Third Article of the First Question
1.3.1 On the Nature of Causation
Hume, in explaining his own account of causation as constant conjunction giving rise to a custom (T 1.3.14) claims that all causes are of the same kind, that "there is no foundation for that distinction, which we sometimes make betwixt efficient causes, and causes sine qua non; or betwixt efficient causes, and formal, and material, and exemplary, and final causes." Thus it is worth our time to consider why some of these distinctions came to be, and why they are not really eliminable, especially the final cause, on which causation depends.
Aristotle first develops his account of cause (aitia) in the context of our knowledge of changing things. We take ourselves to know something properly when we can identify why it is, or what is responsible to it. This responsible factor why something is, is a cause. On the basis of what is required for change, Aristotle identifies four distinct but interrelated kinds of cause, which we often call (following the Latin), the material cause, the formal cause, the moving cause, and the final cause. It is sometimes said that the English word 'cause' does not cover everything that Aristotle regarded as a cause; but this is false, since you can easily find cases of people saying the cause of some change is the material, or the nature or shape, or the goal, as well as the source of it. Thus, despite the finickiness of some, 'cause' is still a perfectly fine word for what Aristotle describes. Every change requires something to be different and something to be the same. What is the same in the change, which Aristotle calls "that out of which a thing comes to be and which persists" (Physics II.3 194b), is what is usually called the material cause or matter (hyle); his examples are the bronze of a statue, the silver of a cup, and more generally the genera of these (like metal). When we make a statue out of bronze or a cup out of silver, the metal must in some way endure through the change for it to be an actual change rather than just a difference. What differs in the change is form (morphe) and privation. (Privation is not something of itself but simply lack of form.) This Aristotle calls the definition or archetype, which captures the essence, what a thing is. A change is a change to the extent that what a thing is, is different due to the change. So, for instance, numerical proportions are the form of music. In addition there must be a "primary source of the change or coming to rest", which came to be called the moving cause. It is what 'does' the change, whatever it might be; for instance, the skill of the medical doctor in the treatment. Further, there must be an end (telos) or "that for the sake of which", as when one walks in order to be healthy or one uses a particular medicine for a medical treatment. Later philosophers extended and generalized Aristotle's accounts of the four.
If change is the act of the potential insofar as it is potential, in the change itself that which is actual we call the form and that which is potential we call the matter or material. This gives us the first two causes:
(1) The formal cause is, in the broadest sense, the actuality determining and specifying something. It is, so to speak, the shape of a thing's being. The form proper is what the thing itself is; this is often called the 'intrinsic form'. It is the active element for being. However, there are 'extrinsic forms' as well, that is, things outside what a thing itself is that nonetheless can be said to determine and specify it. An extrinsic form that determines and specifies the actual being of something is called an exemplar cause or exemplar. An extrinsic form that determines and specifies an action of something is called an objective cause or object. There are other things that can be classified as formal causes. For instance, some people have proposed that there are seminal reasons or particular formative powers in the world, active and passive powers that, like seeds, structure, or as we might say, provide information for, further development; as Augustine says (DT 3.8), Of all the things which are generated in a corporeal and visible fashion, certain seeds lie hidden in the corporeal things of the world. If there are such seminal reasons, they would be formal causes of some kind, analogous to exemplar causes, although, depending on how they are conceived, they may also be efficient causes. Another example would be physical place insofar as it serves as a mold or template or container giving shape to a liquid.
(2) The material cause is, in the broadest sense, what is potential to some actual determination. All things that come to be, whether by nature or by art or (if you assume it possible) by chance, are (by the very fact that they come to be) capable both of being and of not being. The potential element that each thing has for being and not being is the material cause. Thus everything generated has some kind of material from which they come to be.
As with other causes, there are different ways to be a material cause. One common historical way of dividing material causes is in terms of the kind of change involved. In some kinds of change, a new substance is generated; in others, an accident or incidental attribute. What potentially is a substance is sometimes called the from-which material cause; what potentially is an accidental feature is sometimes called the in-which material cause. But in practice we are often not comparing such different kinds of changes and therefore do not need to be precise; and, too, sometimes we find it more convenient to call the in-which material cause something else -- subject, for instance.
In order to be fully consistent in speaking of matter or the material cause, the Aristotelians posited prime matter. Positing it can also simplify a number of discussions which would otherwise have to be discussed in much more complicated ways. There can be no infinite regress in material causes, so there must be something that is first in the order of material causes; the only options are that either this be something that is in some way purely a material cause (and therefore purely potential), or that the first material cause for some reason have a particular form as well. The latter is already somewhat perplexing; however, we can eliminate it by a sort of analogy: as matter is to form, generally, so a pure potentiality, or prime matter, is to this or that substance. Prime matter is not known simply in itself, since whatever is known is known through its form, but prime matter is the potential inherent in every generable and corruptible thing. It is potential for having substantial being at all.
The formal cause and the material cause are, due to Avicenna, often called intrinsic causes. In this they contrast with the next two causes, which are usually called extrinsic causes. However, these names are potentially misleading, since all four could be said to be 'intrinsic' in some way; in any change with the four causes, the four will be inseparably united. In change or composition, for instance, the formal cause and the material cause constitute the change or composition itself as the union of actual and potential; but as change is the act of the potential insofar as it is potential to some act, there must be a source of the act of the potential and some actual completeness to which the potential is ordered. The change or composition as a whole requires both.
(3) As previously noted, Aristotle identified a cause that was the source of the change; this is what came to be called the motive cause (or motor cause, or moving cause). However, Avicenna recognized that this could be generalized to include what would be not merely sources of change but sources of being, makers as well as movers, and it is from Avicenna's generalization of Aristotle that we get the category of efficient cause.* When understood in such a way that it includes motive causes, an efficient cause is a source of actuality, that by or from which something is actual; when the term is understood in contrast with the motive cause, an efficient cause is the source of actual being, while the motive cause is the source of incomplete actuality in a change.
As there are many ways something can be a source, there seem many ways a thing can be an efficient cause. If, however, we consider what is useful for explaining the changing things in the world around us, we find four kinds of ordinary and common efficient cause: (1) completing or perfecting: gives fulfillment to change; (2) disposing: renders the subject suitable for completion, as medicine disposes one in such a way that one's body can heal itself; (3) assisting: operates instrumentally to another, as a pen writing a poem; (4) advising; gives to the agent a supplement for acting, as an advisor proposing a plan. We thus find efficient causes in many ways in the world around us; in ourselves, in our communications, in our use of instruments, in our arts, in animals that make things, in physical and chemical interactions by which anything new is made to be. Some have doubted this, proposing instead phenomenalist accounts or occasionalist accounts of causes, in which none of these things are treated as any kind of real production; these will be considered elsewhere. Here I will only note that we clearly do have the concept of production, and that to understand either these phenomenalist accounts or occasionalist accounts always begins with productionist accounts and attempting to reinterpret them according to arbitrary and external principles. Nor can it at all be plausible to anyone that the painter in painting, the sculptor in sculpting, the experimenter in constructing an experiment, the geometer in diagramming, the novelist in writing, or indeed the beaver in dam-building, the bird in nest-gathering, the bee in honeycomb-forming, or even indeed the fire in vitrifying, the water and wind in eroding, the chemical reaction in forming products, are such that the source and the result are only related in the mind or are separate things linked only by something else entirely.
(4) The final cause, or end, is that to which or in terms of which something is disposed; as St Thomas says (SCG 3.2), In the case of things which obviously act for an end we call that toward which the inclination of the agent tends the end. In speaking of final causes, we sometimes mean the end itself as that to which things are disposed or the particular manner in which the disposition will actually be completed and the end achieved; likewise we sometimes use the term to mean the final cause properly speaking, that to which it tends, and sometimes by metonymy use it to mean the tendency that is the final causation, as when C. S. Peirce says ( "An Essay Toward Reasoning in Security and Uberty"**): "Now what is a 'final' cause? It is merely a tendency to produce some determinate kind of effect having some relation to the destiny of things." The final cause is the least obvious of the causes, but it is the most fundamental, and without it causation cannot properly be understood. There are many reasons why there must be final causes, and understanding the final cause increases our understanding of why the other four are necessary, as well, so it is worth considering this in more detail.
