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CHAPTER II.That every Agent acts to some End

IN the case of agents that manifestly act to some end, we call that the end to which the effort of the agent tends. Gaining that, he is said to gain his end; and missing that, he is said to miss his intended end. Nor on this point does it make any difference whether the end be tended to with knowledge or not: for as the target is the end of the archer, so is it also the end of the path of the arrow.507507What is the end of the path of a snow-flake? St Thomas would probably have said that its end was to find the proper place of water, which is below air and above earth. But in this chapter he returns a more scientific answer: “Every agent tends to some definite effect, and that is called its end.” Speaking then of physical agencies, and remaining in the mere physical order, all that the statement at the head of this chapter comes to is this, that physical agents work definitely and uniformly: or as Aristotle puts it (De part. animal. I, I, 34, 37, 38): “Nature does all things for something: . . . . everywhere we say, this for that, wherever there appears an end in which the motion terminates, provided nothing comes in the way: wherefore it is evident that there is such a thing as what we call nature: for it is not anything and everything that comes out of every germ, but this out of that.” The effort of every agent tends to some certain end. Not any and every action can proceed from any and every power. Action is sometimes terminated to some product, sometimes not. When action is terminated to some product, the effort of the agent tends to the same. When action is not terminated to any product, the effort of the agent tends to the action itself. Every agent therefore must intend some end in his action, sometimes the action itself, sometimes something produced by the action.

3. It is impossible for the chain of actions to extend to infinity: there must then be something, in the getting of which the effort of the agent comes to rest. Therefore every agent acts to some end.

6. Actions are open to criticism only so far as they are taken to be done as means to some end. It is not imputed as a fault to any one, if he fails in effecting that for which his work is not intended. A physician is found fault with if he fails in healing, but not a builder or a grammarian. We find fault in points of art, as when a grammarian does not speak correctly; and also in points of nature, as in monstrous births. Therefore both the natural agent, and the agent who acts according to art and with a conscious purpose, acts for an end.

7. To an agent that did not tend to any definite effect, all effects would be indifferent. But what is indifferent to many things, does not do one of them rather than another: hence from an agent open to both sides of an alternative (a contingente ad utrumque) there does not follow any effect, unless by some means it comes to be determined to one above the rest: otherwise it could not act at all. Every agent therefore tends to some definite effect, and that is called its end.

Still there are actions that do not seem to be for any end, as things done for sport, and acts of contemplation, and things done without advertence, as the stroking of the beard and the like: from which instances one may suppose that there is such a thing as an agent acting not for any end. But we must observe that though acts of contempation are not for any other end, they are an end in themselves: as for things done in sport, sometimes they are their own end, as when one plays solely for the amusement that he finds in play; sometimes they are for an end, as when we play that afterwards we may resume work more vigorously: while things done without advertence may proceed not from the understanding, but from some phantasy or physical 186principle; yet even these acts tend to certain ends, though beyond the scope of the intellect of the agent.

Hereby is banished the error of certain ancient natural philosophers (Empedocles and Democritus, mentioned in Aristotle, Physics II, ii, 6) who supposed all things to happen by necessity of matter, and eliminated final causes from the universe.


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