Reflections (CE) IV
The Line-by-Line Life
Marsden's Edwards I
Marsden's Edwards II
Marsden's Edwards III
Marsden's Edwards IV
Marsden's Edwards V
Marsden's Edwards VI
Marsden's Edwards VII
Marsden's Edwards VIII
Edwards X--In the Hands
Edwards XI--the Angry God
Just Say No--To Revivals
A Tarot Reading
A Roberts Dream
Kansas State Fair I
Kansas State Fair II
Plato and Judge Roberts I
Plato and Roberts II
Plato and Roberts III
Original Intent I
Original Intent II
Old Friends I
Old Friends II
Old Friends III
A Sterling Dream
Austin Porterfield I
Austin Porterfield II
Porterfield and Mills
Porterfield and Mills II
Porterfield--Hist of Sociology
History of Sociology II
Porterfield and Jaco
Liberal Christianity II
Col. Riv. Highway
Col. Riv. Highway II
Bill Long 10/5/05
Confusion to the End
If there is anything that is clear, it is that discussions of causation are hopelessly bogged down in contradictory, unclear and confusing terminology. Let's just take the example of the Century Encyclopedia, the first and last word on knowledge from about 100 years ago and a reasonable place to start our discussion of any classical concept. Let's first explore its inner contradictions and then confusions.
In the article on "efficient cause," it describes several varieties of causes (more in the next essay), but when it gets to the ancient physician Galen it says: "Medical men follow Galen in dividing the efficient causes of disease into predisposing, exciting, and determining." Earlier in that same article the words procatarctical, proegumenal, and instrumental (rather than synectic) are introduced in a different, non-Galenic, context. Then, in the article on "cause," the Century has the following: "The physicians, following Galen, recognized three kinds of causes, the procatarctic, proegumenal, and synectic." The OED picks up on the latter quotation. Well, the obvious question presents itself: what did Galen actually say? I don't know that off the top of my head, so I will pass on that question. But even the authorities can't tell the story consistently.
And, there is another inner inconsistency in the Century. The "cause" article goes on to specify what is meant by procatarctical, proegumenal and synectic. It defines proegumenal cause as "that within the principal cause which either predisposes or directly excites it to action." However, the Galenic troika in the "efficient cause" article takes about the three different causes as the "predisposing, exciting, determining." But the first two would be the same cause (the proegumenal) under its "cause" definition. How does this work?
Contradiction gives way to confusion when we look at the categories of causes suggested by the Century. In the "cause" article it suggests that there are many other causes than the three already discussed. If we ignore the four Aristotelian causes (formal, material, efficient and final), we have the following:
1. Subordinate or Second cause, which implies...
2. First cause, not caused by something else.
3. Proximate or Immediate cause, which has a legal reference, though it is not explored here.
4. Remote cause, which is the opposite of proximate.
5. Total cause, where you add them all up.
6. Partial cause, which cooperates with other causes.
7. Immanent cause, "that which brings about some effect
"within itself." However, isn't this what proegumenal cause is? Whatever both of these mean.
8. Transient cause, "whose effect lies outside itself," but isn't
this what procatarctical is supposed to mean?
9. Free cause, which is "self-determined."
10. Necessary cause, which is opposed to #9.
11. Principal cause, "that upon which the effect mainly depends."
12. Instrumental cause, "a cause subservient to the principal
cause." But is this the instrumental cause which may or may not have been referred to by Galen?
13. Emanative cause, "that which by its mere existence determines the effect." But isn't that the same as the OED's definition of synectic cause?
14. Active cause, that which brings about the effect by action.
15. Occasional cause, which is derived from an obscure 17th century Belgian philosopher, Arnold Geulinex, who argued that mind and matter can produce effects upon each other only through the direct intervention of God, which is the doctrine of occasional causes. He was trying to refine Descartes mind/body dichotomy, and, as one dictionary says, his work "presaged the occasionalism of Malebranche." Surely a big topic for today.
16. Moral cause, the person inciting the agent to action.
17. Objective cause, the ideas which exicte the imagination of the agent, whatever that means;
18. Sufficient cause, one which suffices to bring about the effect. But shouldn't this have been coupled with "necessary cause," # 9 above?
Is the Century trying just to tell us how various people have talked about causation or is it trying to provide a catalogue of the kinds of causes that exist? If it is the former, then I think we have living proof of how the terminology devised by people from Aristotle to the present simply isn't adequate to describe this elusive idea.
I think I'll close this one (there will, unfortunately be one more), with a quotation from the century that seems appropriate, "Cause is the condensed expression of the factors of any phenomenon, the effect being the fact itself." Yeah, but if we go this route, we just miss all the fun...
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long