(4.1) Without the final cause you cannot have the other three. Efficient causes and final causes are complementary; that is to say, they are jointly responsible for the actions of either. If an acting thing did not incline toward some definite effect, all results would be a matter of indifference for it; but from something simply indifferent to alternatives no effect follows unless it is determined to its effect by something else.*** So every efficient cause tends toward something determinate, which is its end. As St Thomas says (In Met 5.2), An efficient cause is a cause inasmuch as it acts, and it acts only because of the final cause, and (ST 1.44.4), Every agent acts for an end, for otherwise one thing would not follow more than another from the action of an agent, unless by chance. Further, it is clear that when there is a capability for action, that capability cannot tend to any and every kind of action, but must have some determinate kind of action to which it tends. Since the action of an agent tends toward something determinate, however, this must be due to some determinate principle. Every agent in this sense does that to which it is disposed; and that toward which the action of the agent tends is what we call the final cause. If that action itself tends to some kind of product, we call the product an end or final cause of the efficient cause's tendency. If it does not, we call the action itself an end or final cause of the efficient cause's tendency. Either way an efficient cause must tend to some kind of end in its action.
We see this more clearly when we consider the fact that we can distinguish different kinds of efficient causes of something. Some efficient causes (disposing) ready a subject for undergoing a change; others (perfecting) complete the change. Some have their effects insofar as they cooperate with other causes, either as instrumental to other causes or as providing to those other causes something that makes it possible or easier for those causes to cause in a particular way. What makes the difference among these? It is that to which they are directed; the difference between the four is in their relation to the final causes in the overall situation. Likewise, we often talk about efficient causes necessitating their effects, but this is nothing other than to say that they are disposed to one and only one determinate effect; and this is simply to identify the determination as final causation.
The material cause is, as Aristotle says, that from which a thing comes to be; that is to say, it consists in potential for being and non-being, which is actualized by the form. But it follows from this that for something actually to be material cause, it must be ordered or disposed to form that it receives; thus, for the material cause as such, the formal cause is always an end.
The formal cause likewise requires the final cause. Form by being form inclines to actions of some kind, because everything actual acts and tends toward what is appropriate to its form. This inclination of form itself is not random or arbitrary but to some end. As St. Thomas says (SCG 3.2), Every inclination of an agent tends toward something definite. Further, in changing things, something becomes what it is to be to the extent that its form conforms with the end of the action changing it. This is even more true of extrinsic formal causes, like exemplars, objects, and signs, which specify other forms by virtue of some final cause.
Further, the end is necessary for the union of matter and form. As Aquinas says (ST 2-1.1.2), matter does not receive form save insofar as it is changed by something acting, for nothing draws itself from potentiality into actuality; but something acting does not change anything except out of disposition to an end. From the above considerations we can recognize that the nature of each thing is dependent on the end, for everything is either a pure form or a composition of matter and form, and both of these depend on the end.
Because the other three kinds of cause depend on the final cause for their causing, the final cause is often called the cause of causes. The final cause doesn't cause the doctor to be, but it is why the doctor causes as a doctor; namely, the doctor's actions are directed toward health, and health is the reason why the doctor acts. Therefore the final cause is the source for the causality of the efficient cause; it causes the efficient cause to be efficient cause. The same thing can be said for the material cause and thus formal cause. Hence St. Thomas says (PN 4, cf. In Phys 2.5, ST 2-1.1.2), it is the cause of the causality of all the causes. In general, we can say that all real possibilities, as opposed to purely logical possibilities or possibilities abstracted from what actually happens, depend on final causes, because they are what governs the possibilities for other causes.
(4.2) Change and composition, we have seen, may be accounted for in terms of potential being and actual being. However, this shows the need for final causes. Potential as potential is always potential to something actual in some way; thus all potentiality has an ordering or reference to an actuality that is its end. Every potential has some kind of actuality as its end.
(4.3) We recognize that some things in the world happen by chance. Besides being the common view, there are many reasons to think this true. One might be borrowed from C. S. Peirce (in "The Doctrine of Necessity Examined"**): When we attempt to verify something with a large degree of precision, we inevitably find that our observations deviate from that which the law or principle we are trying to verify would strictly require.** These are generally accounted errors of observation; let it be so, nonetheless, if you trace back why those errors happen, you are forced to admit that there is some actual arbitrariness that is not merely in the appearances. But chance is distinguished from non-chance by the final cause, and without reference to final causes, nothing can be said to be chance at all. The reason for this is that chance is known by contrast, as saying that something happens by chance is to say that it is such that it does not naturally tend to be, that it is not the natural tendency of the causes to bring that, specifically, about. As Lady Mary Shepherd says (ERCE, p. 126), "It is one of the most ordinary modes of reasoning that the generality of mankind possess; to consider invariability of recurrence as incapable of arising from chance", and even Hume uses this reasoning in arguing for one of the fundamental principles of his philosophical approach (T 1.1.1): "Such a constant conjunction, in such a infinite number of instances, can never arise from chance; but clearly proves a dependence of the impressions on the ideas, or of the idea on the impressions." As Shepherd notes, however, the fundamental sense of this kind of reasoning is that the invariable recurrence must have an "end in view" in at least some way. What happens always or for the most part, as the Aristotelians insist, happens for an end. In natural things, when something happens, it does not happen incidentally but consistently unless something impedes, so the determinate result does not follow by chance but from some disposition of nature. Thus it is contrary to the notion of nature to say that nature does not act for the sake of some thing. This is supported by how we talk about chance. To the extent that a thing participates reason and order, it recedes from the intelligible character of fortune or chance, and we speak of these matters accordingly; but this is wholly insofar as reason and order imply that something has an end. It is even more clear when we accept the Aristotelian account of chance, according to which all chance consists of coincidence of distinct causal lines; such coincidence has no final cause itself, but we are able to recognize it as a coincidence precisely because the distinct causal lines are each identifiable as disinct in light of their own final causes. Thus if I dig a foundation and discover buried treasure, this is a coincidence of two distinct lines, those who buried the treasure to hide it until they could recover it and I who am building a house; these do not share a final cause in common, and are distinguishable from each other by their final cause. For instance, the robbers who buried the treasure were not burying it so that I would discover it by building a house, and I was not digging a hole to find buried treasure. Thus the coincidence is recognized as chance entirely because it does not fall under the ends of either causal line. If you did not know that my hole-digging wasn't for the treasure, if you did not know that the robbers weren't burying the treasure for me, you would not be able to say it was a chance happening. Thus Garrigou-Lagrange says (The Order of Things p. 46), "if there were no longer any intention, tendency, or finality in nature, chance would no longer exist."****
(4.4) We recognize that some effects in the world are contingent. For instance, a potter forming a pot can be interrupted, leaving a half-formed pot, or something can fail in its normal operation either due to some limitation on its own part or due to interruption by another, or deviations and defects may arise, or some beings may err. All of these, interruption, failure, interruption, deviation, defect, and error are essential for understanding experiments, for instance. In all these ways we see the contingency of causal action, in which something can be otherwise than it usually is, but none of these things can be identified except relatively to a final cause.
If we consider artificial things made by skill, we recognize that there is a standard of correctness, as determined by skill; for instance, an experiment, made to contribute to a goal, is assessed as to whether it is correctly done in light of that goal and the skills of experimentation. Erring in one's experimentation can lead to deviation from what is required for that goal. If the skill were not for an end, there could be no error, because there would be no particular reason why this result is not as appropriate as any other. Error, then, is a sign that experimenter's skill acts for the sake of something, although, of course, it does not follow that unerring skill does not act for the sake of something; quite the reverse, in fact. Likewise, failure is respect to an end, because nothing can fail if it is tending to nothing, and we do not ascribe failure to anything if there was no tending toward achieving what it does not achieve. Thus when experiment fails, it fails in terms of its end. Now, the same is true of natural things, allowing for the fact that it is a different species of error. For instance, in a developmental process, we find errors, like transcription errors, monstrous growths, freak births, in which the operation of the natural system is deficient or defective in some way. Likewise, we see in natural things that one thing can be deprived of something, as when an animal starves or a plant wilts from lack of water; but it is impossible for anything to be deprived of anything unless it has some tendency to it. Such deprivations are often the sources of error in vital activities.
