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WAS OCKHAM A HUMEAN ABOUT EFFICIENT CAUSALITY?^ In his book The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Etienne Gilson revived the notion that where causality is concerned, William Ockham comes very close to the empiricism of David Hume. Gilson writes, "What is a cause? Most men naturally think, or imagine, that something flows out of the so-called cause and becomes an integral part of the being of the effect...'2 Ockham's most distinguished predecessors had insisted that being a cause and being an effect were mind-independent real relations.3 Yet, Gilson observes, "According to Ockham, there is nothing in sensible experience to confirm such a supposition."4 We have no intuitive cognitions of any such causal influx or real relations. Rather "what intuitive knowledge teaches us is that every time fire, for instance, comes in contact with a piece of wood, heat begins to appear in that wood."5 Nor can we say that "regular sequences" give us evidence of any ontological connection , given Ockham's views regarding divine omnipotence. For even if heating and combustion regularly occur when fire is close enough to fuel, "God could have decreed once and for all that He Himself would create heat in pieces of wood, or paper, every time the fire would be present to the paper or wood. Who could prove to us that, even now, God does not actually do this?"6 1 I am indebted to Robert Merrihew Adams for philosophical and editorial comments; to Keith S. Donnellan, for a helpful discussion of Hume; and to Rega Wood for calling my attention to some relevant passages and for checking my quotations from Ockham's Expositio super Octo Libros Physicorum against the Florence manuscript (Firenze Naz. Conv. Supp. B.5.726). * The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1937, ch· 3. 82. * See section I below. 4 Op. cit., ch. 3, 83. s Ibid. * Op. cit., ch. 3, 83. 6 MARILYN MCCORD ADAMS In short, where causality is thought of as some sort of real relation, Ockham's philosophy will allow us no reason to believe that there is any such thing. So to conceive of causality, leads to scepticism about the existence of causality. Ockham's writings contain causal claims too numerous to count, however. In them, Gilson contends, Ockham understands by 'causality ' nothing more than regular sequence, and he represents Ockham as having arrived at this analysis by means of the following argument : i. We have no sense experience of anything flowing out of the putative cause into the putative effect or of any real relation between them, but only of a regular sequence between phenomena . 2."There can be nothing more in concepts than there actually is in intuitions." 3.Therefore, "the relation of cause to effect cannot mean more to the mind than what we actually perceive : a regular sequence between two phenomena."7 Not only does Ockham reduce causality to empirically observed correlations , Gilson charges that he is guilty of "psychologism" as well: "...Since the origin of causality cannot possibly be found in the thing itself, or in the intuition of the thing by the intellect, it must be explained by some other reason; and there is but one: it is what Ockham called a habitualis notitia and what Hume will simply call a habit..."8 We believe that fire causes heat in wood, because we have habitually associated fire and heat-production in our minds. And Gilson is suggesting that for Ockham such association is all that causality consists in. Harry R. Klocker echoes this interpretation in his article "Ockham and Efficient Causality."9 He suggests further that Ockham's empirical approach and his insistence that causal connections are contingent led him to reject "metaphysical" principles of causality such as 'Being cannot come from non-being,' 'Whatever is moved is moved by something else,' 'Potency can be reduced to act only ' Ibid. 8 Op. cit., 87. • "Ockham and Efficient Causality," Thomist, 23 (i960), 106-123. Was Ockham a Humean about Efficient Causality?? by something already in act',10 and so prompted him to attack his predecessors' arguments for the existence of God. u The latter theme is taken up...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 5-48
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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