Not All Principles Are Causes

Not all principles are causes. A principle is that from which anything derives or proceeds. This definition might closely resemble a cause, yet there is a distinction. A privation, for instance, is a principle of change, but it is not a cause. There is a sense in which premises cause the conclusion, but it would be more accurate to say that they are principles of the conclusion. In the case of a privation, the difference is that a cause is more than mere non-being, which is accidental, it must be something which, in some way, is. And in the case of premises and conclusions, a cause must be a principle from which something really proceeds. Conclusions, properly speaking, only logically follow from premises.


  1. Greetings,

    Following Avicenna, I'm a bit hesitant about affirming that privation is a principle of change given that (1) a principle is something from which something else proceeds and (2) that privation is non-being. What do you mean by the terms 'from which' in your definition of principle? If you mean anything 'causal', then it seems to me that you're essentially construing a principle as some positive factor, whereas (2) says that privation is essentially negative. Now given that science is in the business of uncovering positive causal factors, privation cannot, strictly speaking, have any positive role to play in causal processes. Hence, it cannot be something 'from which something else' proceeds - given that it is non-being, and so cannot be a principle- given that a principle must have being.

    But I grant that privation is not absolute non-being but rather, as Avicenna says, a relative non-being correlated with the potentiality inherent in matter. And following Avicenna, I think it would be more correct to consider it as a condition of change i.e., as something needed for there to be change, but not a principle strictly speaking i.e., 'from which or by which' in any significant causal sense a change proceeds.

  2. Doesn't a statue, though, in some way, come to be from a non-statue?

    If so, then there is some sense in which a privation is a principle without being a cause because a non-statue, in this case, would certainly be a term-from-which.

    I would distinguish between positive and negative principles. If I define a cause as a positive principle from which a thing really proceeds, then we can call a privation a negative principle, meaning non-causal in the strict sense, because, as you (and Avicenna) say, privation is non-being but is, nevertheless, something that is necessary for motion to occur. I think all of this is an attempt to correctly identify what a privation is given that we both seem to acknowledge that a privation is indeed non-being but still plays some role in motion.

  3. I think you're right. We seem to be essentially in agreement, and are only quibbling over terminology. Perhaps I'm being overly scrupulous about the meaning of 'principle'. My main contention is that privation, even though a necessary condition for motion, does not actually positively i.e., causally (in the manner of a principle), contribute to any motion. As such, motion does not proceed, strictly speaking i.e., causally, 'from' privation. You seem to agree with that, correct?

    If so, I find it a bit difficult then to conceptualize what a 'negative principle' is. It almost seems oxymoronic, akin to saying something like 'a cause which has no causal efficacy'.