Philosophy of Religion: Aristotle and His Predecessors

Ackah, Emmanuel Kofi (1991) Philosophy of Religion: Aristotle and His Predecessors. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Aristotle's theology as expounded in the Metaphysics is seen as radically distinct from his predecessors' and farther still from traditional religion. Contributing to this view are three apparently peculiar conceptual features of Aristotle's God: (i) that God is solely a final cause, who moves all other things as being loved or desired; (ii) that God is a self-thinking thinking; (iii) and that God is ontologically separate from the visible cosmos. Since no pre- Aristotelian philosopher has adduced (i)-(iii) in an argument to the existence and nature of God, this prompts the question of how Aristotle's theology stands to preceding thought. Here arose the main motivation for this thesis. But one could not hope to deal adequately with this question without a full exposition of preceding conceptions of god, traditional or philosophical. Incidentally, the orientation of the question enables us to be apprised of an answer to a prior question - whether the concept of "god" as it occurs in pre- Aristotelian philosophies is religious and theological. An answer to this preliminary question will supply a relevant cultural- historical perspective for the proper evaluation of the relation of Aristotle's God to preceding conceptions of god. This is also a vantage point from which arose a collateral motivation for this thesis: to assess the justification or otherwise of the currency of reading the Presocratics as the putative precursors of modern science who had at most a peripheral interest in religion and theology. Our preliminary investigation (chapter 1) argues to a hypothetical conclusion, viz., that ancient Greek polytheism contains a basic conception of god: god is basically a causal and/or originating power which satisfies a set of basic conditions of divinity; supremacy, self-sufficiency, ideality or perfection, and immortality. Divine causality is presumed to imply life. But these conditions also primarily imply a contrast to the dependency, imperfection and finitude of human life. A fortiori, they also imply that the divine is a living reality - although this reality may take a psychic or physical form or it may be a causally conceived condition. And the causal function of divine reality is basically explanatory; it contains a model of explanation according to which the universe or a feature of it is deemed adequately accounted for when its divine origin or cause is traced or specified. Thus "god" is the reality existing necessarily as that which is ultimately presupposed in an account of the universe or a feature of it. This hypothetical finding is subjected to an attempt at confirmation in the exegeses of pre-Aristotelian philosophies (Presocratics - ch. 2; Socrates - ch. 3; Plato - ch. 4). The theses of the Presocratics will appear as logical-philosophical transpositions of traditional mythological cosmologies, culminating in metaphysical first principles (often called god) which satisfy the basic conditions of divinity. Plato can also be seen in this light. Thus the hypothesis is confirmed throughout these philosophies, with an additional note, that divine causality comes to be expressed, with increasing awareness, as rational motion. The apparent exception to these investigations - the Eleatic philosophy of Being and Socratic ethical philosophy - are, in reality, continuous with and confirmatory of our hypothesis but in a way: the former is concerned with the formal criteria which a first principle qua first principle must satisfy, and these criteria are subsumable under the conditions of divinity; the latter is concerned to fix, by dialectics, a permanent desire for sophia which is attainable by knowledge of ethical first principles. At the same time sophia is the key property of god and is constitutive of eudaimonia (divine happiness or spiritual well-being) - the final, non-moral end of a fully realised life. It is implied that divinity and eudaimonia are associated with first principles and with their cognition. Indeed, Plato's Socrates defends himself against the indictment of impiety or atheism and corruption of youth by appeal to his practice of philosophia, which he represents as a religious duty and service, a command of the god. Thus it is implied that activity cognitive of first principles is our appropriate relation to god. It is religion in the true sense: for this entails a critique of the forms of religion which seek spiritual salvation and happiness by means of initiation, ritual sacrifices, ecstatic catharsis, observances. Thus Socratic first principles play the same explanatory role envisaged in traditional religious thought; viz., they are the divine realities which are ultimately presupposed in an account of a feature of the universe - the ethical-religious phenomena. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: R F Stalley
Keywords: Philosophy of Religion, Classical studies
Date of Award: 1991
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1991-74830
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2019 15:58
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2019 15:58

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