The Henological Argument Explained

In the Henological Argument, or Argument from Degree, we reason from multiplicity to unity; from goodness, truth, and reality in the various forms in which experience makes them known to us, to a Being who is the Good, the True, the Real. Its scope is to demonstrate that the limited and partial manifestations of these perfections compel us to admit the existence of a Being in whom they find their complete realization, and that multiplicity and imperfection are wholly inexplicable apart from unity and perfection; and finally that the One and Perfect is, in fact, a Personal God. To understand the argument it is essential first to examine certain special characteristics of the perfections we're discussing here. That is, reality, goodness, truth, and unity. Other attributes express either the substantial nature of the subject, or some quantity, quality or relation, etc., belonging to it. But the perfections of we're discussing are applied in all the categories equally, nor is the application confined to any special part, be it genus or differentia of the nature. There is no nature and no part of any nature of which they may not be predicated. The animality and the rationality of Socrates are both real, and so are his qualities, his quantity, etc. In the same way goodness may be predicated of all these. Manhood is a good thing: so is strength: so too the size due to a human body, as well as all the relation of paternity. Again, one and all these things are capable of becoming the object of intellectual knowledge. They are therefore true. Scholastic philosophy refers to these attributes as Transcendentals, inasmuch as they transcend the limits which restrict all other perfections to one or other of the great divisions of being.

Kant gave the word transcendental a new sense, entirely unconnected with its traditional significance, and since his time his use of the word has been adopted by all philosophical writers, except those who adhere to the Scholastic system. The transcendental character of these attributes carries with it two very important consequences. The first is that they don't signify any limitation or imperfection. An attribute, which of its essential nature is restricted to a particular mode of being, be it substance, or quality, or quantity, inevitably involves imperfection, because in virtue of this restriction it is essentially finite. But when an attribute doesn't imply any of the divisions of being, but transcends the limits which they impose, there is no reason why such a perfection shouldn't be found in the Infinite Being Himself—why it shouldn't be predicable of God as well as of man. The second consequence is closely connected with the first. It is that these terms are twofold: analogous terms, and unambiguous terms. A generic or specific attribute is always unambiguous. It has the same significance in all the subjects of which it is predicated, and the notion which it expresses is always identically the same. Thus the word "animal" denotes precisely the same characteristics, whether it is used to refer to a man or a bear. The differences of the two classes, however fundamental, don't come under consideration. Similarly "spatial extension" always has the same meaning-the notion of extension as such prescinding from the question whether the extension be of one or two or three dimensions. It is different with regard to analogous terms. The notions which these signify aren't identically, but proportionally the same. The goodness of a man isn't identical with the goodness of a horse, nor can the two kinds of goodness be expressed by a concept which remains the same as applied to each of them. Yet there is a proportionate resemblance in the two cases. A good man and a good horse are each understood to have that which constitutes the perfection of their respective natures. In the one case the requisite qualities are moral, while in the other physical. Here we see how it is that the transcendental perfections can be affirmed of God. When from the goodness of the creature we deduce the goodness of the Creator, we don't imply that the goodness is in all respects the same in the two cases. There is always analogy when we pass from the finite to the Infinite. Being or reality, goodness, truth, and unity, are found in God, not in the same manner, but in an infinitely higher manner than they're found in the creature.

The Argument
1. There exist greater and lesser degrees of goodness, truth, nobility, etc.
2. Greater or lesser are terms speaking of things as they approach in various ways the greatest. For example, as hot advances toward the greatest heat.
3. There exists, therefore, something that is the greatest goodness, truth, nobility, etc.
4. What is the greatest of any of these is the cause of its own kind. For example, fire, the greatest heat, is the cause of all that is hot.
5. Therefore, there exists an absolute (or greatest) goodness, truth, nobility, etc.

When one and the same perfection is found in different beings, it is impossible that they would possess it independently. All must have received it from one and the same source. And if the perfection in question is one, the idea of which connotes no imperfection, the source from which it is received is none other than the perfection itself, subsisting as an independent being. Now the things of our experience possess in common the perfections of being or reality, of goodness, of truth, and of unity, and these are perfections that involve no idea of imperfection. Hence we must admit the existence of the Real, the Good, the True, the One. Furthermore, it may be demonstrated that these aren't distinct from each other, but are one supreme and infinite Being. It should be clear that each of the two assertions which form the major premises of this argument demand proof. Neither is immediately evident. On what grounds, then, is it declared that when the same attribute is found in a plurality of individuals, it is impossible that it belongs to each of them in its own right and in virtue of its being the particular thing which it is; that even if there is only two such entities, either the one must have received the perfection from the other, or both must owe it to a cause belonging to a higher order; that the explanation of the many must necessarily be sought in the One?

