All Natural Causes are Secondary Causes
Franco Manni

part of: Primary and Secondary Causality: Medieval Theories at the Crossroads between Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism
February 16, 2023, 8:00am - 8:30am
Institute for Medieval Research, Austrian Academy of the Sciences

Hollandstraße 11–13
Vienna 1020

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  • Horizon 2020
  • ERC
  • Austrian Academy of the Sciences, Institute for Medieval Research
  • Centre Pierre Abélard


University College Dublin

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In Aquinas the relationship between Primary cause and Secondary Causes is not  the ‘chain’ model with its first ‘ring’, but it is a relationship between the cause of the existence of the universe as a whole, and the particular causes acting within the universe. In this sense the Big Bang also would be a secondary cause, not a first cause. Aquinas' commentator Herbert McCabe makes a comparison between the truth that we get from hearsay by some person and the existence that comes from a natural cause (for example, a child from his or her parents): as hearsay relies on a first-hand witness, so existence coming from any natural cause relies on the existence of the whole universe, whose cause is God. 

What is created (i.e., what exists because the whole universe exists) does not have any ‘created’ characteristics that could enable us to detect any activity by the creator. There is no quality like ‘to be a creature’: the fact that things are created does not leave any trace in them, in the same way as happens when a thing is thought.  To be created identifies with to exist from nothing, and an existing thing does not have different qualities in comparison with a non-existing thing. 

Whereas, apart from creation, all the other causes (Secondary C auses, that is, Natural Causes)  make  differences  in the  world (for example, a  hurricane leaves detectable traces of its action), but God does not: he  makes  things  precisely  as  they  are, the  world as  it  is.

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