Much more generally, however, physical and chemical process can be interrupted. But nothing can be interrupted, even in principle, if it was not disposed to do something that an external intervention prevented from being done. Likewise, a process that tends toward some end can be made, by intelligence, by unconscious interference, or by another natural process, to deviate from that tendency. To interrupt natural processes and to make them deviate is a common activity in physical and chemical experiments; for instance, this is how we manipulate cause and effect in order to determine exactly what causes what in a system or complicated process, when we are able to do so.
(4.5) To act for the sake of an end is to act in a manner admitting of an orderly causal account, and vice versa; and thus final causes are necessary for our reasoning. Inquiry itself, of course, is always structured by ends, although they may be more or less vague and more or less complicated. But because of this, evidence is identified as an end, since we count something as evidence in terms of how it contributes to the ends of some inquiry or another. Thus we say that evidence is 'for' something; that, for instance, a certain experimental result is evidence for a theory, which is to say that it is able to contribute to the ends of an inquiry into the truth of that theory. A correct theory of evidence will always link the kind and quality of evidence to the nature of this or that inquiry; but the nature of this or that inquiry is determined by its ends.
Classification, too, is based on ends. We generally distinguish between two related kinds of classification, artificial classifications and natural classifications. Artificial classifications are classifications for technical purposes; they may or may not conform to natural boundaries because their standard is based on the ends of the skill or inquiry that they serve. Thus for purposes of law, a whale might be classified as a fish. If our purpose is to understand the things themselves, however, we need to base our classification on the ends that constitute the natures of those things. C. S. Peirce argues for this explicitly in "On Science and Natural Classes", although he uses the word 'idea' (which he notes that he does not intend to be understood as implying something in the mind) for what we are here calling 'end'. Artificial classifications on various bases have a tendency to cluster around natural classifications precisely because their ends admit of greater or lesser relationship with the ends that constitute the natures of things; if there were no ends constituting the natures of things, there would be no natural classifications and all artificial classifications would be arbitrary.
To deny final causes is to say that no particular result can be expected, because there is no tie between what acts and what it does; what acted was not tending or disposed in any way to what it did. Therefore prediction requires a framework of finality, i.e., for it to be possible to predict anything, it must not be the case that what we have is simply indifferent as to what will be done. Since there is no fundamental difference as to reasoning between prediction and extrapolation, the same is true for extrapolation from a case or sample.
Connected to this, and more seriously yet, when we consider the mathematical characterization of nature, as expressed in the equations of physics, it appears that these equations typically characterize finalities. If we have a physics equation, F = ma, the use of it is not like an inventory of the forms that we happen to have on hand, nor is it like a description of the composition of something. It is formal because it is mathematical (which does not consider final causes in themselves), but what it describes is the form of the way things tend to be. It is the form of the ends of material objects, not their own actual forms that are described. To put the same thing a slightly different way, physics equations typically describe finality, not (as seems often thought) formality: while it is a mathematical form, when applied, this form may be taken to describe either the form as it is or the form to which things are disposed, and it is clear that the use in physics is of the form to which things are disposed, which is the end. This has been noted by Peirce ("On Science and Natural Classes"): "...the relation of law, as a cause, to the action of force, as its effect, is final, or ideal, causation, not efficient causation."**
Further, we must reason on the basis of final causes in matters of proof and test. We may demonstrate in any order of causes; this is, indeed, how we gain knowledge in the strict sense about anything. Each cause has distinctive features affecting the nature of its demonstration; in general, one of the differences that people have hold to arise with different causes is that, while all involve necessity of some kind, they do not involve the same kind. Some causes are the foundation of demonstrations involving absolute necessity; others involve conditional necessity. Demonstrations from the final cause involve conditional necessity, and this makes them often the most useful demonstrations. In a demonstration from the final cause, one would start with assuming a result and demonstrating what would be required to achieve it. All testing of hypotheses requires it, because in order to determine even how to test a hypothesis, one must assume the hypothesis as a starting point and ask what would be required for it to be made true. This is to treat the hypothesis as describing an end. Thus St. Thomas says (In Met 5.3), For those cases in which something is done for an end, as occurs in the realm of natural things, in that of moral matters, and in that of art, the most forceful demonstrations are derived from the final cause.
(4.6) If we consider various attempts to account for causation, setting aside their truth, we find that we are always driven toward bringing in final causes in some way. We have already seen this for the Aristotelian account, and this generalizes to closely similar accounts by Platonists, Stoics, and the like. Other people have attempted to account for causation in terms of manipulation and intervention, so that a cause is that which, introduced or modified, would be a means by which another thing can be introduced or modified. But such manipulation or intervention must itself be understood in terms of that to which it aims, and in it the cause is understood as a means to the end of the effect. Thus all such intervention theories are reducible to the claim that a cause is that which may be a subordinate end to another's end, as when we use one thing in order to test what another thing does. Some people have attempted to account for causation entirely in terms of regularities, so that cause and effect are what regularly occur in that sequence. But in common life, in experiment, and in explanation, we need to be able to distinguish between both natural and accidental regularities and between genuine and spurious causes, and the difference between cases involving cause and effect and cases involving effects of a common cause. This can only be understood in terms of that to which we take causes and effects to be disposed; that is, those regularities are natural that are such that the prior element itself, rather than something else, tends to the result. Others have attempted to account for causation in terms of the transmission or conservation in change of a 'mark'; but in order to do this, we need to specify the relevant mark, since, for instance, if the mark is energy in the sense used in physics, an arrow speeding toward its target transmits energy in many different ways, as when light bounces off of it to hit the target and other things. But it seems that specifying the relevant mark requires identifying something that selects the possibilities.
We see, in other words, that regardless of our approach to causation, we are pushed to something like final causes, either because our approach will already make direct appeal to final causes, or because our approach will face problems that suggest the need for final causes. The reason for this is in fact quite general, and related to other arguments that have been noted. Regardless of what other desiderata we may have for an account of causation, our account must have some selection of possibilities, in order to distinguish genuine from spurious, in order to distinguish natural from accidental, in order to distinguish relevant from irrelevant. For it must be said that an account of causation in which neither the spurious, nor the accidental, nor the irrelevant can be eliminated is useless. And if we attempt to understand causes in terms of necessity, we need a selection of possibilities; if we attempt to understand causes in terms of counterfactuals, which consider other possibilities, we need a selection of possibilities; and if we attempt to understand causes in terms of probabilities, we need a selection of possibilities, since weighting of possibilities is a form of selecting them. Necessities, counterfactuals, and probabilities seem in addition to describe dispositions. But selection of possibilities for source-causes just is final causation, and dispositions are dispositions to ends.
We may take it, then, to be the case that there is good reason to hold that there are final causes. People generally recognize final causes in matters of human practice and production, in matters of skill and art; as St. Thomas says (ST 2-1.1.1), The end is a source in human actions. Further, people generally recognize that there is an appearance of final causes in natural matters, since it is easy to show that as a matter of fact people throughout history and across many cultures have taken there to be such an appearance. If the end is a source in human actions, it is arbitrary to deny that it is so in nature, not only from what we have seen in the above arguments, but because we also find this to be the case in experience, since skill and art, practice and production, clearly imitate and build upon the finality of nature. In so imitating and building upon them, they transfigure them; but they must be there to be imitated and built upon. This is not purely extrinsic or accidental, because the finality of art/skill is itself an outgrowth of nature, both of human nature and of the natural world as simulated by human beings, since what we simulate are the finalities of things. There are, however, two common errors in understanding the final cause as cause, and eliminating them eliminates many confusions and doubts about final causes.
