Philosophy and the Existence of God Does Term Paper

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Aquinas and Kant

Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant were born nearly half a millennium apart and, on the surface, both their styles of argumentation and their general approaches to philosophy appear equally distanced from each other. However, both doubtlessly aimed their reasoning at establishing some level of fundamental truth. Kant's metaphysics was a legitimate attempt at developing a kind of ultimate science that would guarantee the truth of our knowledge. "Kant put forward what he called 'critical philosophy.' This undertook a profound analysis of epistemology -- a study of the very basis on which our knowledge rests. According to Kant, we make certain judgments that are indispensable to all knowledge." Similarly, Aquinas attempted to assert that some of mankind's most centrally held beliefs can be justified through the application of rational thought. Specifically, he attempted to generate a comprehensive argument both in favor of the existence of God, and backing the most central doctrines of the Church. Essentially, the aims of both philosophers were nearly identical -- they wished to solidify the notion that we can know something about God -- but they went about reaching this goal in entirely different manners.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Philosophy and the Existence of God Does God Exist Assignment

Thomas Aquinas drew heavily from the writings of Aristotle. Aquinas uses equally analytical methods in an effort to deduce the elemental nature of the world. Perhaps Aquinas' most lasting contribution to philosophical matters was his critique and subsequent addition to what has come to be known as the "ontological argument." This argument was first put forward by Peter Anselm, and was intended to prove the existence of God. Anselm held that God must exist in reality because of our conception of Him, and the idea that existing in reality is greater than existing merely in the mind. Aquinas, however, agrees that God's existence can be proven through reasoning, but he disagrees that the method to go about it should be centered upon the concept of God. His own argument for the existence of God reveals his confidence that the observable things of nature, coupled with the notion of causality, will inevitably result in conclusions that are in accordance with questions of faith. Aquinas introduces the idea of the first, unmovable mover which is responsible for all of the cause and effect events witnessed today. Knowledge, to Anselm, must originate from concrete observations of the world -- things that people would have difficulties attempting to discredit.

Kant's influences can largely be attributed to the setting in which most of his schooling came: Germanic teaching steeped in the tradition of rationalism. Leibniz -- a developer of calculus -- and his followers had established a firm rationalist following in Prussia. However, Kant's main stimulus as a philosopher came from David Hume who critiqued rationalism on a number of fronts. From these ideas Kant sought to better justify rationalism in a manner more rigorous than his predecessors. Consequently, his ethical notions are usually categorized as rationalist, but possessing overt support of fundamental Christian ethics which his upbringing instilled into his way of thought. Essentially, although Kant believed that individuals should act as their rational doctrines demanded, he also felt that a universal moral law could be derived, and generally, that all maxims of action can be reduced to a single categorical imperative applying to everyone. This idea is elementally in agreement with established Catholic interpretations of morality -- the rights and wrongs of human behavior.

Thomas Aquinas was even more ensconced in the traditional Catholic hierarchy and interpretations of existence than Immanuel Kant. Aquinas' central focus was upon the questions pertaining to the relationship between God and man, and God and the natural world. Primarily he wanted to investigate what aspects of the world betray the existence of God, and consequently, why His existence is questioned so readily. Eventually, his writings would become the accepted textbooks of theology for the Church, and accordingly, would forever possess a certain stigma for either those who were non-Christians or non-Catholics particularly after the protestant reformation. Undeniably, though, Aquinas' methods were decidedly rational. That is, he endeavored to arrive at abstract claims as to the nature of God and the world by observing physical anomalies. This contrasted him strongly with most philosophers from his age, by virtue of the fact that he believed true faith required analytical investigation; but, it made him similar to Kant, who believed that faith in God and the righteousness of our actions require critical analysis.

Kant, also, was an explicit rationalist. He believed that rational thought could determine the morality of all human actions. This notion was born out of the idea that each individual possesses an amount of rationalism, and that as we stand at the crossroads of decision this rationalism pulls us in one direction as our base desires compel us to move in the opposite direction. The compliance of this view within the dogma of Christianity is undeniable -- human thought is somehow more valuable than gratification of the flesh. To Kant, this represented the eternal struggle between reason and desire, and that fulfilling the obligation we hold to reason was the same as fulfilling our duty to God and morality. Clearly, the maximization of pleasure, to Kant, would often be a truly immoral outcome.

Yet, although this attack implies that individuals could possibly hold differing interpretations of morality based upon their own principles, Kant skirts this consequence by formally defining the "principles of action" -- or maxims -- by which everyone should behave. "A maxim of action, to be rational, must have a universal validity, because that is what reason requires. Reason, as he puts it, lays down a law for action. Kant calls this rational law the moral law. It states: Act only according to that maxim of action that you can at the same time will to be a universal law." Thus, Kant cleverly includes the subjective nature of morality within his all-encompassing universal law. His belief that humans are rational beings takes into account that we do not always take the path of reason, and that path, to him, is what defines morality.

Overall, Kant argues that deductive thought should bring us to the conclusion that moral actions are not rationally avoidable; Kant calls this a categorical imperative. Therefore, the potential of humans to perform acts of good will gives them a worth above all other entities of the world. Consequently, the broad categorical imperative can be stated as: "Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only." The universal law of morality can be applied to all human beings who possess rational thought, and have the capacity to act according to deductive reasoning.

Aquinas' morality, however, makes a distinction between two types of acts: human acts, and acts of the human being. "The latter are any and all activities or operations that can truly be attributed to human beings, but not insofar as they are human, not qua human. Human acts constitute the moral order." Additionally, human acts are deemed to possess a definitive end. Every action taken throughout one's life is done with the goal of achieving happiness, and that these actions must necessarily stem from conscious direction. This notion comes almost directly from Aquinas' main influence -- Aristotle -- human action emanates from free will and rational thought. "The human agent is precisely one who performs human actions with a view to the good." Accordingly, actions are deemed either moral or immoral with respect to the greater good that is intended. As a result, it is required that acquisition of knowledge and application of it properly leads to an individual existence that his more virtuous and worthwhile than the life of someone possessing little or misguided information. This premise further justifies Aquinas' position that faith requires questioning and that reason is the path by which to justify belief in God.

Kant also grapples with this notion. He writes, "Thus it is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding, because he was never allowed to make the attempt." To Kant, the structures within society must be rejected by the individual seeking enlightenment in order to achieve proper perspective. Accordingly Kant relies upon internal reflection to develop his arguments instead of the often contradictory viewpoints of those within his community. This reflects the general misgivings Kant has regarding information acquired from sources that are not critically analyzed. Like Aquinas, his notion of the rightness of human action is dependent upon the information possessed by the individual, moral being. Faulty information breeds violations of his universal law of morality.

An objection to Kant's universal interpretation can be seen from his simultaneous beliefs that one should act according to their principles and that logic dictates that those principles be aligned with the idea that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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