The order of causality in the Second Way

The Second Way begins not from efficient causes simply but from an order of efficient causes. In other words, it assumes we see a multiplicity of efficient causes with a relation to some first. This happens either (a) when the causes are related as one part to another in a whole or (b) when a whole relates to some extrinsic agency. (a) type causes are like the way the motor relates to the axle relates to the wheel or the muscle relates to the jaw relates to the food; (b) type causes are the way that the river relates to the mill or the way chemical energy in the gas relates to the car or the way the driver relates to the car. Neither the river nor chemical energy are parts of the things they are driving: skill at making engine parts, for example, does not show one how to refine gas. The mechanism as a whole is left open to some source that is taken as given and as having an operation by itself. Again, (a) type efficient causes are treated as forming complete system (b) type efficient causes treat causes that are beneath the first as open systems.

While (a) type orders of efficient causes are easier to understand and are useful in getting the conversation started, The Second Way has to be thinking from (b) type orders of efficient causes. The vision of God/ a god we get from this is a source of action that does not in any way arise from another source of action, say in the way that the kinetic energy of the car arises from the chemical energy in the gas. This requires that the primary order of efficient causality is one that causes and is taken as a given that is prior to any quantity that is kept constant throughout changes, and we can recognize this in our modern system of natural science as being a cause above nature.


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