(i) People often take a final cause to be in and of itself a mental cause, like a purpose. While purposes are one kind of final cause, the primary distinctive quality of the final cause is not that it is mental but that it constrains the possibilities for action; as C. S. Peirce says ("On Science and Natural Classes"), "A purpose is merely that form of final cause which is most familiar to our experience."** And as St. Thomas says (PN), To recognize the end is necessary only for those agents whose acts are not determined, but which can have alternatives for action, namely, voluntary agents; and so they have to recognize their ends by which they determine their actions and it is possible for a natural agent to intend some end without deliberation. As he goes on to say, this kind of intending of an end is merely have a natural inclination to it.
There is nonetheless a connection between finality and mentality, although the assumption that final causes misconstrues it, and, indeed, gets the relationship backwards. We identify things as intelligent or intelligent-like insofar as they can be understood as setting or as appearing to set at least some of their own ends. That is to say, something is recognized as intelligent or cognitive by its being something capable of being self-ordered to ends. It is this that makes us recognize that intelligent causation is a higher form of causation than that attributed even to living non-intelligent causes; an intelligent or cognitive cause can determine ends for actions. Because of this, it is traditional to recognize that there are executive ends, which a thing has because it is directed to an end so as to incline toward it naturally; apprehensive ends, sometimes called materially directive ends, which a thing has if it can recognize the end but not as an end, as animals with some cognitive power; and elective ends, sometimes called directive ends or formally directive ends, which a thing has if it can know the end as an end, and therefore not only act toward it but consider the adequacy and appropriateness of means to it.
(ii) People often are confused by the fact that the final cause seems to be in the 'future' of what it causes, which is particularly puzzling since that the end is sometimes never attained, as in aborted processes. But this is a mistake that confuses the causation of the final cause and the terminal attaining of it through that causation. As every effect is due both to the efficient cause and the final cause, in the very action that is the beginning of existence of an effect, the final cause as well as the efficient cause is operative. As Scotus says in arguing that the final cause is not merely the final act of the efficient cause (PP 2.16), If one were to think this as such were the final cause, he would be wrong, because this follows the existence of the thing ordered to an end and the latter's existence is not essentially dependent on it. We see this in the case of interventions and manipulations, which occur by changing the final cause, not in the future, but in the action or process in which the intervention or manipulation occurs. We do not need to look to the future to recognize an intervention or manipulation; we see it in the action itself. This is tied to a commonly recognized feature of final causes; as St. Thomas puts it (ST 2-1.1.2), An end, even if it comes last in execution, still comes first in the agent's disposition (in intentione agentis), and in this way it has the character of a cause. In the intelligible structure of the action, this action here and now, the final cause is first, followed by the formal cause; as he says elsewhere (PN 4), these two causes, matter and efficient, are prior in generation; but the form and the end are prior in completion. When we identify sources of action, they can be roughly divided into two kinds, nature and intellect. We know that intelligent agents act for an end, and we know directly something of how it works. They think of the action and perhaps the product of the action, and they act precisely out of such a preconception. Natural agents do not plan or think ahead, but they are not so different. A natural end is set either by the nature directly, or by another's nature in whose action the agent takes part; but there must be something in the originating nature that makes it so that this action or product can be understood as coming from this cause. Otherwise, we could not explain how this action or this product comes from the nature; it must somehow or other be disposed to this action or this product. Just as the preparation for the action or effect of an intelligent being is in the mind that conceives them, so the preparation for the action or effect of a non-intelligent being is in the nature disposed to them. Because of this, we can say that the action is oriented toward a definite result.
We can look at this another way, perhaps, by considering a traditional dispute about causation in Indian philosophy, that between the asatkaryavada and the satkaryavada positions. The satkaryavada position, associated most with the Samkhya school, is that the effect must pre-exist in the cause and the effect is the manifestation or emergence of this pre-existence. As Ishvarakrishna condenses the argument in Samkhyakarika (Sloka 9), "Effect subsists (antecedently to the operation of a cause); for what exists not, can by no operation of cause be brought into existence. Materials, too, are selected which are fit for the purpose: every thing is not by every means possible; what is capable, does that to which it is competent; and like is produced from like." This is usually understood as giving five arguments. (1) What is not, cannot come to be. To borrow the argument Shankara uses (Brahmasutra Bhasya 2.1.18), it is contradictory to say that something is an activity but has nothing to which the activity is attributed; but the coming into being of a clay pot is the coming into being of a clay pot, not of the potter and the clay, which already exist. (2) We select materials for effects. In a common example who wants curds chooses milk, not water. That is, we know that some things are suitable and able to produce a thing and others are not. (3) Not every effect can be had from every cause, only very specific effects. (4) What is capable does what it is able, like the potter having the capability to make a clay pot, which requires that there be something constituting the capability. (5) Like is from like, as barley from barley. Thus the essential idea is that the effect is in the cause precisely because the cause is the cause of the effect. On the other side, that of the asatyakaryavada, associated with the Nyaya-Vaisheshika school, the effect is seen as not pre-existing. Were the effect not different from the cause, the cause could not actually produce the effect, because what already exists cannot be produced. We do, however, experience causes producing new effects. If we have threads, for instance, they come together into a cloth, a new thing. There are different variations on this that one could have, but the Nyaya and Vaisheshika in later commentaries take the idea roughly to be that the universal of the effect, which we refer to with words like 'clay pot', is already generally available, but this universal is not yet existing in this particular case. The disputes on both side are long, but this suffices for our purpose; for in such long, multigenerational disputes between many intelligent people, it is reasonable to assume that both sides capture something of the truth, even if the do not do so equally. But we can see clearly that on the doctrine of final causes, both sides may be seen in this light, for all of the primary Samkhya arguments are arguments for nothing else than the existence of a proximate or immediate final cause; the Vaisheshika argument, however, arguably recognizes that the final cause in its execution or attainment must be distinguished from the final cause in the intention or disposition. In any case, this dispute perhaps clarifies the way in which people err when they take the final cause to be something wholly in the future.
In light of all that we have said, we can recognized a few views of final causes that, while common, are defective.
A1. One defective view of final causes is that they are purposes externally applied by God, in the way that a mechanic applies purposes to parts in order to make a machine, or perhaps a computer programmer applies purposes to syntactical strings in order to program a computer. An example is perhaps the Cartesian stricture on considering final causes on the basis that we do not know God's purposes in particular matters. This is inadequate because it is clear that many of the final causes we find are not extrinsically applied at all; they are intrinsic to the natures of things, which are disposed to particular actions and not to others. Such ends are not added to already existing things but are instead what make those things both possible to exist and able to act.
A2. A related defective view takes final causes to be impositions of the mind, so that our mind as it were reads them into the world around it. As we noted above, it is an error in the first place to think of final causes as themselves necessarily mental, but the same problem arises for this as for the previous: many cases of final causes are clearly not so as a matter of pure interpretation by our minds. The practice of artisans and experimenters alike show us that our own imposition of finality depends on there already being natural dispositions to particular acts. Neither art nor experiment are possible if we cannot already identify ways things are actually disposed to be and to act. And even the finality imposed on things is not purely a matter of interpretation. An experiment cannot function as such if its finality, to contribute evidentially to the solution of a problem or the confirmation or disconfirmation of a possibility, is purely a matter of interpretation. This is because the end of any particular experiment -- to test whether a particle appears in a certain interaction, for instance, or whether a particular chemical reaction results in a predicted effect -- has to provide real evidence, not merely things that can be interpreted as evidence. The experimenter organizes the natural final causality of the parts, the disposition of the parts to act in certain ways, so that the whole experiment will have itself a natural final causality that will be appropriate as a means to the artificial ends of the experimental inquiry. In addition, this defective view runs into the problem of treating the mind's finality as a wholly fundamental form of finality. We cannot interpret things as having ends, nor impose ends ourselves, unless our minds are already such as to be disposed toward ends. This is not a unique and sui generis matter; although the nature of our mind differs from the nature of many other things due to its particular ends, it's not having ends that is unique, because everything has ends.*****
A3. A third, and more subtle, defective view depreciates the causal role of the final cause. Thus later scholastics struggled with characterizing the final cause correctly, because they attributed all action to the efficient cause alone, and therefore, taking the efficient cause as the only mover, they had to fall back on attributing to the final cause only a 'metaphorical motion', where this is understood as separating the final cause from the causal action. 'Metaphorical motion' is a term that Aristotle uses once briefly and in passing of the end (De gen et cor 1.7 324b), contrasting it with active powers, which are themselves active, as opposed to an end like health, which is not itself active, except metaphorically. But Aristotle's point is that the end is not described as an efficient cause, unless we are speaking metaphorically; the final cause is not a future or an abstract efficient cause, but makes a different kind of contribution. This is seen in the fact that complete efficient causation is the reason something becomes something, but completed final causation is the reason something is something. In reality, the act of causation is at once the act of the efficient cause and of the final cause, because the end moves the efficient cause as the determination of it to this effect rather than that effect. Every such action 'from' an efficient cause is structured as being 'to' a final cause; the action cannot be characterized properly without regard to the causal contribution of both, and therefore every causal action is simultaneously of the efficient cause and the final cause, the efficient cause as itself acting and the final cause as being that which governs the action and constitutes its character. The efficient cause and the final cause, in other words, have the same effect, differently considered, and the same effect is in different aspects the sign of both. The failure to recognize this is common, and leads to vast quantities of obvious nonsense when it comes to considering final causes.
