Univocal and Equivocal Causation

The strongest sort of likeness possible between an effect and its cause considered just as such is the kind occurring in connection with the sort of agent causation that requires the inclusion of the agent cause and its effect within the same species. Biological reproduction is the paradigm, but not the only instance: 'if the agent is included in the same species along with its effect, then between the maker and what is made there will be a likeness in form that is in keeping with the same ratio as is associated with the species—for instance, [when] a human being generates a human being' (ST la.4.3c), or 'when the form of what is generated is antecedently in the generator in the same mode of being and in similar matter—for instance, when a fire generates a fire' (In Met. VII: L8.1444), or when 'heat produces heat' (In Sent. 1.8.1.2c).

Aquinas uses the word ratio often and importantly in these discussions, and I haven't found a single fully satisfactory translation for it here, mainly because in its various occurrences it conveys a variously proportioned blend of meaning, definition, concept, model, and essential nature. 'Theoretical account' or 'intelligible nature' may come close to being acceptable as a single equivalent, but I'm going to leave ratio in Latin, commenting on what I take to end p.147

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© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved be its sense when it seems problematic. In the example of human reproduction in these passages the form is evidently humanity, and the ratio associated with the species is pretty clearly the definition rational animal, which is necessarily suited to both the agent and its effect, because they're

both members of the human species.

signification expresses the essence of a human being as it really is (secundum quod est), for it signifies its definition declaring its essence, since the ratio that a name signifies is its definition.' In notes to this passage the editors of the Marietti edn. say: The ratio here is the objective concept (or that which we understand of any thing formally—per se, primarily), since it is what is cognitively primary about a thing (principium cognoscitivum rei).' They also cite la.15.3c and Aristotle's Metaphysics III 7, 1012a21-4 with In Met. Ill: L16.733.

'Mode' is another term used importantly in these passages on same-species agent causation and elsewhere in Aquinas's account of likeness, causal and otherwise. Sometimes, as here, it picks out the way in which the shared form is realized in the cause and in the effect: flesh and bone in the example of human reproduction. But, as we'll see, Aquinas uses 'mode' in this context also to indicate the degree to which the shared form is realized in the cause and in the effect. In the example of human reproduction the mode in this second sense is essentially just the same, since humanity is realized

completely, perfectly, in both cause and effect.

17 ST la.4.3c provides a helpful introduction to the use of ratio and 'mode' in connection with likeness outside the context of causality: '[S]ome things are said to be like each other that share in the same form both as regards the ratio and as regards the same mode. They are called not only alike, but equal in their likeness. For instance, two things that are equally white are called alike in whiteness. And this is the most perfect likeness. Things that share in a form as regards the same ratio although not as regards the same mode but, rather, to a greater or lesser degree (secundum magis et minus) are said to be alike in another way—as what is less white is said to be like what is whiter. And this is an imperfect likeness.'

This strongest sort of causal likeness supports an altogether univocal application of the same species-term both to the agent cause (which is more conveniently designated 'C' here) and to its effect, E (where the effect is P's having been informed with f). For that reason Aquinas calls this sort of agent

causation univocal (or even entirely univocal

). The detailed essential likeness of E to its univocal agent cause C and the fact that 'human being', 'fire', or 'heat' is predicable univocally of both C and E in such cases is founded on three (or four) samenesses: (1) the same form, f, is antecedently in C and consequently in E; (2) fis associated with end p.148

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the same ratio in both C and E;

19 See Aristotle, Categories 1, la6; translated from the Latin version Aquinas would have read: 'But those that have a name in common and the same ratio of substance corresponding to the name are called univocal—e.g. animal: a human being and a cow.'

(3a) fis essentially realized in the same way in both C and E; and (3b) fis

essentially realized to the same degree in both C and E.

20 By 'essentially' here, I mean to exclude individuating distinctions.

But, for several reasons, univocal causation can't be a relationship that provides a basis for likeness between God and any of his effects. Among the more interesting and less obvious of those reasons is the fact that, as we saw in Chapter Three, Aquinas acknowledges that in a series of the sort of causes and effects that are here identified as univocal it's theoretically possible for there to be an infinite regress. Furthermore, the fact that in univocal causation the form shared by C and E is realized in the same way and to the same degree is guaranteed by the fact that the relationship between C and E must be the natural generation of one member of a species by another member of the same species. But if C and E aren't included in a single species, 'it is possible that the effect's actualization be [essentially] more imperfect than the actuality of the agent cause, since an action can be weakened as a consequence (ex parte) of that in which it terminates' (28.265). And since God belongs to no species or genus at all (1.25), God as agent cause and God's effects can't be included in any single species. Finally, 'every effect of a univocal agent is on a par with the agent's power; but no created thing, since it is finite, can be on a par with the first agent's power, 21

since it is infinite.

21 As Aquinas will argue in SCG 1.43. And so it is impossible that a likeness of God be received univocally in a created thing' (QDP 7.7c).

So God's effects, even those that are perfect of their kind, are in some essential respect essentially less than their cause, and, according to chapter 29, 'effects that are [essentially] less than their causes (a suis causis deficientes) do not agree with them in name and ratio. None the less, it is necessary that some likeness be found between them, for it is part of the nature of action that an agent does what is like itself, since each thing acts in keeping with its being in actuality (secundum quod actu est) [not in a state of mere potentiality]. That is why the form of the effect is indeed found somehow in a cause that [essentially] surpasses its effect, but in another mode, and in connection with another ratio. And for that reason end p.149

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[such a cause] is called an equivocal cause' (29.270). So if C is an equivocal cause of E, then (1) the same form, f, is antecedently in C and consequently in E; but (2') it is not the case that fis associated with the same ratio in C

22 See Aristotle, Categories 1, lal; translated from the Latin version Aquinas would have read: 'Things that have only a name in common but a different ratio of substance corresponding to the name are called equivocal—e.g. animal: a human being and a picture [of a human being].'

(3a') it is not the case that fis essentially realized in the same way in C and in E; and (3b') it is not the case that fis essentially realized to the same degree in C and in E.

Since univocal causation supports a univocal application of the same term to both the effect and the cause, it might be supposed that equivocal causation could support only an equivocal application—in which case it would look as if any terminological sameness in this connection would be 'agreement only as regards names'. And if that's so, it might then look as if we can 'know nothing of God other than empty names under which there would be no reality'when we try to move beyond the negations of the eliminative method. But only the already discounted accidental efficient causation could be purely equivocal (as biological reproduction is purely univocal). Only of that sort of case would it be true also that (1') it is not the case that the same form is antecedently in C and consequently in E. Purely equivocal causation is efficient causation by chance, as pure equivocation is

terminological sameness by chance.

23 e.g. 'ball' for a round object and for a formal dancing party. What we have in this case, considered etymologically, is two words that Just happen to be spelled and pronounced the same. See e.g. 33.290: '[N]ot everything predicated of God and of other things is said in accordance with pure equivocation, like those [terms] that are equivocal by chance.'

And in the systematically justifiable propositions of natural theology, 'nothing is predicated of God and of other things in accordance with pure equivocation' (33.291).

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Responses

  • FERRUCCIO GIORDANO
    What is category translation, univocal and equivocal language in Bible?
    8 years ago
  • Askalu
    Is book a univocal or equivocal?
    2 months ago

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