Monday, July 18, 2005

A Metaphysical Argument for God's Immutability

Posted in: Philosophy, Theology

Understanding how an being of Pure Act does not change in becoming a cause requires a an understanding of efficient causality. The efficient cause is that by which something comes to be or exists. The efficient cause of this post is me, I am the means by which the writing comes to be. In order for me to cause this post I must exist as a being; I must be in full act as the agent of the cause; and the post I am writing must be actually receiving the action of writing. All of these qualifications are being met in my writing of this paper. I am a being, I am in the full act of composing the post, and there is actually a post being written. The causality of my act is entirely in the post, nothing is being caused in me as an agent.
How is it though, that an efficient cause can effect change but does not itself change? First, there is no necessity for the agent to change when it causes something. When I type this post I do not change nor do I lose anything. In putting my ideas into the post through these words I do not lose the ideas, nothing in my knowledge changes. To better explain this take the example of a stereo which is turned on and playing music. The stereo is in the full act of playing music. Anything with the capacity to hear will be caused to hear music when they come into proximity of the stereo (especially if the volume dial goes to 11). However, the stereo in causing a being to hear music does not change, all of the change is in the patient not in the agent.

It may be objected that in our experience an efficient cause does change in causing an effect. For instance if I purchase something I must pay for it and in so doing I lose money and change in what I possess. In all reality I do lose something even in typing this post, namely, the energy it took me to create it; the same is true for the stereo in playing music. The loses here, however, are not a function of efficient causality but a consequence of materiality. If an agent does change in causing something to be, it is because the agent itself is a material being and is itself dependent upon another cause; it too has an efficient cause. The agents of our experience are never in absolute act and thus because of their potency do change even in causing things. This, however, has no bearing on the nature of efficient causality which, in itself, as a cause from an agent in full act, does not cause any effect in anything other than the patient.

From this evidence, it can be concluded that a being of Pure Act could not possibly change in causing anything. A being who is Pure Act could only act as the efficient cause since this being is always in full act. As Pure Act, this being would have no materiality or potential since act in the order in which it is act is unlimited and unique (see post below Defense of a Metaphysical Theorem) and consequently, as efficient cause, not only would this being not change, but it could not change. The effects of Pure Act would reside exclusively in the patients. Pure Act may only cause effects, it cannot be effected.


Blogger Clark Goble said...

Regarding your first example. When you type you do change and you do lose something. It takes work to type and momentum is lost by you and gained by the keys. The notion that efficient causation doesn't require change in the source of the cause seems quite at odds with how efficient causation has been taken for some time.

Certainly Aristotle wouldn't have thought that. But it seems impossible to find a real world example of efficient causation that doesn't simultaneously bring about a change in the source of the cause.

Your idealistic example of writing ideas, I'd disagree that ideas don't change there as well, depending upon how open you are to meaning holism. Even if you reject the stronger versions of it, one must acknowledge that your knowledge of the use of the terms has changed. Their connotations has changed as well.

Regarding the stereo with music, of course the stereo changes a great deal. At a minimum there is the electricity moving within it. Then there are the speakers whose paper moves producing the sound waves in the air.

You later anticipate some of these responses (although not quite how I put them) However I don't quite follow your explanation here regarding materiality. Exactly how are the changes I listed not due to efficient causality but are rather due to materiality. I just don't see that - at least not in an Aristotilean sense. So I assume you don't mean material causality.

It seems this is the key argument, but the way you are presenting it seems a bit circular.

10:37 PM  
Blogger M. Hipsley said...


Thanks for your criticism. It seems that I was not nearly as clear in what I was saying as I had hoped. This is not really a surprise as I am still working through a lot of this myself. So let me begin by thanking you for helping me clarify what I was trying to convey.

The jist of my argument is that an efficient caus, as such, does not require a change in the agent. The reason that efficient causes in the material world do change is due not to the fact that they are efficient causes, but that they are material efficient causes. It is due to the kind of efficient cause that they are that they must change. There is nothing about efficient causality in itself that requires the agent to change. I will grant that the examples are hard to come by, as my post obviously demonstrates, but nevertheless there is nothing about the efficient cause that requires the agent of that cause to change. Still in this material world there are examples of this kind of thing even if not perfect examples. For instance when I write these thoughts down, I do not lose the thoughts in giving them. There is no change in my knowledge as the result of expressing my ideas. That is what I was trying to get at.

