Question 11: The Unity of God
WHETHER ONE AND THE MANY ARE OPPOSED TO EACH OTHER
State of the question. This article completes the idea of unity, inasmuch as it is compared with its opposite. The principal difficulty is enunciated in the fourth objection of this article, namely, that a vicious circle must be avoided in definitions, and there seems to be a vicious circle here; for if one is undivided being, it is opposed to the previously accepted notion of the divided, or to multitude. Thus multitude would come before and not after one, which is contrary to what was stated in the previous article,(15) and this would nullify the fourth way of proving God's existence.
Reply. One is opposed to many but in various ways,
inasmuch as one is considered the principle of number, or as it is
convertible with being. For the one which is the principle of number,
is opposed to multitude which is number, as the measure is to the
thing measured; for number is multitude measured by one, as Aristotle
says.(16) But the one which is convertible with being, is opposed to
multitude by way of privation, as the undivided is to the thing
divided. Thus we speak of a united kingdom as being against a kingdom
that is divided.
The first kind of opposition referred to here is of the relative
order, as between father and son; the other is privative. Aristotle
mentions two other kinds of opposition; (17) namely, contradictory (as
between a thing and its negation, between being and non-being, one and
not one), and contrary (as between two opposite habits, for instance,
between virtue and vice). Among these four kinds of opposition, the
kind that is verified between transcendental unity and multitude is
Objection. But how is the principal difficulty to
be answered? It is contended that if one is opposed to multitude, then
it would follow that one comes after multitude, and is defined by it,
as privation is by the want of form or perfection, as blindness is
defined by privation of sight. But if unity is defined by privation of
multitude, there is a vicious circle in definitions, for one is
posited in the definition of multitude. Thus some define humility by
its opposite, which is pride, as if it were a privation of pride; also
pride is defined by humility, as if it were a privation of humility.
St. Thomas, in his reply to the fourth objection, concedes that
"division is prior to unity, not absolutely in itself, but according
to our way of apprehension. For we apprehend simple things by compound
things; and hence we define a point to be what has no part, or the
beginning of a line." Hence unity is defined by us as the privation of
division, but not of multitude. Thus we conclude that one is prior to
multitude, and is conceived as prior to multitude. In fact, as stated
in this reply: what first comes to the mind is being; secondly, that
this being is not that being, and thus we apprehend division; thirdly,
comes the notion of one; fourthly, the notion of multitude. Hence we
conclude that one is prior to multitude, although according to our way
of apprehension it comes after division; for "we do not understand
divided things to convey the idea of multitude except by the fact that
we attribute unity to every part." Hence there is no circle in
definitions. Moreover, as Cajetan observes, division is negation,
which is logical being. Hence division is absolutely prior to unity in
the intelligible order, but not in the natural order.
In the reply to the first objection, it is pointed out that
multitude is the privation of unity and has its foundation in unity,
because privation neither takes away entirely the existence or being
of a thing, nor unity which is converted with being. For privation is
the want of some perfection in a subject. Thus privation of being and
of unity has its foundation in being and in unity. But this does not
happen in the privation of special forms. Thus the privation of
whiteness is not founded on whiteness, nor is the privation of sight
on sight, but on the subject apt for sight.
It remains true, however, that opposition between one and many,
inasmuch as, although many is one relatively and has its foundation in
one, yet it is not one absolutely. What is many absolutely is one
relatively, namely, according to either specific, generic, or
analogical similarity. Also what is one absolutely, as man, is many
relatively, by reason of its parts and accidents.
Reply to second objection. The other difficulty is
solved, namely, that multitude is constituted by one, and therefore it
is not opposed to multitude. In the reply it is stated that unities
constitute multitude in so far as they have being, but not in so far
as they are opposed to multitude. Thus the parts of a house make up
the house by the fact that they are beings, not by the fact that they
are "not houses," namely "not the whole." Every distinct part has a
unity that is distinct from the unity of the whole.
The particular conclusions to be drawn from these first two
articles are that unity is a property of being, inasmuch as one is
undivided being, and that multitude by way of privation is opposed to
this transcendental unity, but presupposes it, and this for two
reasons: (1) because multitude is a plurality of unities; (2) because
multitude results from the division of a being that is one either by
unity of genus or of species or of quantity or of subject.
15 Cf. ad 2um.
16. Metaph., Bk. X, chap. 1.
17. Ibid., Bk. V, chap. 10 (lect. 12 of St. Thomas'
18. Summa theol., Ia, q.3.