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Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2015.

Humes Sensism

With the empiricist pan-phenomenalism of David Hume1 (1711-1776) human knowledge

undergoes a reductionism to the level of sense knowledge (sensism). For Hume, mans

Studies on Hume: C. W. HENDEL, Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume, Princeton University Press,
Princeton, 1925 ; J. LAIRD, Humes Philosophy of Human Nature, Methuen, London, 1932 ; B. M. LAING, David
Hume, Benn, London, 1932 ; R. W. CHURCH, Humes Theory of Understanding, Cornell University Press, Ithaca,
1935 ; H. H. PRICE, Humes Theory of the External World, Clarendon, Oxford, 1940 ; N. K. SMITH, The
Philosophy of David Hume, Macmillan, London, 1941 ; R. M. KYDD, Reason and Conduct in Humes Treatise,
Oxford University Press, New York, 1946 ; A. B. GLATHE, Humes Theory of the Passions and of Morals,
University of California Press, Berkeley, 1950 ; D. G. MACNABB, David Hume: His Theory of Knowledge and
Morality, Hutchinson, London, 1951 ; T. BRUNIUS, David Hume on Criticism, Stockholm, 1951 ; J. A.
PASSMORE, Humes Intentions, University Press, Cambridge, 1952 ; A. BASSON, David Hume, Penguin Books,
Baltimore, 1958 ; J. B. STEWART, The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume, Columbia University
Press, New York, 1963 ; C. W. HENDEL, Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis,
1963 ; R. M. KYDD, Reason and Conduct in Humes Treatise, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1964 ; A. SABETTI,
Hume filosofo della religione, Liguori, Naples, 1965 ; J. V. PRICE, The Ironic Hume, University of Texas Press,
Austin, 1965 ; L. L. BONGIE, David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-Revolution, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1965 ; R.
F. ANDERSON, Humes First Principles, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1966 ; D. G. C. MACNABB,
David Hume: His Theory of Knowledge and Morality, Archon Books, Hamden, Conn., 1966 ; P. S. RDAL,
Passion and Value in Humes Treatise, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1966 ; J. PASSMORE, Humes
Intentions, Basic Books, New York, 1968 ; J. WILBANKS, Humes Theory of Imagination, Martinus Nijhoff, The
Hague, 1968 ; D. BROILES, The Moral Philosophy of David Hume, The Hague, 1969 ; A. SANTUCCI, Sistema e
ricerca in D. Hume, Laterza, Bari, 1969 ; G. STERN, A Faculty Theory of Knowledge: The Aim and Scope of
Humes First Enquiry, Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg, 1971 ; I. CAPPIELLO, La morale della simpatia di
David Hume, Liguori, Naples, 1971 ; C. MAUND, Humes Theory of Knowledge: A Critical Examination,
Macmillan, New York, 1972 ; G. CARABELLI, Hume e la retorica dellideologia, La Nuova Italia, Florence, 1972
; D. C. STOVE, Probability and Humes Inductive Scepticism, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1973 ; M. DAL PRA,
Hume e la scienza della natura umana, Laterza, Bari, 1973 ; J. NOXON, Humes Philosophical Development, The
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1973 ; N. CAPALDI, David Hume the Newtonian Philosopher, Twayne, Boston, 1975 ;
D. FORBES, Humes Philosophical Politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1975 ; J. HARRISON,
Humes Moral Epistemology, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1976 ; B. STROUD, Hume, Routledge & Kegan Paul,
London, 1977 ; J. BRICKE, Humes Philosophy of Mind, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1980 ; J. L.
MACKIE, Humes Moral Theory, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1980 ; A. SANTUCCI, Introduzione a Hume,
Laterza, Bari, 1981 ; J. HARRISON, Humes Theory of Justice, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981 ; D. MILLER,
Philosophy and Ideology in Humes Political Thought, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981 ; T. L. BEAUCHAMP,
A. ROSENBERG, Hume and the Problem of Causation, Oxford University Press, New York, 1981 ; A.
SANTUCCI, Scienza e filosofia scozzese nellet di Hume, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1983 ; D. W. LIVINGSTON,
Humes Philosophy of Common Life, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984 ; L. TURCO, Lo scetticismo
morale di David Hume, Clueb, Bologna, 1984 ; D. F. NORTON, David Hume: Common-Sense Moralist, Sceptical
Metaphysician, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1984 ; M. DAL PRA, David Hume: la vita e lopera, Laterza,
Bari, 1984 ; G. PALOMBELLA, Diritto e artificio in David Hume, Giuffr, Milan, 1984 ; R. J. FOGELIN, Humes
Skepticism in the Treatise of Human Nature, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1985 ; F. G. WHELAN, Order and
Artifice in Humes Political Philosophy, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1985 ; J. V. PRICE, David Hume,
Twayne, New York, 1986 ; F. RESTAINO, David Hume (1711-1776), Editori Riuniti, Rome, 1986 ; J.
CHRISTENSEN, Practicing Enlightenment: Hume and the Formation of a Literary Career, University of
Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1987 ; J. C. A. GASKIN, Humes Philosophy of Religion, Macmillan, New York, 1988 ;
N. CAPALDI, Humes Place in Moral Philosophy, Peter Lang, New York, 1989 ; G. STRAWSON, The Secret

