An epistemological or ontological teaching that makes extensive use of the notion of exemplar in explaining intelligent activity, both human and divine. An exemplar (Lat. exemplum, meaning a pattern or model) can be generally described as that in imitation of which something is made (or done) by an agent who himself determines the goal of his activity, i.e., an intelligent agent. According to this description, exemplar refers not only to a pattern or idea according to which a work is made— its usual meaning in philosophy—but also to a model for human action, as when Christ is spoken of as the Divine Exemplar. In any case, an exemplar is something whose likeness an intelligent agent seeks to realize as best he can, either in his action or in his work. Indeed it is a measure in the light of which he works to achieve a determinate effect. As such it exerts its own special type of causality (see exemplary causality).
The historical importance of this notion lies in the fact that it has figured prominently in theories of ultimate reality proposed by such noted minds as Plato, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, to mention but a few. For the Christian theologian it holds special significance because of its association with the doctrine of the Word, "in Whom all created things take their being" (Col 1.16). This article, however, treats the subject philosophically and is not directly concerned with its theological applications (see exemplarity of god). Its purpose is to trace the main historical development of exemplarism among the philosophers of the West, paying special attention to the doctrine of divine exemplarism found in Augustine and Aquinas. A brief report on the status of that doctrine in modern philosophy is also included, and, where appropriate, some indication given of its possible significance for the individual human person.
Platonic Exemplarism. Among the ancients plato is the first to propose a theory of forms or ideas as causes of sensible reality. Rejecting the position of his predecessors that the material universe can be adequately explained in terms of one or more material principles moving about by chance, he proposed instead that the essential distinction and order in things is the result of mind. In the Timaeus he holds that the demiurge, being good and wishing to communicate his goodness, fashioned the universe after an ideal pattern (29A). Again, in the Laws he maintains that the ruler of the universe has ordered all things with a view to the excellence and preservation of the whole (903B). Thus, according to Plato, the universe has been made and is ruled by an all-powerful and good being who acts in light of a preconceived end.
Subsistent Archetypes. While it would be logical to assume that the universe's plan is in the mind of its ruler and maker, there is good reason to believe that Plato regarded the world's pattern to have its own existence apart from the mind of the demiurge (cf. Tim. 28A). This is almost certainly the case with regard to the archetypes of the various classes of sensible reality. In the Timaeus, for instance, the statement is made that sensible changing things are "likenesses of real existences modelled after their patterns in a wonderful and inexplicable manner" (50). The "real existences" to which Plato refers are abstracted class concepts that he hypostatized and regarded as co-causes with material elements in the original production of things.
Strictly speaking, then, Plato's demiurge is not a creator, but is conceived as a human maker with the existence of matter (and forms) definitely assumed. Nor, ironically, can it be said that the forms are true exemplars, since they exist apart from the intentional order. In other words, a sensible substance's archetype would have to be that substance's idea existing in the mind of its maker. Still, it is to Plato's credit that he was the first philosopher to recognize that the universe manifests an intelligent plan, thereby revealing the wisdom and goodness of its maker.
Aristotle's Reaction. As generally known, aristotle, Plato's long-time disciple and friend, found it necessary to repudiate his teacher's doctrine of ideas. According to the Stagirite, the ideas are not needed to explain sensible being and becoming, and furthermore, positing their existence leads to many absurd consequences (cf. Meta. 991a 8-b 9). On his part, however, he was unable to pursue the sound suggestion of participation contained in Plato's doctrine. Consequently, for want of a doctrine of creation, exemplarism does not figure prominently in his thought, and despite his expressed approval of the view that the universe is ruled by mind, one finds no evidence in Aristotle's writings that he consistently regarded this ruler as governing according to a preconceived plan. Indeed, as more than one Aristotelian scholar has noted, Aristotle's conception of God precludes Him from knowing any being except Himself.
Augustine's Divine Exemplars. With the advent of Christianity, a doctrine of creation enters the mainstream of Western European philosophy, and with it a doctrine of divine exemplarism. St. augustine, though sympathetic to much in Plato, as a Christian had to reject the latter's doctrine of ideas, at least in its original form. Thus, according to Augustine, the archetypes of things are not, as Plato had erroneously thought, realities subsisting apart from the divine mind (Divers. quaest. 83.46.1–2). Nor are they contained in some intellect distinct from the First Principle, as plotinus had maintained. Consequently, while he admired the Plotinian doctrine of the Nous in view of its close resemblance to the Christian doctrine of the Word, Augustine could not accept the emanation theory underlying it, according to which the universe proceeded by necessity from the One via the Nous and World Soul.
