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THE FIFTH WAY

Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2012.

The A Posteriori Demonstration of the Existence of God from Finalized Non-Intelligent


Natural Beings to the Supreme Ordering Intelligence (The Fifth Way or Quinta Via).1 The fifth
way demonstration starts from the experience of finalized order in the non-intelligent natural
things of the cosmos and concludes with an affirmation of the existence of God as the Supreme
Intelligent Orderer of the universe: The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We
see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident
from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence
it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks
knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with
knowledge and intelligence, as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore some intelligent
being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end, and this being we call God.2
The point of departure of the quinta via is the experience of the fact that the natural
things in the world which lack intelligence are ordered towards an end. We observe that nonintelligent beings are finalized, acting for definite and determined ends. A determined manner of
acting reveals a determined order or relation between an agent, its activity, and the effect
produced by this activity. Such a determined order (between agent, its activity, and effect
produced by this activity) is called finality. A particular agent is finalized to a certain activity,
and the activity in turn is finalized to a certain effect that it produces. We observe, for example,
that dogs always give birth to dogs (and not cats, mice or horses), and that mango trees always
produce mangoes (and not tomatoes, apples or oranges). Fire always produces heat and ice
always produces cold. Thus, we conclude from such regular and uniform activity that these
beings are in fact ordered to these ends, to the production of these determined effects.
The only possible explanation for the constancy and regularity which is present in nonintelligent beings is finality. A determined effect would not be produced unless that effect was
somehow already present in the being before it acted. Now, the effect to be produced cannot be
pre-contained in its cause according to the real existence of that effect, since as an effect yet to
be produced it has no real existence. Thus, the effect to be produced must pre-exist in the being
according to some intentional (not real or ontological) existence, and according to this mode of
existence it orders the agent towards the production of a determined action, and thus moves the
being to act. Such an influx of the form of the end to be produced as influencing the production
of the real or ontological end is called the causality of the end. But non-intelligent beings are not
endowed with intellects capable of knowing the end as end.

Studies on the Fifth Way: P. PARENTE, La quinta via di s. Tommaso, Doctor Communis, 7 (1954), pp. 110-130
; R. L. FARICY, The Establishment of the Basic Principle of the Fifth Way, The New Scholasticism, 31 (1957),
pp. 189-208 ; F. DE VIANA, La quinta via de Santo Toms para demostrar la existencia de Dios, Estudios
filosoficos, 8 (1959), pp. 37-99 ; L. VICENTE-BURGOA, Los problemas de la quinta via para demostrar la
existencia de Dios, Divus Thomas, 84 (1981), pp. 3-37.
2
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3.

The fact that an agent acts for an end presupposes the existence of an intellect that knows
that end. Sub-rational finalism requires a Being gifted with intelligence who produces it. Things
which lack intelligence tend to their finalized end by the direction of an intelligent Being who
orders them to their ends. We are in a world in which by far the greatest number of events and
of activities exhibit a regularity that cannot be the result of chance. On the other hand, an
immense number of these events and operations originate with beings that are not endowed with
knowledge. Consequently, the cause of the regularity, order, and purposiveness present in the
world is not to be found within these beings themselves. There must therefore be, outside and
above the domain of these beings, some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence by
which they are directed toward their ends, as the arrow is directed by the archer.3
The proportion of means to end indicates that among the varied possible means those
were chosen that were fitting for the end. This fittingness and proportion were known. Now, this
selection of means to end can be but the proper work of an intelligence, for to apprehend an
object as an end is to know it as something to which other things are ordered, and this means to
view the object under a certain universality of condition or aspect. And this is done by the
abstracting of the object from its concrete material conditions and to view it simply as an entity
to which other things are ordered. But abstraction from the concrete conditions of matter requires
an immaterial operative power, namely, the intellect. It therefore belongs to an immaterial
intellect to contain within itself the forms of things and their proportions and relations, which
would be prior to the actual order of the non-intelligent beings coming into being.
Holloway explains that we see that to order either oneself to an end or to order
something else to an end can be done only by an agent that possesses an intellect. Natural beings
that have no intellect tend by a natural inclination toward their end. Some of these, like brute
animals, tend naturally (that is to say, by the inclination or orientation of their very nature)
toward an end that they apprehend. But a brute animal does not apprehend the end as end, but
simply as this concrete sensible thing. Other natural beings, that have no cognition whatsoever,
tend naturally toward an end they in no wise apprehend. In all these cases the end is either not
known or not known as such. Therefore, such beings do not order either themselves nor any
other thing to their end. Instead, they are ordered, they are directed to their end. If, therefore, this
determinate ordering of an agent to its end is to be rendered intelligible, if this order is to have
any reason for existing, we must arrive at some agent that has within itself the idea of the term to
be produced. We must arrive at an agent that knows the end as such. This agent will be really
distinct from these natural things that are ordered to their end, as one having an intellect is really
distinct from that which does not have an intellect, or as the one who orders is distinct from the
one who is ordered. Natural things which are destitute of an intellect cannot possibly direct
themselves to their end. These beings cannot establish for themselves their end since they do not
know the end. Thus this end must be established for them by another; namely, by the one who
has given them their natures. Nor could he establish this end for a nature unless he possessed
understanding.4
We naturally conclude to the existence of a Supreme Orderer, God, the Intelligent Being
who orders all natural things to their ends: It is ultimately necessary to come at last to an
3
4

