Aspects of Agent Causes, Part

Aspects of Agent Causes, Part III
on agency and participation

Instruments are sorts of agent causes, because agents are active, perfecting causes, and instrument only adds to this the idea that the instrument is also passive and perfected by something else. This passivity in the instrument, however, is not to be understood as making it a sort of material cause- for an instrument is not something out of which a thing is made ( we don’t make dresses out of scissors).

We can distinguish two aspects in every instrument: a.) what it is in itself, b.) its participation in the superior causes. The first relates to the second as something that can be to something that is: because scissors are what they are, they are able to cut; because a bullet retains the force we impart to it, it is able to take down the deer; because I listen to the counselor, I am able to do the right thing.

All instrumental causes exist as causes by participation. The instrument becomes a cause at the exact moment when it begins to participate in the action of the superior cause or causes. In other words, as cause, to be is to participate.

All causes that are instruments to us have only an imperfect participation in our agency. I use this computer to write, and it only writes inasmuch as it is an extension and participation in my intentions, but there is more to the computer than what is participating in my intentions. There is something to the instrument that is not a participation in my agency. It will still be here after I stop writing. We can call this sort of agency we have over our instruments “imperfect” because something is called a cause because it is responsible for being, and our agency is not perfectly responsible for the being of the instruments, but only inasmuch as they participate in our intentions, which they do not do in a complete way.


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