Besides defective views of final causes, there have been attempts to propose an account of causation that does without final causes entirely. Since the material cause, as such, is potential, and any such attempt would have to try to eliminate final causes on the ground that some positive actual feature makes final causes superfluous, the two options are to try to claim that they are rendered superfluous due to the efficient cause or due to the formal cause. Neither can succeed for reasons we have already mentioned, but it is worthwhile looking briefly at each in particular.
B1. The most common attempt to make the final cause superfluous is by attempting to attribute everything to the efficient cause. We can see this will already fail for reasons previously known; ever argument for an efficient cause is also an argument for a final cause, because it is impossible to have an efficient cause not disposed to anything, something needs to specify the possibilities for the efficient cause, and actions of an efficient cause are also actions of a final cause. But it is also clear that there are different kinds of efficient causes. What is the difference between a completing cause, a disposing cause, an assisting cause, or an advisory cause? We have reason to distinguish them; for instance, it is not the same thing to dispose something to happening as it is to make it happen. The only basis on which we can distinguish them is that to which they tend, which is the final cause.
Those who claim that there is no need for a final cause, because an efficient cause is adequate, most often have a bloated notion of efficient causes, in which things are attributed to efficient causation that go beyond being a source of changing or being; that is to say, they attribute to efficient causation the features of both efficient causation and final causation (and sometimes other features of other kinds of causes as well). When their account of efficient causation is analyzed, it is easily broken down into both efficient causation and final causation, because for an account of causation to be useful we need at least to be able to distinguish a source and what selects or narrows possibilities for it. In other cases, as with Hume, the opposite error occurs, and the account of efficient causation is watered down so greatly that it means little more than any kind of condition; in which case, analysis of the actual conditions inevitably shows that they cannot all be of the same kind.
B2. Far more intelligent and rational than attempts to do without final cause by means of the efficient cause are attempts to without the final cause on the basis of the formal cause; this is a way in which Spinoza, and certainly some Spinozists, can be interpreted. This has more plausibility than the previous one, because what is formal does seem to have the power to simulate or represent other causes in various ways, and it is less immediately obvious that every formal cause of change and composition needs a final cause than that every efficient cause does. As the position is developed in Spinoza, if he is interpreted in this manner, the formal alternative provides an explanation for why people fail to accept basic Spinozist theses. Such opinions arise, he says (Ethics, Part I, App), from the common notion that natural things act with an end in view because God directs all things to a goal. The reason they think natural things have ends is that they are ignorant of the actual causes that imply them. Thus they think themselves free, able to do as they wish, and, because they want things useful to them, they conclude that they act for what is useful to them. Since many things outside themselves are useful to them, they conclude that these things, too, are for usefulness; and since they are useful, which is what they want, their minds rest on that and inquire no further, or, if they do inquire further, they do so by analogizing the natural things with their picture of themselves as free agents. From this follow many errors. In reality, Spinoza thinks, there is one and only one substance, infinite and necessary, which must be said to have infinite attributes; each expressing an infinite essence, and everything is in God and must be conceived through God. Thus one may interpret Spinoza's claims as saying that when we appeal to final causes, we are positing only out of our ignorance, because we do not recognize that these things are to be counted purely formally in terms of God and his attributes. In addition, the appeal to finality confuses the order of things: "That which is really a cause it considers as an effect, and vice versâ: it makes that which is by nature first to be last, and that which is highest and most perfect to be most imperfect."
It can clearly be seen that in order to do away with final causes in this way, Spinoza must not only do away with final causes, but also with all interruption, deviation, error, chance, and contingency in the world, and he is admirably clear about this. From this it follows that every reason for thinking there is interruption, deviation, error, chance, or contingency in any natural thing is a reason for thinking this account wrong; and Spinoza, to neutralize this vast army of apparent reasons, must posit that they are really to be understood in terms of purely formal consequences we usually can never know, much less understand. Spinoza admits that this would stead us no better, except that there is one means of knowing things, mathematics, that in and of itself does not involve final causes, and which gives us a guide in how to prove things without such appeal, instead proving, in the way of a geometer, that all things are explained in terms of the essence and properties of God. A full refutation cannot be developed here without vast digression, but a brief diagnosis of the problem is worthwhile. The Spinozist position folds all things into the divine nature, however, by taking a substance to be that which can be conceived independently of any other conception (Part I, Def 3), and then further taking an attribute to be what an intellect perceives of the essence of a substance (Def 4) and modifications to be what in a substance is conceived through a substance (Def 5); Spinoza then concludes that nothing can differ from anything except by attribute or modification (Prop 4). However, there is nothing at all that corresponds to substance, attribute, and modification according to Spinoza's strict definitions, which confuse existence and conception. Nor is conception the only mental act contributing to our knowledge of things. Nor do attributes and modifications exhaust the way things differ; they may also differ by subject, i.e., by that in which they are posited, or by participation, or by potentiality. Thus there is not anything to which all formalities that might be supposed to replace finality might be attributed. There is nothing purely formal that encompasses all actual forms and relations.
Nonetheless, one could interpret Spinoza somewhat differently as being primarily concerned not with intrinsic finality but with extrinsic and artificial finality, as when we speak of a machine made to be useful, which was the more common sense of 'final cause' in his day; if one interprets him in this way, his concern is oblique to ours. For then his concern is primarily the defective view of final causation mentioned above, in which final causes in nature are imposed as if from the outside by God; and indeed, in which they are imposed for human use. It is clear enough that not everything is for human use, although this is irrelevant to the question of natural finality. It is also true, for reasons we have said, that it is at least often an error to attempt to explain natural things by imposed finality at all. But Spinoza does not prove his hypothesis about why people attribute such usefulness to things even by his own standards, since the error theory he gives does not fall directly out of his axioms and definitions, and it is in fact incorrect. You have only to look at how people attribute such extrinsic ends to natural events that they do not generally treat these things according to a standard of human usefulness, but according to a standard of what seems to be harmonious and proportionate, and historically people who have claimed that everything is for human use have regarded this as something for which they have to argue. Rather, the problem is that, recognizing finality, they misconstrue what kind it is because they have not carefully thought it through, a conclusion that is vastly more probable than that every such person manufactures out of ignorance and desire the same erroneous framework encompassing the entire universe, on the basis of which error they are somehow better able to learn about and investigate cells, organs, organisms, societies, and ecosystems. It is clear that even if one were convinced by Spinoza's main argument, it would be far more reasonable to think that even the imposed finality view is capturing something legitimate as a model and analogy, even if the limitations of the model are ignored when it is taken too literally and uncritically.
