A recent difficulty was posed in an article entitled "Aquinas and Newton on the Causality of Nature and of God: The Medieval and Modern Problematic" by William Wallace, which I was assigned for a Natural Theology class I am taking. The article states a difficulty about the role of the efficient cause in nature I was hoping to get some help resolving.

He argues, in conformity to Physics II.2, that nature in Aristotle is obviously argued to be a cause formally and materially, and later also argued to be a final cause insofar as it is a telos in II.8. However he contest, despite the obvious numbering of efficient cause by Aristotle in II.3, that Aristotle does not argue that "nature acts as an efficient cause." There is an obvious exception, shown in the De Anima, where the soul is a sort of self-moving efficient cause. But he contest that there is no account of natural efficient causality amongst the non-living. There seems to be some ground for this position, he holds, for the principle "Omnes quod movetur ab alio movetur" seems to assume it, and Aristotle clearly takes up this principle later in Physics VII.

The other qualification is that natural things obviously, self-evidently in fact, are the efficient cause with respect to moving other things, c.f. I-I q.2 art 3. So the question lies more in the role efficient causality plays as an intrinsic cause of some natural being, say, for the sake of contention, a falling ball.



  1. Vincentius said...
    I don't know the corpus of Aristotle well enough to support or refute a negative textual claim like, "Aristotle nowhere argues that inanimate natures act as intrinsic agents."

    That being said, I'd like to discuss the truth of the matter. I might be unclear on the exactly the question, but, as I understand it, you are asking if inanimate bodies have an intrinsic principle of movement; more specifically, self-movement. So, the question is not, for example, whether fire burns other things through an intrinsic principle, but whether it moves itself up, as opposed to being moved by an extrinsic agent.

    ***caveat*** Strictly, nothing moves itself, as "Omne quod movetur..." states. But, we can speak of self-movers in the sense of animals, for instance, because one part of them moves other parts. Because of this distinction, by the way, I don't see he can invoke this principle to support an argument that non-living things don't have intrinsic agency; for, if it were to be taken in this sense, it seems that it would prove even LIVING things don't have an intrinsic cause of motion. He does say omne, after all. *** end caveat***

    Please let me know if it sounds like I'm understanding the question correctly.
    Natural_Inquirer said...
    According to Aristotle in Physics II.3, the agent cause is the "primary source of the change or coming to rest." He then gives as examples the man who gives advice to another, the generator and the generated, etc. Now it seems to me that when he speaks of the primary source that he is referring to that which has the actuality now in such a way that it can be imparted to some other that as of yet does not yet possess it, at least perfectly.

    But if the act is not possessed by the thing and if being cannot come from non-being, then the act must come from some other. I believe it right to say that the act received is imparted by effecient causality. And it must be from some other. I think that this might be illustrated in Physics VIII in the discussion of the mover and moved. But it is odd to think that the rock gives the act to itself when it doesn't have it before.

    I feel like I have rambled a bit for now so if I have spoken error let me know.
    Vincentius said...

    I think you're correct in saying that nothing moves itself, strictly speaking, since nothing can be in act and potency to the same thing in the same respect at the same time. This is the metaphysical argument given in St. Thomas' first way.

    But as I was trying to point out in my "caveat," we can speak of self-movers in a sense when one part of a thing moves another part. This happens in an animal when the soul moves the body, for example, or the muscles move the limbs. I think Mathetes' question concerns whether inanimate bodies can have self-movement in this sense.

    Is this correct, Mathetes?
    ho mathetes said...
    Thank you, friends, for your replies.

    I will respond in the order I have received your respective responses.

    - Yes, Vincentius, I am not interested in the mere facts of textual claims. My question was deliberately somewhat obscure because I was interested in framing it as I found it.

    - To take my question as "asking if inanimate bodies have an intrinsic principle of movement; more specifically, self-movement" is more generic than I was intending, as I am asking only about efficient causes of motion in the inanimate... though you seemed to be aware of this as indicated by your fire example. All the same, a discussion of how the causes in general are in the inanimate could be conducive to answering my particular question.

