The Prime-Mover

prime mover

The 'unmoved mover' or 'prime mover' is a philosophical argument that Aristotle used to explain the root cause of all motion in the universe. Aristotle's argument for the prime mover can be summarized as follows:

  1. Motion can be seen to exist in the universe.
  2. Things that move require a cause
  3. However, this logic leads to an infinite chain of causes.
  4. Alternatively, there must be an initial unmoving cause.
  5. This cause is the prime mover.

However, this logic also leads to a more profound examination of the universe, in terms of both its physical and metaphysical structure. As this is potentially a huge subject, the main focus has been on Aristotle, although his ideas built on those of earlier Greek philosophers from about 600BCE, but his ideas went on to endure for over 2000 years. Aristotle's views are based on the concept that everything in nature is made of `substance`, which has the attribute of `matter` and `form`. For example, a statue is made of matter, but its form defines its structure. The matter of the statue, e.g. marble, is a combination of 'prime matter` comprising the four basic elements, i.e. earth, air, water and fire, which are types of matter without form. However, this raises the possibly more profound question:

Can form exist without matter?

Lets consider just a selected number of interpretations that may have eventually led to different worldviews:

  • One interpretation is that form without matter is linked to the concept of the prime mover. Within this concept, the prime mover is pure form or substance without matter, which has no motion of its own, but sets everything else into motion and connects everything to a divine source.

  • Another perspective is that music and mathematics are both structural forms without material substance. In fact, Plato believed that mathematical forms were part of a separate metaphysical universe, which exists independently of the material universe of matter.

  • From yet another perspective, matter could be described as a form of energy. Within this concept, form is the structure of energy-matter and therefore `form` represents the information required by that structure. Within this definition, substance is the combination of both energy and information.

It could be said that these interpretations are in some ways representative of our three fundamental worldviews, i.e. theology, philosophy and science. As such, they are also illustrative of the distinction between them. On one hand we have a theological interpretation, which starts to address `why` the universe is like it is, while another, the scientific interpretation, appears more focused on explaining `how` the universe is like it is. In a sense, it can be argued that philosophy and science are in some ways more constrained by rationalism and empirical experience to only explain how the universe works, not why.

However, it needs to be highlighted that the concept of the Prime Mover does not support the notion of a personal God who loves and helps humanity. In fact, by definition, the Prime Mover is unchanging with only its effects being predictable. As such, the Prime Mover is impersonal and not involved in human affairs. If we are truthful with ourselves, we can recognize that this definition of God was possibly too intellectually abstract to be generally accepted by people of the time going about their everyday lives, although this might still hold true today.