D A Series of Generating Causes

He might mean that it is theoretically impossible for the series of explanatory dependent beings to be beginningless, theoretically impossible for Q1 to be correctly answered again and again in terms of generating causes that 'go on ad infinitum' into 'the dark backward and abysm of time' (The Tempest, Act I, sc. ii). He might; but he doesn't. As I pointed out in Chapter Two, Aquinas argues elsewhere in SCG and in other works against the impossibility of the infinite temporal and causal regress entailed by the notion of our world's 22

having existed always.

22 See e.g. SCG II.31-8 and ST la.46; also, specifically, his very short, polemical treatise De aeternitate mundi, contra murmurantes.

In doing so, he sometimes expressly supports the theoretical possibility of a regress that is infinite, as he says, only accidentally (per accidens). For instance, in connection with efficient causes a regress that is infinite accidentally is not considered impossible—if, that is, all the infinitely many causes have the order of only one cause, but their being many is accidental. A carpenter, for example, acts by means of accidentally many hammers because one after another of them breaks; and so it is an accidental characteristic of this hammer that it acts after the action of another hammer. Similarly, it is an accidental characteristic of this man, in so far as he begets, that he has been begotten by another; for he begets in so far as he is a man and not in so far as he is the son of another man, since all men considered as begetters have a single status among efficient causes, the status of a particular begetter.

end p.99


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And so it is not impossible that a man be begotten by a man ad infinitum. (ST la.46.2, ad 7)

For many things to 'have the order of only one cause (non teneant ordinem nisi unius causae)' or 'to have a single status among efficient causes (habent gradum unum in causis efficientibus)' is for their plurality to be irrelevant to the causal activity of any one of them, whether or not they are elements in a single causal series. The many hammers successively owned and used by the carpenter, one at a time, are not elements in a single causal series, but are altogether causally independent of one another: each of them does its hammering without in any way depending on its predecessors. On the other hand, each human begetter in a single line of biological descent is causally dependent on his immediate predecessor in that causal series in one respect—for his having been begotten. Even so, each of them does his begetting without depending on any of his predecessors in that respect. A father's begetting, considered just as such, is no more dependent on his father's begetting him than this hammer's hammering is dependent on the most recently discarded hammer's hammering. Since the plurality of these independently operating causes is entirely accidental to the causality of any one of them, there is in theory no reason why the series of hammers, or even the series of begetters, should not have been beginningless, should not constitute a temporally infinite regress.

So, when Aquinas says in lines 6-7 that 'one cannot go on ad infinitum in [a series of] causes', he doesn't mean that if we start with any doubly dependently existing thing, we can't in theory answer question Q1 ad infinitum in terms of a beginningless series of generating causes—an infinite regress of dependently existent, independently explanatory beings. In considering argument G2, we saw that Aquinas is occasionally willing to adopt the hypothesis of this world's beginninglessness for the sake of argument. Quite rightly, he takes the inclusion of that hypothesis to strengthen an argument for the existence of a first cause just because it poses a stiffer challenge to such an argument. So I propose adopting that hypothesis here in G6. I will suppose that for each and every thing that comes into existence the answer to Ql—the explanation of that dependent being's coming into existence—can be correctly given in terms of the causality of at least one earlier dependent end p.100

Kretzmann, Norman , (deceased) formerly Susan Linn Sage Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Cornell University, New York

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