    - Your 'caveat' is duly noted, Vincentius. I also agree that his 'omnes' argument is weak.

    - natural_inquirer, I also think you are right about your general point. I am asking, however, about the particular case Vincentius distinguished in his latest reply...

    - As for my own thoughts on the matter, it doesn't seem hard to conceive an inanimate thing moving itself part by part, or however you would describe the analogous motion in a continuous substance. And it would seem that the prior part would be 'from whence is beginning the motion and the beginning of rest (my more literal translation- please excuse my fussing)'
    And it would seem that such an efficiency would be 'of the nature' insofar as it is the nature of such a thing to have parts that can act on each other. And the nature of the parts, apropos, would seem to be due to a formal quality of the thing... does this sound right?
    Natural_Inquirer said...
    yes...mathetes, but would Aristotle say that? It seems the Philosopher would invision the whole of the inanimate substance, moving at once and as one...am I right? It seems to me that by which you say part in the inanimate and part in the animate belongs to quantity. But, in the organized body, there is the added qualitative perfection of these parts inasmuch as they are now actually, and not potentialy, distinct from the other parts of the whole. This real distinction would allow for activity to be received by one part from another part...am I right? Is this possible if the parts are only virtually distinct?
    Vincentius said...
    I like your line of reasoning, Inquirer. But one could still object that inanimate bodies have distinct principles, namely form and matter. Why couldn't one be active on the other, like an animal's soul moving its body?

    Here's a more dialectical approach to arguing that non-living bodies are not intrinsic agents: If inanimate bodies can be self-movers, how do you differentiate them from living bodies? (c.f. S.T. I Q.18 a.1)
    Frater Asinus said...
    I have to agree with Vincentius on this one. I cannot see how you would distinguish between living and non-living if you say there is an intrinsic principal of motion in the inanimate. Let us look more closely at the article that Vincentius referenced above.

    In the respondeo St. Thomas reason's thus: Primo autem dicimus animal vivere, quando incipit ex se motum habere; et tandiu iudicatur animal vivere, quandiu talis motus in eo apparet; quando vero iam ex se non habet aliquem motum, sed movetur tantum ab alio tunc dicitur animal mortuum, per defectum vitae

    That seems to be clear and sound reasoning to me. The only other possibility that one might take up for natural motion on inanimate bodies would be to look at the movement of the planets and even, perhaps, of fire.

    Even here, however, I think it is necessary to see that there is some natural place of inanimate bodies. For, it seems that inanimate bodies are of such a nature to be moved in this way or that way, but in all cases we see that that motion must arise from another, if we are discussing something truly inanimate.

    Finally, one could make an argument that fire is alive, or some such thing. But this would be beyond the scope of our present consideration.

    I end with the words of the master: Ut sic viventia dicantur quaecumque se agunt ad motum vel operationem aliquam, ea vero in quorum natura non est ut se agant ad aliquem motum vel operationem, viventia dici non possunt, nisi per aliquam similitudinem.
    ho mathetes said...
    Greetings, All.

    Yes, I agree that if you say strictly speaking that a inanimate thing is able to move itself it is indistinguishable from the ensouled. I was not being clear about this. However, it seems to me that it is plausible that if the beginning of an efficient motion is from the outside of an inanimate body, the body may be able to, due to the formal quantity of its parts, move itself with respect of part to part (and again in the analogous cause in the continuous.) Hence the ratio of efficiently in the motive parts of such a inanimate substance would be as a secondary or instrumental agent, where a primary agent is other and must always (in some way) be present. I think this is to disagree with natural_inquirer's comment that inanimate substances always move 'as one.' Where is that text in Aristotle? ...The case I am thinking about is something like in the case of an initial wave moving through the continuous.

    [NB: We discussed this outside of the blog already, but I thought it would be helpful to explicate the discussion here.]
    ho mathetes said...
    NB Correction: "Hence, the ratio of efficiency in the motive..."

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