The analogy of being and primary and secondary causes.

Analogues do not complete a group; that is, a group is not incomplete if you leave off its analogues. If you ask me how many kinds of light there are, I might give you a group like (visible, infrared, ultraviolet) or (sunlight, moonlight, artificial light) but you can’t correct this by saying “you forgot a whole bunch of things: Descartes’s natural light, light blue, light humor, etc.” These are all analogues, that is, new meanings of sounds that arose from meanings known previously, but none of them fill out any of the first answers I gave. Analogues are new meanings of terms, but not new things filling out a real group. The only time one must include these extended meanings is when he wants to enumerate all the meanings of the term (say, in a lexicon or dictionary) and not when he wants to enumerate things in themselves.

This is one reason why Thomists insist that since God is named analogously to creatures that he cannot be a being. As odd and as striking as this is, it is also true that God is not a cause, since this is an immediate inference from the first claim. But then how can a cosmological argument possibly be correct?

All cosmological arguments proceed by identifying something as a secondary cause, and secondary and primary causes do not share a common group. Example: if you asked me how many different things made music I could fill out a group like (pianos, guitars, violas… etc.). You can’t object to this by saying that I forgot Swedish harpsichordists, since they don’t fill out the group I was enumerating.  The group I was enumerating, which happened to be of secondary causes or instruments, is not incomplete if one leaves off primary causes.

To hit the crucial point, even after we have this strange dialogue about what “makes music” you can’t go back and form some general, univocal class of “music makers” that includes both pianos, guitars, and Swedish Harpsichordists. That is, you can’t make a general class of secondary and primary causes. Such a collection is not of real music makers, it is only a collection of things sharing the name “music maker”. In other words, this attempt to make some general, univocal class only succeeds by shifting from things that are named to the name itself.

But it is clear that while there is no general class of things falling under the term “music maker”, there is nevertheless an obvious ontological connection between guitars and guitarists. This is, again, the connection of a secondary to a primary cause, but we can’t add quickly enough that “cause” is no more a general group than “music maker” is.  Calling them both causes is a fact about the name – it is not a label for some group of real things that is completed by having both primary and secondary causes. But again, this merely nominal unity between the two classes does not preclude an ontological link between the things with the name.

Notice that there is a real sense in which St. Thomas says that the universe is all that exists. This is no different than saying that the group (shovel, hoe, lawn mower…) is all one needs to do garden work. Trying to include “a gardener” in this list is both a category mistake and a shift from talking about things to talking about names.  Thus, the universe is all that exists for St. Thomas; but he can also say that God is all that exists. This is just the way it is when one is referring to a primary and secondary cause that are both said to share a common predicate like “necessary for garden work” or “makes music” or “saws” or “exists”.


Brief corollary on predestination and “being God’s instrument”

I’ve make appeals to the relation between instruments and agents thought this post, but its important to note that every instrument, even as instrument, acts of itself so far as it works from its proper nature. Ovens really do heat even if they don’t heat things as chefs do. Calling human beings “instruments” of God does not mean that they lose self-direction or free choice any more than chefs make an oven lose its proper power to heat. In fact, the chef presupposes this power to heat, just as providence presupposes the self-direction of persons. Again, when we say that a knife can’t cut by itself we don’t mean it’s not sharp, only that it needs to be wielded by someone; and in the same way when we say that the saints are predestined we do not mean that they don’t have free choice and self-action. This is to confuse two utterly distinct senses of how things are “directed by themselves” in the same way that there are two utterly distinct senses of saying that a knife can’t cut (i.e. first, that it has no edge, second that it has no one wielding it.)

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