Bill Long 10/4/05
Moving to Synectic
Just for the record, I don't think we know what procatartic really means. When it appears by itself it can mean anything from the remote cause to the immediate cause to the external cause to the occasional (?) cause or exciting cause, but when it is put in connection with the other two words from Galen (proegumenal and synectic), it appears to mean only the external cause. The Century puts things together as follows, and the OED quotes the Century:
"The physicians, following Galen, recognized three kinds of causes, the procatarctic, proegumenal, and synectic. The procatarctic cause is an antecedent condition of things outside of the principal cause, facilitating the production of the effect; the proegumenal cause is that within the principal cause which either predisposes or directly excites it to action; and the synectic, containing or continent cause is the essence of the disease itself considered as the cause of the symptoms: thus typhoid fever might be referred to as the continent cause of ocher-stools or a quickened pulse."
Don't you see the confusion here? The procatarctic is called "outside" of the principal cause while the proegumenal is said to be "within" the principal cause. But I don't understand what this means. Then, the proegumenal cause is said to be the thing which "predisposes or directly excites," though in a previous essay I found a quotation for procatarctic which says it is the exciting cause. And, what is the difference between an "antecedent condition" and a "predisposing" condition? Ya got me. So, with this general unclarity swimming around in my head, why not go to the third cause: the synectic.
The Synectic Cause
So, the synectic is called also the containing or continent cause. And then the example of typhoid fever being the synectic cause of a quickened pulse is given. That would mean that the pulse follows from the fever with some kind of immediacy and inevitability and is produced by the fever. And, if we check the definition in the OED, we have the following: "Producing its effect directly, without the intervention of means; immediate." Now we learned that procatarctic also suggested immediacy, but since that word meant almost everything, we can discount it for now.
But the word synectic, which comes from the Greek synexeia, means "continous" or, as a verb, "to hold or keep together." Thus, the word itself suggests some kind of direct connection between two things. But then the OED links us to the word "continent." When we go to definition 7 of "continent," we have "continent cause," which is defined by two dictionary quotations from 1706 and 1753. Phillips, in 1706, described a "Continent Cause of a Distemper" to be "that on which the Disease depends so immediately, that it continues so long as that remains, and ceases when the said Cause is removed." From Chambers' 1753 Cyclopedia: "Cause, Continent, conjunct, or proximate Cause, that principle in the body which immediately adheres to the disease, and which being present, the disease is also present." Thus the emphasis is on immediacy and almost an identity between the cause and the symptoms or the disease.
Now let's return to the OED on synectic. If we keep in mind that it suggests the essence of the disease or thing itself considered as the cause, we are in a position to understand its first English appearance in 1697. "A Cause Efficient is said to be next in Species which is so joined by its Existence to its Effect, as that it is joyned to it without any mediating Virtue...Hitherto appertaineth the Emanative Cause: Likewise the Continent, or Synectical of the Physicians." The presence of that word "Emanative," which may seem quite confusing, actually provides a rather clear indication of what synectic concerns.
We really could get quite tied up in emanation theory here, so let's be brief, because the point is too good to lose. Emanation is either the process of flowing forth, issuing or proceeding from anything as a source or the result that is so produced. Thus, the Platonic doctrine of emanation taught that creation happened as lesser and heavier bodies issued forth from the One rather than the One somehow creating them out of nothing. Emanationism therefore stresses the derivation of existence from the essence of something else. In Christian theology, the generation of the Son from the Father and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the first two persons of the Trinity are species of emanationism. Emanationism thus has a dimension of necessity to it. Begetting of the Son had to occur, Christians believe.
Returning to Synectic Cause
Thus, this little tour from continent cause to emanative cause gives us a clear sense of what synectic cause includes. It can emphasize the inevitability of the result or the derivation of the substance from its parent substance. But we see, also, that synectic is most at home in the world of medicine, even while its progenitor, emanative cause, found its natural home in philosophy and theology. But it is highly unlikely that the triad which the 19th century writers so desperately wanted us to adopt--of procatarctic, proegumenal, and synectic really carry with them a clear enough meaning to be useful today. So, we are still looking for useful language of causation, and in the final essay I will try to see if I find anything of more than passing interest.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long