What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Davidson’s anomalous monism

Over at my personal blog: Some more philosophy of mind, if that's your bag.

Comments (11)

"As I have argued elsewhere (e.g. here), the correct way to understand mental-physical “interaction” is on the model of what Aristotelians call formal causation rather than efficient causation."

What, exactly, is the nature of this causal relationship? Most modern people understand efficient causation and what is means to be an efficient cause of something. But in what way does something's form cause it to exist?

Most modern people understand efficient causation...

Edward, that is a very optimistic generalization : )

Here I thought that most modern people didn't understand anything, least of all philosophy.

On a serious note, I have read your two articles on philosophy of the mind and am grateful for your work. My main line of study is not philosophy. Furthermore, I am very cynical about receiving an honest account from popular introductory works on philosophy and similar commentaries. I think I have a well founded fear that they too often read the present (and their own pet theories) into the past works they comment upon and pretend to elucidate. This has tended to throw me upon reading the original works themselves, with only the humble sail of my lone mind to navigate the waters. Thank you for a little helpful wind.

I'm pretty sure the Edward Feser who posted the article and the "Edward" who responded are not the same person. I'll admit to the same confusion in another thread in which the latter Edward commented. Feser usually has his last name and a link in his comments.

How about this name? Seems a fitting distinction.

But in what way does something's form cause it to exist?

That's easy --

As we learned in university concerning the rudiments of Biochemistry, "Form determines Function".

Roughly speaking, a particular type of protein only exists due to form, which conformation allows for its specific purpose (a certain capability/activity); its intended function. Absent form, it virtually becomes non-existent.


I mean in a specifically Aristotelian/Thomistic sense. It seems as if you are saying that formal causation is intrinsically interrelated with final causation, but it is still not entirely clear to me.

Roughly speaking, a particular type of protein only exists due to form, which conformation allows for its specific purpose (a certain capability/activity); its intended function. Absent form, it virtually becomes non-existent.

Your Biochemistry professor was obviously very capable, and you are perfectly correct concerning proteins. But I'm afraid the waters get much deeper when the soul is considered, and judging from your "viola" you knew that : D

For the protein form and function are entangled to the point of being synonymous. While this might have been true of the human in Eden, it isn't true of the American (and this isn't false humility speaking).

Nor do you, by simply expanding the model of the protein exponentially, get the form/function relationship of the human. It is just this sort of hand waving that underpins a lot of the materialistic and social Darwinian arguments that creep into discussion all the time. There is a difference in kind between the physical function of the protein and the operation of the human creature.

Edward (your self-effacement, by the way, proves you are not the lesser), so far as I understand it, the Aristotelian reckoning of formal causation would include the potential purpose of the human creature (not a hot topic at all) and its relationship to an inventory of its parts (also, not much debate here either, the soul is still a given these days right?)

Hello Edward (the other Edward),

That's a big question, but basically the form (or, more precisely, the substantial form) of a thing is the essence or nature it instantiates, and it "causes" a thing in the sense of making or constituting it as the kind of thing it is. For example, what makes a human being the kind of thing it is is rational animality. As Aristocles and Brett indicate, the form of a thing is accordingly more than merely the configuration of its parts, and includes the tendencies or ends toward which it is naturally directed.

"Cause" in Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics has a broader meaning than it has in modern philosophy; the term "explanation" is closer to what A-T has in mind by it. Moderns often regard the Aristotelian view as odd or eccentric, but in fact it (or some variation on it) was the standard view until only relatively recently in intellectual history. Historically, the moderns are the odd ones, and their lack of a historical sense has (I would say) given them an inflated sense of their own grasp of what is "intuitive" vs. "odd." (This is a pet peeve of mine. I've got a million of 'em.)

Along those lines, I would dispute the claim that moderns really understand efficient causes, BTW. What they mean by "cause" is really a bastardized version of what the older tradition meant by efficient cause. From an A-T point of view, formal and efficient causes necessarily go hand in hand and the latter are unintellligible without the former. The endless puzzles over causation that have afflicted modern philosophy since Hume (actually, since before Hume) are a direct consequence of this severing of efficient from final cause. Again, I've discussed this elsewhere, e.g. in TLS.

:) Which I've bought and which is on its way over the pacific.

I do plan on getting your book, probably ordering it off Amazon. It sounds like an extremely important book. I'll need while I am taking multiple modern philosophy courses at once next semester.

I obviously do not have as good a grasp on this as you do. When I said efficient cause I meant in the sense that a child comes from his parents or a table comes from a carpenter. I'm probably stating it as loosely as possible, and I am not, as you have shown, entirely correct either.

I just realized that my use of the word cause almost necessarily entails the exclusion of formal and final causes, the word 'explanation' makes it much clearer. It is hard to shake off modern terminology. It has built an almost impenetrable barrier between modern man and pre-modern philosophy, especially Aristotle.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.