[The following is by Stephan Schmid. I am merely posting it on his behalf. — Sydney]
I am impressed about the carefulness and accuracy with which Sydney Penner extracted my rationale for doubting that Suárez’s defense of final causality in God and (inanimate) nature is consistent by Suárez’s own standards. In case you have not read Penner’s discussion of my critical reconstruction of Suárez’s theory of final causation, you should do so now: here is part 1 and here part 2 of his discussion. As Penner succinctly points out, my criticism on Suárez’s account of natural teleology comes in three steps:
(1) Final causation in the operations of natural agents is supposed to derive from the final causation involved God’s external (or transeunt) actions (of concurring with these natural agents).
(2) External actions inherit their final causality from internal (or immanent) acts of will, which are primarily subject to final causation insofar as they are influenced by ends.
(3) As a perfect being, God is not subject to any kind of influence at all, and so there is no final causation in God either.
These three claims entail that there can be neither any final causation in God’s external actions nor (for that matter) in the operation of natural agents. Both, Suárez and Penner, want to avoid my problematic conclusion by denying (2). In God’s case, they argue, the final causality of his transeunt actions need not be inherited from the final causality involved in his immanent actions. I doubt, however, that this move is legitimate. Or to put it in more neutral terms: that this move can only be made at the prize of equivocating on the notion of a final cause. For if ends only qualify as genuine final causes to the extent that they exert a distinctive kind of influx (as Suárez teaches us in DM 12.2.4), the ‘final causes’ in God’s actions must be ‘final causes’ in a very different sense as they are not due to any kind of influx.
As Penner notes, he is inclined to react to my worries with “fear and trepidation”. And I can well understand him. God, especially the Christian one, is notoriously difficult to understand, so better not to step into these muddy waters in the first place. One might turn Penner’s concern even into an objection against my criticism at Suárez’s theory of final causality. That things become murky with respect to God is something we knew all along, and so it comes not as a surprise that the final causality of God’s actions is difficult to understand as well. So, judging Suárez’s whole theory of final causality on the grounds that it has difficulties to account for final causality in God’s actions is neither fair nor particularly revealing: just everyone has these problems.
Let me first respond to this objection before turning to Penner’s own, more benevolent questions about my critical assessment of Suárez’s theory of final causality in God and nature.
First of all, I do not think that everyone has problems to reconcile God and final causality in the way Suárez does. Consider Ockham, for instance, who, according to my reading, defends a counterfactual account of final causation according to which a G qualifies as a final cause of an agent’s action A, if this agent loves or desires G, and would not perform A, if s/he did not love or desire G. I see no difficulty whatsoever in applying this theory to God. Accordingly, I think it is all but unrevealing to see that Suárez runs into problems with his account of final causality when it comes to accounting for the (presumed) teleology in God and nature. To the contrary: it shows that Suárez conceived of the notion of a final cause in a way, which made it difficult for him to apply it for the explanation of the kind of phenomena for whose explanation it was originally introduced. This is not only instructive for understanding Suárez’s conception of causality, but also for understanding the reluctance of many early modern philosophers to accept something like a distinct form of final causality at all.
Nor do I think that my critical stance against Suárez is unfair. I do not confront Suárez with these difficulties out of sheer exegetical malice. Rather I turn to the topic of final causality in God because Suárez himself teaches that the final causality in nature is due to the final causality involved in God’s transeunt actions of concurring with natural agents. If we take Suárez philosophically serious, as I think we should, we have to take a closer look at the final causality in God in order to understand his account of natural teleology.
Let me now turn to Penner’s specific questions.
Ad 1. Penner rightly points out that in his DM 27.1.11, Suárez argues that efficient and final causes are causes in a univocal sense, as “they both properly and intrinsically agree with the nature of a cause”. Now, this sets a difficulty in its own right since Suárez wants to equally abide by the “common view that the nature of the cause is not univocal, but analogical” (DM 27.1.9). (To be sure, Suárez thinks that this is no difficulty at all since he takes it to be non-contradictory to hold that “a name applies analogically to a plurality, yet univocally to some of its members” (DM 27.1.11). But it is at least an open question whether Suárez is right on this score – and Jakob Fink has made a strong case to the effect that Suárez is not).
Be this as it may. Let us grant Suárez that final and efficient causes are ‘causes’ in a univocal sense of the term. How does this affect his account natural teleology? Well, not in a way which leaves him better off with respect to my criticism. Recall my argument: I conclude that Suárez’s account of natural teleology (1) is problematic since it is incompatible with two other claims he endorses – viz. (2) and (3). And the incompatibility of these three claims is not affected if final causes should exert the very same kind of influx as efficient causes do.
