Cause. That without which something else could
not exist, which something else is called the effect.
Aristotle, as is
well known, divided causes into four kinds: the formal cause,(1) the material,(2) the efficient,(3)
and the final.(4) The third, the efficient, is the agency whereby the
effect is produced; the second, the material, the matter in which it is
produced; the first, the formal, the distinctive characteristics in
virtue of which it is what it is; the fourth, the final, the end for
which it is called into being.
Thus the efficient cause of the Venus di
Medici was the tool guided by the sculptor's hand, the material the
marble, the formal being a statue of Venus, and the final to be a
representation of Venus, or to be an object in which Venus might be
worshipped, or to give delight as an exhibition of the loveliness of
which Venus is conceived as the representative. The beginner is apt to
be puzzled on hearing all these four ranked as causes. He is apt to
think the formal cause identical with the thing itself, and viewing all
cause as prior in time to the effect, he cannot see the propriety of
such a title as final cause. Yet if he think for a moment, he will see
that the final cause, the end to be effected, must have been antecedent
in the design to the effect. This classification, however, has not
remained a mere difficulty to the beginner. Reid, without gravely
objecting to it, considers the term cause to be used in it ambiguously,
and therefore denies that the four are species under one genus. To this
Hamilton justly replies that the coincidence of the four is a necessary
condition, a sine quâ non to the production of the effect.
Bacon, as is well known, pronounced final causes to be like virgins
consecrated to God, barren— barren, that is, of practical inventions and
operations. In its proper place he treats inquiry into them with no
disrespect, but complains only of the injury which it has done to
physical research by distracting men from due search after efficient and
The metaphysical difficulties and controversies of later days respecting
causation are connected solely with efficient causes. Into these I do
not enter at present. I will content myself with urging on those who do
not try to decompose the essential structure of the mind and thereby
turn all speculation into futility, and who, abiding in consequence by
the elementary forms of thought, believe that there is a real relation
between cause and effect, the following considerations.
Every efficient cause which comes within our observation is itself an
effect, as its cause in its turn will be found to be. Unless, then, the
chain is endless, there must be an ultimate or first cause (for either
term is used according to the terminus a quo of thought). Further, the
immediate effect with which we are concerned is the result of many
causes. Each of these as we ascend is the effect of fewer, so that mounting higher and higher we are compelled to believe that the first
cause, the cause of causes, is one.
The efficients which are between the effect and the first cause, are
called secondary causes.
(1) τὸ τι ἦν ειναι.
(2) ἥ ὑλη, Metaph. I. 3. τὀ τινὦν ὄντων ἀνάγκη
τουτ´ ειναι. Analyt Post. II, 11.
(3) ῾ή τι πρωτον έκινησε.
(4) τὸ τινος ἔνεκα, Analyt. Post. το ὁῡ