E. GILSON, Elements of Christian Philosophy, Mentor-Omega, New York, 1963, p. 85.


M. HOLLOWAY, An Introduction to Natural Theology, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1959, pp. 140-141.

intellect which has the intention of the ends to which things and their natures tend, and which
brings that intention into being, not only at the origin of the world, but incessantly, without itself
depending, either for existence or for the activation of things and natures towards their ends, on
another intellect which precedes it in being. In other words, it is necessary to come at last to a
transcendent First Cause, the existing of which is its very intellection, and which directs things
toward their ends without itself being subject to the causality of any end through the very act
by which it wills its own goodness, which is its very being.5
If the very order and finality of the non-intelligent beings in the corporeal world is to be
rendered intelligible, one must posit an intellect that is the very first cause and source of this
order. Holloway notes that it is quite impossible for any finite intellect to be the cause of the
order that exists in natural things. It would be metaphysically impossible for God to be the first
cause of the nature of a being and for some finite intelligence below God to be the first cause that
orders this nature to its end. For what the nature of a being is, is determined by the end to which
it is ordered. The nature and the end of that nature are inseparable in their being. It is because
God wished to create beings that could think that he endowed them with rational natures and the
power of understanding. It must necessarily be the creator of this universe that pre-established
the end of the universe, as well as the particular ends of all the natures that people this universe.
It is impossible for God, say, to cause fire, and then for some finite intellect to direct this nature
to its end, which is to exercise the act of heating and by so doing to produce heat in other bodies.
For it is the nature of fire to exercise the act of heating and thus to generate heat in other bodies.
It is because the creator wanted to produce a being that could exercise this act, that he has caused
such a nature as fire to exist.6
What about the objection to the fifth way posited by evolutionist materialism, namely,
that, given a sufficient amount of time, the world could have been the effect of chance? The
answer to this objection would be that chance presupposes order, so that, far from vitiating the
quinta via, occasional chance occurrences in nature actually validate the proof from finality.
Maritain gives us an explanation: Should one insist that according to the mathematical
computation of chances, the world could be the effect of chance, however slight the probability,
just as the Iliad could, however slight the probability, result from the fortuitous juxtaposition of
letters thrown down at random, there is an answer. All arguments of this sort drawn from the
calculation of probabilities are based on a double sophism or a double illusion.
(1). An effect can be due to chance only if some datum aside from chance is
presupposed at the origin. To cast letters at random presupposes letters and presupposes the hand
which casts them with this intention, or an instrument constructed for that purpose. The
predictions made by the actuaries presuppose the innumerable causal lines on whose mutual
interference the duration of a human organism depends. Statistical laws presuppose the existence
of causal laws which can be unknown but according to which the things and the energies of
nature operate in certain given fields without which, indeed, the great number of fortuitous
occurences on which the certainty of statistical laws depends simply could not happen.

