Explain Aristotle’s understanding of the Prime Mover (25 marks) In Aristotle’s book the Metaphysics, he calls the cause of all movement the Prime Mover (P.M). The Prime Mover to Aristotle is the first of all substances, the necessary first sources of movement which itself is unmoved. It is a being which is eternal, and in Metaphysics Aristotle also calls this being ‘God’. However, before he came to know the existence of the P.M he first started noticing the constant changes around him, which led him to question the existence and the purpose of the world, universe and the things around us.
He examined that everything that exists was in a permanent state of ‘movement’ or ‘motion’. By ‘motion’ Aristotle was linking it to the Greek word ‘motus’ which refers to change. He noticed that everything in the universe is in a state of change, for example, the weather and seasons are always changing. Even the human body is going through the process of change every single day.
Everyday the body changes, we grow old and age, we lose hair and skin cells. This led Aristotle to observe four things:
1) The physical world was constantly in a state of motion and change.
2) The planets seemed to be moving eternally.
3) Change or motion is always caused by something.
4) Objects in the physical world were in a state of actuality and potentiality.
Summing up from these four points Aristotle came to a conclusion that something must exist which causes the motion and change to occur without being moved itself and the ‘uncaused change’ must be eternal. Aristotle reached this conclusion by observing that if something can change, it exists in one ‘actual’ state and has the ‘potential’ to become another state, for example, an actual child is potentially an adult and a cow in a field is potentially a piece of roast beef. He realised that if things come to existence they must be caused to exist by something else and if something is capable of change that means it is potentially something else. He argued that behind every movement there must be a chain of events that brought about the movement that we see taking place, such as A to B to C and so on.
However, he stated that this chain of events must lead back to something which moves it but does not move itself. Therefore the ‘uncaused cause’ must be different and separate from the rest of the chain inorder to start the whole process. So according to Aristotle the eternal cause of motion is the Prime Mover. The Prime Mover causes the movement of other things, not as an efficient cause, but as a final cause. In other words, it does not start off the movement by giving it some kind of push, but it is the telos of the movement. This is important for Aristotle, because he thought that an effective cause, giving a push, would affect the P.M by the act of pushing and this could not happen because he thought that it would change the P.M’s knowledge. Aristotle believed the Prime Mover is the final goal of movement that is why it causes things to move by attraction in much the same way that a saucer of milk attracts a cat. The milk attracts the cat but cannot be said to be changed in the process.
This is why Aristotle believed that the P.M is the source of all motion. To Aristotle the P.M is God (for this essay I will be refering to God as ‘He’). Aristotle believed that God exists necessarily, which means that God does not depend on anything else for it’s existence and is not capable of change because He is pure actuality by nature and its nature is good. He never changes or has any potential to change and Aristotle’s book ‘Metaphysics’ he states that God is ‘a living being, eternal, most goods…’ therefore He never begins and never ends, and so is eternal. Aristotle argued that the P.M had to be immaterial meaning it could not be made of any kind of stuff because matter is potential to change. So since it is immaterial, it cannot perform any kind of physical, bodily action, therefore the activity of the P.M must be purely spiritual and intellectual. Aristotle also concluded that God only thinks about himself; so he does not know about our physical world, he does not have a plan for us and he is not affected by us because if He was then it would mean that God changes, because his knowlege would change.
He even defines God as ‘thought of thought’. Overall Aristotle’s understanding of the Prime Mover is that He is God, the cause of all motion and in his book the ‘Metaphysics’ he considers God as a leader and in the order of the universe. How far is Aristotle’s concept of the Prime Mover consistent with the biblical concept of God? (10) (AO2) Aristotle’s concept of the Prime Mover and the biblical (Judeo-Christian) concept of God is in many ways very similar. However, they are also very different and varied. Yet both Aristotle’s Prime Mover and the biblical God share the same foundations- they are both eternal and responsible for change in the world. Judeo-Christian God creates the universe from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) and Aristotle argued that nothing existed before the Prime Mover started the chain of causes. Also the Judeo-Christian God is an intelligent designer who crafts a purposeful world (e.g. the purpose of the stars = light).
Aristotle also believed that the universe was a purposeful (telelogical) place: individual objects have a ‘telos’ (e.g. chairs = sitting) and the ultimate Final Cause is the Prime Mover. Another similarity between the two is that the Judeo-Christian God is immaterial because creation is an ‘act of will’ and God creates through his word (‘Let there be light’) or spirit. Aristotle’s Prime Mover is also seen as immaterial. It is a spiritual energy and not made of the same physical materials as the material world. Lastly, the Judeo-Christian God is seen in Genesis 1 as a transcendent God. It is the cosmic creator who is removed from the universe. It is an impersonal being. Aristotl’s Prime Mover is also transcendent and immaterial. It ‘moves’ things not throught involvement with them but through ‘attracting’ them. However, they are in many ways different such as the Judeo-Christian view of God is that He is involved with His creation and is personal. For example, the biblical God answers prayers.
Whereas the Prime Mover is the opposite because it is a necessary being but one who does not in any way interact and act in the world. It is a impersonal being. Also the Judeo-Christian God is not completely immaterial. In Genesis 3, God ‘walks’ in the Garden of Eden and in the New Testament, God becomes man in the human form of Jesus. This belief is known as the incarnation (‘God becomes flesh’). Jesus walks on the earth and experiences pain, temptation and eventually dies. This is very different to the idea of Aristotle’s Prime Mover who is a ‘spiritual’ and ‘immaterial’ being. So overall I think that Aristotle’s Prime Mover and the biblical God are the same because they share the same characteristics and the reason why is because the Prime Mover idea influenced medieval thinking about the nature of God.
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