Movers and motion
If you have been following closely, or if you are sensitive to italics, you likely noticed a new word: Mover.
As you might have guessed, St. Thomas did not use this word exactly the way we do (of course, speaking Latin, he would not have used “mover” at all). What is meant here is, yes, physical motion – locomotion – and still more.
What St. Thomas meant was any kind of change. This could be a change in physical location (I move a table) and change in accidents (I paint the table blue). This could even be change in development (an apple ripens; a child grows). In each case, the object in question moves from potency to act.
See again: The rock, to be moved from one position to another, requires a mover. But even if its physical location does not change, the rock still requires a mover to go from gray to blue.
The sun acts on an apple and causes a chemical reaction; the sun is the mover. The child is fed, sparking chemical reactions within his body, and he grows.
One could probably use “changer” to be more precise, in contemporary English, but deference to St. Thomas seems preferable here.
Regresses which must be finite
Hold fast, my friend, and struggle with me. Let us reduce the potential of our understanding to actuality.
Consider again the rock – unpainted, speckled, oblong. Four ounces.
Now, you have a stick in your hand, and you take the stick and move the rock – not a strike, like a golf club, but push…like a hockey stick. Make it a hockey stick.
What the hell, make it a puck instead of a rock.
As any Canadian worth his syrup knows, a puck does not move itself. No, the puck depends on the stick for its movement.
What about the stick? Can it move itself?
No, we shall need hands. But the hands – can they move the stick, all by themselves?
(You must imagine, here, severed hands. Hands actually existing “by themselves,” apart from a body. Can those hands do anything?)
No, we shall need arms, with tendons and bones and muscles. And even those are motionless until electrical signals from the brain cause them to contract just so.
And whence come the electrical signals? Well, from the firing of synapses in the brain, which are themselves triggered by…
You get the idea. This chain continues back, possibly a long way. Could it continue forever, into oblivion?
Well, imagine this all taking place in a story. A character is playing in a hockey game, and he handles a puck. As he does, you break from the story and consider – in a manner surpassing all philosophical zeal – this chain of motion in the story.
Does it have a beginning? If you trace all of the movers back far enough – the stick acting on the puck, the hands acting on the stick, the tendons and muscles acting on the hand, etc. – does it ever come to an end?
Of course, it must. It the whole sequence did not have a definite beginning, that means it would never have happened. We need a first, unmoved mover, in order to avoid the infinite regress.
Consider: If a chandelier was hung by a chain, one link supporting the other, it must necessarily end in a ceiling. This “end” is not optional. If it was only more links, all the way up, we would have a chandelier in freefall, not one suspended in the air.
Consider again, a freight train. You pull up to some railroad tracks, and you see cargo cars rolling by, but the whole train seems to extend forever in both directions. Even though you cannot see the beginning or the end of the train, you automatically assume there is an engine pulling the train along. If there wasn’t, the train would not be in motion right now.
In our story, everything is moved by the author. She is the “first mover,” the one who acts, thereby causing all kinds of potentialities to be actualized. Nothing (within the story) acts on her, and so she is, in that sense, an “Unmoved Mover.”
If she ceased to act – if she just stopped writing the story, at the moment before the puck was pushed – the puck would never move. The hands would never move, the tendons would never move, the electrical signals would never move…
And in reality? Where does our real hockey player, handling his real puck, derive his ability to act at all? What set all of this in motion?
There must be an Unmoved Mover, which makes it possible for the table to move, or the rock to be painted blue, or the apple to ripen, or the child to grow.
And this we call God, says St. Thomas.
God, in reality, is the Unmoved Mover, and without Him, nothing at all would be in motion.