In the Christian view of creation, the universe was made directly by God in light of a plan that He had freely determined upon. Moreover, for Augustine, the ideas of all created things are contained in the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, who is the same in substance with the Father. As to how one can in any sense acknowledge a plurality of Ideas in the divine intellect without at the same time compromising the divine simplicity, Augustine left no answer. Lacking an existential doctrine of participation, he was unable to root the divine ideas in the divine essence as imitable (Civ. 11.29). Finally, inasmuch as all things are made through Him, there can be nothing that is essentially evil—a point worth noting since Augustine, while a Manichean, had held an opposite position.
Exemplarity in Aquinas. While Augustine had relied primarily on his Christian faith to form his views on creation and exemplarism, St. thomas aquinas, though doubtlessly influenced by revelation, arrived at many of the same truths philosophically. His unique existential approach to reality enabled him to establish quite readily, by reason alone, the existence of an Absolute Being who is at once the ultimate efficient, exemplary, and final cause of all of finite reality. This provided a rational foundation for his Judeo-Christian belief in God as the Self-Existing Being ("I am Who am") and Creator and Lord of the universe.
Doctrine of Creation. In his philosophy of creation, Aquinas sharply opposed both his Greek and Arabian predecessors, all of whom had viewed the universe as necessarily eternal. Although of the opinion that the universe's beginning in time is a truth entirely de fide, he also insisted, strictly on metaphysical grounds, that it would always require to be created, and freely (Summa theologiae 1a, 46.1). On this last point, St. Thomas took particular issue with the Arabian philosopher, avicenna, who taught that the universe proceeded from a plurality of causes by way of a necessary emanation beginning from God, the absolutely simple Being. Aquinas rejected such a theory of the universe's origin for several reasons:(1) It maintained that creatures can create; (2) it reduced God to the finite level by having a creature proceed from Him by natural necessity; and (3), of most concern here, it denied the role of divine wisdom in creation, since, according to this account, the distinction and order found in things proceeds not from the intention of a first agent, but from the accidental convergence of many causes, which is to say from chance (De pot. 3.16).
In Aquinas's view, the multitude and distinction of things making up the order of the universe must be traced to the intellect of the first agent, God. For God, who alone is responsible for the original production of things (since only a being in act by its whole substance can produce the whole substance of another being—ibid. 3.4) has brought things into existence with a very definite purpose in mind. This purpose could only be to reflect His goodness. And inasmuch as that goodness is more adequately represented by a multitude of beings than it would be by any one creature alone, divine wisdom itself is responsible for the multitude and distinction of created things (Summa theologiae 1a, 47.2).
Multitude and Simplicity. In answer to the question posed by Neoplatonists as to how multitude and distinction can arise from an absolutely simple Being, St. Thomas had the following reply. God, in creating, does not act through any natural necessity but through His own intellect and will (De pot. 3.16 ad 5). Now in knowing His own essence perfectly, God knows it not only as it is in itself, but also as it can be participated in by creatures according to some degree of likeness. Consequently, in the ery act whereby He knows Himself, God also knows the proper type of each and every thing He would and could create. It is in this manner, therefore, that the divine intellect can be said to contain many ideas without detriment, however, to the divine simplicity (ST 1a, 15.2).
St. bonaventure, although not employing the notion of participation in his solution to this problem, would appear to be saying basically the same thing as Aquinas when he argues that the divine essence, since it is outside any genus, can be the likeness of each and every creature. (In 1 sent. 35.1.2 ad 2). For Aquinas, the divine essence is itself the exemplary cause of all finite reality, insofar as it is understood by God, with the proportion that each creature to be produced has to it (De ver. 3.2).
Participation of Existence. As just seen, St. Thomas, like Augustine before him, corrects Plato's theory of ideas by making the divine essence the supreme archetype in light of which each finite being is made and of which it can be said to participate according to some degree of likeness. In a word, the Platonic ideas are rejected in favor of the one Being to whom alone existence is proper. Since such a Being is the fullness of existence, all other beings participate (by way of likeness) in His infinite existence by receiving their existence from Him (C. gent. 1.75). Hence, while Aquinas borrowed the notion of participation from Plato, he adapted it to meet the demands of his own existential philosophy, within which context it comes to mean a participation in the perfection of existence rather than in some absolute class idea that alone is regarded to be fully real. Since the essence of the finite being is a certain potentiality for existence that receives its actual existence from God, it is originally a possible imitation of the divine essence in the intellect of God (ibid. 1.54).
Divine Knowledge. A doctrine of divine exemplarism is therefore employed by St. Thomas to explain the determinate nature that characterizes the existence of each finite being and upon which gradation in being is consequent. Such a doctrine also implies God's providence and eternal law, for existence is conferred upon the creature in a determinate manner so that it can realize in its completed state the measure of the divine goodness for which it has been made. Furthermore, for Aquinas, even matter, although having no actual existence of its own, participates in some way in existence and therefore finds its prototype in God, but as part of the idea of the composite (De pot. 3.1 ad 12). Consequently, God's archetypal knowledge includes a knowledge of things, not only according to their specific or class nature, which is consequent upon form, but also according to their very individuation, which is consequent upon matter (ST 1a, 14.11; De ver. 2.5).