Therefore, having considered the case, we can say that it is reasonable for us to recognize all four causes of Aristotle, especially the final cause. A cause is that on which the being of another depends. This other can be considered in two ways. It can be considered simply in itself, and thus the cause of it is the formal cause according to which it is actual. Or it can be considered insofar as it comes to be actual from being potential. In that case everything potential becomes actual due to something actual. For this reason there is the material cause, wherein we find the potential, and the agent that is the source of the actuality of the potential. However, an agent's action tends to something determinate, that is, to this rather than to something else. That toward which an agent's action tends is called its end or final cause. Thus we will need all four for any adequate explanation of changing things, at least. To be sure, these four are not all four operative in every case, at least directly. For instance, chance results or coincidences, considered as such, do not have final causes, although they, too, presuppose all four in their component parts. But these four are necessarily represented in causal explanations of things that undergo change. When we ask why something is, then, we are asking for a cause, and we find multiple answers. For instance, sometimes the reason why is in what a thing is. Sometimes we ask for an agent whose action the thing in some way is. Sometimes – indeed, quite often – we answer by identifying that for the sake of which the action is. And sometimes the reason why is in the material composition. But in all these cases, our focusing on one does not itself give us reason to deny the others. Indeed, actual things are at once the results of many causes from these four kinds of cause.
None of the causes we have been discussing cause only in one way; there are different modes of causing for each. There are many such modes (indeed, we can identify distinct modes according to the disjuncts of every disjunctive transcendental term), but two examples that commonly need to be considered will suffice to clarify what we mean. Some causes are such that their causing is posterior, that is, that the way in which they cause presupposes some prior cause. These are called proximate causes; the more prior causes on which the way they cause depends are called remote causes. The remote cause always causes more generally or universally than the proximate cause. Thus a remote formal cause of a dog is being vertebrate; the sun is a remote efficient cause of life on earth; molecules are a remote efficient cause of a stone; and so forth. Conversely, the proximate cause is more particular. The designations 'remote' and 'proximate' are relative; there may be many causes that are more remote than a particular proximate cause, and in that series a remote cause may be proximate relative to other causes in the series.
Some causes cause in a manner that is per se, i.e., arising from themselves as such, as when a builder, that is, someone with the skill of building, builds precisely insofar as he is a builder; whereas others cause in a manner that is per accidens, as when a scholar, that is, someone with the skill of studying, builds, but obviously does not build precisely insofar as he has the skill of studying, but only incidentally. We can see one of the most important aspects of this in considering causes that are conditions. A condition is described by a conditional, 'if this, then that', or 'if not this, that', or the like. Depending on circumstances, a condition may or may not also be a cause, although we often reserve the term for cases in which it is not a cause. Even in those cases, conditions are usually associated with one of the above causes and on that ground are sometimes figuratively called causes in themselves. Other conditions, however, are called causes in a somewhat stronger sense, because they really are causes, but they are cases of per accidens causation. The most important condition is that of the sine qua non, for it is a necessitating condition. There are two types: the merely negative sine qua non, which is a privation or omission or prevention, and the positive, which is called the removens prohibens and involves the actual removal of something impeding another thing. While Hume is wrong to make no distinction between the sine qua non condition and the efficient cause in the most proper sense, it is nonetheless true that a sine qua non can only be understood in light of causes, and may thus be regarded as an efficient cause per accidens. This is very obvious in the positive case, since it requires that there be an impediment or obstacle to something's causing or having an effect that is then removed; thus Aristotle says (Phys 8.4), "what removes an obstacle is a kind of mover." But it is also true in the case of privations or omissions, since something that is omitted or lacking can only be a condition for something if the omission or lack affects some other thing's causing. On this ground we often use the term 'cause' to say that an omission or privation causes something. Another important kind of condition that can be considered to capture a kind of per accidens causation is most commonly known as occasional causality. Despite the name, the occasional cause should not itself by considered a cause per se, although it is a condition for how another efficient cause acts and therefore can be considered a cause per accidens.
From what we have said above, it should be obvious that the causes have a kind of order, arising from their distinctions. One important distinction among the causes is with respect to action. The material cause, considered as such, is not a principle of action but a receiver of action. The other three causes can each be considered principles of action, but not in the same way. The first principle of action is the end, which can be said to be the principle of the agent's having any action at all. It is, as said above, the cause of causes. Given the end, the agent is principle of its own action. Third, the form is a principle of action because it is applied to its action by the efficient cause or agent. For instance, the end moves the artisan to make the bed, and this the artisan does by using woodworking tools, thereby applying their forms to relevant actions.
Inquiry itself is structured in this way. At the beginning of his commentary on the Sentences (Sent 1.pr), Bonaventure finds a fitting symbol of the role of the four causes in inquiry (or, more broadly, any intellectual act concerning the world at all) in a verse from Job (28:11), He searched into the depths of rivers and brought hidden things to light. The efficient cause we find in the one who searches; the rivers are the material causes, the things searched in inquiry; the formal cause is the searching into the depths of those rivers; and the final cause is bringing hidden things to light. Thus in every inquiry we find the cooperation of the four causes; all four must be distinguishable, but all four must be united, or we cannot adequately inquire.
1.3.2 On the Source of Causation
Once we recognize the existence of final causes as the cause of causes, and the obvious fact that one end can be subordinate to another, we must recognize that there is some ultimate superordinate end that sets in order all causation whatsoever. This can be seen in several ways.
First, we may argue it in terms of the series of final causes.
(A1) There are ends. We commonly recognize that nature and intellect are the primary principles of action. There is no question that intellectual agents act for the sake of an end, because they think ahead of time in their intellects of the things which they achieve through action; and their action stems from such preconception. This is what it means for intellect to be the principle of action. Natural things likewise do not do what they do by pure chance, but do some things always or for the most part, with consistency. As St. Thomas says (DV 25.1), natural tendency (appetitus) is nothing but an inclination and ordination of the thing to something else which is in keeping with it. Therefore they act for an end.
When something happens in natural things, any regular and determinate result does not follow by chance but from disposition of nature; that is, it is caused per se and not per accidens, unless something interferes or impedes it. It is therefore inconsistent with the very notion of of nature to say that nature does not act for the sake of some thing. Because of this people have historically said that nature does not in vain; because, as Scotus says (De Prim 3.60), Whatever is neither an end nor ordered to some end, exists in vain. Just as the likeness of a result to be achieved by an intelligent being's action exists in the intellect preconceiving and selecting that result as an end, so too the likeness of a natural result preexists in the the natural agent's disposition, so that its action is determined to a definite result.
(A2) Every end is either an end subordinate to no other end, or it is subordinate to another end. It is clear that these are the only two options, as an end is either subordinate in some way or it is not.
There are different kinds of subordination, however, and the subordination of end to end may be either an essential order or an accidental order. ('Accidental' here indicates not 'by chance' but 'incidental'.) Following Bl. John Duns Scotus, we may identify three features that distinguish an essential ordering of ends from an accidental ordering. (1) In essentially ordered ends, the subordinate end depends upon the superordinate end in precisely the way in which it is an end. (2) In essentially ordered ends the superordinate end exercises a higher or more expansive final causation than the subordinate end. (3) In essential ordered ends, there is no gap between the superordinate end's final causation and the subordinate end's being a final cause. In an accidentally ordered series, these three are not true. Accidentally ordered series depend on essentially ordered series, and thus the latter are worth considering directly.
(A3) In ends essentially subordinate to other ends, there cannot be infinite regress.
An infinite regress of final causes has no first final cause, i.e., no final cause that is the starting point of the series of final causes. But a series of essentially ordered ends, in which one end gets its character as an end from another end, and that from another, and so on, can only get its character as such-and-such a series rather than a different kind of series from something other than itself, which will be an constituting the whole series. Indeed, even shorter sections of essentially ordered series are understood in terms of what is relatively first. As a series of ends, it has to have a particular character; it gets its particular character from something other than itself. Thus if there is no ultimate end, there can be no definite character the series. As Aquinas says (ST 2-1.1.4), It is not possible to proceed indefinitely in the matter of ends, from any point of view, for in anything in which there is an essential order of one to another, if the first be removed, those that are ordained to the first, must be removed also. What is first in the order of intention or disposition is that to which is due there being any action or change at all, so without it, the action or change has no definite character.