Connexion: Causation, Realism and David Hume, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989 ; A. SCHWERIN, The
Reluctant Revolutionary: An Essay on David Humes Account of Necessary Connection, Lang, New York, 1989 ; N.
PHILLIPSON, Hume, Weidenfield & Nicolson, London, 1989 ; C. MONTELEONE, LIo, la mente, la
ragionevolezza: saggio su David Hume, Ed. Bollati-Boringhieri, Turin, 1989 ; D. PEARS, Humes System: An
Examinaton of the First Book of His Treatise, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990 ; M. A. BOX, The Suasive Art
of David Hume, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1990 ; J. W. DANFORD, David Hume and the Problem of
Reason: Recovering the Human Sciences, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1990 ; D. T. SIEBERT, The Moral
Animus of David Hume, University of Delaware Press, Cranbury, 1990 ; E. LECALDANO, Hume e la nascita
delletica contemporanea, Laterza, Rome-Bari, 1990 ; R. GILARDI, Il giovane Hume: il background religioso e
culturale, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1991 ; A. BAIER, A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Humes Treatise,
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1991 ; D. LIVINGSTON and M. MARTIN (eds.), Hume as
Philosopher of Society, Politics and History, University of Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, 1991 ; D. E. FLAGE,
David Humes Theory of Mind, Routledge, New York, 1991 ; F. SNARE, Morals Motivation and Convention:
Humes Influential Doctrines, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1991 ; T. PENELHUM, David Hume: An
Introduction to His Philosophical System, Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, IN, 1992 ; W. BRAND, Humes
Theory of Moral Judgment: A Study in the Unity of A Treatise of Human Nature, Kluwer, Boston, 1992 ; J. B.
STEWART, Opinion and Reform in Humes Political Philosophy, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1992 ; J.
JENKINS, Understanding Hume, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 1992 ; A. KOLIN, The Ethical
Foundations of Humes Theory of Politics, Peter Lang, New York, 1992 ; D. F. NORTON (ed.), The Cambridge
Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993 ; B. LOGAN, A Religion without Talking:
Religious Belief and Natural Belief in Humes Philosophy of Religion, Peter Lang, New York, 1993 ; M.
BANWART, Humes Imagination, Peter Lang, New York, 1994 ; W. WAXMAN, Humes Theory of
Consciousness, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1994 ; S. TWEYMAN (ed.), David Hume: Critical
Assessments, 6 vols., Routledge, New York, 1995 ; O. JOHNSON, The Mind of David Hume: A Companion to Book
I of A Treatise of Human Nature, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1995 ; D. F. PEARS, Humes System,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996 ; D. GARRETT, Cognition and Commitment in Humes Philosophy, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1997 ; J. A. HERDT, Religion and Faction in Humes Moral Philosophy, Cambridge
University Press, New York, 1997 ; G. DICKER, Humes Epistemology and Metaphysics, Routledge, London, 1998
; M. FRASCA-SPADA, Space and Self in Humes Treatise, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998 ; D. J.
SHAW, Reason and Feeling in Humes Action Theory and Moral Philosophy: Humes Reasonable Passion, Mellen
Press, Lewiston, NY, 1998 ; D. W. LIVINGSTON, Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium: Humes Pathology of
Philosophy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998 ; H. NOONAN, Hume on Knowledge, Routledge, London,
1999 ; H. O. MOUNCE, Humes Naturalism, Routledge, London, 1999 ; A. QUINTON, Hume, Routledge, London,
1999 ; D. OWEN, Humes Reason, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999 ; C. WILLIAMS, A Cultivated Reason:
An Essay on Hume and Humeanism, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 1999 ; C.
HOWSON, Humes Problem: Induction and the Justification of Belief, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000 ; J.
BAILLIE, Hume on Morality, Routledge, New York, 2000 ; D. OWEN (ed.), Hume: General Philosophy, Ashgate,
Burlington, VT, 2001 ; E. RADCLIFFE, On Hume, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 2000 ; J. BRICKE, Mind and
Morality: An Examination of Humes Moral Psychology, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000 ; R. READ and
R. RICHMAN (eds.), The New Hume Debate, Routledge, London, 2000 ; T. PENELHUM, Themes in Hume: The
Self, the Will, Religion, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000 ; D. OCONNOR, Hume on Religion, Routledge,
London, 2001 ; D. JACQUETTE, David Humes Critique of Infinity, Brill, Boston, 2001 ; P. MILLICAN (ed.),
Reading Hume on Human Understanding: Essays on the First Enquiry, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002
; L. E. LOEB, Stability and Justification in Humes Treatise, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002 ; A. E.
PITSON, Humes Philosophy of the Self, Routledge, New York, 2002 ; P. STANISTREET, Humes Scepticism and
the Science of Human Nature, Ashgate, Burlington, VT, 2002 ; J. A. FODOR, Hume Variations, The Clarendon
Press, Oxford, 2003 ; C. SCHMIDT, David Hume: Reason in History, Pennsylvania State University Press,
University Park, PA, 2003 ; A. M. COVENTRY, Humes Theory of Causation: A Quasi-Realist Interpretation,
Continuum, New York, 2006 ; S. BOTROS, Hume, Reason and Morality: A Legacy of Contradiction, Routledge,
New York, 2006 ; H. BEEBEE, Hume on Causation, Routledge, London, 2006 ; S. TRAIGER (ed.), The Blackwell
Guide to Humes Treatise, Blackwell, Malden, MA, 2006 ; R. HARDIN, David Hume: Moral and Political
Theorist, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007 ; C. FINLAY, Humes Social Philosophy: Human Nature and
Commercial Sociability in A Treatise of Human Nature, Continuum, New York, 2007 ; D. BAXTER, Humes
Difficulty: Time and Identity in the Treatise, Routledge, New York, 2007 ; T. M. COSTELLOE, Aesthetics and
Morals in the Philosophy of David Hume, Routledge, New York, 2007 ; A. M. COVENTRY, Hume: A Guide for the

knowledge consists of perceptions, which can either be strong (impressions) or weak (ideas).2
Perception is the collective name he gives for all the contents of our mental states. Impressions
would be perceptions that are intense, forceful and very vivid. Ideas, on the other hand, would be
perceptions that are weak, pale and less vivid, copies or faint images of impressions in thinking
and reasoning. Impressions are perceptions that are more lively and forceful and they include
sensations and emotions like love, hate and desire. The faint images, pale and cold compared to
impressions, are the perceptions called ideas. The distinction between ideas and impressions lies
in the greater degree of force, intensity, and vivacity accompanying impressions. Such is the case
because ideas, which are faint images of sensations and emotions, are the work of the
imagination and the memory, and only mediately of direct impressions.

If one looks at ones room, what one receives is an impression of it. And when I shut my
eyes and think of my chamber, the ideas I form are exact representations of the impressions I
felt; nor is there any circumstance of the one, which is not to be found in the otherIdeas and
impressions appear always to correspond to each other.3 It is clear from this passage that Hume
reduces ideas to that of images.

Describing the difference between impressions and ideas in terms of vividness, Hume
writes in his Treatise: The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and
liveliness with which they strike upon the mind and make their way into our thoughts or
consciousness. Those perceptions which enter with most force and violence we may name
impressions; and, under this name, I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as
they make their first appearance in the soul. By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking
and reasoning; such as, for instance, are all the perceptions excited by the present discourse,
excepting only those which arise from the sight and touch, and excepting the immediate pleasure
or uneasiness it may occasion.4

Hume also distinguishes between simple and complex perceptions, a distinction which he
applies to both impressions and ideas. The perception of a yellow petal is a simple impression
and the thought (or image) of the yellow petal is a simple idea. But if I am at the top of the dome
of St. Pauls Cathedral and, gazing out, survey the city of London, I receive a simple impression

Perplexed, Continuum, New York, 2007 ; J. P. E. KAIL, Projection and Realism in Humes Philosophy, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 2007 ; C. WENNERLIND and M. SCHABAS (eds.), David Humes Political Economy,
Routledge, London, 2008 ; A. C. BAIER, Death and Character: Further Reflections on Hume, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008 ; K. R. MERRILL, Historical Dictionary of Humes Philosophy, The Scarecrow Press,
Lanham, MD, 2008 ; P. RUSSELL, The Riddle of Humes Treatise: Skepticism, Naturalism, and Irreligion,
Oxford University Press, New York, 2008 ; D. F. NORTON and J. TAYLOR (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to
Hume, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008 ; E. S. RADCLIFFE (ed.), A Companion to
Hume (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy), Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ, 2008 ; J. P. WRIGHT, Humes A
Treatise of Human Nature: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009 ; R. J. FOGELIN,
Humes Skeptical Crisis: A Textual Study, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009 ; A. C. BAIER, The Pursuits of
Philosophy: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of David Hume, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA,
2011 ; C. R. BROWN and W. E. MORRIS, Starting with Hume, Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2012 ; S.
ROCKNAK, Imagined Causes: Humes Conception of Objects, Springer, Dordrecht, 2012.
Cf. D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I (Of the Understanding), Part I, Section I (Of the Origin of Our
D. HUME, op. cit., Book I, Part I, Section I.

of the city, of the roofs, the chimneys, the various towers, the many streets, and the various
persons hurrying by the sidewalks and inter-sections. And when I afterwards think of the city of
London and recall this complex impression I have a complex idea. In this case the complex idea
of the city of London corresponds to a certain degree to the complex impression of the city of
London that I received gazing out of the dome of St. Pauls Cathedral, but not so exactly and
adequately. But Hume gives us another example: I can imagine to myself a city as the New
Jerusalem, whose pavement is gold, and walls are rubies, though I never saw any such.5 In this
case ones complex idea does not correspond to a complex impression.

Hume states that it is not true that to every idea there is an exactly corresponding
impression. But he observes that the complex idea of the New Jerusalem can be broken down
into simple ideas. And to the question as to whether every simple idea has a corresponding
simple impression and every simple impression a corresponding simple idea, Hume replies: I
venture to affirm that the rule here holds without any exception, and that every simple idea has a
simple impression which resembles it, and every simple impression a correspondent idea.6

Humes Laws of Association

Hume acknowledges three different forms of association; he maintained that the contents
of consciousness are connected together in accordance with the laws of resemblance, contiguity
in time and place, and causality. For him, the process involved in association is always purely
mechanistic. In the law of similarity we know, for example, that a portrait painting naturally
leads our thoughts to the original person represented by the painting. In the law of contiguity the
mention, for example, of a specific hotel room in a hotel naturally introduces an inquiry or
discourse concerning others. And in the law of causality, when we think of a bad wound on our
knee, for example, we can scarcely refrain from reflecting on the pain which resulted from it.

