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WILLIAM FLEMING - 1890 - Table of contents

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H- I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W  

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden


Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





CAUSE, CAUSATION, CAUSALITY.—(1) (a) Operating power; (b) more strictly, Power which, in operating, originates new forms of being in the exercise of intelligence. "In the strict philosophical sense, I take a cause to be that which has the relation to the effect, which I have to my voluntary and deliberate actions" (Reid, Hamilton's ed., Letter to Gregory, p. 77). (2) The manifestation of causal energy.


(3) The law of mind which makes it necessary to recognise power adequate to account for every occurrence. This law of intelligence finds its application:—(a) In stimulating and guiding the search for particular causes, sufficient to account for particular events; (b) in raising the problem of origin of finite being as applicable to existence however enduring; (c) in disclosing the range of inquiry concerning causes, as it is inevitably a search for the First Cause—the Uncaused.

Aristotle, using the word Cause (αἰτία) in a wide sense to include all that is concerned in the production of any thing, enumerates four classes—formal, material, efficient, and final (Metaph., I. 3). The efficient is that with which modern usage connects the name, as the source, ἀρχὴ. According to Aristotle, the first is the form proper to each thing,—τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι. This is the quidditas of the schoolmen, the causa formalis. The second is the matter and the subject,—ἡ ὕλη καὶ τὸ ὑποκείμενον, causa materialis. The third is the principle of movement which produced the thing,—ἀρχὴ τῆς κινήσεως, causa efficiens. The fourth is the end for the sake of which the thing is done—the reason and good of all things; for the end of all phenomena and of all movement is good;—τὸ οὗ ἕνεκα καὶ τὸ ἀγαθόν, causa finalis.

According to Derodon (De Prœdicam.), the material cause is that ex quo anything is, or becomes. The formal cause is that per quod. The efficient cause is that a quo. The final cause is that propter quod.

Hamilton makes causality refer to the sum of existence, rather than to power. He says:—"When an object is presented phenomenally as commencing, we cannot but suppose that the complement of existence, which it now contains, has previously been'' (Metaph., lect. XXXIX., II. 400).— See DISCUSSIONS, App. I.

The nature and warrant of the principle of causality have been the chief subjects of discussion connected with causality.

Locke ascribes the origin of our idea of cause to an experience of the sensible changes which one body produces on another, as fire upon wax. Our belief in an external world rests partly on the principle of causality. Our sensations are referred to external objects as their causes. Yet, the idea of power, which is involved in that of cause, he traces to the consciousness of our possessing power in ourselves. He says:—"The idea of the beginning of motion we have only from reflection on what passes in ourselves, where we find by experience, that barely by willing it, barely by a thought of the mind, we can move the parts of our bodies which were before at rest" (Essay on Human Understanding, bk. II. ch. XXI. sec. 4).

Berkeley agreed with Locke in deriving our notion of causality from our self-consciousness as spiritual agents, but reduced physical causation to sense-symbolism. The phenomena of sense he regarded as connected with one another, not as causes and effects, but as signs and things signified.

Reid agrees with Locke's view:—"Causation is not an object of sense. The only experience we can have of it is in the consciousness we have of exerting some power in ordering our thoughts and actions. But this experience is surely too narrow a foundation for a general conclusion, that all things that have had or shall have a beginning must have a cause. This is to be admitted as a first or self-evident principle" (Reid, Intellectual Powers, essay VI. ch. VI.).

Stewart takes the same position:—"The changes of which I am conscious in the state of my own mind, and those which I perceive in the external universe, impress me with a conviction that some cause must have operated to produce them. There is an intuitive judgment involving the simple idea of causation" (Stewart, Philosophical Essays, vol. I. ch. III.).

Cousin says:—"It is incontestable that in certain cases we perceive between phenomena simply the relation of succession, and that in certain others we place between them the relation of cause and effect, and that these two relations are not identical with each other. The conviction of every person, and the universal belief of the human race, leaves no doubt on this point. Our acts are only phenomena which appear in the sequence of the operation of the Will; they are judged by us and recognised by others, as the direct effects of our will" (Hist. of Phil., Wright's transl., II. 209). "The consciousness of our own causality precedes all conception of the principle of causality, consequently all application of this principle" (ib., II. 223).


Taking the two terms, the Me or Self, and the movement of the arm, he says:—"At the same time that consciousness seizes the two terms, the reason seizes their relation, and by an immediate abstraction, which has no need of relying on a number of similar facts, it disengages in a single fact the invariable and necessary element from its variable and contingent elements" (ib.). "If it be asked how the universal and the necessary are in the relative and the contingent... I reply that Reason also is in us with the Will and the Senses, and that it is... developed with them" (ib., II. 224).

Hume, reducing the relation of cause and effect to that of "constant conjunction," contended that we have no proper idea of cause as implying power to produce, nor of any necessary connection between the operation of this power and the production of the effect. All that we see or know is mere succession, antecedent and consequent; having seen things in this relation, we associate them together, and, imagining that there is some vinculum or connection between them, we call the one the cause and the other the effect. "The idea of cause and effect is derived from experience, which informs us that such particular objects, in all past instances, have been constantly joined with each other'' (Human Nature, pt. III. sec. 6; Green's ed., I. 390). "Thus, not only our reason fails us in the discovery of the ultimate connection of causes and effects, but even after experience has informed us of their constant conjunction, it is impossible for us to satisfy ourselves by our reason why we should extend that experience beyond those particular instances which have fallen under our observation" (ib., Green, I. 392). Dr Thomas Brown adopts this view, with the modification that it is in cases where the antecedence and consequence is invariable that we attain to the idea of cause. "A cause, in the fullest definition which it philosophically admits, may be said to be that which immediately precedes any change, and which, existing at any time in similar circumstances, has been always, and will be always, immediately followed by a similar change" (Brown, Inquiry, p. 13). Experience, however, can only testify that the succession of one thing to another has, in so far as it has been observed, been unvaried, not that in the nature of things it is invariable. "Invariableness can have place only where there are more instances of sequence than one; and therefore can have nothing to do with constituting the causal character of the individual sequences amongst which the relation of invariableness comes to subsist" (Sam. Bailey, Letters on Philosophy, 3rd ser., p. 50).