Likewise, in essentially ordered ends, each end depends for its being an end on a prior end. If final causes regressed infinitely in such an ordering, every every end would be an intermediate end. But an essentially ordered series of intermediate ends is itself an intermediate end. For instance, if I complete this project in order to fulfill my work obligations, and work in order to make money, and make money in order to increase my bank account, and do that in order to buy a house, the intermediate ends are working, making money, and increasing the bank account; these are distinct ends, but being essentially ordered, they can all be regarded as an intermediate end together, namely, working to make money to increase the bank account. Therefore we can take any series of intermediate ends as a whole and ask for its end, since, being intermediate, it must have one. Thus either the whole series is both intermediate and not, which is a contradiction, or there is an end outside the series that constitutes all the other ends in the series. Thus we may say that all intermediate ends have further ends; but these intermediate ends together are an intermediate end, and thus must have a further end. Thus the series of intermediate ends must have as an end something outside the series itself.
If, on the other hand, we find ourselves with a series of ends that is not essentially ordered but accidentally (or incidentally) ordered, nothing prevents it from going back infinitely, for incidental ends are indeterminate. Nonetheless, an accidentally ordered series of ends seems to require, as a series, some end outside itself in order actually to be a series rather than just a bunch of different ends. Thus an accidentally ordered series of ends seems to imply that the series itself is part of an essentially ordered series, and this essentially ordered series will thus require some first end ordering all others. As St. Thomas says (PN), everything that is per accidens is traced back to what is per se.
Indeed, we can argue against infinite regress in final causes in any way in which we can argue against infinite regress in efficient causes, because efficient causes and final causes go together, with the final causes simply being more fundamental qua causes.
(A4) Therefore a superordinate end, subordinate to no other end, exists. Thus, since something may be an end by virtue of itself or by virtue of another; and we cannot have an infinite regress of ends by virtue of another, we arrive at some end that is an end by virtue of itself, suited by its very nature to be an end, and is thus a first or ultimate superordinate end. To be such a superordinate end, likewise, it cannot be an effect, because effects, with the ends that constitute them as what they are, are subordinate to the ends of their causes. Therefore it would necessarily be without efficient cause or final cause.
A different line of thought is possible, based on the selection of natural ends.
(B1) Natural things tend to determinate ends. We recognize this by experience, because they have normal behaviors and typical operations, and, indeed, if they did not tend toward ends, we would not be able to recognize them, predict their course of action, or make use of them. As Aquinas says (In Phys 138), Natural tendency (appetitus) is nothing but the ordination of things to their end in accordance with their proper natures.
There necessarily are contingent truths. All contingent truths depend for their contingency either on chance or on the end. It is not possible for contingent truths about the natural world always to depend on chance. We may then ask, Is it possible for contingent truths about the natural world ultimately always to depend on chance? Something like this is required for Epicurean accounts of the world, in which all contingency is explained in terms of a chance swerve of atoms that cannot be further analyzed or explained. Nonetheless, besides the fact that few are satisfied with this, we have reason to reject it. All chance events that we know depend either on prior chance interacting with ends (which even the Epicureans had to assume, because they took the swerve to be a swerve of atoms in fall, tending in a direction naturally) or on ends directly. However, it is impossible to have an infinite regress of chance events that are chance because of prior chance, because it is impossible for anything to be necessarily always occuring only by chance. Even if it were possible, chance gets its intelligibility as a cause only from other causes, and therefore all chance presupposes what is not chance. But it is true that there is chance in the world, and that things in the world we find are disposed in such a way that they may do and endure things by chance. Therefore chance is at least in accordance with their natural ends; and chance with regard to them is understood only in light of their natural ends. Therefore at least some contingent truths about the world depend on natural ends, and only by them are possible.
(B2) What tends to a determinate end either has selected that end for itself or has had the end selected for it by something else. We act for the sake of an end by selecting ends for themselves; we preconceive the action to be done so as to intend it; but we also recognize that ends can be selected for something, as when a machine is put together to perform certain tasks. It's quite clear that the end by which each acts must be due to itself or to another.
(B3) Everything that tends to something either knows what it seeks and orders itself to it, or else ultimately tends toward it by the ordination and direction of something that knows. As Turretin says (Inst 1.12), "Inasmuch as nature does nothing in vain, if it acts for the sake of some end, it must either itself know and seek that end or if it does not know or seek it, be directed to it by another." We can summarize the matter in this way. As we said, things tend toward an end either by ordering themselves to an end or by being set in order toward an end by something else. What sets itself toward an end must somehow be able to identify and select it, which we associate with cognition, and particularly with intelligence. What lacks this cognitive capability, however, must not be itself what picks out the end for it.
This point, that to have an end to which one can tend is either to be intelligent, in at least a broad sense of the term, or ultimately to receive the end from another that is intelligent, is more generally recognized and less controversial than might be thought; for instance, those who attempt to reduce final causes to imposition of mind seem generally to be committed to the principle, and one reason people attempt to reject final causes is that they assume it implies intelligence, the conclusion to which they are attempting to subvert beforehand. What is more, we have experience of things with natural ends being given further ends by intelligence, in activities like engineering and experimentation, so people often extrapolate to the limit, and conclude that this is generally true; when this is done incautiously, it is what leads people into the error of thinking that all final causes are artificial final causes. Confused use of the principle is also a common reason why sloppy minds confuse natural ends with mental purposes. Thus not just in clear reasoning but also in error people tend to fall back on this principle.
(B4) Therefore the end must be set for them by an intelligence originally selecting natural ends. Now, something could, of course, get it by a sort of inheritance from a previous natural end, as when one thing replicates itself naturally, so that the replicated has its ends because it is made like the replicating thing. But this merely pushes the matter back, and, try as you might, you will never be able to explain the natural end of something by an infinite regress of things that did not actually select their ends, for no matter how far back you go, they do not select their ends but merely receive them in one way or another from another. No amount of not explaining a thing explains it. Since noncognitive things do not select their own end, having no notion of an end, the end must be set for them, directly or indirectly, by something else; we must come somewhere along the lines to something like an intelligence selecting natural ends. As Aquinas says (In Phys 2.12), Things that do not know the end do not tend toward the end unless directed by one who does know, as the arrow directed by the archer; hence if nature acts for an end, it is necessary that it be ordered by someone who is intelligent and (ST 2-1.1.2 ad2), To ordain towards an end belongs to that which directs itself to an end: whereas to be ordained to an end belongs to that which is directed by another to an end.
(B5) There is an intelligence that is an ultimate end. To select the real possibilities of acts is to be a final cause, and intelligence as such produces primarily by being a final cause, although not in a way that excludes being an efficient or extrinsic formal cause. Intelligences may select ends, but they would have to do so either completely of itself or in accordance with ends of their nature, which would require, in accordance with the argument already given, another intelligence which itself would have to select ends either wholly of itself or in accoradance with its nature; and this cannot regress, for reasons we've also already given. Therefore there must be something that is intelligent by nature, in such a way that it has no further end but simply itself, and, as St. Albert says in many places, Every work of nature is a work of intelligence.*****
It is because of this that we can say that art imitates nature. Knowledge is the principle of operation in art. But as all of our knowledge is in some way through the senses, it is taken from sensible natural things. Thus artificial things have direct and indirect likeness to natural things and, more importantly, art or productive skill has direct and indirect likeness to nature as a cause. But it is also true that all nature is ordered to its end by some intellectual principle, so that the work of nature seems the work of intelligence, proceeding to certain ends through determinate means. This order is imitated or simulated by the art or skill of the artisan in the operation itself, and it is imitated or simulated in precisely this aspect in which it seems to be ordered intellectually. Thus a small confirmation for this argument can be found in the ease with which we can think of nature as as like art or productive skill, and its results as like artifacts. Natural things are not artificial things, but it is common among human beings to think of nature along the lines of art and the artificial; it is hardly possible for us to do otherwise, and if anyone were to pretend that they never treated artifacts and artifact-making as a model for nature and natural operation, we would have very good reason to suspect that they were lying. And, moreover, we are very successful in doing so, for by it we learn an immense amount about the natural world; which seems to suggest that our way of doing so captures something true of the natural order itself.
We may make a similar argument from the coherent order of things. As St. John Damascene says (De fide 1.3), For how could opposite natures, such as fire and water, air and earth, have combined with each other so as to form one complete world, and continue to abide in indissoluble union, were there not some omnipotent power which bound them together and always is preserving them from dissolution?