On this particular question Aquinas opposed by anticipation the opinion of william of ockham that seemingly denies to God archetypal knowledge of the various classes of things (for, according to Ockham, only the individual is real), as well as the views of certain ancient Greek philosophers and their followers who denied to God any knowledge of singulars. The importance of St. Thomas's position for the individual human person cannot be overemphasized, since it holds that each individual reality, oneself included, is known and loved by God as a reflection of Himself. As regards evil, since it is a privation of being, it bears no likeness to the divine essence and, consequently, has no exemplary idea in God, even though it is known by God as a certain absence of His goodness in the creature (De ver. 3.4).
Ontological Truth. St. Thomas's doctrine of exemplarism also contributes to a better understanding of the truth of being. Since the finite being is said to receive its existence from God, its truth is to be seen in its necessary conformity to the divine intellect. Hence, independent of their conformity to the human intellect, all things are essentially true by virtue of their necessary conformity with their proper mental types in the divine mind (ibid. 1.4). As Truth Itself, God is necessarily the ultimate source of the truth or intelligibility of every finite being. Thus is He said to be "the Light of the World," for it is according to an idea of Himself as imitable that all things are made and in Him that all creatures find their truth and ultimate meaning. In theological terms the end of creation is therefore to be seen in the glorification of the God-Man, since "through Him and for Him all things were made" (Col 1.17). In St. Thomas's doctrine of the truth of being there is no room for the relativism so typical of contemporary thought.
Modern Philosophy. With the emergence of the modern period of Western European philosophy, the doctrine of exemplarism all but totally disappears. True, among the moderns one finds both René descartes and G. W. leibniz accepting the Christian doctrine of creation, but little provision is made for it in their respective theories of reality. Thus, the proofs they generally advance for God's existence do not proceed from the fact of contingent existence, but from the concept of the perfect being.
Descartes. As regards exemplarism, Descartes maintained, in the voluntarist tradition, that the essences of things and their intrinsic possibility are contingent upon the divine will. Therefore, man's essence, for example, instead of being from all eternity a possible imitation of the divine essence in the divine intellect, is the product of divine decree, for, if God had so willed it, man could have been something other than a rational animal. Such theory places the divine will beyond the law of contradiction, and in so doing, undermines the possibility of knowing God analogically. In his mechanistic explanation of the physical universe Descartes also dispensed with the need for divine concurrence and providence.
Leibniz. On the other hand, Leibniz's theory concerning the order of possibles—an order that he regarded as eternal in its own right—went to the opposite extreme of Descartes's position, making the divine will in some way subject to that order. In other words, he also failed to see that the intrinsic possibility of things is rooted in the divine essence as imitable. What is more, his intellectual determinism, according to which one must always choose the greater good, led him to deny of God liberty of specification with respect to His effects. Thus, having willed to create, God must create the best of all possible worlds. Leibniz's error here obviously consisted in not recognizing that the divine goodness is in no way bound to any created order of things, that it can be manifested in some degree in any universe God freely should choose to create.
Other Moderns. B. spinoza completely rejected the idea of a free creation, regarding all finite beings as modes of God's infinite substance.
A current of thought quite different from the ratio-nalism of descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz developed within the British empirical school, whose most notable representatives are T. hobbes, J. locke, and D. hume (see empiricism). This school characteristically denied to the intellect any object in reality distinct from that of sense, thereby giving rise to positivism. Since their theories of knowledge restricted the human mind to the order of sense appearances, thus challenging the very possibility of metaphysics, none of the empiricists can be found supporting a doctrine of ideas.
Nor did this doctrine fare any better with modern idealism, which originates from Immanuel kant. In the idealistic stream of thought, no sharp distinction is drawn between the world and absolute mind, the result usually being some form of pantheism.
Contemporary Schools. Finally, as regards the status of exemplarism in contemporary philosophy, it need only be noted that a doctrine maintaining the world to be a reflection of God's infinite goodness and beauty can hardly find fertile soil in the current schools of philosophy, all of which question the very possibility of proving God's existence and generally equate reality with the world of change.
See Also. emanationism; neoplatonism.
Bibliography: e. h. gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine (New York 1960). f. c. copleston, History of Philopsophy (Westminster, Md. 1946–) 2:71–73, 258–270. j. d. collins, History of Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee 1954). h. pinard, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 1903—50) 3.2:2150–63. g. faggin, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome 1957) 2:47.
[t. j. kondoleon]
"Exemplarism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/exemplarism
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