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Unmoved mover

When we speak of the unmoved mover, we are referring to Aristotle’s God. But which God is this? It is a God discovered by reason, and therefore has no relation to the gods of Greek mythology or of any existing religion.

The unmoved mover is, as Pascal said: “the God of the philosophers and the wise men”; a God that receives no worship, that has no temple, no servants and no holy book. This God, in fact, is just a metaphysical philosophical concept developed by Aristotle to explain the cosmos.

What is the unmoved mover?

For Aristotle, the unmoved mover is the absolutely perfect being (pure act), unchanging and absolute first cause of all motion existing in our world.

This being is “unmoved” not because it is incapable of acting, but because it has no potency to receive any change in its being; this is the true sense of unmoved employed in metaphysics.

To better understand Aristotle’s argument, we must clarify some metaphysical concepts such as: movement, mover, movable entities, act and potency.

What is movement?

As we have already seen, all movement presupposes the passage from potency to act.

For example, for wood to become a table, it requires the action of an efficient cause capable of realizing this intrinsic potentiality contained in the wood.

What is mover and movable?

  • Mover means the agent of change, the one who causes the movement from potency to act. For example, the carpenter is the motor of the movement that makes the wood, a table in act.
  • Movable (or moved) means that being that receives change, that moves, in our example it is wood. All physical and natural beings in our world (animals, plants, humans, stars) are movable entities.

Everything that is in motion is moved by something else

A being in potency cannot by itself pass from potency to act.

For example, the wood that has the potency to be a table cannot itself make this change, because potency presupposes a lack, a deficiency, a relative non-being; now, in order for a being to pass from potency to act by itself, it would have to be potency and act at the same time under the same aspect, which is impossible ontologically.

If potency means a lack, evidently this being in potency could not give to itself what it does not have. A man who is ignorant in a subject will not become an expert in this subject by himself.

It may seem repetitive, but it is worth emphasizing this Aristotelian thesis of the dynamics of motion in order to make clearer the role of the unmoved mover.

The necessity of an unmoved mover

In our world, Aristotle notes, we find an indeterminate series of movers and moved.

A soccer ball, for example, is moved by the physical action of the leg, and the leg is moved by the player. The tree comes from the seed, the seed comes from a fruit, and so on. In short, every effect has a prior cause.

But how far can there be movers and moved? How far does all this huge cause and effect relationship that we find in the world extend? To infinity?

According to Aristotle, it is not possible to regress to infinity, because in this way there would be no first mover and, consequently, no intermediate movers, because the intermediates depend on the first, as in the example of the ball that moves only by the physical action of the soccer player’s leg.

Therefore, Aristotle concludes, there must be an first unmoved mover that is not moved by any other. If there were no absolute first mover there could be no movement of any kind. There must be some “starting point” that conditions the very possibility of the existence of all motion in the universe.

Why is the unmoved mover a pure act?

According to Aristotle, the first unmoved mover must be pure act, that is, without any kind of potency in its being. If it had potency, it could not be the absolute source of motion, for it would itself be a movable being. This is why the first unmoved mover is also immutable.

Now, since it has no potency, consequently it has no matter in its composition, since matter is the basis of all change, pure potency, indeterminate principle. The immovable motor, therefore, is not a substance composed of matter and form, but a suprasensible substance.

How does the first mover move the world?

To explain how the first mover moves without being moved, Aristotle makes an analogy with the object of desire in man. We know that the target of our desires is always that which is good and beautiful. Now, the beautiful and the good attract a man’s desire without themselves being moved. Says Aristotle in the Metaphysics:

Therefore, the first mover produced motion as being loved, but all other things move by being moved.

The unmoved mover the world as a final cause, by attraction.

References

Aristóteles. (2001). Metafísica (tradução: Marcelo Perine). Vol. I e II. São Paulo: Edições Loyola.

Jolivet, R. (1965). Tratado de Filosofia, Metafísica. Rio de Janeiro: AGIR.

Reale, G., & Antiseri, D. (2007). História da filosofia: filosofia pagã antiga. Vol. 2. São Paulo: Paulus.

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