Are There Many Ideas?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’re discussing the doctrine of God right now and our guide is being the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. If you do not have a copy, you can read one for free at and I encourage you to do so. We’re covering the topic of ideas right now and tonight we’re going to ask if there are many ideas.

Ideas are essentially forms as we said. A form is what makes a thing what it is. Last night, we did state that there are forms. Plato had just misplaced them. The forms were in the objects themselves for Aristotle and for Aquinas, they are also ideas in the mind of God.

But then we have a problem. If his ideas are his essence, then is he not many instead of being simple? If he is not simple, then it would seem that we have a problem with our system. On the other hand, if there is but one idea, then it would seem there cannot be many things, but we know that there are many things. How do we deal with this?

However, the answer to this is really quite simple. We have already said that God’s knowledge is his being and in himself, he understands all things that can be and all the ways that they can be. If we will ponder on this then, we will find the solution to the problem.

Aquinas asks us to picture a builder and the builder has in his mind the idea of a house. However, in order to understand the house, he also has to understand all the parts that make up the house. There are many facets of the one idea that he understands.

In the same way, in understanding himself and all the ways being can be as he is being, God thus knows all the forms. These forms of course are not something external to him that he learns about. God does not learn about anything through a likeness. God cannot be informed by anything outside of himself. You will never tell God anything that he does not know.

Also, the forms are not that by which he understands but that which he understands. God does not understand catness by seeing the likeness of cats. He understands cats because he knows that that is a way of being and thus, he can have understanding of it.

Our conclusion today is that there are many forms and this does not present a problem for the doctrines of Thomism. Our benefit today is that we must recognize that there are tough problems for every system of thought, but the best thinkers are those who know the problems and are able to deal with them. We should be just as diligent in our studies today. I have said before that if you are to argue for one side, you had better understand the opponent’s side well enough that you can argue for it as well. Let’s be faithful in learning arguments today.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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