Description of the Midterm
Here is an approximate description of the exam. It is an 80 minute, closed-book test consisting of 5 parts:
The aim is not to find out gaps in knowledge, but to enable students to demonstrate what they do know. For example, choice is provided in most sections of the examination. And the learning of dates is not required.
The exam is designed to be manageable by those for whom English is a second language. For them, the essay (Part 5) is the hardest part, but the review session will provide a list of possible essays to enable them to focus their preparation (see below.) They are also given a few minutes more than others to complete the examination.
There is something for everyone in the exam. Everyoneincluding people who are strong in memory related tasks and those better at judgment and understanding skillswill find areas of the examination suited to their strengths.
This review will cover a number of themes, drawing connections between the figures studied in the course to this point.
Many Presocratics talked of human soul as a kind of stuff like other things in the cosmos.
Plato, owing something to the Pythagoreans, thought of human soul as an invisible, non-material reality that is embodied in human life.
Aristotle denied that soul was an invisible substance, and thought of it as the principle of unity of a thing, a part of its form.
For Plotinus, Soul is the third primal process, and includes everything that emanates into temporal being from the One via eternal Mind.
Origen and Pseudo-Dionysius add to Plotinus the idea of theiosis, or divinization, which is a specification of the mechanism involved in the return of human beings to their final origin (the One, or God). They say that the rational, spiritual part of human beings is freed from their material part through union of the human soul with the soul of Christ.
Augustines view is much like the Neo-Platonic view, whereas Thomass is an interesting combination of Neo-Platonism and Aristotle. Thomas:
The Presocratics insisted that human beings can use reason to press for the "what" and the "how"the structure and inner workingsof reality.
From the Presocratics, two opposed opinions about human reason developed.
Aristotle found an important middle way between these two views, using reason for some tasks, and observation for others.
The Neo-Platonists, and the Christian Platonists such as Augustine, continued the fundamentally Socratic line of suspicion of appearances.
Thomas Aquinas achieved a synthesis of the view of Aristotle and the Platonists, by showing how reason could be used in some tasks but was also inadequate in this world for the final, glorious knowledge of God for which human beings are intended. This shows up in:
Ontological Proof (Anselm, owing a good deal to Plato). The strategy of the ontological argument is to discover knowledge of God through reflection on the nature of thought itself, apart from any information about the world.
The four large-scale steps of Anselm's ontological Argument in Proslogion II-IV are as follows:
The four small-scale steps of Proslogion II (the same logic applies to the argument of Proslogion III) are as follows:
Cosmological Proof(Thomas, through Augustine, and owing a good deal to Aristotle). The strategy of the cosmological argument is to discover knowledge of God through reflection on the nature of the world, so information about the world is crucial.
The five ways of Thomas in Summa Theologiae are:
There is another kind of purported proof for the existence of God, and it is an "inference-to-best-explanation" argument. That is, it is not so much a rational proof, so much as the result of producing a convincing metaphysics in which God plays an essential role. If that metaphysics is the best explanation of the world, then we may infer Gods existence as probable, accordingly. This is more widely used, even by thinkers who doubt that formal proofs for God's existence could ever be sound.
1. Presocratics: previously regnant mythic mentality (which asked about the who and why of the cosmos and told stories in answer) gave way to curiosity about the what and how of the world. The question of ultimate origins was not raised, however. In fact, the previous cosmogonies (including that of the Jews in exile who compiled the creation myths of Genesis) emphasized the forming of unformed matter, a process in which order (logos) was imposed on chaos (matter). This basic idea remained in place until the idea of creation from nothing appeared.
Plato offered a more precise vision of this process of forming in the Timaeus, which was never intended to be more than probable speculation. In it, a pre-existent matter stuff is formed by a creator god (demiurge) according to the blueprint of the realm of forms.
2. Aristotle saw forms as in things, and denied that forms possessed independent existence. There was no creation, therefore, but reason could demonstrate that the universe was eternal, and dependent upon an unmoved mover for its orderliness, motion, and purpose. This advances the idea of dependence a step further, but denies creation at the same time.
3. Philo (a Middle Platonist at the turn of the eras) was concerned to combine the insights of Jewish scriptures about creation with Greek philosophy. Jewish scriptures affirmed that creation was good (in tension with Greek dualism) and created by God. Philo envisaged a larger, personal divine being whose ideas were the forms, and whose word caused creation to occur. The influential vision of the Timaeus is modified here to make forms and matter dependent upon God, rather than seeing forms, matter, and creator as three somehow independent principles.
