Bill Long 10/5/05
Trust Me this Time--the Final Essay
Before allowing the confusion to reach new heights, I want to mention briefly how law treats the issue of cause. Traditionally there are five kinds of cause in law: proximate, remote, but-for, intervening and supervening (at least this was the way I learned law. Some like to preface the discussion with the distinction between cause-in-fact and legal cause). As we saw above, proximate cause really means the cause after which nothing legally significant happened to change assessment of liability. Use of words like "natural and expected consequences" often occur with language of proximate cause. Then, a remote cause is something that isn't proximate, a cause that perhaps started the chain of events but will not be the basis of liability. But-for cause is something which, if it didn't happen, the result would have been different than what actually occurred. Some scholars refer to this as "actual cause" or "cause in fact."
An intervening cause is something that occurred between remote and proximate, but a supervening cause is one that came in between the two that changes the calculus of liability. When you think about it for a while, however, you see that the legal notion of proximate cause arises not from the events themselves but from the judges' minds. They decide to call something a proximate cause because they want to conclude that this particular event triggers liability. Thus, to say something is a "proximate" cause of something else in law is a legal judgment rather than something that arguably can be said to inhere in the nature of causation.
Back to Efficient Cause
Since most of our discussion of causation is really concerned with efficient cause, defined as a cause that brings about something external to itself, it might be good to conclude our treatment of causation by running through how the Century conceptualizes the division of efficient causation. After mentioning that Aristotle saw cause differently than we do (indeed, his notion of efficient cause is the only one that really corresponds to the way we look at the idea of cause), the Century talks about the various classes into which efficient cause has been analyzed. Under each Arabic number, the causes are different, and not synonymous. Here goes.
1. Active and emanative causes, such as fire which is said to be the emanative cause of its own heat and the active cause of heat in other bodies. As we saw above, an emanative cause is something that yelds its own essence to something else, such as the Father to the Son in Christian theology. But, as we also saw, according to the OED, emanative cause (a word that seems to be dependent on Leibniz's philosophy) seems just to have been the forerunner of synectic cause.
2. Immanent and transient causes. The Century gives the following explanation, which isn't at all clear to me, "an immanent brings about some modification of itself (it is, nevertheless, regarded as external, because it does not produce itself). Hm. Something immanent that is really external. If I understood how a cause can be internal and then how a cause can be external, I might then be able to tell you how something immanent can truly be external.
3. Free and necessary causes.
4. Cause by itself and cause by accident. Thus, if a person digs a well and finds a diamond, the person is the cause by itself of the well being dug but the cause by accident of the diamond find.
5. Absolute and adjuvant causes. Now, before we define either of these the dictionary immediately breaks down adjuvant into two categories: primary and secondary. So, I suppose you can have a secondary adjuvant cause, though I don't know how many chevrons are on its shoulders. But, even before we define these two, we learn that secondary is divided into three more categories, which are, surprise of all surprises, our old friends: procatarctic, proegumenal and instrumental (I don't know where synectic went nor if instrumental is mean to be synonymous with synectic). The article defines the procatartic cause as something exiciting the principal cause externally [aren't we putting about three categories together here?] while the proegumenal internally disposes the principal cause to action]. Total confusion reigns.
6. Then we have first and second cause.
7. Universal and particular cause.
8. Proximate and remote cause.
And then, to add insult to injury, we conclude with the medical quotation given in the previous essay, to the effect that Galen divided efficient causes into "predisposing, exciting, and determining."
After finishing this tour of cause, I am reminded of Augustine's discussion about time in the Confessions. He said, in paraphrase, 'don't ask me what time is, and I know what it is; ask me what it is, and I don't know.' I will have to chime in similarly, 'don't ask me what cause is and I know; ask me what cause is, and I can give you all kinds of terminology with definitions; press me on it, however, and I will have to confess, also, that I don't know what cause is.' Thankfully, however, no one knows that I said this.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long