Updated Third Way Translation and Flowchart

In my ongoing quest to finish a series of explanations and analyses on the Five Ways of proving the existence of God from Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae I, q. 2, a. 3, I updated the translation of the Third Way which “is taken from the possible and the necessary” along with a graphical depiction of the argument as a flowchart.

I decided to start with a rather literal translation of one version of the Latin text because, in this case, the dispute about the text (and its translation) seem to make a difference in how one reads, understands and decides upon the effectiveness of the argument. The pretty standard reading and translation by the English Dominican Fathers (the Benzinger edition) does not seem to be the best, and it leads to a common misunderstanding of Saint Thomas’s argument with, many a critic accusing him of committing The Birthday Fallacy (to conclude from the fact that everyone has a birthday (one day on which each person was born) that there must be one day (the same day) on which everyone was born). The troublesome text and translation, it seems to me, contributes to the belief that St. Thomas argues from the fact that all possible beings at some time do not exist, to the conclusion that, (absent a necessary being) there was some time (the same time) when all possible beings did not exist, and that if this were the case (absent a necessary being (God), there would be nothing now.

As I say, this reading of the text and Saint Thomas’s argument are both troublesome. I cover the particular issue of the Birthday Fallacy in a recently published paper. But I hope to fit these insights into an overall explanation and analysis of the Third Way.

I also revised the graphical depiction of the argument as a flowchart to give a visual overview of how I understand the argument, and to include what I think are the most common and challenging contemporary objections. It will come as no surprise that I believe the Third Way is successful in showing that there must exist in reality a Self-Necessary Being which is the cause of the existence of everything that is real. (Or perhaps will be a surprise given that I do not think the First Way is successful.) I also link to an essay on how Saint Thomas is able to identify this Self-Necessary Cause as the God he believes in.

I am not sure the flowchart depiction is helpful for very many people, but it helped me sort out the logic and “flow” of the argument. At any rate, a more traditional text-based approach is in the offing.

Published by Joe Magee

I earned my PhD in 1999 and published my dissertation in 2003. I invented the Variably Expanding Chain Transmission (VECTr) which was patented in 2019 (US 10,167,055). I teach and work at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

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