse. Spinoza said that the concept of “God” is defined as the cause of itself. This line of reasoning seems to mirror Aquinas’ second method, specifically the discussion on efficient causes. Aquinas pointed out that it is impossible for a person or an object to be the cause of itself (15).

The philosopher said that nothing is “prior” to itself, because this is an impossible thing to occur (Aquinas 15). In Spinoza’s third axiom, he clarified the proof of the existence of God that there is a need for a determinate cause. He said that in the absence of a determinate cause no one can expect a direct effect. One can argue that this statement is a more ornate way of describing Aquinas’ second method in proving God’s existence.

Spinoza’s second axiom seems like an original proposition; however, it follows a similar pattern as the one that Aquinas’ postulated in his first method to prove that God is behind all things. It is not easy to detect the connection between Spinoza and Aquinas’ work based on the second axiom, because Spinoza did not use the terms origin, first mover, and origin of the action. Spinoza instead chose to use the term related to the conception of giving birth. In this particular axiom, Spinoza clarified that “God” is someone that cannot be conceived from another thing or being, therefore “God” must conceive himself.

Without a doubt, Spinoza owed a great debt of gratitude for the existence of Aquinas’ work. However, Spinoza was not a mere copycat. He took an original thought from his predecessor, and yet, he also added something that would have made Aquinas proud. He turned around and made a more magnificent structure. The simplified five-point explanation found in Aquinas’ thesis was expanded and refined to produce significant arguments concerning the various proofs for the existence of Almighty God.

One of the best lines of reasoning can be found in Spinoza’s discourse regarding the attributes of a substance. Using the argument of Aquinas that an object emanated from a “primary mover”, Spinoza was then able to isolate the attributes of a substance. He highlighted the fact that a substance is distinguished by a specific set of attributes or a single unique attribute (Spinoza 90). The philosopher focused on the idea that this attribute came from somewhere. In other words, the various attributes of substances that are seen in Nature, the same originated from something that contains infinite and eternal attributes.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, Spinoza adopted some of Aquinas’ finer arguments regarding the existence of Almighty God. In fact, there were plenty of similarities when it comes to the use of concepts like the starting point and basis for all living and non-living things. Both philosophers are in agreement that nothing can exist on its own because something or someone conceived it or created it. They are also in agreement that someone who initiated the motion and the various activities found under the sun.

However, Spinoza was not a mere imitator. He borrowed from Aquinas but only to turn them into platforms and supporting structures so that he can create something unique. One of the best examples was the discussion on a substance’s attributes. He was able to emphasize the fact that a substance has a set of attributes and the source of these things came from a God imbued with eternal and infinite attributes. Therefore, Spinoza created a more elaborate theological framework on how to prove the existence of God using Aquinas’ work as the basis for his exposition.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. 2006. Web.

Spinoza, Benedict. The Ethics. 2009. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Aquinas and Spinoza’s Philosophical Framework." August 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/aquinas-and-spinozas-philosophical-framework/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Aquinas and Spinoza’s Philosophical Framework." August 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/aquinas-and-spinozas-philosophical-framework/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Aquinas and Spinoza’s Philosophical Framework'. 30 August.

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