In a subsequent development of his laws of association Hume reduces the idea of cause to
that of an orderly succession of two happenings in time and place. Consequently, he retains only
the first two laws of association (resemblance or similarity and contiguity in time and place). Of
the two laws, the association of resembance or similarity would be limited in extent to a mental
comparison of ideas, and therefore to the mathematico-geometrical sciences, while the sole law
that would be applicable to the entire spectrum of the physical sciences would be the law of
contiguity in time and space. The success of the law of contiguity is determined by our
experience and habit. So for Hume, all order in the world and in science is reduced to this purely
psychical element.

With regard to science, Hume distinguishes between truths of reason and truths of
fact. Truths of reason express the various relations of ideas and to this class belong the truths
of geometry, algebra and arithmetic, in short, to every affirmation which is either intuitively or
demonstratively certain. Truths of fact, in contrast, do not demand or contain the so-called
logical necessity as to the truths of reason. Hume writes in section IV of his An Enquiry
Concerning Human Understanding: the contrary of every matter of fact is still possible, because


it can never imply a contradictionThat the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a
proposition and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation, it will rise.7

And what is experience for Hume? Nothing other than the association of ideas on the
basis of a space-time contiguity. One specific event (e.g., the billiard cue stick hitting the billiard
ball) is followed by another specific event (e.g., the billiard ball moving across the billiards
table), and so both ideas are associated. If we see and hear the first event occur a second time,
having acquired this experience previously, we would naturally wait for the second event to
occur. Hume writes: If a body of like color and consistency with that of bread of which we have
formerly eaten be presented to uswe forsee with certainty like nourishment and support.8 This
experience, Hume holds, is nothing more than a custom or habit: according to him, experience
does not deal with thought-acts or reasoning, or with other processes of the understanding, but
rather with feeling, or habit, or familiarity which makes us expect and believe that something
similar to what we experienced previously is happening and, therefore, that a second is about to
follow the first.

Humes Immanentism

The core of Humean empiricist epistemology is that what we know are our perceptions,
not external, extra-mental reality. What the human mind knows is not something existing outside
consciousness, but merely facts of consciousness. What is known are not real things but only
subjective perceptions. Now since nothing is ever present to the mind but perceptions, and since
all ideas are derived from something antecedently present to the mind, it follows that it is
impossible for us so much as to conceive or form an idea of anything specifically different from
ideas and impressions. Let us fix our attention out of ourselves as much as possible; let us chase
our imagination to the heavens, or to the utmost limits of the universe; we never really advance a
step beyond ourselves, nor can we conceive any kind of existence, but those perceptions which
have appeared in that narrow compass. This is the universe of the imagination, nor have we any
idea but what is there produced.9

Critique of Humes Sensist Immanentism

The problem with the phenomenalist Hume is that he is a gnoseological (epistemological)

immanentist, which logically leads to ontological immanentism (agnosticism or atheism). Hume
is trapped within the phenomenal prison of his mind, unable to access and know things in extra-
mental reality. Being unable to access the extra-mental world of real things, of real beings
endowed with their respective acts of being (esse as actus essendi), he is unable to demonstrate
the existence of God using objective causality.

The solution to the problem of immanentism lies in a vigorous and healthy philosophical
realism open to gnoseological and ontological transcendence. But what exactly is immanentism
and what exactly do we mean by realism and transcendence? In philosophical usage, the term
immanentism is derived from the concept immanence, which means to remain within oneself,

D. HUME, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section IV.
D. HUME, op. cit., Section V.
D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, I, 2, 6.

which is opposed to transcendence, which means to go beyond oneself. In immanentism, what
man knows in the first instance is that which remains enclosed within the sphere of human
consciousness (e.g., ideas), and not the extra-mental real thing, which is either only mediately
known (Descartes mediate realism, a pseudo-realism, unsuccessful in its attempts at
reclaiming reality) or is simply unknowable (Humean and Kantian phenomenalism). Realism, on
the other hand, retains that what is known in the first instance is the extra-mental thing which
really exists (e.g., that real pine tree to the right of me, or that particular brown cat in front of
me). For the immanentist, who is incarcerated within the cell of his mind, unable to escape to a
knowledge of noumenal reality, thought is prior to being. Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I
am), that famous Cartesian dictum, is the name of the immanentist state penitentiary. Realism,
instead, maintains that being is prior to thought. The actual dog that exists in reality is prior to
the universal concept dog that exists in the mind in an intentional manner. Dobermans and
dachshunds are out there in reality and will continue to exist there whether we think of them or
not. What is known in the first instance is the real dog and not the idea dog. What is known in
the first instance is the extra-mental sensible thing itself really existing in the world. For the
immanentist, then, thought is the starting point of philosophical investigation, whereas for the
realist it is real sensible being, leading to the affirmation res sunt (things are).

In his book Methodical Realism, the great twentieth century philosopher-historian

tienne Gilson explains that when St. Thomas tells us that the intellect reaches objects, things,
no one can misunderstand what he means by that: Could we not say that the res St. Thomas
talks about, and which the judgment should conform to, although something objective and
independent, is nevertheless in the mind? Anyone who thought that would be thoroughly wrong.
If St. Thomas does not feel it necessary to be explicit on the subject, it is probably because he
never dreamed that anyone could misunderstand him. For him, the thing is plainly the real thing
posited as an entity existing in its own right and outside human consciousness.10

Exactly so, and it could not be better put. But if that is the way things are, how can one
maintain that in Thomism one can start from a something apprehended prescinding from its
reality? Whatever object I apprehend, the first thing I apprehend is its being: ens est quod
primum cadit in intellectu.11 But this being which is the first object of the intellect ens est
proprium objectum intellectus, et sic est proprium intelligibile12 is, in virtue of what has just
been said, something entirely different from an apprehended without the reality; it is reality
itself, given by means of an act of apprehension no doubt, but not at all as simply apprehended.
In short, one could say that if the block which experience offers us for analysis needs to be
dissected according to its natural articulations, it is still an apprehended reality which it
delivers us, and unless we are going to alter the structure of reality, no method authorizes us to
present it merely as a reality apprehended(italics added).

Besides, one only has to reread the text of St. Thomas to realize that the order he follows
is not an accidental one, or something one can modify simply as a temporary expedient. The
order lies at the heart of the teaching. For an intellect like ours which is not its own essence, as

L. NOL, Notes dpistmologie thomiste, p. 33.
Being (ens) is what first strikes the intellect.
Being (ens) is the proper object of the intellect, and thus it is specifically intelligible. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a.
2, resp.

