“Cause” in St. Thomas’s axioms of causality

I wouldn’t presume that everyone comes to the idea of a cause in the same way, but at any rate everyone has some notion of one thing arising from another, or the transfer of something from A to B. St. Thomas called this influx. A notion like “responsibility” comes after this, and easily leads to confusion. A lightning bolt might be responsible for destroying a house or killing a cow, but this is a broader sense than the notion of influx from one thing to another, for no one thinks that it is destruction that is the thing transferred, or that death goes from the lightning bolt to the cow, even while the one is responsible for the other.  The word cause, however, is said both of this influx and thing that is responsible, though there are diverse orders among the meanings. In the order of our knowing, cause meaning responsibility is first since it is more general and indistinct; in the order of being or reality, cause meaning influx is first since influx does not happen because of responsibility, rather responsibility depends on influx.

All of St. Thomas’s axioms of causality apply to cause meaning influx and not responsibility. “A cause produces a similitude” or “an effect is pre-contained in the cause” or “nothing gives what it does not have” are absurd and obviously false when said of something merely responsible – the truth of the axiom that “nothing (that is, no cause) gives what it does not have” does not require that murderers are dead men or that one who yells “fire” is a riot. The axiom is not speaking of what is merely responsible for X but of an influx that gives rise to X.

Cause as influx can occur in two ways: either what inflows is present in the same way in both cause and effect (as when one moving thing makes another move, or one hot thing makes another hot); or in diverse ways (like when gravity makes something heavy; or when latent heat heats something). This is the basic division of univocal and equivocal cause, though it is incomplete until we consider the influx from the point of view of the perfection of bringing-into-being.

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