Saturday, 31 July 2010

Aristotle's God

No chiddush just getting my thoughts together (yes this is what I think about on my free time)

Aristotle's God (AG from now on) is pretty boring. It is actually surprising that any Jewish philosophers agreed to accept Aristotle's notion of God at all. AG has about as much theological significance as the theory of gravity and it's interesting how the completely "scientific" AG was adopted by philosophers of all 3 monotheistic religions.

AG is the first cause but only in sense of being"the ultimate goal of nature." AG by it's mere existence attracts nature sort of like gravity. All of nature "want to imitate" the perfection of AG and strives to "become like AG". It is only in this sense that AG is a cause by causing nature to gravitate towards it.

Aristotle's philosophy is focused on becoming. Everything is in a constant state of moving from potentiality into actuality. Aristotle needed some sort of unifying principle to explain this general trend. Why does nature move in the direction it does? Why do things move from potentiality into actuality. The principle to explain this is AG. A completely impersonal and overly scientific force of nature. This God is not a creator because the world was never created. The world has for all eternity been imitating AG who is not the source of being but rather it's inspiration and teleological principle.

AG is defined as "thought thinking about itself". To the philosopher Aristotle this was the ultimate being. It is ultimate in that it is pure actuality with no potentiality involved. (As opposed to pure matter without form which in theory would be pure potentiality) Because of the need to be pure act AG can never change. He (or more appropriately it) can only be a source of "movement" by being the perfect actuality thus attracting all potentiality in the world to BECOME more "actual".

Another qualification for AG to be a source of pure actuality is AG in not at all physical. In the Aristotelian world all being consists of matter which is roughly equivalent to physical existence, and form which is of a more "spiritual" nature. Matter is pure potentiality and only changes through it's accompanying form. Therefore if AG were to be at all made out of matter he/it would no longer be pure actuality but would be by definition potential. One has to wonder how much of the Rambam's insistence on an incorporeal God was Jewish and how much of it was Aristotelian.

Another consequence of AG's unchanging role is that he/it can know nothing besides himself. If AG were to know of the happenings in our little corporeal world that would mean that he has changed by finding out something that he did not know before. A transition from potentiality to actuality. All AG knows is his unchanging self. This is one of THE biggest problems with trying to reconcile AG with the Monotheistic God who is said to be involved with the deeds of mankind.

Now things start to get interesting when the scientific AG gets imported into Monotheistic theology. In the Middle Ages all three of the big Monotheistic religions at some point accepted Aristotle and his baggage i.e. AG. The ingenious methods used to reconcile a personal God with a "scientific" God are of course fascinating but that's not what I want to talk about right now.

The problem with AG is he is really not "religious". He is but a force of nature a pedantic philosophical abstraction used to explain order in the world. Some will argue that religion originally stemmed from just that - an attempt to explain the world. But perhaps there is a deeper dimension to religion that AG just could not provide.

Monotheistic religion is stuck in a paradox. On the one hand it wants to create a transcendent un-human God. A God who is unlike this world and is beyond nature in contradistinction to the pagan gods who were very much part of this world and were ruled to a certain extent by the laws of nature. This is the common ground Monotheism has with AG. On the other hand this Monotheistic God is interested in humans. He bothers to reveal himself at various points in history to mere mortal men. He is deeply concerned with man and takes a personal interest in man's various affairs here on earth. Hence the big tension in Monotheism in the one hand a pull to abstraction and on the other hand a pull to "personability" to closeness.

Classical Jewish philosophy (as well as Islamic and Christian) by adopting AG swung the pendulum to the one extreme of Monotheism i.e. the abstract facet. The consequence of this is much of the other facet had to give way. Maimonide's obsessive requirement to not describe God with positive attributes reflects this attitude. Can one love Maimonide's God? Can one "have a relationship" with him? The God of Aristotle is definitely similar to Monotheistic abstraction but perhaps takes it too far by eliminating a God of personality. A God who is merciful a God who goes to Galut with his children - Israel. Perhaps because it at little too far - rationalism did not ultimately survive the onslaught of Kabbalah which was largely victorious in the battle for the Jewish soul.

(thoughts and opinions on new blog format appreciated)


Anonymous said...

All the gods are made in our own image. Someone who is a nerd will love the God of Aristotle.If you want to see a modern version of Maimonide's God, see Frank Tipler's Omega Point theory. it is pure Nerdvana. I don't mean this in a negative way. I'm a nerd so I appreciate the beauty of the natural world and the philosophical implications.