5
6

J. MARITAIN, Approaches to God, Macmillan, New York, 1954, p. 58.


M. HOLLOWAY, op. cit., pp. 141-142.

(2). By the very fact that one applies the calculation of chances to a given case (for
instancewhat is the probability that a given number will come forth from among all the
numbers in a lottery?), one adopts from the outset a perspective in which the possibility of the
event in question has been admitted from the start. (I ask what a given number will issue from
the lottery, only because I know to begin with that any number at all can come forth from among
those in a lottery.) To say and this makes sense only on the hypothesis in which it would be
legitimate to apply the calculation of chances to the case that, however slight the probability,
there is still one chance in the incalculable myriads of chances that the world is the effect of
chance, implies that one has admitted from the outset that the world can be the effect of chance.
To attempt to demonstrate that the world can be the effect of chance by beginning with the
presupposition of this very possibility is to become the victim of a patent sophism or a gross
illusion. In order to have the right to apply the calculus of probability to the case of the formation
of the world, it would be necessary first to have established that the world can be the effect of
chance. And it is the same in regard to the Iliad.78
Holloway is equally right in observing that chance is intelligible only on the supposition
of the existence of an established order at the outset: For example, if all truths were doubtful,
you would not know they were doubtful, since you would not know they were certain. Just as
doubt presupposes certitude, so chance presupposes order. For chance is a privation of order, just
as doubt is a privation of certitude; and so chance is intelligible only in terms of the order which
it lacks. Therefore, chance can no more give rise to order than blindness can give rise to sight or
doubt can give rise to certitude. A perfection cannot be caused by the very privation of that
perfection. A thousand blind men will never add up to one instance of real order. Recall from
metaphysics how chance arises. Being A acts according to its nature, that is, for a determined
end; being B also acts according to its nature; again, for a determined end. The two actions
intervene and an effect is produced which is not the end of either of these agents or of either of
their actions. We say the effect took place by chance. This effect or term is not ordered, at least
not from the viewpoints of the immediate agents involved. But this term does presuppose order.
So the occasional presence of chance events in our world, like monsters and floods and
earthquakes, far from disproving finality, actually proves it, for it presupposes it. It presupposes
an order which in this particular instance is lacking.9
Critique of Kants Position on the Teleological Proof of the Existence of God
Regarding the question of the capacity of mans reason to demonstrate the existence of
God, Kant replies that, since all our experience is limited to what is in our sensibility and if the
categories of the human understanding can operate only on the objects given to our
understanding in and through the forms of sensibility, then all theoretical knowledge of God is
rendered impossible. God, who is supra-sensible, is not given in the mass of sense impressions
that we receive and is incapable of being an object of theoretical knowledge to the human mind.
He applies to God the conditions required of all objects of experience and hence of all knowable
7

Maritain notes: Some letter case by chance can form a group which appears to the mind as a word, but this group
is not in reality a sign, a bearer of meaning. As soon as the function of signification is real, the assemblage cannot
result by chance.
8
J. MARITAIN, op. cit., pp. 59-61.
9
M. HOLLOWAY, op. cit., p. 145.

