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CHAPTER LVIXOf the Opinion of those who withdraw from Natural Things their Proper Actions

SOME have taken an occasion of going wrong by thinking that no creature has any action in the production of natural effects, — thus that fire does not warm, but God causes heat where fire is present. So Avicebron642642The Jew, Salomon Ibn-Gebird. in his book, The Fountain of Life, lays it down that no body is active, but the power of a subsistent spirit permeating bodies does the actions which seem to be done by bodies. But on such theories many awkward consequences follow.

1. If no inferior cause, and especially no corporeal cause, does any work, but God works alone in all agencies, and God does not change by working in different agencies; no difference of effect will follow from the difference of agencies in which God works: but that is false by the testimony of sense.

2. It is contrary to the notion of wisdom for anything to be to no purpose in the works of the wise. But if created things in no way work to the production of effects, but God alone works all effects immediately, to no purpose are other things employed by Him.

3. To grant the main thing is to grant the accessories. But actually to do follows upon actually to be: thus God is at once pure actuality and the first cause. If then God has communicated to other beings His likeness in respect of being, it follows that He has communicated to them His likeness in respect of action.

4. To detract from the perfection of creatures is to detract from the perfection of the divine power. But if no creature has any action in the production of any effect, much is detracted from the perfection of the creature: 240for it marks abundance of perfection to be able to communicate to another the perfection which one has oneself.

5. God is the sovereign good (B. I, Chap. XLI). Therefore it belongs to Him to do the best. But it is better for good conferred on one to be common to many than for it to be confined to that one: for common good always proves to be more godlike than the good of the individual. But the good of one comes to be common to many when it is derived from one to many, which cannot be except in so far as the agent diffuses it to others by a proper action of its own. God then has communicated His goodness in such a way that one creature can transmit to others the good which it has received.

6. To take away order from creation is to take away the best thing that there is in creation: for while individual things in themselves are good, the conjunction of them all is best by reason of the order in the universe: for the whole is ever better than the parts and is the end of the parts. But if actions are denied to things, the order of things to one another is taken away: for things differing in their natures are not tied up in the unity of one system otherwise than by this, that some act and some are acted upon.

7. If effects are not produced by the action of creatures, but only by the action of God, it is impossible for the power of any creature to be manifested by its effect: for an effect shows the power of the cause only by reason of the action, which proceeds from the power and is terminated to the effect. But the nature of a cause is not known through its effect except in so far as through its effect its power is known which follows upon its nature.643643Hence they who deny all causative activity, and reduce causality to a particular case of sequence, further conclude, logically enough, that we can know nothing of ‘natures,’ ’substances,’ ‘essences,’ and ‘things in themselves,’ but only phenomena. Logic should further lead them to deny all potential being and all permanent existence, and to take up with the Heraclitean flux. If then created things have no actions of their own productive of effects, it follows that the nature of a created thing can never be known by its effect; and thus there is withdrawn from us all investigation of natural science, in which demonstrations are given principally through the effect.644644That is to say, the proofs are a posteriori, resting on experience. The order of nature is an historical order, particularly in its coexistences. It may be objected that the physicist may prescind entirely from the question agitated in this chapter. So indeed he may. But St Thomas’s ‘natural science’ includes physics and metaphysics. Metaphysics rest on an a posteriori basis of sensory experience. The enquiries in Aristotle’s eight books of Physics are chiefly metaphysical. No doubt, physics have gained by being made a speciality, apart from metaphysics. The former is the lower, the latter the higher science. You may stop short of the higher: but you can be no great master of the higher if you are quite a novice in the lower. Nemo metaphysicus quin idem physicus.

Some Doctors of the Moorish Law are said to bring an argument to show that accidents are not traceable to the action of bodies, the ground of the argument being this, that an accident does not pass from subject to subject: hence they count it an impossibility for heat to pass from a hot body to another body heated by it, but they say that all such accidents are created by God. Now this is a ridiculous proof to assign of a body not acting, to point to the fact that no accident passes from subject to subject. When it is said that one hot body heats another, it is not meant that numerically the same heat, which is in the heating body, passes to the body heated; but that by virtue of the heat, which is in the heating body, numerically another heat comes to be in the heated body actually, which was in it before potentially. For a natural agent does not transfer its own form to another subject, but reduces the subject upon which it acts from potentiality to actuality.645645The doctrine refuted in this chapter is known in more recent philosophy as Occasionalism. “Occasionalism . . . . teaches that created things are the mere occasions on which the Divinity takes the opportunity to act conformably to the requirements of the objects present; this theory is especially characteristic of the school of Descartes, and is in intimate connexion with the reduction of matter by that philosopher to extension, with inertia for its chief property. Matter, according to him, can itself do nothing: It is a mere receptivity and channel of communication or transference for the motion imparted by the Creator; it can hand about movement from particle to particle, but it cannot originate or destroy any; and thus it is opposed to mind, the very essence of which is thought or activity. Matter is inert extension, thought is ever operative inextension, etc.” See General Metaphysics, Stonyhurst Series, pp. 308-313.

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