Gods would be, and whose essence is not its natural object, as with the finite pure spirits, that
object must necessarily be something extrinsic. That is why the object which the intellect
apprehends must be something extrinsic as such. The first thing it grasps is a nature inhabiting an
existence which is not its own, the ens of a material nature. That is its proper object: etideo id
quod primo cognoscitur ab intellectu humano est hujusmodi objectum.13 It is only secondarily
that it knows the actual act by which it knows the object; et secundario cognoscitur ipse actus,
quo cognoscitur objectum.14 And finally it is the act that the intellect itself is known: et per
actum cognoscitur ipse intellectus.1516

Gilson also writes that, for St. Thomas Aquinas, all existence is individual and singular.
As he said again and again, when we grasp the singular as such it is the work of our sense
faculty: id quod cognoscit sensus materialiter et concrete, quod est cognoscere singulare
directe; similitudo quae est in sensu, abstrahitur a re ut ab objecto cognoscibili, et ideo res
ipsa per illam similitudinem directe cognoscitur.17 Unquestioningly the intellect does more and
better, since it grasps what is abstractly intelligible, but it has another function: universale est
dum intelligitur, singulare dum sentitur.18 But the singular is the concretely real. So one must
consign the task of solving the problem to viribus sensitivis quae circa particularia

Against immanentism, realism holds that epistemology (gnoseology) is founded upon the
metaphysics of being; being is prior to thought, and thought is dependent upon being. The act of
being (esse as actus essendi) is the radical act of a being (ens); it is, in every being (ens), the
internal principle of its reality and of its knowability, and therefore, the foundation of the act of

In philosophical immanentism, transcendence (first gnoseological, then ontological) is

first emarginalized, then debilitated, and in the end, eliminated. In realism, on the other hand,
both gnoseological and ontological transcendence is respected. There is a difference between
gnoseological transcendence and ontological transcendence. The former regards the possibility
of knowing realities distinct from consciousness and its representations; transcendence here is
intended as extra-subjective. Ontological transcendence, on the other hand, regards the existence
of realities that surpass the factual data of empirical experience, the most eminent of these
realities being God, the absolutely transcendent Supreme Being. The history of modern
philosophy, beginning with Cartesian rationalism, has shown that the refusal of a gnoseological
transcendence (though not always in a direct and immediate way, as was precisely the case with

And therefore what the human intellect knows first is an object of this kind
And what is known secondarily is the act itself by which the object is known
And through the act, the intellect itself is knownSumma Theologiae, I, q. 87, a. 3, resp.
. GILSON, Methodical Realism, Christendom Press, Front Royal, VA, 1990, pp. 74-76.
What the sense faculty knows materially and concretely, it knows directly as singular; the likeness which is in
the senses is abstracted from the thing as from a knowable object, and therefore the thing itself is directly known
through that likeness.
The universal is grasped while things are being understood, the singular while they are being sensed.
to the powers of sense which relate to particular objects. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 86, a. 1, ad 4; De Veritate, q.
2, a. 6, resp., et q. 10, a. 6, sed contra and resp.
. GILSON, op. cit., pp. 78-79.

the mediate realism of Descartes) impedes recognition of an authentic ontological

The starting point of philosophy is not the Cartesian I think, therefore I am (Cogito,
ergo sum), but rather: things are (res sunt). That I think is surely evidence, but it is not the
first evidence. It is not the point of departure for doing philosophy. That things are, that
things exist, on the other hand, is the first in the order of all evidence. This is the correct
starting point. Realism accepts reality in toto and measures our knowledge by the rule of reality.
Nothing that is validly known would be so if its object did not first existThe first thing offered
us is the concept of a being thought about by the intellect, and given us in a sensory intuition. If
the being, in so far as it can be conceived, is the first object of the intellect, that is because it is
directly perceived: res sunt, ergo cogito (things are, therefore, I think). We start by perceiving an
existence which is given us in itself and not first of all in relation to ourselves. Later, on
inquiring into the conditions which make such a fact possible, we realize that the birth of the
concept presupposes the fertilization of the intellect by the reality which it apprehends. Before
truth comes the thing that is true; before judgment and reality are brought into accord, there is a
living accord of the intellect with reality21

Gilson defended methodical realism against the immanentism underlying much of

modern philosophy in many of his works, such as Thomist Realism and the Critique of
Knowledge22 and Methodical Realism.23 In Methodical Realism he points out that it was in the
thought of Descartes, and not Kant, where the Copernican Revolution took place for the first
time: Critical idealism was born the day Descartes decided that the mathematical method must
henceforth be the method for metaphysics. Reversing the method of Aristotle and the medieval
tradition, Descartes decided that it is valid to infer being from knowing, to which he added that
this was indeed the only valid type of inference, so that in his philosophy, whatever can be
clearly and distinctly attributed to the idea of the thing is true of the thing itself: when we say of
anything that it is contained in the nature or concept of a particular thing, it is the same as if we
were to say it is true of that thing, or could be affirmed of itIndeed, all idealism derives from
Descartes, or from Kant, or from both together, and whatever other distinguishing features a
system may have, it is idealist to the extent that, either in itself, or as far as we are concerned, it
makes knowing the condition of beingWith Descartes the Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I
am) turns into Cogito ergo res sunt (I think, therefore, things are)24 Once trapped within the
immanent sphere of ones thoughts, initially doubting the extra-mental reality perceived by the
senses, and commencing from the cogito as the first certainty, we become unable to recuperate
reality itself. All we will be able to do with the immanentist method is to conjure up a thought of
reality, all the while remaining locked up within the prison of our minds. From mere mental
representations we cannot reach the thing-in-itself which is doubted at the outset by the Cartesian
universal doubt. If you have a hat stand painted on a wall, the only thing you will ever be able to
hang on it is a hat likewise painted on a wall. Neither the principle of causality nor belief or

. GILSON, op. cit., pp. 120-121.
. GILSON, Ralisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, Vrin, Paris, 1939. English: Thomist Realism and
the Critique of Knowledge, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1986.
. GILSON, Le ralisme mthodique, Tqui, Paris, 1935. English: Methodical Realism, first published in English
in 1990 by Christendom Press and now available in the edition published by Ignatius Press of San Francisco.
. GILSON, Methodical Realism, Christendom Press, Front Royal, VA, 1990, pp. 18-19.

assertion can get us out of the immanentist domain of the mind once we have initially doubted
the existence of reality, and then commence from the cogito as the primal certitude.

Gilson describes for us the futility of those pseudo-realists who make their starting point
of knowledge the cogito and then attempt a recuperation of reality by means of the principle of
causality: He who begins as an idealist ends as an idealist; one cannot safely make a concession
or two to idealism here and there. One might have suspected as much, since history is there to
teach us on this point. Cogito ergo res sunt is pure Cartesianism; that is to say, the exact
antithesis of what is thought of as scholastic realism and the cause of its ruin. Nobody has tried
as hard as Descartes to build a bridge from thought to reality, by relying on the principle of
causality. He was also the first to make the attempt, and he did so because he was forced to by
having set the starting point for knowledge in the intuition of thought. It is, therefore, strictly true
that every scholastic who thinks himself a realist, because he accepts this way of stating the
problem, is in fact a Cartesian If the being I grasp is only through and in my thought, how by
this means shall I ever succeed in grasping a being which is anything other than that of thought?
Descartes believed that it was possible, but even apart from a direct critique of the proof he
attempted to give, history is there to show us that his attempt ends in failure. He who begins with
Descartes, cannot avoid ending up with Berkeley or with KantIt wont do to stop at the man
who took the first step on the road to idealism because we shall then be forced to go the whole of
the rest of the road with his successors. The Cartesian experiment was an admirable
metaphysical enterprise bearing the stamp of sheer genius. We owe it a great deal, even if it is
only for having brilliantly proved that every undertaking of this kind is condemned in advance to
fail. However, it is the extreme of navet to begin it all over again in the hope of obtaining the
opposite results to those which it has always given, because it is of its nature to give them.25

The absolute being that the Cogito immediately delivers to me can only be my own and
no other. In consequence, whether the operation by which I apprehend the object as distinct from
myself be a process of induction and therefore mediate, or an immediate grasp, the problem
remains the same. If ones starting point is a percipi, the only esse one will ever reach will be
that of the percipiCan we, or can we not arrive at things if we make our standpoint that of the
Cogito? No, we cant, and if the fate of realism depends on this question, its fate is settled; it is
impossible to extract from any kind of Cogito whatsoever a justification for the realism of St.
Thomas Aquinas.26