According to Kant, Causality is a category of thought. In conformity with a law of our intelligence, we arrange phenomena according to the relation of cause and effect. This, however, is connected with Kant's view, which identifies "phenomena" with "sensuous impressions," and makes knowledge consist in the converting of "the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects" (Introd. to Critique of Pure Reason, p. 1). We cannot conceive objects as successive—cannot have the representation of succession present to our mind—without regarding the successive phenomena as causally related. Instead, therefore, of the conception of cause being derived from sensation, it is a conception without which sensation could not become knowledge. Being the very condition of knowledge, it is seen to be independent of all experience,—that is, a necessary and universal condition of knowledge. Causality must, therefore, be regarded as "a pure conception of the understanding, applying à priori to objects of intuition in general" (Critique, Transc. Anal., bk. I. ch. I. sec. 3; Meiklejohn, p. 64; Max Müller, II. 70). Kant's position as to Causality must be interpreted by reference to his account of phenomena, for which purpose the following passage may suffice, attention being turned on the double use of "object":—"An intuition can take place only in so far as the object is given to us. This again is only possible, to man at least, on condition that the object affect the mind in a certain manner. The capacity for receiving representations (receptivity) through the mode in which we are affected by objects, is called sensibility. By means of sensibility, therefore, objects
are given to us, and it alone furnishes us with intuitions... That sort of intuition which relates to an object by means of sensation, is called an empirical intuition. The undetermined object of an empirical intuition is called a phenomenon" (Introd. to Transc. Æsthetic, Meiklejohn, p. 21; Max Müller, II. 18).

Final Cause, though a phrase employing the word "cause" in an unwarrantable sense, as equivalent to end (τέλος), has obtained currency in philosophy. "Cause" here points to purpose on the part of an intelligent agent, and the inquiry is concerned with a Teleology—doctrine of Ends. In so far as the investigation connects with a philosophy of nature, it goes towards the structure of an argument for design.

Cause, as here used, stands as fourth in Aristotle's enumeration—τὸ οὗ ἕνεκα. To this the schoolmen gave the name causa finalis, final cause; and the conception held a conspicuous place in scholastic philosophy.

When we see means independent of each other conspiring to accomplish certain ends, we naturally conclude that the ends have been contemplated, and the means arranged by an intelligent agent; and, from the nature of the ends and of the means, we infer the character or design of the agent. Thus, the ends answered in creation being wise and good, we recognise not only the existence of an intelligent Creator, but also that He is a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness. This is commonly called the argument from design or from final causes. Bacon says (De Aug. Scient., lib. III. cap. V.) that the inquiry into final causes is sterile, and Descartes that we cannot know the designs of God in creating the universe unless he reveal them to us. Spinoza inveighed strongly against the argument, alleging that "final causes are nothing more than human fictions" (Ethics, pt. I. app.). Leibnitz, on the other hand, in maintaining the principle of sufficient reason, upheld the doctrine of final causes, and thought it equally applicable in physics and in metaphysics.

The validity of the argument has been vindicated in a very able manner by Janet, Final Causes, transl. Affleck.

"If we are to judge from the explanations of the principle given by Aristotle, the notion of a final cause, as originally conceived, did not necessarily imply design. The theological sense to which it is now commonly restricted has been derived from the place assigned to it in the scholastic philosophy; though, indeed, the principle had been long before beautifully applied by Socrates and by the Stoics to establish the truth of a Divine Providence. Whenever, indeed, we observe the adjustment of means to an end, we seem irresistibly impelled to conclude that the whole is the effect of design. The present acceptation, therefore, of the doctrine of final causes is undoubtedly a natural one. Still it is not a necessary construction of the doctrine. With Aristotle, accordingly, it is simply an inquiry into tendencies—an investigation of any object or phenomenon, from considering the ἕνεκυ τοῡ, the reason of it, in something else which follows it, and to which it naturally leads.

"His theory of final causes is immediately opposed to a doctrine of chance, or spontaneous coincidence, and must be regarded as the denial of that, rather than as a positive assertion of design. He expressly distinguishes, indeed, between thought and nature. He ascribes to nature the same working, in order to ends, which is commonly regarded as the attribute of thought alone. He insisted that there is no reason to suppose deliberation necessary in these workings of nature, since it is 'as if the art of shipbuilding were in the timber, or just as if a person should act as his own physician'" (Hampden, introd. to Moral Philosophy, lect IV. p. 113).

"The argument from final causes," says Dr Reid (Intellectual Powers, essay VI. ch. VI.), "when reduced to a syllogism, has these two premises:—First, that design and intelligence in the cause may, with certainty, be inferred from marks or signs of it in the effect. This we may call the major proposition of the argument. The second, which we call the minor proposition, is, that there are in fact the clearest marks of design and wisdom in the works of nature; and the conclusion is, that the works of nature are the effects of a wise and intelligent cause. One must either assent to the conclusion, or deny one or other of the premises."

The argument from design is prosecuted by Paley, in Nat. Theol.; by the authors of Bridgewater Treatises; in Burnett's Prize Essay; Whewell's Induct. Sci., II. 90.



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