realities. The judgments constitutive of philosophical knowledge are only possible when we
relate the formal conditions of a priori intuition, the synthesis of imagination and the necessary
unity of this synthesis in a transcendental apperception, to a possible empirical knowledge in
general.10 Those things alone are knowable which are temporal, subject to some finite, concrete
pattern of imagination, included within the order of appearances, and given through empirical,
sensuous intuition. On all four counts, God (as conceived by Western theists) lies patently
outside the scope of speculative knowledge. He is eternal and not temporal; His being is infinite
and unimaginable; He is not an appearance but the supreme intelligible reality or thing-in-itself;
He lies beyond all sensuous intuition, and man is endowed with no intellectual intuition for
grasping His intelligible reality. Not only His existence but also His nature and causal relation
with the world remain intrinsically impenetrable to our speculative gaze. Natural theology has no
possibility of providing us with true knowledge about God and should be abandoned.11
Kant maintained that there were only three possible ways of demonstrating the existence
of God with speculative reason, namely, the ontological argument or proof, the cosmological
proof, and the physico-theological proof (the teleological proof). In his Critique of Pure Reason,
he writes: There are only three modes of proving the existence of a Deity, on the grounds of
speculative reason. All the paths conducting to this end begin either from determinate experience
and the peculiar constitution of the world of sense, and rise, according to the law of causality,
from it to the highest cause existing apart from the world or from a purely indeterminate
experience, that is, some empirical experience or abstraction is made of all experience, and the
existence of a supreme cause is concluded from priori conceptions alone. The first is the
physio-theological argument, the second the cosmological, and the third the ontological. More
there are not and more there cannot be.12 Kant the transcendental idealist agnostic holds that all
three proofs (the ontological argument, the cosmological proof, and the teleological proof) are
invalid, the latter two, in the final analysis, being reduced to the invalid ontological argument,
which entails an illicit jump from the conceptual (or logical) order to the existential (or real)
order.
Kant is correct in maintaining that the ontological argument is an invalid proof, But he is
in serious error in maintaining that the cosmological proof from generation and corruption to the
Absolutely Necessary Being (the third way) and the teleological demonstration from finalized
non-intelligent beings to the Supreme Intelligent Orderer (the fifth way), as they are correctly
understood in Aquinas Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, are both nothing but reductions to the
invalid ontological argument, lumping them with the rationalist versions of the cosmological and
teleological proofs. Kant is also in error in maintaining that there are only three possible
demonstrations for the existence of God, since the history of philosophy preceding Kant has
shown that other ways of demonstrating Gods existence (different from the ontological [which
is an invalid demonstration], the cosmological [which, for Kant, is reduced to the proof from
10

I. KANT, Critique of Pure Reason, A 158 ; B 197, 2nd ed., trans. N. K. Smith, Macmillan, London, 1933, p. 194.
J. COLLINS, God in Modern Philosophy, Regnery Gateway, Chicago, 1967, pp. 182-183. Collins notes that the
coercive force of the Kantian critique of natural theology depends upon acceptance of his view that the requirements
for the knowledge proper to classical physics are the requirements for all knowledge, that the conditions of the
object of physics are therefore the same as the conditions for all knowable experience, that experience is confined to
sensible appearances and their formal conditions, that the general, formal factors in knowledge derive entirely from
the nature of consciousness, and that man has only sensuous intuition(J. COLLINS, op. cit., p. 183).
12
I. KANT, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by J. M. D. Meiklejohn, Macmillan, New York, 1900, p. 331.
11

contingency to the Absolutely Necessary Being] and teleological proofs) have been given, such
as Aquinass prima via ex parte motus demonstration, the secunda via demonstration from
secondary efficient causes, and the quarta via demonstration from pure transcendental
perfections. And these ways, like the tertia via and quinta via of St. Thomas, are in fact
successful, unlike the invalid ontological argument which the Angelic Doctor himself has refuted
many times.
Kant on the Teleological Proof (Physico-Theological Proof). With regard to the physicotheological argument for the existence of God (also called the teleological proof), Kant has
respect for it, and says that, among all the proofs, it has the most persuasiveness: The physicotheological proof always deserves to be mentioned with respect. It is the oldest, the clearest, and
the most accordant with the common reason of mankind.13 Nevertheless it is invalid, he asserts,
since it, in the final analysis, needs the cosmological argument for it to be completed, and the
cosmological argument is nothing but the invalid ontological argument in disguise. Kant writes
in his Critique of Pure Reason: After elevating ourselves to admiration of the magnitude of the
power, wisdom, and other attributes of the author of the world, and finding we can advance no
further, we leave the argument on empirical grounds, and proceed to infer the contingency of the
world from the order and conformity to aims that are observable in it. From this contingency we
infer, by the help of transcendental conceptions alone, the existence of something absolutely
necessary; and, still advancing, proceed from the conception of the absolute necessity of the first
cause to the completely determined or determining conception thereof the conception of an allembracing reality. Thus, the physico-theological, failing in its undertaking, recurs in its
embarrassment to the cosmological argument; and, as this is merely the ontological argument in
disguise, it executes its design solely by the aid of pure reason, although it at first professed to
have no connection with this faculty, and to base its entire procedure upon experience alone.14
Describing Kants physico-theological argument, Copleston writes: The chief steps in
the physico-theological argument are these. First, we observe in the world manifest signs of
purposeful arrangement; that is, of adaptation of means to ends. Secondly, this adaptation of
means to ends is contingent, in the sense that it does not belong to the nature of things. Thirdly,
there must exist, therefore, at least one cause of this adaptation, and this cause or these causes
must be intelligent and free. Fourthly, the reciprocal relations existing between the different parts
of the world, relations which produce an harmonious system analogous to a work of art, justify
our inferring that there is one, and only one, such cause.
Kant thus interprets the proof of Gods existence from finality as based on an analogy
from human constructive adaptation of means to ends. And the proof had indeed been presented
in this way in the eighteenth century. But, quite apart from any objections which can be raised on
this score, Kant remarks that the proof could at most establish the existence of an architect of
the world, whose activity would be limited by the capacity of the material on which he works,
and not of a creator of the world15 The idea of design brings us, by itself, to the idea of a
designer, and not immediately to the conclusion that this designer is also creator of finite sensible
things according to their substance. Kant argues, therefore, that to prove the existence of God in
13