The way for us to promote an authentic methodical realism in philosophy (and in doing
so be once again in a position to validly demonstrate Gods existence, departing from the things
that we see in the world, an a posteriori, quia effect to cause demonstration) is to free ourselves
from the obsession with epistemology as the necessary pre-condition for philosophy. The
philosopher as such has only one duty: to put himself in accord with himself and other things. He
has no reason whatever to assume a priori that his thought is the condition of being, and,
consequently, he has no a priori obligation to make what he has to say about being depend on
what he knows about his own thoughtI think therefore I am is a truth, but it is not a starting
pointThe Cogito is manifestly disastrous as a foundation for philosophy when one considers
its terminal point. With a sure instinct as to what was the right way, the Greeks firmly entered on

. GILSON, op. cit., pp. 21-23.
. GILSON, op. cit., pp. 27-28.

the realist path and the scholastics stayed on it because it led somewhere. Descartes tried the
other path, and when he set out on it there was no obvious reason not to do so. But we realize
today that it leads nowhere, and that is why it is our duty to abandon it. So there was nothing
nave about scholastic realism; it was the realism of the traveler with a destination in view who,
seeing that he is approaching it, feels confident he is on the right road. And the realism we are
proposing will be even less nave since it is based on the same evidence as the old realism, and is
further justified by the study of three centuries of idealism and the balance sheet of their results.
The only alternatives I can see today are either renouncing metaphysics altogether or returning to
a pre-critical realism. This does not at all mean that we have to do without a theory of
knowledge. What is necessary is that epistemology, instead of being the pre-condition for
ontology, should grow in it and with it, being at the same time a means and an object of
explanation, helping to uphold, and itself upheld by, ontology, as the parts of any true philosophy
mutually will sustain each other.27

The Nominalism of Hume

For Hume there are no universal concepts, properly speaking. Ideas which are universal
are, for him, are nothing but a collection of singular percepts accompanied by a common name.
All our general ideas, he writes, are really particular ones joined to a general term. In his Treatise
of Human Nature, Hume writes: A great philosopher (Berkeley) has asserted that all general
ideas are nothing but particular ones annexed to a certain term, which gives them a more
extensive signification, and makes them recall upon occasion other individuals, which are similar
to them. As I look upon this to be one of the greatest and most valuable discoveries which has
been made of late in the republic of letters I shall here endeavour to confirm it by some
arguments, which I hope will put it beyond all doubt and controversy.28

Hume also writes in his later work Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: There is
no such thing as abstract or general ideas, properly speaking; but all general ideas are, in reality,
particular ones, that resemble in certain circumstances the idea present to the mind.29

For Hume it is an illusion that general names really represent universal concepts. The
impression arises owing to the habitual association of images (theory of associationism), he says.
Hume is a nominalist in the strict sense of the term since he does not allow there is in the mind
any universal idea which corresponds to the general term, but regards the idea as singular,
this idea being the image or sense impression of a particular object imagined or sensed at the

Giving a brief description of the nominalist position on the question of the universals, the
Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain writes: For the nominalist school, universals have no
existence except as names or ideas with which nothing in reality corresponds; for instance, there
is nothing in the reality of human nature which is equally present in Peter, Paul, and John. This
position amounts to sheer negation of the possibility of intellectual knowledge, and reduces
science to a figment of the mind. The most typical representatives of this school are, in antiquity

. GILSON, op. cit., pp. 34-35.
D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part I, Section VII.
D. HUME, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section XII, Note (P).

the sophists and the skeptics, in modern times the leading English philosophers, William of
Occam in the fourteenth century, Hobbes and Locke in the seventeenth, Berkeley and Hume in
the eighteenth, John Stuart Mill and Spencer in the nineteenth. It may be added that the majority
of modern philosophers (that is to say, of those who ignore or oppose the scholastic tradition) are
more or less deeply, and more or less consciously, imbued with nominalism.30

Coffey gives us a description of modern sensist and empiricist nominalism (from Hobbes
to Hume to Taine) as follows: While differing more or less on the contructive side of their
theories of cognition, these philosophers all agree in denying to the human mind any cognitive
power of a higher order than that of sense, or any apprehension of a mental object that is
properly speaking universal in its capacity of representing reality. They speak, of course, of
intellect, conception, concepts, thought, abstraction, generalization, etc., but these they
hold to differ not in kind, but only in degree, from organic sense perception, imagination,
imagery, percepts, etc., explaining the former rather as refinements or complex functions and
products of the latter. Neither do they deny the existence of some sort or other of a mental
correlate, some sort or other of a conscious, cognitive process and mental term, corresponding to
the common name or general logical term of language. But inasmuch as they deny to this mental
term or object of awareness all genuine universality, maintaining that there is in the mind or
present to the mind no object which is one-common-to-many, and thereby confine universality
to the verbal sign or name, they are properly described as nominalists. Since, moreover, as we
shall see in dealing with sense perception, these philosophers generally hold that knowledge does
not and cannot extend beyond mental states, phenomena, or appearances, or reach to the
extramental, they must be set down as denying the real objective validity of knowledge.31

Critique of Humes Nominalism

Criticizing the nominalist position of Hume from the perspective of moderate realism, R.
P. Phillips writes: Let us then first see what is to be said with regard to the nominalist view that
we have no concepts which are, properly speaking, universal. When we reflect we see that we
have in our minds some idea which corresponds to the common name we utter such a name, for
example, as man. Now reflection also shows us that this idea is not an individual sense

J. MARITAIN, An Introduction to Philosophy, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1956, pp. 119-120. Describing the
position of nominalism, Juan Jose Sanguineti writes: In its more common version, nominalism affirms that only the
names or terms of things are universal; it is only the term man, for example, that the multitude of men have in
common. Universal concepts, in the strict sense, do not exist, but only schematic images which sum up or
generalize the similar traits of different individuals. Nor are there such things as common essences: only
individuals and individual properties exist, and these differ from the properties of other individuals. We employ
common names to economize on mental effort, since it would be practically impossible to give a proper name to
each thing. The function of common names is, therefore, to classify objects which are more or less similar. The
similarities of these objects are of a very relative nature, and certainly not necessary; they merely point to a fact that
has been repeated in the past, but do not guarantee its repetition in the future.
Nominalism usually goes hand in hand with a materialistic philosophy of man, in which human thought is
reduced to a collection of signs whose purpose is to produce certain reactions in others. Nominalism links up in this
way with behaviorism and pragmatism. There is no necessity in the world, no law that applies absolutely to
individuals: everything is singular, different, unforeseeable. Language is only the means whereby man, who is
regarded simply as a more developed animal, adapts himself to his biological needs(J. J. SANGUINETI, Logic,
Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1992, p. 42).
P. COFFEY, Epistemology, vol. 1, Peter Smith, Gloucester, MA, 1958, pp. 315-316.

impression, nor a collection of parts of similar sense impressions, but something which our mind
grasps as being quite distinct from these impressions, though it is really in them and predicable
of them. This universality is primarily in the mind, and not in the name. If I say man, the idea
in my mind is not that of an individual man, nor yet of a collection of individual men; but is a
distinct mental concept, which is known to differ from that of any individual man with whom I
am acquainted; but which, at the same time, is known to be applicable to them all, and so
predicable of them; and not only of them, but of all similar beings. This is clear from the way in
which we use these terms, for when we say Peter is a man, we do not mean Peter is a
collection of men, nor do we mean that the name man is to be confined to Peter, so as to exclude
Paul, John, etc., as we should if it signified a singular or individual concept. We make a
distinction, too, between universal and collective terms, the latter class not being applicable to
individuals: so I cannot say, e.g., Peter is an army.

Further, the idea of the universal is itself a universal idea, being that of one concept
which is capable of being predicated of many individuals. If then the Nominalist denies that we
have any universal concepts he must also deny that he has the concept of the universal, and so is
precluded from discussing this question, since it is useless to talk avout what is altogether

The Nominalists themselves acknowledge that their theory destroys the possibility of
science, and so, like Hume, are skeptics; for if we can have no notion of anything which is
common to several individuals, we can have none of any connection between them, or of the
laws which govern them.