4. Within Christianity, Justin (100-165) and Clement of Rome (c. 100) more or less accepted the Middle Platonic view, as developed by Philo and others. Theophilus of Antioch (late 2nd century CE) was possibly the first to deny a preexistent chaotic stuff (matter), arguing instead that God creates from nothing. Gerhard May argues in Creation Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of Creation out of Nothing in Early Christian Thought (1995) that Theophiluss idea came from Basileides, a 2nd century Gnostic thinker. It was, in any event, the natural next step in a process that was gradually articulating the dependence of the world on a divine creator.
5. Augustine is important in the process because he focused the meaning of creation from nothing to include the idea that time itself is created, so that it makes no sense to ask what God was doing "before creation."
The following points are extra steps in the development of the idea of creation that do not need to concern you for the purposes of the midterm examination.
6. Emanation (the usual view of origins held by most Gnostics and Neo-Platonists) does not, strictly speaking, contradict creation from nothing. In Pseudo-Dionysius, for example, creation from nothing is affirmed by means of an eternal process of emanation.
7. Within the creatio ex nihilo camp, there are two views of the style of creation (emanation and the power of the word to create) and two views of the timing of creation (the cosmos has an infinite or a finite age). While each combination of style and timing is metaphysically possible, creatio ex nihilo gradually became most closely associated with the "power of the word" style and the "finite age" timing.
8. Because of this, Thomas was faced with a problem when he wanted to reconcile the rediscovered Aristotelian philosophy (cosmos is eternal) with creatio ex nihilo (now assumed to involve a cosmos with a finite age). He had to show that the eternality of the cosmos was not essential to Aristotles position, which he did by showing that Aristotles arguments were flawed. In fact, Thomas argued that reason could not decide the timing issue at all, and had to depend upon special revelation to settle the question. Thomas believed that special revelation stipulated a universe with a finite age, and so the meaning of creatio ex nihilo became tied to that idea.
9. Later thinkers have been unable to reproduce Thomass confidence that the biblical stories either affirm a creation with a finite age, or can be trusted to deliver a reliable judgment one way or another on this question. Thus creatio ex nihilo has in our own time generalized in meaning somewhat to include again all four possible positions on the style and timing of creation.
Presocratics initiated the concern with the questions "what is being?" and "how can it be one?" and "how does it move?"
Parmenides (Eleatic philosopher) argued that plurality and change are illusory, and that ultimate reality is changeless, unitary being. He did this using reductio ad absurdum arguments (inspiring Zenos paradoxes) that showed the impossibility of plurality and change.
Plato affirmed the doctrine of hylomorphism, that every existent thing is a mixture of matter and form. He used this to explain change and plurality while protecting the unity and changelessness of the ultimate. It stressed
Aristotle defined primary beings (e.g. plants, animals, human beings) as a mixture of matter and form, where their form was understood to include a principle of unity (soul). Every existent thing was the actualization (form) of some potential (matter). A thing was understood when four questions could be answered about it (the four causes: formal, material, efficient, and final). This led to:
Neo-Platonism did not advance the question of motion, but produced a powerful explanation of how the Many could be One by means of a theory of emanation (and return). This involved:
Platonic philosophy of most stripes affirms that matter is the problem, which leads to metaphysical and ethical dualism. This is done in two main ways, with many variations:
Manichaeism is the ultimate dualist solution, personalizing the principle of evil and making it co-equal and co-eternal with God (almost co-equal, in other versions). This is a strong explanation of evil, but abandons entirely the attempt to understand all of Being as One.
Jewish theology affirms that matter is good because creation is good, and this has sponsored two views of a good God:
Augustine (and Christian Platonism after him) held that evil has no positive power of its own, but is the result of some privation of (natural or moral) good (showing indebtedness to the Jewish view of creation as good). This could be considered a third way under Platonism, but is important enough to be singled out. Specifically:
This is an explanation designed to get God of the moral hook (theodicy), but begs the question about how there can be privation of moral good, and is no better than Neo-Platonism on the question of natural evil.
Essays call for students to defend a point of view, so be prepared. Two of the following four questions will be on the exam; you will have to write on one of them.
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