This actually follows as a certain conclusion from a metaphysical principle that I've already employed, that wherever we have a union of diverse elements, that union postulates the action of a cause. When I previously appealed to this principle, we were dealing with the case of the combination of different elements in a concrete thing. Here we are concerned with another kind of union—that of separate individuals in a single class. It is undeniable that this is a true union of the diverse. The individuals who form a class of men, are in virtue of their individuality utterly distinct. Yet their common nature makes them specifically (not numerically) one, and a series of propositions can be framed regarding the abstract subject Man, which are verified of every individual in the class. We can't explain this unity apart from a common cause. We can't say that each member of the class is a man in virtue of his being himself, and because he is the individual that he is. Things are not united by the very thing through which they differ. The principle of diversity isn't, and can't be, the principle of unity. Individuality is the principle of diversity. It follows that the perfection held in common must have been received from another. And as diversity will never account for unity, we're driven back at last to a single cause to which that common perfection must be referred. It might seem that we are drawing dangerously near the Platonic theory of ideas. Plato, as we know, held that wherever material objects exhibit similar properties and thus form a class, we must refer the common effect to a single cause, the source and origin of the properties in question; and that we are thus compelled to admit that there exists a world of immaterial essences, the archetypes and causes of all sensible objects, but belonging to a higher and supersensible plane of being. The theory involves many impossibilities. It is sufficient here to note that, as Aristotle points out, there can be no such thing as an immaterial essence of a material nature. Matter is part and parcel of the essence of such things. An immaterial essence of a horse or of a tree, subsisting as an individual thing, is a sheer contradiction in terms. Such natures can exist apart from matter as concepts of the mind, but not in rerum natura (in the nature of things; existence). Yet the Platonic theory supposes that the archetypes, which are the causes of the things of sense, are subsistent entities. Our argument, on the other hand, doesn't involve us in this absurdity. It does conclude that when the same specific nature is found in many individuals, we must refer this similarity to a single cause. But we don't look for these causes in immaterial essences specifically the same as the material things themselves. We look for them in a series of archetypal ideas in the Divine mind. Transcendental perfections, however, stand on a different footing. Matter is no necessary part of their essence. 

"Being" or "goodness", considered in their essential nature, involve no limit, no imperfection. The concept of goodness as such expresses goodness in an infinite degree. If we desire to conceive a finite and restricted goodness we must ourselves introduce the note of limit. It is true that, as we have experience only of finite things, our knowledge of goodness is necessarily of a goodness that is limited. But this doesn't affect the significance of the term. For the transcendentals are analogous, and hence the terms expressing them signify the perfection, but don't connote the particular mode in which it is found in this or that subject. 

The Conclusion
From this we draw a our conclusion. The perfections of being, goodness and truth, as they are known to us in experience, must, as we have seen, be referred to a single cause of a higher order. Now, when we were considering material essences, we recognized that this immaterial higher cause couldn't be something of the same specific nature, since such a nature can only be found on the plane of material existence. The higher cause which confers a material perfection must be of an altogether different kind. It must somehow contain the perfection which it confers, or it couldn't give it. To put it in Scholastic terms, it contains it eminently and not formally. With regard to transcendental perfections the case is otherwise. Goodness and reality aren't perfections proper to a lower plane of being. Here there is no question of a cause that only contains the perfection which it gives, eminently. Goodness and reality will be found formally in the cause producing them. The cause of goodness will itself be good; the cause of reality will be real; though the mode in which these perfections belong to it will not be identical with, but analogous to, the same perfections as found in its effects. 

We can take this further. In the ultimate resort the cause must be the perfection itself as a subsistent entity. The cause of goodness won't be something that possesses goodness, but isn't identical with goodness. It must be subsistent Goodness. If it were otherwise, we would again be face to face with a thing composed of diverse elements, and be compelled to seek for the cause of the union. We would have to refer the goodness possessed by this thing to some higher cause which had conferred it, and thus we would at last be driven back to a cause identical with goodness. The same reasons hold good with regard to the other transcendentals. But goodness itself—absolute goodness—isn't goodness restricted to some particular mode. It is goodness in its fullness. In other words, infinite goodness. This may be established in more ways than one. In the first place we are ex hypothesi dealing with a goodness which has no cause higher than itself. But, as we have seen, wherever we find a limited perfection, that perfection involves the presence of two principles distinct from each other, the principle of perfection and the principle of limit. The entity is therefore composite, and is the result of causal efficiency. It necessarily follows that the goodness with which we are dealing knows no limits. And secondly, a restricted goodness wouldn't be goodness itself. It would merely be a subordinate division falling under the wider concept of goodness.

Our logical conclusion is that the Good, the Real, the True, and the One, are but one supreme Being, whom we know as God. Pure goodness, as we have seen, is absolutely simple and is uncaused. It is at the same time real. Therefore, it isn't merely uncaused goodness, but uncaused being. It doesn't possess being; but it is being. It is therefore infinite being as well as infinite goodness. So, too, in regard to truth. The True is an absolutely simple and uncaused perfection. Furthermore, like the Good, it is real, otherwise it would be nonentity. Therefore, it is also identical with uncaused and infinite being. And a precisely similar argument gives us the same conclusion regarding the other analogous perfections we mentioned: Unity, Intelligence, and Will. They're identical with each other, coalescing into one simple Being, in Whom no composition enters. This Infinite Being, Who is at the same time Infinite Intelligence, Infinite Will and Infinite Goodness, is manifestly what we signify by the word God.