Humes argument that when we use such a term as horse, we figure to ourselves a
particular animal proves nothing more than that an image accompanies our conceiving a
universal idea, if indeed this figuring is to be granted to be a fact; which is highly doubtful.
Huxleys notion that the universal may be said to be of the same kind as a composite photograph
is plainly inadmissible, for such a photograph gives us only an indistinct blur, unless the sitters
are just alike, i.e. unless their features are the same. Actually we never get such identity of
features, and if we did, a photograph of one of the sitters would serve as well as a photograph of
a hundred, for we should be photographing the same thing in each case. So we should have in
features what we are asserting we have in the case of universal natures, one thing which is
common to many individuals.32

Against the nominalism of Hume, we affirm that the concept is not the image; we have
concepts and images. Giving various arguments against nominalism and in favor of moderate
realism, the epistemologist Joseph Thomas Barron writes: We have concepts in the strict sense
of the term. We prove this by introspection which shows us that there is a difference between
concepts and percepts, or images.

First argument. (1) Concepts represent the nature or essence of whatness of a thing,
prescinding from all its individuating notes. The percept and the image do not represent the
nature or essence, but only the external qualities of an object, such as its color and size. They

R. P. PHILLIPS, Modern Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 2 (Metaphysics), Newman, Wesminster, MD, 1935, pp. 98-

represent an object more or less concrete, with certain individuating characteristics, in a definite
situation etc.

(2) The concept is universal, since it is capable of representing equally all members of a
class. This is because it represents the essential characteristics, and these alone, of all the
members of a class. For example, the concept horse is predicable of all horses, no matter what
their size or kind of color may be. The image, whether it is distinct or obscure, is not universal; it
can picture only one individual, of some particular kind and color. If we think horse and note
the accompanying imagery we see at once that the concept is not to be identified with the
imagery since the concept can be applied to all horses indiscriminately, while the image can be
attributed only to a horse which it resembles.

(3) The concept is immutable and necessary; it cannot be otherwise than it is. If we add
to it, or subtract any note from it, it no longer represents its object. The image, on the other hand,
is unstable, contingent, and fluctuating.

This can be verified by introspection. My concept of a man has the two notes of
rationality and animality. If my concept is to be a concept of a man it must contain these two
notes and these alone. If I add a new essential note, or if I take away either animality or
rationality, I no longer have the concept of a man. In other words, my concept is unchangeable
and fixed. But the same is not true of images. They change even in the same person as
introspection shows. The same concept will be accompanied by varying imagery in the same
person at different times.

(4) Concepts may be perfectly clear but the concominant imagery may be extremely
hazy. My concept of a million-sided figure is clear I know what such a figure is. The same is
true of my concepts of minute things; my concept of a cell that is one one-thousandth of an inch
in diameter is perfectly clear. But is the accompanying imagery as clearly defined? What is the
verdict of introspection? If the concept is clear and the image is hazy they cannot be identified.

Second argument. Appealing again to introspection I find that my concept is not a sense
datum, but that it is a thought-object apprehended apart from all sensory characteristics. Granting
that I am conscious of an image when I think horse, virtue, triangle, it is not about these
sensuous images that I enunciate the judgments. The horse is an animal, Virtue is good, A
triangle is a figure. I certainly am not speaking of the (pictured) horse, the (pictured) virtue,
or the (pictured) triangle. In making these judgments I mean all horses, all virtue, and all
triangles. The image, to repeat, can only picture the individual, and if we had no concepts we
could make no universal judgments.

Third argument. Nominalists admit that the name or term is universal, but they hold that
there is no mental correlate which is really universal corresponding to it. But it would seem that
the term can have no universal significance unless its mental correlate is universal, because
language derives its significance from thojught not thought from language. The term itself,
whether written or oral, is concrete. It is general or universal because it is the expression of an
idea that is universal. If there is no concept of which it is the expression it is a more concrete

symbol of experience. Hence its universality is given to it by the concept for which it stands. The
admission of nominalists that there are universal terms is thus an argument against their theory.

Our position is strengthened by the results of psychological investigation. Psychologists

have established two facts concerning the relation between image and thought: (1) that different
persons differ considerably as regards the images that accompany their thought on one and the
same objects; (2) that images vary in the same person. Hardly anyone experiences the same
images on successive occasions when thinking of the same thing.

If our images were our concepts how could words be used as vehicles of thought? If our
universal terms stand for varying and unstable images how could the same words convey the
same meaning to different people? For example, the term animal may arouse fifty different
images in fifty different people. Yet all understand the word in the same way it has the same
meaning for all fifty. It is clear that if the images were the thought there could not be this
unanimity in understanding. As a matter of fact I know that when I make use of universal terms I
do not manifest my images to others; I manifest my thoughts to them. I know this because they
understand me.33

The Solution to the Problem of the Universals: Moderate Realism. The real solution to
the problem of the universals, that which corresponds to reality, lies in the position of moderate
realism. Describing moderate realism, Maritain writes: The moderate realist school,
distinguishing between the thing itself and its mode of existence, the condition in which it is
presented, teaches that a thing exists in the mind as a universal, in reality as an individual.
Therefore that which we apprehend by our ideas as a universal does indeed really exist, but only
in the objects themselves and therefore individuated not as a universal. For example, the
human nature found alike in Peter, Paul and John really exists, but it has no existence outside

J. T. BARRON, The Elements of Epistemology, Macmillan, New York, 1936, pp. 57-60. Coffey critiques
nominalism as follows: 1. Introspection reveals the presence in consciousness of a mental correlate of the common
name, a correlate of which the latter is the outward expression, and from which therefore the latter derives its
function of standing for an indefinite multitude of individuals. This mental correlate introspection reveals to be not
an individual sense datum, or a concrete portion isolated from each of a number of similar sense data, but to be a
mental object apprehended apart from all the conditions of its actual existence in the similar sense data, but really in
them and predicable of them: and it is because the common name connotes or implies this abstract and universal
mental object that it can denote or stand for an indefinite multitude of the similar sense data. Therefore universality
is not merely or primarily in the name; it is also and primarily in the mental term or object. And if some nominalists
admit, as Sully seems to admit, that the mind can attain to the conscious possession of an object which expresses
what is indefinitely realizable in individuals, and therefore stands for those in which it is de facto realized, by this
admission such writers really abandon the nominalist position.
2. The main contention of nominalism is that the verbal term or name alone is universal; and that the mental
correlate, being itself sensuous and individual, derives the only universality we can ascribe to it from its uniform
alliance with the name. But the verbal term or name can have, of and in itself, no universal significance unless its
mental correlate be itself a universal mental term or object: since language derives its significance from thought, and
not vice versa. If, therefore, the human mind had no power of apprehending any mental term or object other than a
concrete, individual datum, or individual collection or fusion of such data; if it had no power of apprehending an
abstract and universal mental term or object, then so far from the common name conferring universality on the
former sort of mental term, the common name would be non-existent for us, it could could have no meaning for us:
in a word, we should be, like the lower animals, destitute of language, because like them we should be incapable of
thought as distinct from sensation(P. COFFEY, op. cit., pp. 318-319).

the mind, except in these individual subjects and as identical with them; it has no separate
existence, does not exist in itself.34

