Chapter 7


P>But however you formulate it, once you discover that the cause of a given "formed consciousness" is a finite existence, then of course you have a case of existence as finite, and anything finite is an effect, because it is less than what it is to be itself.

But if existence as finite is an effect, it follows that it cannot be the cause of itself. We saw this with respect to consciousness in Principle I; and all you have to do with that Principle is replace "consciousness" with "existence" and it is just as valid. Hence, any existence as finite is the effect of something outside itself.

We now make an argument a pari with the one from finite consciousness. Either its cause is (a) a total existence of which it is a part, (b) another finite existence, (c) a combination of finite existences, perhaps of an infinite number of them, (d) something other than existence altogether, or (e) a non-finite existence.

Alternative (a) is slightly different from the parallel one in consciousness; but what this amounts to is, of course, pantheism. It assumes that there is a "great whole" which doesn't have the problem and of which each of us is a part. Could this be the case, knowing what we know about finiteness?

Let us again table this until we have treated alternative (b), and we will see that it cannot be the case. Could one finite existence be the cause of another finite existence as finite existence? The question should answer itself to anyone who has read this far. Identical effects have identical causes, and if Existence B were the cause of Existence A, then since the particulars of the finiteness are not what is at issue, you could replace Existence A with Existence B without changing the effect at all (it would still be existence-as-less-than-what-it-is-to-exist); and so if Existence B could cause Existence A, it would be the cause of itself, which is impossible.

Conclusion 15: No single finite existence can be the cause of the fact that any other finite existence is finite existence.

Now then, (a) would the "great whole" in which Existence A is included as a finite part be able to do the job? No. The reason is that the non-existence that makes Existence A this would now be contained within this "great whole," such that it would be different if Existence A weren't in it; so in part this "great whole" would be "infected with" finiteness.

That is, it is one thing to say that whatever causes Existence A is greater than and therefore "at least equal to" Existence A, or that everything by which Existence A can be said to be existence is contained within this cause; but if Existence A is explicitly, as something finite contained within this thing as a real part of the whole, then in part, this "great whole" contains non-existence, making it in part self-contradictory in the same way anything finite is self-contradictory.

You can see this by asking the question, "Well, if the Existence A part is an effect by itself, and the cause is outside it, then is the rest of this "great whole" the cause, or does the cause permeate all of this "great whole"? In the latter case, of course, the cause is (also) within the Existence A part, in which case Existence A makes sense by itself and wasn't an effect in the first place, which we know is not the case (or we should, by this time); but in the former case, then there is at least this nagging "nonsensical" part of the "great whole" which is made sense out of by some other part which is outside and lacks the existence it is making sense out of. But if it lacks the existence which is Existence A, this other part is in fact just another finite existence, and we ruled this out as a cause.

Conclusion 16: The cause of any finite existence cannot be a whole of which the finite existence is a part.

That is, whatever this cause of finite existence is, no finite existence is a part of it. And we can see this if we take alternative (c). The cause of the finiteness of any finite existence cannot be any combination of finite existences, not even a combination of an infinite number of finite existences. Why? Because this combination would contain the essences of each of the members, and so would be "infected" with all those "non-existences," making it less than what it is to exist; and it would lack the particular existence that it was supposed to be the cause of, again making it less than what it means to exist. So even an infinite combination of finite existences would be a (complex) finite existence, in the sense that it would have the same problem as the one it is supposed to be solving; and by the argument dealing with alternative (b), it could not therefore be the cause of any finite existence as finite existence.

Conclusion 17: The cause of the finiteness of any finite existence cannot be a combination of finite existences, even of an infinite number of them.

This leaves two possibilities: either (d), analogously to the cause of finite consciousness, something which is not "existence" at all (call it a "shibboleth" meaning "the cause of finite existence"), and this might turn out to be either finite itself or not; or (e) a non-finite existence, meaning an existence that is not "internally infected" with non-existence or one whose existence is equal to "what it means to exist."

It turns out that we can eliminate the first of these two remaining alternatives. Similar effects have analogous causes. But since consciousness as finite is similar as effect to existence as finite (they are both "X as less than what it is to be X," which is the problem in each case), it follows that the cause of finite consciousness must be analogous to the cause of finite existence.

Now obviously, the respect in which the two causes are the same can't be the finiteness, because (1) we saw that it wasn't because existence was finite that it caused consciousness to be less than what it could be, it was because the (finite) existence was an existence that it did so; and (2) the finiteness is precisely the effect, and if the causes were similar as finite, then this would mean that it was the finiteness of finite existence which caused the finiteness of finite consciousness, and we would have a case of the effect's causing itself.

This needs a little expansion. In one sense, the finiteness of any finite existence (the definite essence) is the cause of the finiteness of the finite consciousness (the definiteness of this particular act of consciousness); but it is that cause insofar as it is existence, not insofar as it is finite. It is just that, as finite, it can't cause anything more than a finite case of consciousness. In other words, existence causes the form of consciousness; but since any existence (except possibly one) leaves some of itself (as existence) outside itself, then the form has to be less than simply "form of consciousness" in general.