One might perhaps want to take the univocity of efficient and final causes as a cue to bail Suárez out of my problem by arguing against (3). We could argue that just as God has from eternity willed what he wants, he has also always been attracted by what he wants – and thereby he has always been subject to the final causality exerted by his desired objects such that there are genuine final causes of God’s immanent actions after all. I take this to be a promising way for a Suárezian to go (even though it is not open to Suárez, who almost explicitly states (3) in DM 23.9.5.). One should note, however, that this suggestion does not depend on the univocity of efficient and final causes. The thought that God might have been attracted by his desired objects from eternity does not loose its plausibility if we think that the the attraction exerted by his desired objects constitutes a different kind of influx than the action of an efficient cause. Thus, my overall verdict remains: The dialectical situation for Suárez’s defense of final causality in nature does not depend on the question as to whether final and efficient causes are ‘causes’ in the univocal sense or not.
Ad 2. Another suggestion for bailing Suárez out is by applying a slightly thinner notion of final causality according to which “final causality … only consists in this dependency which the action has by the agent having thus ordered it to the end” (DM 24.2.12). As Penner rightly points out, on this thinner notion there arguably is final causality in God’s transeunt actions: after all, these actions depend on God’s ends insofar as he performs these actions in view and for the sake of his ends so that God would not perform his actions if he did not pursue the ends he does in fact pursue.
The crucial question is whether this thinner notion of final causality is a legitimate notion of final causality. Here is my reason for doubt. In his DM 12.2 Suárez takes great pains to distinguish genuine causes from other explanatory principles – like “privation and all accidental causes, which do not per se confer or infuse being in another thing” (DM 12.2.4). As Suárez points out, the distinctive feature of causes consists in their influx by which they confer being to the things they cause. Accordingly, causation for Suárez must be something like ‘the communication of being’ which is more than mere ontological dependence in the sense suggested above. For if the fact that A causes B could be reduced to the fact that B could not exist unless A exists, privations and necessary conditions (or “sine–qua–non-causes) would qualify as genuine causes, too – and Suárez clearly denies that they are. Thus, a thin notion of (final) causality that is spelled out in terms of ontological or counterfactual dependence is too thin to establish a legitimate notion of (final) causality for Suárez.
Ad 3. What in reality is this metaphorical motion by which an end attracts the will? Suárez is clear (in DM 23.4.8) that this motion occurs simultaneously with the will’s action of aligning itself with the end in question. But should we go further and say that will’s being attracted by its end and the will’s alignment with this end are in fact one and the same process, which is described in two ways? In my view, Suárez suggests so quite clearly, saying that “one and the same action of the will is caused by the end and by the will itself and insofar as it is ‹caused by› the will it is efficient causality, but insofar as it is ‹caused by› from the end it is final causality” (ibid.). In acts of will, then, instances efficient and final causation are but conceptually distinct. We should note, however, that the distinction between efficient and final causation is no arbitrary conceptual distinction (a distinctio rationis ratiocinantis, to use Suárez’s own terms), but a conceptual distinction that tracks a real feature of reality (a distinctio rationis ratiocinatae): The efficient causality of the will (consisting in the will’s sponateneous alignment with an end) describes another aspect of a performed choice than the final causality exerted by the end (by appearing attractive to the will). What is more, these two aspects of our choice serve to answer different questions. With respect to the will’s efficient causality we can explain why we were able to make a choice in the first place, while we can explain our particular choice by appealing to the end, which seemed most appealing or attractive to us. Nonetheless, these two causalities or ‘motions’ are not two separate entities but inextricably united in one single act of choice. (In this respect it is telling that Suárez also talks about the end’s ‘concurrence with the will’. For an end’s concurrence with the will seems to be analogous to God’s concurrence with the actions of his creatures insofar as like in the case of the final cause’s concurrence with the efficient causality of the will, God’s concurrence and the action of his creature are united in one single action (cf. DM 22.3.2)).
Ad 4. Suppose that I am right and that a consistent Suárezian cannot hold that there is (genuine) final causality in nature. My Suárezian might of course still claim that there is teleology in nature since everything happens for a purpose. My Suárezian would just insist that we need not to appeal to genuine final causality in order to explain that things happen for a purpose. This Suárezien will of course disagree with an Aristotelian who thinks that there is unproblematic final causation in the natural world, which is not mediated by God. Penner’s deep question is: What exactly does their disagreement consist in? Do they disagree about the concept of a final cause (of what it takes something to be be a final cause) or do they disagree about the metaphysical question as to what natural agents are like and how they work? This question is difficult to decide. – Especially in light of Quine’an considerations to the effect that we cannot strictly distinguish between conceptual and metaphysical questions in the way Penner seems to presuppose. In fact, I think it is impossible to pinpoint the ultimate disagreement between my Suárezian and the Aristotelian clearly on either the conceptual or metaphysical side of their dispute. To begin with, it is not even clear to me whether it is helpful to say that there is a ‘conceptual’ disagreement about final causes between my Suárezian and the Aristotelian. Rather than just disagreeing about the concept of a final cause, they disagree about the right concept of a final cause or about the nature of final causes – and this disagreement is as metaphysical as it can get.