My personal view of God is that if any true God exists then it must be the existence in it's totallity itself. If you say God is greater than existence then some part of it doesn't exist. if you say it is less than the whole of existence then it isn't God because how could it have created something greater than itself.

Does God have a personality? That's an interesting question. I don't know the answer to that question. It may be possible to say that the universe is evolving to a point where the universe will be full of intelligence, however at this point in time the universe is not fully developed and only has a little intelligence

Anonymous said...

>if you say it is less than the whole of existence

then God isn't the greatest being so why call it God?

Shilton HaSechel said...

Lol Nerdvana

I don't see why you can't have a duality of existence and God. I wouldn't say God is greater than existence but rather he is something which is not part of existence. I don't quite understand what you mean when you ask is God greater or less than existence. It's like comparing apples and oranges no?

>Does God have a personality?

If he doesn't then I'm he will be a deathly boring Gemara lecturer in the oilam haemes ;)

Anonymous said...

>I don't see why you can't have a duality of existence and God

let me be more clear. I am defining existence to be the sum total of all that exists (including itself.) In set theory, we could say it is the absolute infinite set. Does God have being? Does God exist? If the answer is yes, then it belong in the set we call existence. And therefore existence is greater or equal to what you are referring to as "God". If you say that God doesn't exist then of course it's not in the set unless we also include all imaginary objects too in this set. If you want to read a more in depth analysis you can read this paper

by the way what do you mean when you are talking about God? What properties does it have?

>If he doesn't then I'm he will be a deathly boring Gemara lecturer in the oilam haemes ;)

do you want to sit back with God with a couple of beers and chew the fat? :)

Anonymous said...

this template is easier on the eyes

Baruch Spinoza said...

Aristotle's God is Nature's God. And Nature's God is just deism. The idea that God exists but has nothing to do with the world. God does not care for people and has no relationship with people. God is basically defined as "the first cause" and that is it. There are some deists who even give up the word "God" but still accept a first cause. God is seen as the watchmaker and the universe as God's watch, whatever God even means. Aristotle was a deist, Epicurus too. There were also Greek atheists, such as Democritus, who rejected the first cause argument because they find it self contradictory.

This is in contrast with Spinoza's God which does not satisfy the properties above. Spinoza said that there is an ultimate reason for all that exists but that is equivalent to the laws of the universe themselves which gave rise to everything that exist. For all practical purposes Spinoza's God is atheism. I think the reason why Spinoza did not come out as an atheist but came up with Spinoza's God was because he was essentially the first modern atheist. And so no one was used to hearing "no God". So he had to explain why there was a God but had to explain it in purely deterministic and materialistic terms. Which is why Spinoza has been called both the most impious atheist who ever lived and a God intoxicated human being.

For me God is completely irrelevant. I just do not think about it. I do believe the universe is arranged in a rational manner but God is completely useless for me. It is a superflous expression that does not deserve to be considered.

Anonymous said...

This video is the most interesting way I know of looking at God and the creation of the universe. I don't know if I believe it but it's food for thought

no one said...

There are enough problems with Aristotle (form and substance has a major flaw) to get me back to neo Plato and Plotinus (or Kant in modern form). I don’t deny the importance of Aristotle but I take him as Plotinus did--as the smartest disciple of Plato and the best commentary on him. But I have a lot of problems understanding why the rambam decided to go with him instead of Plato. Personally I think the one great problem we Jews have is the lack of a philosopher of the stature of the rambam that had decided on neo Plato. The rambam is definitely the best we have got but his more nevuchim is definitely stuck in the middle ages. As far as I can see only real original and great thinkers in the Jewish world after the rambam were the Ari and Rebbi Nachman but unfortunately neither dealt with philosophical questions in a systematic way.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Plato was out of style by the time the Rambam came along. The Rambam followed in the footsteps of the Muslim theologians Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd who were big Aristotleans.

There were some Jewish neoplotanists before the Rambam (though not nearly as influential or innovative)

>As far as I can see only real original and great thinkers in the Jewish world after the rambam were the Ari and Rebbi Nachman

They were indeed great thinkers but not philosophers in the strict sense of the word.

I would also include these post-Maimonidean philosophers/thinkers:

Chasdai Crescas and Rav Kook

and if we are to include non-Orthodox then we hav:

Hermann Cohen and Rosenzweig (both Kantians) and Martin Buber

MKR said...

(thoughts and opinions on new blog format appreciated)

Your new logo is like a stream of bat's piss.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Glad to see someone gets it

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