Monday, January 21, 2019

A Thomistic argument for essentiality of origins

Here is a suggestive Thomistic line of thought in favor of the essentiality of origins—i.e., the principle that the causes of things are essential to them.

Consider two possible cases where a seed is produced in the same apple tree T:

  1. A seed is produced at t because of the tree’s exercise of seed-producing powers together with God’s cooperative exercise of primary causation.

  2. A seed is created directly at t by God and not by the exercise of the tree’s powers.

And suppose that the seeds in the two cases are exactly alike, occur in the same place on the tree, etc.

I will argue that the Thomist should say that these will be numerically different seeds, and the best explanation of their difference is given by essentiality of origins.

For the Thomist is committed to there being a genuine difference between the two cases. Cooperative divine-creaturely causality is metaphysically different from divine primary causality. But where does the difference lie? Well, in (1) the tree’s causal powers are activated, while in (2) they are not. But it is a standard scholastic maxim that the effect is the actuality of the cause qua cause. Thus it seems that the difference between cases (1) and (2) should be found in the effect, namely the seed.

Furthermore, suppose that the difference between the cases is solely located in the cause, namely that in case (1) the tree’s causal powers are activated but not in (2), and that this activation is an accident A of the tree. The difference between cases (1) and (2) then is that in case (1), A occurs in the tree and in case (2) it does not. But for any accident of the tree, God could miraculously suppress any effects of that accident. Thus, there will be a case where A occurs in the tree and no seed results. And we could, further, imagine that:

  1. Not only does God suppress the effects of A but he additionally directly miraculously produces an effect exactly like the one that A would have produced.

The difference between (3) and (1) can’t be in the activation of the tree’s causal power, since that is still there in (3). So we really should suppose a difference in the effects between (3) and (1). But a similar difference should exist between (2) and (1).

Note that the Thomist cannot say that there is a difference on the side of the causes lies in God, namely that in case (1), God’s causal power is unactivated but it is activated in (2) and (3). For an intrinsic difference in God between possible worlds would violate divine simplicity.

Thus, it is the effects, namely the seeds, that are numerically different, and they are different precisely because their causes are different. But the seeds are exactly alike. So the difference must be a metaphysical difference between the seeds. And this strongly suggests essentiality of origins. Indeed, it suggests that entities have encoded within them the identity of their cause.

Objection: The argument at most suggests that there has to be a numerical difference when something is produced by a finite cause (with God cooperating) and when something is produced directly by God. But why think there is also a difference when the effect is produced by one finite cause rather than another?

Response: The simplest metaphysical explanation of why it makes a difference whether God produces the effect or it is produced by finite causes is that the effect has metaphysically encoded in it what its cause was. In fact, my own view is that this may be found in the effect’s esse: perhaps an effect’s esse is to be caused by this-and-that.

Moreover, suppose that there need be no numerical difference between effects of different finite causes, but there is a numerical difference between direct effects of divine causation and the effects of finite causes. Then in principle scientists could have directly made the numerically same seed that the tree made in (1), but God couldn’t have directly made the numerically same seed. That seems unacceptable. (Of course, one might rejoin that essentiality of origins is unacceptable as it implies that God couldn’t directly make the numerically same seed that the tree could make. But when, as I suppose, an effect of necessity encodes in itself what its cause is, the impossibility of something’s being made by a different cause does not seem to be a limitation on that cause.)

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