Self-evident Propositions in Late Scholasticism: The Case of "God exists"
The paper explores the status of the proposition "God exists" in late scholastic debates of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in some key authors of the era. A proposition is said to be self-evident if its truth is known solely from the meaning of the terms and is not inferred from other propositions. It does not appear to be immediately evident from the terms that God exists, for the concept expressed by "God" is based on the relation to creatures and negation of imperfection and does not reach to the divine essence. Thomas Aquinas maintains that there are two types of self-evident propositions: those self-evident in themselves (secundum se) but not to us (non quoad nos) and those self-evident in themselves as well as to us. "God exists" is of the first type. For Scotus a self-evident proposition is such that if its terms are conceived by any intellect, the truth of the proposition becomes known from the terms, non-inferentially. In his view there is no distinction between a self-evident proposition in itself and that in relation to us, because any proposition self-evident in itself is known to be such to any intellect, even though it might not be actually known; it would be known, provided that the terms are conceived. So for Scotus the sentence "God exists" expresses different propositions for the blessed in heaven, the angels and God on the one hand and humans on the other. The former is self-evident, the latter is not. While later scholastics accept either the solution of Thomas or that of Scotus, according to which "God exists" is not self-evident for humans, Thomas de Argentina (also known as Thomas of Strasbourg, 1275-1357) differs in that for him "God exists" is self-evident for humans too. The position of Thomas Aquinas was defended by Domingo Bañez (1528–1604), Francisco Zumel (1540–1607) and Gregorio de Valentia (1549–1603). In contrast, Johannes Poncius (John Punch or Ponce, 1603–1661, also 1599–1672) was a famous adherent of Scotus. There is a fair number of scholastics harmonizing the doctrine of Thomas and Scotus: Bernard Sannig (1638–1704), Luis de Molina (1536–1600), Gabriel Vázquez (c. 1549–1604), Rodrigo de Arriaga (1592–1667) and Jean Lalemandet (1595–1647). According to these authors, when Thomas says that "God exists" is self-evident in itself, he speaks about the extensional proposition, i.e. the state of affairs being conceptualized, which does not contradict Scotus's teaching.