I started listening again to my audiobook version of Aquinas for Armchair Theologians while doing my Tuesday exercise routine. During my jog, one of Renick’s points struck me. One of the most salient points, and most contested, of Aquinas’ philosophy is that the ultimate end of all things is toward the ultimate good – God. Trees and animals do this naturally, but only humans can choose to serve God. Aquinas sums in up in the Summa Theologica I.44.4 o.c. as thus – “Every agent acts for an end: otherwise one thing would not follow more than another from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance.”
This point stood out in my mind because of my recent interest in Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. For Dooyeweerd, the ultimate starting point of philosophical investigation is Meaning: “This universal character of referring and expressing, which is proper to our entire created cosmos, stamps created reality as meaning, in accordance with its dependent non-self-sufficient nature. Meaning is the being of all that has been created and the nature even of our selfhood. It has a religious root and a divine origin.” It is this premise that Dooyeweerd starts with – we cannot think without a god. As a Christian, Dooyeweerd believed all of creation – from mathematics and physics to economics and sociology – came under God’s sovereignty.
So, what’s the connection? As a medieval thinker, Aquinas held to the teleological view of nature; the created essence of all things endows them with a natural end. But as the Newtonian view of nature captured men’s mind, Aquinas’ teleology was soon forgotten for an “objective” view of science and reality. However, Dooyeweerd’s thesis shows us that we posit teleology as a result of what we attribute as the origin of creation’s meaning. If it’s the god of Christianity, then everything does have a natural end; if it’s something else, our view of created reality – and the meaning we give to it – will be radically different.