We consider here Aquinas’s proposed first objection to the idea that humans naturally possess external things. His objection comes from the fact that if everything belongs to God, how can humans take possession?
This is the continuation of my discussion of Aquinas on private property rights. ST II-II, 66, 1
The Full Text
Prologue / Beginning
Objection 1 (current post)
Aquinas’s Answer, Part I
Aquinas’s Answer, Part II. Aquinas, Aristotle and the Naturalness of Sustenance
Reply to Objections
Aquinas just posed the question, “Whether it is natural for man to possess external things?” He now raises an objection to the question, which he will refute.
Objection 1: It would seem that it is not natural for man to possess external things. For no man should ascribe to himself that which is God’s. Now the dominion over all creatures is proper to God, according to Ps. 23:1, “The earth is the Lord’s,” etc. Therefore it is not natural for man to possess external things.
Before Aquinas suggests that the possession of external things is natural, he begins by considering a series of objections. This approach is his standard style of arguing throughout Summa Theologiae. First, he poses a question to which the answer is “yes.” And then before explaining why the answer is “yes,” he considers the objections that would suggest the answer is “no.” That is what he is doing here.
In this case, the first objection comes from Scripture itself. “How,” he asks, “can it natural for men to possess things if everything belongs to God?” After all, Psalm 23:1 which alludes to the Creation says that “The earth is the Lord’s.” (In some Psalters, this quote comes from Psalm 24, if you are looking for it.) The full verse reads: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.”
The Psalm suggests that the earth and its fullness “is” God’s because he established and created everything. The question that naturally arises then is this: If everything belongs to God, how can humans possess things from it? Wouldn’t doing so be taking or stealing from God? On what authority may they do so?
Aquinas will answer this question below and show how it is possible for everything to belong to God but still be appropriated or possessed by human beings. He must offer a framework that shows how both can be true, if he is to assert that it is natural for humans to possess external things.