Sanguineti argues the case for moderate realism in two steps: a) Firstly, we show that
common names express universal concepts. Common names do not signify concrete images or
concrete actions, but universal and intelligible essences. The signs with which animals
communicate with one another always have a material and concrete content. They may
sometimes give the impression of universality, but this is because some animals can associate
images and other sensible signs with one another (when the dog hears a certain sound, it knows
it is going to eat). On the other hand, words are signs of an act of understanding; they transmit
intelligible meaning. For example, when a man hears the term relation, he does not understand
a concrete relation, but the essence of relation as such. When he grasps the meaning of circle,
he is not thinking of the circle on the blackboard but of the nature of the circle as such. The
concept of a circle is not material; it is not an image and it cannot be localized in a material
place; and yet, it is not something vague: it has a very precise intelligible meaning that is
applicable to every circle that we draw or imagine. Common names, therefore, express universal

b) Secondly, we show that concepts signify a real nature. When we speak of a parrot,
a chair, or an oath, we are referring to a certain perfection or essence which is found in
several individuals. These words do not signify something only in our mind; otherwise, there
would be no such thing as extramental reality. All chairs have a common structure or form which
is materialized in every chair that exists. The mind understands this form by abstracting it from
concrete chairs. What we understand by chair is not something added to this particular chair: it
is precisely what this object called chair is. When we point to an object and ask What is it? our
intention is not to find out what it is called, though the reply to the former means giving the
reply to the latter. If the names of things did not signify the being of things what things are - ,
they would only point to what we think about things or what we do with them. Hence, concepts
signify real natures.35

Errors of Hume on Substance

The radical sensist empiricism and immanentist phenomenalism of Hume led him not
only to affirm that we are unable to know whether objective substances with definite natures
truly exist in extra-mental reality, but he also maintained that the very notion of substance as a
support or substrate of accidents was merely a fiction of the imagination that needed to be
discarded or abandoned. Hume writes in his A Treatise of Human Nature: When we gradually
follow an object in its successive changes, the smooth progress of the thought makes us ascribe
an identity to the successionWhen we compare its situation after a considerable change the
progress of the thought is broken; and consequently we are presented with the idea of diversity:
In order to reconcile which contradictions, the imagination is apt to feign something unknown
and invisible, which it supposes to continue the same under all these variations; and this
unintelligible something it calls a substance36

J. MARITAIN, op. cit., p. 120.
J. J. SANGUINETI, op. cit., pp. 43-44.
D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. P. H. Nidditch, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1978, p. 220.

Hume explains in his Treatise that the idea (sense impression) of substance as well as
that of a mode, is nothing but a collection of simple ideas (sense impressions) that are united by
the imagination and have a peculiar name assigned to them by which we are able to recall either
to ourselves, or to others, that collection.37 I would fain ask those philosophers, who found so
much of their reasonings on the distinction of substance and accident, and imagine we have clear
ideas of each, whether the idea of substance be derived from the impressions of sensation or
reflection? If it be conveyed to us by our senses, I ask, which of them; and after what manner? If
it be perceived by the eyes, it must be a color; if by the ears, a sound; if by the palate, a taste; and
so for the other senses. But I believe none will assert, that substance is either a color, sound or
taste. The idea of substance must therefore be derived from an impression of reflection, if it
really exist. But the impressions of reflection resolve themselves into our passions and emotions;
none of which can possibly represent a substance. We have, therefore, no idea of substance,
distinct from that of a collection of particular qualities, nor have we any other meaning when we
talk or reason concerning it.38

Criticizing Locke, Hume, and Mills empiricism with regard to substance, Hart writes:
Actually what all these empiricist philosophers do is to substantialize accidents, which
supposedly can be reached by the senses directly. This endows each action with the character of
substance as something existing in itself. The senses, of course, are completely incapable of
knowing being as such and therefore of knowing substance, because substance is simply being in
the full and proper sense of the term as being requiring existence in itself. Nor can the senses
really experience any isolated accidents. Rather they receive some external manifestation of the
whole being. Further, accident as accident, can only be known by the intellect because only the
intellect is capable of finally distinguishing between what requires existence in itself and that
which does not have any such need. Only when the intellect is permitted to perform its proper
role in the knowing process can the mind see the need of such a real distinction. But it never
makes the mistake of thinking that this distinction between substance and accidents is anything
like the full or major real distinction between one being and another.

Ultimately, therefore, the more fundamental issue between Thomism and empiricism is
on the nature of human knowledge. Actually, it is very hard for empiricists so to divest
themselves of this fundamental intuition of their intellect and of their common sense. They still
go on speaking of the ego, of the mind, of bodies, despite their professed denial of the reality of
such substances. For example, Hume does not hesitate to say: Upon the whole necessity is
something that exists in the mind, not in objects.39 This is but one of a multitude of similar
observations. Evidently this whole school, having publicly exorcised all such metaphysical
notions, such as substance, from their thinking, still feels the need of what William James called
clandestine metaphysics, because the intellect cannot exorcise itself. On the whole, however,
there have been no more potent influences in the establishing of the antimetaphysical attitude in
the contemporary mind, and particularly the English speaking mind, than this group of
philosophers, with the possible exception of the German transcendental idealist Immanuel

D. HUME, op. cit., I, Section VI (Of Modes and Substances), p. 222.
D. HUME, op. cit., p. 165.
C. HART, Thomistic Metaphysics, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1959, pp. 196-197.

Of the substance-destructive phenomenalism of the empiricism of Locke, Hume and Mill,
Hart observes: Few philosophers in modern times have been more influential in destroying any
sound notion of substance in modern thought, and therefore building up opposition to
metaphysics, than the empiricists Locke, Hume, and Mill. This empiricist school is generally
characterized by a denial of any real distinction between intellectual acts and sense impressions.
This amounts, for all practical purposes, to a denial of the intellect as a distinct faculty capable of
making its own distinctive report on reality. Thus knowledge is limited to the appearances of
things (phenomena), as opposed to the being of things (noumena). Hence the many philosophers
taking this general attitude are known as phenomenalists as well as empiricists. We have already
shown how such a theory of knowledge necessarily leads to a rejection of the notion of
substance, a notion which is a demand of the intellect when it is considering its own proper

Against Hume on Substance: What is Substance? What are Accidents?

Let us observe accidental changes around us. A fathers face, for example, gets red
because his son bumped his favorite car. The passage from the fathers originally white face to a
red face to a white face again does not obviously destroy the individual being that is the father.
He doesnt turn into a cat or into an elephant. Neither does he simply vanish into thin air.
Therefore, this accidental change or modification that he undergoes without destroying his being
an individual man reveals a reality that changes only in its secondary aspects, without losing its
nature. There is manifested, in the accidental alteration that we have observed in the father, the
presence of both a stable, permanent substratum, called the substance, and certain secondary
changeable perfections, called the accidents. There is, in each individual finite being, a single
substantial core which is affected by various accidental modifications.


Substance is that reality to whose essence or nature it is proper to be by itself (esse per
se, or to be in itself [esse in se42]) and not in another subject. There are two basic aspects of
substance: 1. The substance is the substratum, the subject, that supports the accidents; and 2.
This function of substance is based upon the fact that the substance is the subsistent. This means
that it does not exist in something else but is by itself (or is in itself), not needing to inhere in
another like the accidents do, which need the support of a subject, namely, the substance, in
order to be. A dog, for example, is a substance because, in view of its nature or essence it is
proper to it to subsist in itself (in se), having its own being distinct from the being of anything
else. The brown color of this dog, however, doesnt subsist in itself (in se), but is an accident that
needs to inhere in an existing subject. We say This brown dog.

C. HART, op. cit., p. 195.
Esse per se and esse in se, as opposed to esse in alio, have the same signification. Both are correct, if they are
properly understood.(H. GRENIER, Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 3 (Metaphysics), St. Dunstans University,
Charlottetown, 1950, p. 173).


An accident is that reality to whose essence it is proper to be in something else, as in its

subject. If what is most characteristic of the substance is subsistence (to subsist), that which is
most characteristic of accidents is to be in another (their being esse in or inesse). Take for
example a cat. The substance here would be the substance cat, while its accidents would be the
various perfections inhering in the substance cat (a substance that, though modified by its
accidents, nevertheless does not change into another substance), accidents such as its shape, size,
colour, fluffiness of its fur, etc.

