Thursday, April 21, 2016

St. Anselm on 'Facere' and Making Someone Dead

Today is the feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury. A bit of something from Anselm's philosophical fragments (I use Jasper Hopkins's translation).

Let us now understand doing (causing) in terms of a classification. Since a doing (causing) is always either in relation to being or in relation to not-being, (as has been said), we will be obliged to add “to be” or “not to be” to the distinct modes of doing (causing) in order for them to be clearly distinguished.

The Latin for 'doing/causing' here is facere, which means, 'making something so'; as Anselm notes, we can substitute it for any verb, even paradoxically one that means making something not to be so. We'll just look at what can be meant when we talk about making something to be such-and-such.

Accordingly, we speak in six modes about causing [to be]: in two modes when a cause (A.1) causes to be, or (A.2) does not cause not to be, that very thing which it is said to cause [to be]; and in four modes when it (A.3 - A.6) either does or does not cause something else to be or not to be. For, indeed, we say of any given thing “It causes something to be” either because it (1) causes-to-be the very thing which it is said to cause [to be], or because it (2) does not cause this very thing not to be, or because it (3) causes something else to be, or because it (4) does not cause something else to be, or because it (5) causes something else not to be, or because it (6) does not cause something else not to be.

He gives examples, which we can go through; I'll call the people in question John and Bob.

(1) John makes Bob dead (directly)

When someone who kills a man with a sword is said to cause him to be dead, [it is said] in the first mode. For he directly (per se) causes the very thing which he is said to cause.

Thus, if I say, "John makes it so that Bob is dead", I can mean that John actually kills Bob (his action in and of itself makes Bob dead).

(2) (2) John does not make Bob not to be dead (directly)

If I say, "John makes it so that Bob is dead", I could also mean that Bob is dead, and John is able to make him not-dead, but is not doing so.

(3) John makes Bob dead (by making something else make him dead)

If I say, "John makes it so that Bob is dead", I could also mean that John arranged it so that something else would make Bob die -- for instance, by hiring an assassin.

(4) John makes Bob dead (by not making something else make him not dead)

Anselm's examples are if John made it so that Bob is dead by not giving Bob a weapon to defend himself when someone was attacking him, or by not stopping the killer from killing Bob.

(5) John makes Bob dead (by making something else not make him not dead)

In (4), John made Bob to be dead by not giving him a weapon to defend himself; in (5), John might make Bob to be dead by removing his weapon so he can't defend himself.

(6) John does not make Bob not to be dead (by not making something else not make him dead)

It accords with the sixth mode when the one who did not cause the killer not to be armed, by removing his weapons, is accused of having killed the victim—or when the man who did not lead the intended victim away so that he would not be in the presence of the killer is so accused. These individuals too did not kill directly. Rather, they killed indirectly—viz., by not causing something else not to be.

So here John makes Bob to be dead by not making the thing that killed Bob not to be.

As he sums up:

Now, in the five modes after the first mode efficient causes do not cause what they are said to cause. Nevertheless— since the second mode does not cause not to be what the first mode causes to be, and since the third mode causes something else to be, and the fourth mode causes something else not to be, and the fifth mode does not cause something else to be, and the sixth mode does not cause something else not to be—efficient causes are said to cause what the first mode causes (as I have exemplified in every mode).

One could imagine a mystery novel built around these ways of making someone dead.

Anselm goes on to note that the same classification applies if we are talking about causing something not to exist -- after all, if John makes Bob to be dead, that's the same as making him not alive. Likewise, not causing something to be works in a similar way, since if John makes Bob to be dead, he does not make him to continue living, so, although the examples are less obvious, we could talk about ineffective causes of death in just the same way we talked above about effective ones. In fact, we have four sets of six:

making Bob to be dead
not making Bob not to be dead
making Bob not to be alive
not making Bob to be alive

The reason is the paradox noted above: facere (like doing in English) can substitute for any verb, including those that mean not doing something.


For those interested in modal logic, Sara Uckelman has an interesting paper on what agentive logic would fit Anselm's discussion of facere best.

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