Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Anselm K. Min

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Ingolf U. Dalferth

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Stephen T. Davis

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Bruce J Paolozzi


Five Ways, Medieval Metaphysics, Natural Theology, Philosophy of Religion, Theistic Proofs, Thomas Aquinas

Subject Categories

Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


There is some question about how to understand Thomas Aquinas’s five ways of demonstrating that God exists. Often philosophers and theologians portray Thomas as a strict Aristotelian rationalist with a strong emphasis on syllogistic epistemology. Against this view a competing existential, metaphysical, and theological understanding of the five ways has been gradually gaining ground, beginning in the early 20th century, due to the work of existential Thomists such as Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, and Joseph Owen. This understanding has been expanded more recently in the work of John Wippel and others. The rise of the existential view has led to the question of whether Thomas meant for the five ways to be strict epistemic proofs or whether they are instead a way to talk about God that presumes faith and metaphysics. This dissertation will present the five ways within a full range of contextual issues. These include epistemic, metaphysical, theological, historical, anthropological, and literary contexts. When all contexts are taken into account, the conclusion is that the ways are primarily metaphysical-theological yet they produce epistemic scientia resulting in knowledge that God exists. The five ways are primarily examples of how to properly talk about God in light of revelation, metaphysics, and the proper mode of the human knower, yet also syllogistic demonstrations that God exists. Such an understanding holds the potential to answer some of the arguments of the critics of the five ways, such as Anthony Kenny. Thomas shows himself to be thoroughly grounded in both faith and reason in such a way that there is a healthy balance between them that does proper justice to both faith and reason. The significance of this dissertation comes in two places. The first is the weaving together of a wide range of contextual interpretive factors that are not usually applied specifically and explicitly to the five ways in one unified work. The second is in the unification of the epistemic and theological interpretations of the ways, under a synthesis that accounts for both manners of interpreting the five ways.