Whether Action is the Causality of an Efficient Cause

I. Preliminary remarks (DM 18.10, n. 1)

A. An agent's causality vs. the relation cause of

  • Suarez is careful to distinguish that which formally constitutes an agent as an efficient cause from the relation cause of which results from the agent's action. The relation presupposes the causality, since one of the terms of the relation, viz., the effect, is conceptually posterior to and terminates the causality. So the question is: What is the causality itself?

B. Suarez on action

  • For Suarez's extended treatment of action, we have to go to Disputations 48 and 49. Just for the record, in Disputation 48 he identifies action as a certain peculiar mode, viz., "the mode of constituting the terminus itself in reality insofar as the latter depends on and flows from its principle" (DM 48.4.13) In the case of creation and transubstantiation, this mode has no subject properly speaking, be it the agent or the effect produced. In the case of actions on already existent subjects, i.e., actions on a patient, the mode in question is an intrinsic modification of the patient that produces the effect within the patient. In the latter sort of case, the action and the passion are identical in reality. As Suarez puts the point in Disputation 49, insofar as this mode intrinsically modifies the patient, it is called a passion, whereas insofar as it is denominated as emanating from the agent, it is called an action. So in such cases the action has the patient, rather than the agent, as its metaphysical subject. In short, in such cases an action is in reality a mode of the patient insofar as the effect is actually being produced in it.

II. Competing views on the nature of an efficient cause's causality

  • The first two views examined by Suarez agree on the negative thesis that the agent's causality is distinct from its action. He himself will insist to the contrary that the causality just is the action. In any case, everyone agrees that the causality is in some sene a "path to" to the effect, which terminates it, and thus that the causality itself must be thought as constituting, and hence as being conceptually prior to, the existence of the effect. (In the same way, the mode of union between matter and form which constitutes a composite substance must be thought of terminating in, and hence as being conceptually prior to, the composite which it constitutes.)

A. First view (nn. 2-3)

  • The causality is something distinct from the action, since the causality is prior to the effect, whereas the action is itself an effect of the agent. Moreover, the causality, unlike the action, remains after the effect has been produced--or so they claim.
  • But, Suarez charges, when the proponents of this position are pressed to say exactly what the causality is, they claim that it is the production of (i.e., the giving of esse to) the effect. Yet this, Suarez contends, is to say nothing more than that the causality is the action itself. Thus, this position collapses back into the position that the causality is the action.

B. Second view (n. 4)

  • The causality is a mode that has the agent as its subject. However, since the action is not a mode of the agent, but is instead something outside the agent, the causality is not the action. (According to this position, in creation ex nihilo there is causality but no action, since there is no preexistent patient for the action to exist in). Also, according to this position, in many cases of efficient causality there is a single causality but a multiplicity of actions (p. 251, second paragraph). Therefore, the causality is distinct from the action.

C. Suarez's view (nn. 5-7)

  • The causality of an agent is just the action itself. (Look at the three arguments on pp. 252-254). The action is both sufficient and necessary for the production of the effect and, indeed, just is the effect's dependence on the agent for its esse. In reply to the other views, Suarez makes it clear that the causality, like the action, exists only so long as the agent in question is actually communicating esse to the effect. Hence, an agent that simply brings an effect into existence but then ceases to give it esse in any way is such that its causality with respect to that effect no longer exists--though it can still be said to be a cause of the thing because it brought it into existence at some previous time.

III. Replies to the arguments for the contrary positions (nn. 8-12)

Salient points:

  • An action can be said to be caused, but (i) it cannot be the only thing caused and (ii) it does not require a further causality through which it is caused.
  • The causality lasts as long as, and only as long as, the action lasts.
  • The action is not a mode of the agent qua agent, but is rather a mode of the patient qua patient--though in the case of immanent actions it is per accidens a mode of the agent because in such a case the agent and patient are identical.
  • In any given examples, there are as many causalities as there are actions. Thus the dreaded problem of act individuation does not cause any more trouble than usual here. Suarez does have a few things to say about this problem in the last two numbers of this section.