Powers and Causes in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Thought: the Metaphysics of Causation from Thomas Aquinas to John Buridan.
Aristotle’s “powers” theory of causation is built up on the intuitive idea that when the cue ball knocks the eight ball into the pocket, the cue ball has a power to produce the sinking of the eight ball. On Aristotle’s theory, to cause means to exercise an active power. This project will investigate the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century scholastic tradition inspired by this Aristotelian account, aiming to provide a historical study of scholastic theories of causation as well as show how they are relevant to philosophy today. Very generally put, medieval thinkers held that the cue ball’s knocking the eight ball into the pocket is to be understood as a simultaneous exercise of the cue ball’s power to knock the eight ball and of the eight ball’s capacity to be knocked into the hole; the project will categorize and analyze in detail significant versions of this general view. The project will examine the medieval view that causal powers do not necessitate their effects because causes can always be impeded (e.g., the roughness of the pool table’s surface could prevent the meeting of the two pool balls). Finally, the project will explore whether, for medieval thinkers, causal powers are always exercised for the sake of an end or goal. When the cue ball knocks the eight ball does it do so for the sake of producing motion in the eight ball? While thirteenth-century thinkers adopted this view, some fourteenth-century thinkers dissented, adopting a more mechanistic view of causation.