Nonetheless, Penner’s distinction between metaphysical and conceptual questions is clear enough and definitely helps to get a better grip of the stakes of their debate. It is a great question! Let me address it by starting with the things that are safe to say. My Suárezian and the Aristotelian have diverging views on both sides of the dispute: On the more conceptual side, my Suárezian thinks that final causes must exert a distinct kind of influx in order to qualify as genuine final causes, while the Aristotelian defends no such constraint. On the more metaphysical side of their dispute, my Suárezian thinks that natural agents can only act thanks to God’s concurrence and that all their actions are ultimately manifestations of God’s providential plan for the universe. The Aristotelian, by contrast, shares none of these (metaphysical) views. She just thinks that natural substances have by their very nature certain ends or goals which are good for them and which they naturally strive to realize.
Now, the philosophically interesting question is how these sets of views relate to each other. There are in particular two interesting questions to ask: (i) How do the Aristotelian views relate to the Suárezian ones? And (ii) how does the more conceptual view of the Suárezian relate to his more metaphysical views?
Let me begin with question (i): As my Suárezian would think about the case at hand, he would argue that his views provide a theory for the things that the Aristotelian just takes for granted. Of course things have a natural good, which they strive to realize, my Suárezian would say, but how should we account for their ability to do so? How do these natural substances “know about their goods”? – My Suárezian thinks that the only satisfying way to answer these questions consists in integrating the Aristotelian views into a Christian framework by supplementing them with his views about God’s concurrence and providence. What is crucial for understanding the debate between Suárez and the Aristotelian on natural teleology is that Suárez and my Suárezian think that there is more to be explained where the Aristotelian thinks she has already hit on explanatory bedrock (given by the fact that natural substances just have natural goals which they strive to realize). And one important reason for Suárez and my Suárezian to think that there is more to be explained here is that they hold that ends or goals only qualify as genuine final causes if they exert a distinctive kind of influx.
Answering the second question (ii) is more difficult. This is because my Suárezian holds that natural teleology has nothing to do with (genuine) final causes, but is simply due to God’s providential concurrence with natural agents. Accordingly, his views about the nature of final causes and God’s providential concurrence are more or less independent and do not combine for an account of natural teleology, as a part of which they would mutually support each other. We should thus turn to his Suárezian cousin whom we encountered in my response to Penner’s first question (Ad. 1). This Suárezian, recall, thinks that natural agents act for the sake of certain ends because God’s concurs with them as a result of being influenced by these ends (from eternity). For this Suárezian the claims mentioned above – viz. (a) that final causes exert a distinct influx and (b) that natural agents can only act for the sake of an end thanks to God’s providential concurrence – are part of a consistent theory of natural teleology. It is with regard to this theory where it is illuminating to ask about the explanatory connection between the more ‘conceptual’ claim (a) and the more ‘metaphysical’ claim (b). However, it is hard to tell which of these two claims enjoys explanatory priority over which. Perhaps there is not even a clear priority here. Acting on a conception of final causation (a) according to which final causes need to exert a distinct influx makes it natural to take cases of rational agency, where agents are attracted by the ends they represent, as paradigmatic cases of final causation. And from this it is only a short step to claim that the final causality in non-rational agents must be mediated by the activity of a rational agent – and (b) is an interesting way to cash out this claim. Conversely, if you want to defend (b) that the teleological organization of nature is due to the providential concurrence of God, life is easy if you can claim that final causes (or explanatory ends) are primarily grasped and realized by rational agents. (For this allows you to argue that that natural teleology must be mediated by rational agency – of which divine concurrence is a species). And claiming (a) that ends can only become explanatorily relevant if the exert an attracting influence on the agents that can recognize these ends is a good way to make sure that only rational agents can be immediate subjects of final causation.
In disputes about natural teleology more conceptual questions about what genuine teleology consists in and more metaphysical questions about what the world is like seem to be more closely connected than in many other disputes. This is also evident in contemporary debates about whether Darwin has finally rejected natural teleology or rather vindicated natural teleology on a naturalistically acceptable basis. Similarly, late scholastic and early modern debates about natural teleology involve both, more conceptual questions about what final causes are or even whether there can be genuine final causes at all, as well as more metaphysical questions about the structure of the natural world. And it is precisely the intricate entanglement of these two kinds of questions which makes it often hard to decide to what extent these authors denied teleology in nature or not. At the same time, it makes the study of the history of teleology particularly philosophically valuable. It teaches us how intimately conceptual and metaphysical questions can be linked with each other.