So it isn't really the case, as I said before, that existence causes the consciousness as "formed" and essence causes it as "this form." It's just that, when you have the finite existence and you look at it as existence, you are aware of it insofar as its effect is a form of consciousness and not a period; but when you look at the same thing as essence, you are aware of it as producing a definite form. But it can't produce a form without its being a definite form. That's the real-distinction real-identity debate all over again.

In any case,

Conclusion 18: The cause of the finiteness of any finite existence cannot be a (finite or non-finite) non-existence.

Hence, whatever this cause of finite existence is, it must be analogously existence, since it is the "existenceness," as it were, of the finite existence which does the "restricting" of consciousness to being less than itself--and this is exactly what this cause has to do to finite existence: it must "restrict" it to being less than what it otherwise would be.

Furthermore, since every finite existence is positively impossible without this cause (because as finite each is self-contradictory and so doesn't exist without the cause, and nothing else can cause it but this cause), then we know that this cause exists as a condition for finite consciousness. But I just used the word "exists" there--in a non-technical sense, to be sure; but it confirms the argument above.

Conclusion 19: There is a non-finite existence.

That is, the only possible explanation for the finiteness of any finite existence--the only thing which could make sense out of it has to be (a) an existence, and (b) an existence which is equal to the meaning of "what it is to exist," one that does not leave some of the reality of existence outside itself, one that does not contain any non-existence within it as identical with itself, and one that is not different from existence; or in other words there is one essence which is existence, and isn't "only this much" existence.

But wait a minute. If no finite existence is part of this infinite existence, then doesn't it leave some existence outside itself? It's clearly only one of many beings, and so doesn't that mean it's less than the totality of existence or is less than what it means to exist?

No. There is an equivocation here, which can be seen from the following example. If you have a temperature of 80 degrees, then this is not a temperature of 40 degrees, but clearly all of the heat contained within a temperature of 40 degrees is in this temperature of 80 degrees.

Similarly, this infinite existence is not (for instance) human existence, and it doesn't have a human being "inside" it; but it is more than simply human existence, because human existence as human is simply a lessening of existence to be no more than human. So that the infinite existence would have "supereminently," as the Scholastics say, all the existence of any finite existence, because it has unqualified existence, and every other existence is only a qualified one.

Incidentally, if the infinite existence "had" human existence "inside it," then this would be like the big block of wood "having" the ball inside it before the ball is carved out. But that would make the wood like an onion, and several different blocks of wood, not just one; the surfaces precisely exclude what is outside them as "not this piece of wood." It is this "onion" view of the infinite which is the notion of the infinite existence as the "great whole" actually including the finite existences within it with their limits; it becomes a set of finite existences.

No, in the infinite existence, there is no internal limitation of the existence. And just as the presence (in a different room, say) of a temperature of 40 degrees doesn't make the temperature of 80 degrees any less than it is--in fact it doesn't alter what it is in any way--so my existence as distinct from this infinite existence doesn't diminish the infinite existence in any way. It is not the only existence, but this doesn't make it not the greatest existence, the one equal to "what it means to exist."

To put this another way, "what it means to exist" is not to be taken in the sense of the "sum total of all beings"; it deals with, if you will, the "degree of power" of any being, or the "energy level" of any being. The infinite existence is the being whose "energy level" is not internally restricted at all; and the presence of lesser degrees of energy "beside it" does not restrict "how much internal energy" it is(1).

We might as well give this infinite existence the designation it usually has:

God is the non-finite existence.

Before getting back to finite consciousness, is there anything we could say about God just from what we know so far?

It turns out there is. Suppose there were two Gods, such that one was really not the other. Then what makes the second one not the first must be something other than existence (because the first is just plain existence); and so it would have to be the fact that this second one is existence-with- some-qualification; or in other words some essence that is this particular existence and not "just plain" existence. But that means that the second one is finite, and not God at all.

Conclusion 20: There is only one God.

But we have to be a little careful here. We saw that there is a sense in which my consciousness and my consciousness-of-my-consciousness are not the same; and yet (as we also saw) "they" have to be one and the same act. Whatever is "in" one is "in" the other, because the act is totally transparent to itself.

Hence, we can't rule out the possibility that there could be two Gods (in some sense) which are identically the same thing; i.e. identical as "just plain existence," without one's lacking anything at all that the other one was. But in that case, there would be nothing real by which they could be distinguished; because it is differences in existences (essences) which make different forms of consciousness possible; and so they would have to be "two" in the sense that consciousness and the consciousness of being conscious are "two": two but in reality one and the same.

Obviously, what I am getting at here is that there is no way that you could exclude God's being a Trinity, if the "three persons" are in fact "one and the same reality." And, as I said, we have something analogous in our own consciousness which seems to make this more than just "Well, you can't prove it's impossible."

