[This is part of a series of blog posts about articles in the new, open-access journal, Ergo]
We are all familiar with challenges to final causation in the natural, i.e., non-rational, realm. More surprising is Stephan Schmid’s conclusion in a recent paper, “Finality without Final Causes? – Suárez’s Account of Natural Teleology” (Ergo 2015), that on Francisco Suárez’s account of final causation there can be no final causes for divine actions. Schmid also argues that there fails to be final causation in the natural realm on Suárez’s account, but that is a consequence of the prior absence of final causation in the divine case.
Schmid’s paper is an unusually rich one. He has an earlier book, Finalursachen in der frühen Neuzeit, in which he examines the views of Aquinas, Suárez, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz on final causation, and so he has given this matter extended thought and has the historical expertise to situate Suárez’s view properly. The fruit of this expertise is evident in this paper’s simultaneous attention to details of the texts and arguments and eye towards the bigger picture. As a result, there is much worthwhile material that I will ignore in this post. Read the paper!
The core argument in Schmid’s paper can be stated easily enough. Teleology in the natural realm is to be explained by appeal to final causes in the divine realm. But the notion of final causation finds no application on the divine side. Why not? Because transeunt or external actions inherit their final causes from immanent or internal acts (for example, my walking to the library inherits its final cause from my intention to check out and read a book), but God’s immanent acts have no final cause since God is pure act and so does not have an actualizable will. Consequently, teleology in the natural realm cannot be explained by reference to God.
That’s the short version. Properly appreciating the argument, however, requires some stage-setting, so let’s step back. Suárez wants final causes to be causes. That is, there is supposed to be a concept common to all four Aristotelian causes. So on the one hand, we need a concept broad enough to cover efficient, final, material, and formal causes. On the other hand, Suárez does not want a notion so broad that all principles are going to count as causes. This is where Suárez appeals to the notion of infusing or inflowing being: “a cause is a principle that per se infuses being into another thing” (DM 12.2.4 — English translations of all the texts cited in this post can be found through my “Suárez in English Translation” webpage). All four causes are supposed to satisfy this account while non-causal principles such as privations are not.
To complicate matters, the four causes obviously do not inflow being in the same way. Whatever exactly efficient causes do, for example, is certainly not the same as what material causes and formal causes do, which inflow being by constituting that which they cause. As a result, Suárez does not think the term ’cause’ applies univocally. He does, however, think we can avoid mere equivocal predication, which would be to abandon hope of a common concept. What he wants is analogical predication or, more specifically, predication that is analogical by intrinsic attribution. As Schmid puts it, “different Cs can also be called Cs in an analogical sense if they fall under a common concept while complying with the characteristics of being a C in different ways” (398). In the case at hand, as we saw, the characteristic of being a cause is per se infusing being into another thing. So insofar as, say, an efficient cause and a material cause comply with that characteristic in different ways, they are causes analogically by intrinsic attribution.
Schmid takes an important part of the story to be that efficient causes come to be seen as the paradigmatic causes. And, indeed, Suárez explicitly says that efficient causes “most properly infuse being” (DM 27.1.10). That Suárez says this indicates that he is not using ‘influxus‘ in its most obvious and natural sense. What happens when the Thames flows into (influit) the North Sea? The very water that was in the Thames becomes part of or helps constitute the North Sea. But if we think of that model, then we might well conclude that matter and form most properly flow into their effects, not efficient causes. This is a salutary reminder, then, that Suárez’s talk of infusing being should not be understood as the literal transfer of some parcel of being from one thing to another thing.
Whatever exactly it means to infuse being into another thing, efficient causes do it most properly. Suárez’s task now is to show that the other Aristotelian causes satisfy that characteristic in different ways such that they all fall under the concept of cause, albeit only analogically. In the case of final causes, Schmid takes Suárez’s answer to be that ends’ metaphorical motion is how they satisfy the infusing being condition. As Suárez says, “the causality of an end consists in a metaphorical motion of the will” (DM 23.5.2). Schmid rightly points out that describing the motion as metaphorical is not meant to call into question the reality of the motion. What is metaphorical motion? When my will turns from potentially loving an end to actually loving the end, that change or motion can be described from two sides. On the one hand, it can be described as having been generated by my will. On the other hand, it can be described as having been drawn out or attracted by the end, an end that seemed good to me. The latter is the metaphorical motion of the will and it is the way in which final causes “infuse being into another thing.”
Immanent acts such as an act of love for an end are the fundamental cases. But if those immanent acts issue in external acts such as walking to the library, those external acts inherit final causality from the immanent acts. Reading such and such a book seems good to me and so I come to desire reading it and form the intention to read it. I consider various means and decide the best way to read the book involves walking to the library to check it out. The end did not directly attract my legs, but, nevertheless, my legs move for the sake of the end thanks to the intervening immanent act.
As stated, this story obviously does not hold in the case of natural, i.e., non-rational, agents such as squirrels, oak trees, and rocks. For starters, they do not have wills and hence do not have wills that can be metaphorically moved. Schmid has a detailed and rewarding discussion of final causation in the natural realm and of the different ways in which natural teleology might be explained by final causes in the divine realm. I’m going to skip over most of that discussion and simply note that Suárez concedes that the actions of natural agents have no final causes insofar as we consider strictly the natural agents themselves, but he goes on to argue that their actions do have final causes thanks to God’s involvement.
So Suárez argues. Schmid, however, thinks that Suárez’s argument fails, because there can be no final causes of God’s actions and hence there is no final causation to be inherited by natural agents. The problem is that God is supposed to be pure actuality and consequently immutable and impassible. Suárez recognizes the worry and promptly acknowledges that there are no final causes of God’s immanent acts. God loves himself and other things, but there is no final cause of that love (DM 23.9.3). But, as we saw earlier, external actions inherit their final causes from the immanent acts that lie behind the external actions. Since there is no final causality to inherit in this case, God’s external actions lack final causes. Of course, there is then also no final causality for natural agents to inherit.
In short, Schmid argues that most of the instances of final causation that Suárez wishes to claim are in fact not such instances on Suárez’s own account of what final causation is.
That, as I understand it, is Schmid’s basic argument. I’m on record arguing that Suárez has a solution to this problem.* In my next post, I will briefly sketch my proposal, explain the response Schmid has to my proposal, and then raise some questions for Schmid’s account.
* “Final Causality: Suárez on the Priority of Final Causation.” In Suárez on Aristotelian Causality, ed. by Jakob Leth Fink, 122-49. Leiden: Brill, 2015.