-- The Determinism and Freedom Philosophy Website --
Thomas Hobbes was the first great defender of determinism as we know it. After he gets some terminology sorted out in this account of the nature of causation from his Elements of Philosophy, he says various interesting things about causation as we ordinarily understand it and as it seems to be in fact. But at the centre of the account is his conviction that an effect as we ordinarily understand it and as it seems to be is something that results from a 'necessary cause' -- by which he means something that makes the occurrence of the effect in some sense absolutely necessary. Given such a 'necessary cause', also called an 'entire cause', and in the 20th Century a causally sufficient condition or causal circumstance, the effect cannot but happen. It is necessitated. It happens as a matter of lawlike connection. This is our standard account of causation, not to be confused with loose theories of causation prompted by one concern or another.
1. A BODY is said to work upon or act, that is to say do something to another body, when it either generates or destroys some accident in it. And the body in which an accident is generated or destroyed is said to suffer, that is, to have something done to it by another body. As when one body by putting forwards another body generates motion in it, it is called the AGENT, and the body in which motion is so generated, is called the PATIENT. So fire that warms the hand is the agent, and the hand, which is warmed, is the patient. That accident, which is generated in the patient, is called the EFFECT.
2. When an agent and patient are contiguous to one another, their action and passion are then said to be immediate, otherwise, mediate. And when another body, lying betwixt the agent and patient, is contiguous to them both, it is then itself both an agent and and a patient; an agent in respect of the body next after it, upon which it works, and a patient in respect of the body next before it, from which it suffers. Also, if many bodies be so ordered that every two which are next to one another be contiguous, then all those that are betwixt the first and the last are both agents and patients, and the first is an agent only, and the last a patient only.
3. An agent is understood to produce its determined or certain effect in the patient, according to some certain accident or accidents, with which both it and the patient are affected. That is to say, the agent hath its effect precisely such, not because it is a body, but because such a body, or so moved. For otherwise all agents, seeing they are all bodies alike, would produce like effects in all patients. And therefore the fire, for example, does not warm, because it is a body, but because it is hot. Nor does one body put forward another body because it is a body, but because it is moved into the place of that other body. The cause, therefore, of all effects consists in certain accidents both in the agents and in the patients; which when they are all present, the effect is produced; but if any one of them be wanting, it is not produced. And that accident either of the agent or patient, without which the effect cannot be produced, is called causa sine qua son, or cause necessary by supposition, as also the cause requisite for the production of the effect.
But a CAUSE simply, or an entire cause, is the aggregate of all the accidents both of the agents how many soever they be, and of the patient, put together; which when they are all supposed to be present, it cannot he understood but that the effect is produced at the same instant; and if any one of them be wanting, it cannot be understood but that the effect is not produced.
4.The aggregate of accidents in the agent or agents, requisite for the production of the effect, the effect being produced, is called the efficient cause thereof. And the aggregate of accidents in the patient, the effect being produced, is usually called the material cause. I say the effect being produced, for where there is no effect, there can be no cause, for nothing can be called a cause, where there is nothing that can be called an effect. But the efficient and material causes are both but partial causes, or parts of that cause, which in the next precedent article I called an entire cause. And from hence it is manifest that the effect we expect, though the agents be not detective on their part, may nevertheless be frustrated by a defect in the patient; and when the patient is sufficient, by a defect in the agents.
6. An entire cause is always sufficient for the production of its affect, if the effect be at all possible. For let any effect whatsoever be propounded to be produced. If the same be produced, it is manifest that the cause which produced it was a sufficient cause. But if it be not produced, and yet be possible, it is evident that something was wanting either in some agent, or in the patient, without which it could not be produced. That is, that some accident was wanting which was requisite for its production; and therefore, that cause was not entire which is contrary to what was supposed.
It follows also from hence, that in whatsoever instant the cause is entire, in the same instant the effect is produced. For if it be not produced, something is still wanting, which is requisite for the production of it; and therefore the cause was not entire, as was supposed.
And seeing a necessary cause is defined to be that, which being supposed, the effect cannot but follow; this also may be collected, that whatsoever effect is produced at any time, the same is produced by a necessary cause. For whatsoever is produced, in as much as it is produced, had an entire cause, that is, had all those things, which being supposed, it cannot be understood but that the effect follows; that is, it had a necessary cause. And in the same manner it may be shewn, that whatsoever effects are hereafter to be produced, shall have a necessary cause; so that all the effects that have been, or shall be produced, have their necessity in things antecedent.
Hume certainly said a clearer thing, whether or not a true one, about exactly the relation between a causal circumstance and its effect. Go to David Hume: Causal Connection is Constant Conjunction. For the editor's successor to both accounts, as uncomplicated by theoretical indulgence, go to Causality or Causation -- The Fundamental Fact Plainly Explained. This excerpt comes from Ted Honderich, A Theory of Determinism: The Mind, Neuroscience and Life-Hopes (Oxford University Press), pp. 13-70, which also appears in Mind and Brain (OUP), pp. 13-70. There is more about the given view of causation there. For a brisk summary of the same view, see How Free Are You: The Determinism Problem (OUP), 1st edition, Ch. 1, 2nd edition, Ch. 2.
& Free front page
HOME T.H. front page