1.26.2011

A Few Notes on Final Causality

-To see the reality of final causality, one must see that certain effects follow from certain causes in a non-accidental way. Said another way, if you can look at an object or an action and determine what it is able to do in virtue of what it is, you have, at least implicitly, affirmed final causality.

-Final causality does not necessarily imply extrinsic purpose. In fact, since final causality is said mostly of nature, and nature is itself an interior power, most final causes have nothing to do with extrinsic purpose, deliberation, craft, or intention.

-Objection: Final causality does not exist in nature because nature sometimes produces defects.
Reply: Even a grammarian can misspell words. This does not eliminate either the grammatical science or the intent of the grammarian to spell correctly.

4 comments:

  1. In fact, since final causality is said mostly of nature, and nature is itself an interior power, most final causes have nothing to do with extrinsic purpose, deliberation, craft, or intention.

    E.R., I think you may be conflating that which exhibits final causality with final causality itself. If something exhibits final causality, it's because it is an effect of a (necessarily extrinsic) final causality. Final causality, on the other hand, does not itself exhibit final causality or purpose (at least insofar as it is a final cause) but is merely good.

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  2. What I mean to say is that when we speak of final causality, we are not necessarily and, in fact, mostly not speaking about purpose given by another. A mature tree may be the final cause of the growth process of acorns, but that does not mean that acorns think about becoming trees, freely will to become trees, apply a known craft in order to become trees, or become trees because some other natural agent wills that it should be so.

    Extrinsic (read human) purpose, intention, etc. are species of final causality but they do not encompass all types. It is a common error for people unfamiliar with such terms to mistakenly think that this is so.

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  3. Let me put it another way, E.R.: if, as you claim, the purposefulness found in nature did not imply an extrinsic final cause, how could it prove the existence of God, as Thomas says it does?

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  4. Remember St. Thomas' definition of nature: a ratio given within by the divine art, that things might move themselves to an end.

    Both parts of the definition are critical. Nature as such is being caused by another, but the causation is unlike art, our closest analogue, because nature is essentially an interior power. Natural things, living things, for instance, achieve their ends by their own action and without their own intention. This is not to say that they are uncaused, they are not, but it is to say that are not moved in the way we move things.

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