(C1) In the world we find that things of very diverse natures come together under one order in a way that is not chance. As St. Thomas says (DV 5.2), we know from experience that harmony and usefulness are found in nature either at all times or at least for the most part, and as Turretin says (Inst 1.11), "things which can come by chance are uncertain and ill-arranged and have nothing constant and similar; but nothing can be conceived more regular and composed than this universal frame."
(C2) Therefore the ordered harmonies of diverse things in the world must be ordered toward an end. The sign of this is that they recur in a regular way, and a small confirmation of this can be found in how repulsive it is to most minds to think of these ordered harmonies of diverse things as being an outcome of nothing but chance.
(C3) Everything that tends to something either knows what it seeks and orders itself to it, or else ultimately tends toward it by the ordination and direction of something that knows. What lacks intellect or knowledge cannot tend directly toward an end; it can do this only if someone else’s knowledge has established an end for it, and directs it to that end, for reasons we have noted above.
(C4) Therefore since natural things have no knowledge, there must be some previously existing intelligence directing them to an end. As St. Thomas says (SCG 1.13), Contrary and discordant things cannot, always or for the most part, be parts of one order except under someone's government, which enables all and each to tend to a definite end.
One may perhaps take as a further confirmation of this the inevitability of thinking of the ordered world around as is if stemmed from intelligence. There is no doubt that people often assume that the world is intelligently ordered in at least some ways, whether they attribute this to gods, angels, semi-intelligent intrinsic natures, the universe, or God; as St. Thomas says (SCG 3.38), when men see that things in nature run according to a definite order, and that ordering does not occur without an orderer, they perceive in most cases that there is some orderer of the things that we see, although, as he goes on to note, by such a common consideration, they do not thereby necessarily understand the order or the orderer, which requires investigation. But even those who deny that it is intelligently ordered at all nonetheless must often recognize the heuristic value in thinking of it as if it were, as we previously noted. Thus the order of the cosmos is apparently intelligently ordered, so that even if you denied the intelligence, it would be necessary to say that in some ways it is ordered as if intelligently ordered. The question is whether it is purely a matter of chance that it seems as if intelligently ordered, or if we are the intelligence imposing the appearance of intelligent order upon it, or if there is intelligence capable of actually ordering it intelligently. That it is not mere chance or merely imposed by our own minds can be seen in the coherence and constancy of the order, its predictability and retrodictability, the capacity to replicate results and have meaningful tests and measurements, and our ability to act in light of it. Yet it is also true that those who hesitate are not wholly without grounds for hesitating, since it would be easy to think of this intelligent order as implying that the intelligence usurps the actions we have good reason to attribute to natures themselves. This can be understood, however, in terms of the natural ends being subordinated to the intelligent ends, but not swallowed up in them.
(C5) Such an intelligence, directing diverse things in the world to an end so that they come together in the order of the world, must be a superordinate end. As St. Thomas says (In DN 11), although some things are discordant as regards their proper ends, nevertheless all things harmonize in the appetite of the last end, and, again (SCG 1.13), Contrary and discordant things cannot, always or for the most part, be parts of one order except under someone's government, which enables all and each to tend to a definite end. All human beings are capable of appreciating this, even if only confusedly or loosely.
In all of these ways, we reach a first superordinate end, which is an ultimate cause of causes and to which other ends are subordinate, and, as the end is the cause of causes, the precondition for the possibility of any and all other causation, efficient, formal, or material. This is not because natural things require some superaddition of ends, as it is when we make artificial things out of natural things; rather, the natures themselves have ends that are subordinate to further ends. The superordinate end of all, the first final cause, is the final cause that is the precondition for all secondary final causes, since, as Aquinas says (SCG 3.17), a secondary cause is only a cause through the primary cause. Thus ends may be proximate or remote relative to each other; and all proximate ends presuppose remote ends until we get to the ultimate end, superordinate above all. St. Thomas discusses this briefly in his commentary on Job, when considering how natural happenings are attributed to God. There he says (In Job 9), Now not unreasonably does he attribute to divine power the things which happen naturally, for since nature acts because of an end, but everything which is ordered toward a certain end either directs itself toward that end or is ordered by another directing it toward its end, it is necessary that a natural thing which does not have knowledge of its end so that it can direct itself by its own efforts be ordered toward its end by some superior intelligence. This is, of course, one of the arguments we have given above. He continues, The whole operation of nature, then, is compared to an intellect directing natural things toward an end, whom we call God, just as the motion of the arrow is fittingly attributed to the archer; hence just as the motion of the arrow is fittingly attributed to the archer, so the whole operation of nature is fitting attributed to divine power; hence, if mountains are overthrown by the operation of nature, it is manifest that the stability of mountains is overcome by divine power. Since each proximate and intermediate end gets its final causation from the first superordinate end, we may say that the proximate end of everything is a kind of imitation of the first superordinate end.
The first in the order of final causation can be regarded as universal good. We take a good for something to be that to which it tends; most goods are good in that this or that thing tends toward it in this or that way. But the first superordinate end is that to which things tend by their very being and nature; other intelligent things presuppose the ends of their nature, and all natural things, both individually and in harmony with others, receive their ends as subordinate to it. Thus it is the good of all and the good of every good.
Such a first superordinate end, or ultimate end, is reasonably considered divine. As we saw above, the efficient cause acts for the sake of the end, the material cause is brought to formal actuality by the efficient cause, and so forth, so that the final causes is called the causes of causes, being that by which all other causes are actual causes. Therefore the ultimate end must be the first cause of all, such that no other cause can be a cause without it. Thus the natural order is rightly attributed to it; as St. Thomas said in the passage noted above (In Job 9), just as the motion of the arrow is fittingly attributed to the archer, so the whole operation of nature is fittingly attributed to divine power. Or as he says elsewhere (In Phys 2.14), It seems that nature is nothing other than the notion (ratio) of some art, namely divine, implanted in things, whereby they are moved to their determinate end. The ultimate end must be immutable, because there is no further end for the sake of which it can be moved, and as Aristotle notes in Book XII of the Metaphysics, the causation most appropriate to what is unmoved is final causation; it must be simple, because there is no further end for the sake of which it can be composed; it must be eternal, because all measurement of time must be posterior to its final causation. It also must be that than which no greater can be thought, for, as Aquinas says (SCG 3.2), with reference to all things that act for an end, we say that the ultimate end is that beyond which the agent seeks nothing else, and thus by no standard could anything be identified as greater than it.
Thus it is not surprising that the Church has regarded as claims of divinity those of Colossians 1:17, In him all things cohere, and Revelation 22:13, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. In many cultures, one finds the theme of homecoming as a standard for understanding our lives and the world. There is a widespread sense that all things journey to some appropriate destination, in one way or another, and this is a shadow of the fundamental truth that by nature nothing can be complete until it finds its appropriate Godward state, the proximate end appropriately ordered to the ultimate end. As St. Augustine says (Conf 1.1), You made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
* For a discussion of Avicenna's account of causation, see Syamsuddin Arif, "Causality in Islamic Philosophy: The Arguments of Ibn Sina", from Muzaffar Iqbal (ed.), New Perspective on the History of Islamic Science, Volume 3, Ashgate Publishing Ltd. (Surrey, UK: 2012) pp. 299-316.
** C. S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, Volume 2, Peirce Edition Project, eds., Indiana University Press (Bloomington: 1998).
*** David S. Oderberg, "Finality revived: powers and intentionality", Synthese, Vol. 194, No. 7 (2017) 2387-2425.
**** Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Order of Things, Minerd, tr., Emmaus Academic (Steubenville, OH: 2020.
***** For further discussion, from different contexts, of points related to this, see John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan, "What Would Teleological Causation Be?" in Metaphysical Essays, Oxford University Press (Oxford: 2006) and Margaret Scharle, "Elemental Teleology in Aristotle's Physics 2.8", Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XXXIV (May 2008), pp. 147-183.
****** For a further discussion of the corresponding argument in Aquinas, see Corey Barnes, "Natural Final Causality and Providence in Aquinas", New Blakfriars, Vol. 95, Issue 1057 (May 2014), pp. 349-361.