Home About International University Project Conferences Courses Lectures Projects Publications Readings Contribute Contact      

home \ mcinerny center for thomistic studies \ program in philosophical studies \ philosophy, the beginning: 1st class \ naturalistic period and the concept of becoming

McInerny Center Home


Chair in Public Philosophy

Annual McInerny Banquet

Program in Philosophical Studies


Obiter Dicta


In The Press

McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies

from F. Di Blasi, “Person or Digital Self? An Argument against AI Theories”




Naturalistic Period and the Concept of Becoming




Fulvio Di Blasi





Philosophy was born in Greece as philosophy of nature when some brilliant thinkers of the seventh century before Christ began to search for a principle of intelligible unity in the variety of physical phenomena. These thinkers realized that no change, or becoming, could ever happen without the simultaneous presence of something that does not change and become. It was a logical insight: if something moves from position A to position B—or from moment A to moment B; or from situation A to situation B—that something, as the subject of the movement, should necessarily be the same thing in both positions A and B; and the movement should be accidental to it. Every movement, in other words, is always predicated of the same subject.




If we want to logically talk about “change” in case of substantial movement, for example the death of a man, we have to predicate “change” either of the soul (which from existing with the body begins to exist separately) or of the matter (which used to compose the body and now is decomposing into something else). The concept opposite to “change” is “creation.” In case of creation there are indeed different subjects in the two moments A and B; but, in point of fact, talking now about two different moments is logically incorrect because two moments must necessarily belong to the same unity. It is for this reason that Thomas Aquinas vigorously stated that creation is not a movement, because there is absolutely nothing before creation: nothing that can change, nothing that can remain the same, nothing that can pass from moment A to moment B. [1]

By observing movements in a natural world in which it seems that every-thing can change into every-thing else, pre-Socratic philosophers began to wonder about the first subject of those movements, or, that is the same, about their substratum or cause: They started to look for the principle of unity that, by always remaining the same, makes all changes possible. Their insights soon moved forward, from the idea of a simple material principle to a principle that is also efficient, formal and final. In fact, the efficient cause too must transcend the single movement, as the efficient cause is the cause that leads A to B, and that consequently can be limited to neither. The form, or nature, must transcend each movement as well; otherwise there would be no proportion between A and B, and everything could become everything else without continuity: from the human baby to the adult horse, etc. The same transcendence, finally, must hold for the end, understood as the conclusion of the movement determined by—or already inscribed in—the form of the subject: so, ‘being adult’ must be already present in the baby’s nature as the termination of the movement. [2]

The insight on the existence of an intelligible unity behind the diversity and plurality of changes was certainly easier in the case of purely physical phenomena than of human phenomena, in which freedom comes into play. In a sense, it was normal for philosophy to start as philosophy of nature. For moral philosophy to start, we had to wait until Socrates, in the fifth century before Christ. [3]  


[1] Aquinas, Summa Theologiae [hereafter ST], I, q. 45, a. 1-5. Translations are by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger, 1947).

[2] See Aristotle, Metaphysics, book 1.

[3] See G. Reale, A History of Ancient Philosophy, vol. 1 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), pp.137-8. [The English translation of this history of philosophy, unfortunately, is not very reliable.]



1st Class

2nd Class

3rd Class

4th Class

5th Class

First course

Second course

Third course

Fourth course

Fifth course

Sixth course