But in the sense of two really distinct Gods, such that one really is not the other, there is only one God.

As we investigate finite consciousness further and find out various things about finite existence, we will also in many cases be able to say something about God; because insofar as the finite existence is existence, then God has to be analogous to it; and insofar as the finite existence is finite, then God must be unlike it.

Conclusion 21: There are no really distinct "parts" of any sort within God. God is absolutely simple.

The reason for this, of course, is that if "Part A" was really distinct from any other "part," then "Part A" would have to lack whatever made the other "part" different from it; but this "whatever" has to be either some finite existence, or existence itself, in which case, "Part A" is "infected" with non-existence, which means that God is (in part) "infected" with non-existence, and therefore God is in fact finite, in that God then has the same problem God is supposed to be solving, as we saw above.

Once again, if one and the same God "contains," as it were, the whole of himself(2) within himself in the way consciousness of being conscious contains the "being conscious" within it, while the "being conscious" contains within it the "consciousness of being conscious," then this does not imply any limitation (or any real multiplicity), and it is not incompatible with the simplicity of God. Our act of consciousness is a simple act, because the consciousness of being conscious is not a part distinct from the other part; it is the whole act as transparent to itself.

Conclusion 22: God is not and cannot be an effect in any real way, of anything at all. God can "contain" no unintelligibility.

The reason for this is that God is simply existence, and existence, of course, is what it is that is intelligible about any object; it is what is finite about finite existences that gives them unintelligibility, because as finite they are not quite what they are. But since God is simple existence, there is nothing about God which could be an internal contradiction, by which "by himself" he would not be what he is. Hence, he is absolutely intelligible in himself.

This doesn't mean that we understand all about him, of course, because we only know about him because of the unintelligibility of his effects, and have no direct knowledge of him. As St. Paul says, "What we see now is darkened as if we were looking in a poor mirror"; we see the reflection, not the reality. So any defectiveness in our knowledge about God comes from the indirect way we know about him, and is not due to any defect in what our knowledge refers to.

But of course, if God can't have any internal unintelligibility, then obviously he can't be the effect of anything. So God is the "uncaused cause." Some (Kant among them) have thought that "uncaused cause" is a contradiction in terms; but that was because what they meant by "cause" is different from what we mean by it. For us a "cause" is simply "the fact that makes some otherwise contradictory set of facts intelligible," and there is obviously nothing in this notion that demands that this fact be itself unintelligible in any way. And here we have an unintelligibility (finite existence) which cannot be rendered intelligible unless the fact (which in this case is a being) that makes it so cannot itself be unintelligible in any way. Hence, there must be such a fact; and this is what we call God.

Conclusion 23: Everything but God is a finite existence.

This is obvious. Once having established that the cause of the cause of our finite consciousness can't be something outside the category of existence altogether, then everything that can be talked about has to be an existence of some sort. And since there can only be one non-finite existence, then everything else has to be existence-with-a-qualification, or an essence which is not equal to the meaning of existence, or a finite existence.

But this does eliminate the possibility some have considered: that maybe the "real world" has as its cause God; but maybe God is caused by his own "God," and so on. That is, this view says that maybe God is God just from the point of view of our "level" of existence; and from his "level," he's just the effect of the "God" on the next higher level, and so on. This might be possible if God were outside existence altogether, and not an existence, just as the cause of finite consciousness is outside consciousness altogether, and therefore can be finite and need a cause for its own finiteness. But if God is (as God must be) existence, then this means (a) that he is like finite existence in accounting for the finite as an effect, and (b) he is unlike finite existence in being finite; and as we saw, this implies that he cannot be the effect of anything, on any "level."

As can be seen, many of these erroneous speculations with respect to God come from considering God as analogous to finite existence in its finiteness; and in that respect, he is "totally other," as Karl Barth would say.



1. This is actually a rather bad way of putting it, because "energy," as we will see later, means "quantitatively limited existence," and so "infinite energy" is a contradiction in terms. But at this stage, it might be useful to use this limping metaphor to show that internal non-limitation is compatible with being "only one out of many" objects.

2. I have not established that God is personal yet, of course, and so have no logical right to use a personal pronoun referring to him. But much later, this will be established, and I would prefer to use the personal pronoun rather than the neuter "it." The pronoun is not the masculine pronoun, however; it is the generic pronoun that means "not a non-person"; and until the language finds such a pronoun, we must submit to what is actually in the language and use this pronoun, being aware that it carries no sex or gender with it at all. That is, to call God either "she" or even "he/she" as if he were either "male" or "female" or "both" would imply (since maleness and femaleness--or masculinity and femininity--are both limitations) that he "contains but extends beyond" these limitations; and he doesn't. To refer to him as "it" would be to imply that he is beneath personhood, which is false. (Similarly, simply to use nouns--to replace the pronoun with "God" all the time--is to imply that the personal pronoun does not apply, which is another way of denying personhood to God.)