Natural Final Causality and Providence in Aquinas

Corey Barnes, Oberlin College


Thomas Aquinas articulated an understanding of nature that sought to maintain together the integrity of created causality and God's providential ordering of the cosmos. Developing and combining Aristotelian and Neoplatonic approaches to nature and to final causality, Thomas formulated a horizontal or linear final causality wrapped within a larger vertical or circular final causality. This formulation balanced two seemingly opposed principles. First, that natures operate through intrinsic principles toward determinate ends. Second, that non-cognitive agents must be directed toward an end extrinsically. Aquinas balanced these two principles by situating the first within the second such that God creates and directs natures toward determinate ends through divinely bestowed principles intrinsic to those natures. In this way, Aquinas's understanding of providence underlies his approach to nature.