I. KANT, Critique of Pure Reason, N. K. Smith ed., Macmillan, New York, 1933, B 651, p. 520.
I. KANT, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by J. M. D. Meiklejohn, Macmillan, New York, 1900, p. 352.
15
B 655.
14

the proper sense the physico-theological proof must summon the aid of the cosmological proof.
And this, on Kants view, relapses into the ontological argument. Thus even the physicotheological proof is dependent, even though indirectly, on the a priori or ontological argument.
In other words, apart from any other considerations Gods existence cannot be proved without
the use of the ontological argument, and this is fallacious. All three proofs, therefore, have some
fallacies in common; and each has also its own fallacies. Natural theology or, as Kant often calls
it, transcendental theology is, therefore, worthless when it is regardedas an attempt to
demonstrate Gods existence by means of transcendental ideas or of theoretical principles which
have no application outside the field of experience.16
Criticizing Kants skepticism of the principle of finality found in his teleological proof,
Renard writes: Kant himself, despite his goodwill, is not able to find certitude in the principle of
finality. Consequently, according to him, we cannot come to a certain knowledge of the
existence of a supreme architect by the demonstration from finality. He argues from analogy to
accuse us of attaining unwarranted conclusions. Just as we see that an architect has a definite
purpose in building a house, and that from a consideration of the house we come to the
knowledge that there must have been an intellect and will determining its end; so from a study of
the world we conclude that the order in the world must be due to a superior intellect. Such an
analogy, however, says the philosopher of Koenigsberg, in no way gives us certitude but
probability merely inferring from the analogy of certain products of nature with the works of
human arthousesand inferring from this that a similar causality, namely, understanding and
will, must be at the bottom of nature.17
Evidently Kant either did not know or did not understand the argument from finality as
presented by St. Thomas. We do not argue from an analogy, which may or may not give
certitude, but we argue from a metaphysical necessity which we discover from an analysis of
being, and which ultimately must lead us to the affirmation of a Pure Intellect.18
Holloway criticizes Kant on the teleological proof as follows: Kant and the Kantians see
in the fifth way of St. Thomas a simple and nave anthropomorphism. Man sees that he acts for
an end and has a purpose in what he does. He washes because he wants to clean his face, he
studies because he wants to become a philosopher. And then man transfers this notion of purpose
to non-human beings and asserts that they also, when they act, must be acting for an end or
purpose. But it is highly arbitrary to transfer finality found in man to finality in the universe.
As is quite clear from our solution, St. Thomas in his fifth way makes no such transfer.
We did not start with any analysis of human activity but with the regular and constant activity of
things that have no intellect. And we did not conclude to the presence of an intellect ordering
natural things by way of an analogy with our own human intellect, but by way of necessity, to
explain the existence of the very order present in such activity. Furthermore, our own human
intellect is itself a natural power that is ordered to its proper end. For man does not order his
intellect to the truth; he finds that of its very nature it is already ordered to the truth. And man
finds that his will is naturally finalized toward good. While man can order himself in many of his
16

F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 299-300.