I hope this clarifies things. Please bring forward any additiona criticisms that you may have.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

Doesn't this just reduce to, "efficient causation as Aristotle defined it doesn't require the cause to change." Then, "all change we see does require the cause to change." But all that begs the question, outside of a question of faith, as to whether there is an actual example of efficient causation that doesn't involve change of the causer.

The idea that what I communicate isn't lost is true. But that seems to avoid the nature of the naturalistic critique, which would certainly strongly argue that to communicate ideas you must change.

11:17 AM  
Blogger M. Hipsley said...

I don't think I am begging the question. What I am saying is that there is nothing about efficient causality per se that requires a change in the agent. All this is to say that God as the effieicent cause of all things does not or at least need not change in so causing.

I am granting that it is extremely difficult (most likely impossible) to give an example of a physical agent that does not change in any way in the process of efficient causality. However I am arguing that this is not a function of effiecient causality, as such, but of the kind of efficient causes that physical beings are. Physical beings have to change in doing anything by virtue of the nature of being physical beings not by virtue of being causes.

If you grant me that in some sense an agent can cause something without losing anything itself, as the example of knowledge demonstrates, then this indicates that causation is possible without change in the agent in at least some sense. As far as knowledge is concerned, I do not lose any in causing someone else to obtain it. I may lose other things and change in the process of being the agent by which someone learns but in the strict sense of causing knowledge, being the efficient cause of knowledge does not require me as the agent to change in my knowledge. So efficient causality does not necessitate change in itself.

If God is real and if He is pure Act then there is nothing about being the efficient cause that requires Him to change for He is not the same kind of efficient cause as we are.

What about efficient causality, as such, necessitates change in the agent? I do not see why this is necessary even if there is an absence of perfect examples in the physical world. Nor should we expect to find any if the nature of physical things requires them to change in performing any act including a causal act.

Thanks for the response! Good stuff!

1:18 PM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

With regards to Aristotle's definition which was taken up by so much philosophy, I'd definitely agree. But at a minimum it seems an open question whether there is efficient causation in which the cause doesn't change.

To me it seems a fair criticism to suggest that perhaps Aristotle was simply wrong in how openly he framed efficient causation.

Certainly in terms of faith, especially in terms of a history that makes use of Aristotle, one can adopt what you say. But that then seems do be just that, an assumption and not an argument as such.

The problem is that I think we're conflating a definition provided by Aristotle with what is actual. If the question then becomes, does causation require change is the cause, then that's a fair question. But I don't think it is answerable, beyond the fact there are no examples of unmoved movers outside of faith. So I think induction then enters in.

Of course faith is the way out of this. Which is why, perhaps, the arguments taken on their own terms are different than arguments that are really explanations rather than arguments as such.

5:29 PM  
Blogger M. Hipsley said...

I will grant that Aristotle could be wrong in how he framed efficient causality. The question though is was he? And, if he was wrong, why was he wrong? To say that his definition may not suffice is at this point a purely hypothetical specualtion. What is wrong with his definition? Why is it inadequate? I just don't see what the problem is.

Moreover, all I have to be committed to is the fact that efficient causality does not nessecitate change in the agent, whether there actually is a case of this in the physical world, is beside the point. Your argument that we must begin with the actuality of the unmoved mover is correct and well said. I do not disagree at all. However the actual existence of this being is arrived at by other means. I was assuming the actuality of the unmoved mover or necessary being and merely trying to demonstrate that such a being need not change in being the efficient cause of all other beings. If it there is nothing about efficient causality that requires change in the agent then it is not contradictory to say that God is the creator and did not change in any way in creating. That is all I am committed to.

As far as gaining access to knowledge of the actual existence of the unmoved mover, this must be arrived at by different means; namely, by reasoning from effect to cause or through divine revelation. I don't think that this is an inaccessible "faith" issue though. I hold that you can know that there is an unmoved mover through this inductive process.

Once it is granted that effiecient causality, as such, does not require a change in the agent then the charge of contradiction for creator who does not change in the creative act disappears. That is all I must be committed to. I can arrive at the

5:42 AM  
Blogger Sal Monella said...

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7:39 AM  

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