I. KANT, op. cit., Transcendental Dialectics, Book II, chapter 3, section 6.
18
H. RENARD, op. cit., p. 155.
17

actions for ends that he sets up for himself, he nevertheless finds his powers initially finalized
toward ends that he has not established, but toward which these powers tend of their very nature.
But if natural things are ordered by their very nature to their proper end, such ordering is
intrinsic and from within, and so they need not be ordered from without by an intellect distinct
from these natural beings. The answer to such an objection should be obvious. A natural being is
ordered to its proper end both by its nature and by an intellect. Immediately and intrinsically, it is
ordered by its nature, but ultimately and extrinsically, it is so ordered by the divine intellect who
has established the end and created the nature.19
Kant criticizes the cosmological and teleological demonstrations of the existence of God,
as formulated by certain rationalists, and concludes that they are reducible to the invalid
ontological argument and should be rejected. But these are not the tertia via and quinta via a
posteriori demonstrations of St. Thomas, which are by no means reducible to the ontological
argument, a type of argumentation which Aquinas himself refutes many times in his writings.
Rather, Aquinass tertia via and quinta via are valid effect to cause quia metaphysical
demonstrations that have their starting points in the sensible, corporeal beings of extra-mental
reality, first given to us in sensible experience, but which are then interpreted metaphysically,
considered in a metaphysical perspective. And by the application of transcendental metaphysical
causality to the starting points (the quinta via having a final causality-exemplar causalityefficient causality causal structure20) and by applying the impossibility of infinite regress in a per
se series of subordinated efficient causes, one successfully arrives at valid a posteriori quia
effect to cause metaphysical demonstrations of the existence of God. From real starting points
one concludes to a real Supreme Being. There is no question here of an illegitimate transfer from
the logical order to the existential order of being (which is what the ontological argument does).
Why does the transcendental idealist Kant erroneously dismiss the a posteriori
demonstrations of Gods existence? It is because he is operating within the framework of his
immanentist theory of experience and theory of existence, which excludes a realist point of
departure, as Collins explains: The Kantian explanation of the three stages in any a posteriori
demonstration of Gods existence rests upon his theory of experience and his conception of
existence. The steps in the process impose themselves upon human intelligence not through any
necessity inherent in the human intellect itself or in Gods own being but only on condition that
the intellect is operating within the framework of the Kantian view of experience and existence.
What has been described, then, is the way an a posteriori inference to God must adapt itself to
the exigencies of this view, not the way in which such an inference must always develop. Thus
the analysis has a sharply limited scope. Kants four empirical criteria (temporality, synthesis in
imagination, limitation to appearances, and presence through sensuous intuition) are
determinants of the objects studied in classical physics. It does not follow that they are the
defining marks which characterize everything we can either know experientially or infer from
experience. They constitute the empirical principle operative within Newtonian physics, but they
are not identical with the experiential principle operative within our ordinary acquaintance with
the existing world and our metaphysical analysis of this world. Human experience and its
19

M. HOLLOWAY, op. cit., pp. 145-146.


Cf. J. MITCHELL, The Method of Resolutio and the Structure of the Five Ways, Alpha Omega, 15.3 (2012), p.
380.
20

existentially based causal inferences are not restricted to the factors required for the construction
of the physical object of Newtonian mechanics. Kants fourfold empirical principle is a univocal
rule for testing the validity of scientific reasoning. By its nature, it can extend only to objects
which already belong to the world of the physicists investigation. Hence it cannot be used to
answer the question of whether experience contains causal implications, leading to the existence
of a being distinct from the world of physics. It can settle nothing about whether our inferences,
which start with the sensible world, must also terminate with this world and its immanent formal
conditions. Hence, Kants use of the empirical principle to rule out the a posteriori
demonstration of Gods existence is unwarranted. Granted that the starting point is found in
sensible things, it cannot be concluded, by the deductive application of such a principle, that
these objects are the only things we can know from causal analysis of experienceIt is because
Kant failed to grasp the precise starting point of the realistic argument from changing and
composite sensible existents that his account of the general procedure of a posteriori
demonstration is inapplicable to the realistically ordered inference.21

21

J. COLLINS, op. cit., pp. 184-185.