Classification of Accidents

Classification of Accidents According to Origin. Alvira, Clavell, and Melendo classify

the various accidents into four groups according to their origin, writing: a) accidents which
belong to the species: these are accidents which spring from the specific principles of the essence
of a thing, and are therefore properties common to all individuals of the same species (e.g., the
shape of a horse, the powers of understanding and willing in man); b) accidents which are
inseparable from each individual: these accidents stem from the specific way the essence is
present in a given individual, for instance, being tall or short, being fair or dark-complexioned,
being a man or a woman these are all individual characteristics which have a permanent basis
in their subject; c) accidents which are separable from each individual: these accidents, such as
being seated or standing, walking or studying, stem from the internal principles of their subject,
but they affect it only in a transient manner; d) accidents which stem from an external agent:
some of these may be violent, that is, they are imposed upon the subject against the normal
tendency of its nature (e.g., a viral disease); others, in contrast, may actually be beneficial to the
subject which receives them (e.g., instruction received from another person).43

The Nine Accidents.The nine accidents enumerated by the Stagirite are quantity, quality,
relation, when, where, posture, action, passion, and habitus. Concerning the classification of the
nine accidents, Grenier explains: The secondary form added to substance, i.e., accident can
affect substance absolutely, i.e., in itself, or relatively, i.e., in relation to another subject: 1. If
absolutely: a) it renders substance distinct and determinate: quality; b) or it extends substance
into parts: quantity; 2. If relatively: a) it relates substance to a term: relation; b) or it modifies
substance in relation to an external subject; 3. This extrinsic subject may be: a) totally extrinsic,
b) or partially extrinsic; 4. If the extrinsic subject is totally extrinsic, a) it is not a measure of
substance: habit; b) or it is a measure of substance; 5. If it is a measure of substance, a) it is a
measure of time: when; b) or it is a measure of place, either without reference to the disposition
of parts in the place: where; or with reference to the disposition of parts in the place: posture; 6.
If the extrinsic subject is only partially extrinsic, a) it is intrinsic as regards its principle: action,
which derives its name from passion, of which it is a principle; b) or it is intrinsic as regards its
term: passion, which derives its name from action, of which it is a term.44

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, pp. 48-49.
H. GRENIER, Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 3 (Metaphysics), St. Dunstans University, Charlottetown, Canada,
1950, pp. 188-189.

The Real Distinction Between Substance and Accidents

There is a real distinction between substance and accidents, as Alvira, Clavell and
Melendo explain: A substance and its accidents are really distinct from one another. This can be
clearly seen by observing accidental changes, in which certain secondary perfections disappear
and give way to other new ones without the substance itself being changed into another
substance. Such alterations are only possible if the accidents are really distinct from the
substance which they affect. The color of an apple, for instance, is something really distinct from
the apple itself, since the apple changes in color when it ripens, but does not cease to be an apple.

The readily-changeable accidents are not the only ones really distinct from the
substance. All the accidents, by virtue of their very essence, are distinct from their subject. For
instance, to be divisible is by nature proper to quantity whereas substance is by itself both one
and indivisible. Relation is a reference to another; in contrast, substance is something

Substance has its own consistency, truly distinct from that of the accidents, and superior
to it. Substance determines the basic content of things and makes them to be what they are (a
flower, an elephant, a man). In contrast, accidents depend on the substantial core, and at the same
time constitute its determining aspects.45

Describing how this real distinction between substance and accidents, nevertheless, does
not destroy the unity of a concrete being (ens), Alvira, Clavell and Melendo point out: The real
distinction between substance and accidents may seem to undermine the unity of a concrete
being. This, in fact, is the result that emerges from theories which regard the substance as a
substratum disconnected from the accidents, and merely juxtaposed to them in an extrinsic
fashion. It must, however, be stressed that the real distinction between substance and accidents
does not destroy the unity of the being. Substance and accidents are not several beings put
together to form a whole, just as various decorative elements are combined to constitute a room.
There is only one being (ens) in the strict sense, namely, the substance; all the rest simply
belong to it. A tree, for instance, does not cease to be a single thing even though it has many
accidental characteristics. The accidents are not complete, autonomous realities added to a
substance; they are only determining aspects of the substance, which complete it and do not,
therefore, give rise to a plurality of juxtaposed things.

The unity of the composite also becomes evident in the case of operations. An animal,
for instance, carries out many different actions, which do not hamper its unity. On the contrary,
its entire activity forms a harmonious unified whole precisely because there is a single subject
that acts. In the case of man, it is neither the intelligence which understands, nor the will that
desires; rather, it is the person who understands and desires by means of these respective powers,
and consequently all his operations are imbued with an underlying unity.46

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., p. 52.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 52-53.

Knowledge of Substance and Accidents

Explaining how the substance-accidents composition is known with the intelligence

starting from the data offered to it by the senses, and how, in our knowledge of the singular and
concrete being (ens), we find ourselves in a continuous going back and forth between the
substance and its accidents, Alvira, Clavell and Melendo write: Our way of knowing substance
and accidents is determined by their respective natures and their mutual relation.

In the first place, the substance-accident composite is known through the intelligence on
the basis of the data provided by the senses. Sense knowledge always refers directly to the
accidents of a thing; in contrast, the intelligence grasps, through the accidents, their source and
basis, which is the substance. This, of course, is possible because the accidents are not like a veil
that hides the substance: on the contrary, the accidents reveal the substance.

Since its proper object is being (ens), the intellect is not limited to grasping the more
peripheral aspects of things, so to speak, but knows everything that is, i.e., the entire being
(ens) with all its real characteristics. Thus, the intellect perceives being (ens) as a whole,
composed of substance and accidents and which is not merely the result of putting together
various aspects of the thing. The distinction between substance and accidents can only be
grasped through the intellect. It cannot be obtained through the external or internal senses
because these faculties perceive only the accidents.47

In the process of knowing the specific individual being, we constantly go back and forth
from the substance to the accidents, and vice-versa. For the sake of clarity, we may distinguish
three stages in this knowledge.

a) First, what we have is an indistinct or vague knowledge of the composite. Whenever

we encounter an unknown object, whose nature we are not familiar with, we immediately
understand that the qualities perceived by our senses (e.g., color, shape, size) are not independent
realities, but a unified whole by virtue of their belonging to a single substance. Even at this initial
stage of knowing an object, we know that the accidents are secondary manifestations of a subject
that subsists by itself, notwithstanding our inability to know as yet what sort of substance it is.
Indeed, since being (ens) is what is first known by the intelligence, and in the strict sense the
substance alone is being (ens), our intellect cannot grasp accidents without simultaneously
perceiving their subject.

b) Then from the accidents we move on to the substance. Once the subject of the
accidents is known in an indistinct way, the accidents, which reveal the substance, become the
natural path to know what the substance is, i.e., its nature or essence. The accidents of a man (his
shape, his proper operations), for instance, lead us to his essence: rational animal. Thus, starting
from the more external aspects of a being, so to speak, we gradually come to grasp its deeper,

The senses are said to perceive the substance, not in the strict sense, but only in a certain way (per accidens).
Thus, the eye does not see a color as such and as a separate reality; what it always perceives is a colored object.
Likewise, the sense of touch does not grasp a separated extension, but an extended thing. Nevertheless, the
intelligence alone grasps the substance precisely as substance, differentiating from the accidents.

more internal aspects. We penetrate its substantial core through its more peripheral

c) From the substance, we go back to the accidents. Once we have discovered the
essence of a thing, this knowledge becomes a new, more intense light which illumines all the
accidents arising from the substance. It enables to acquire a more adequate notion of each of the
accidents and of their mutual relationships. No longer are we merely aware of them as mere
external manifestations of something, whose nature is not yet distinctly known to us. Rather,
we recognize them as the proper natural manifestations of a specific way of being. Once we have
come to know the essence of man, for instance, we can fit together in a better way his diverse
accidents, since we are aware that they stem from his nature and are dependent on it. This helps
us to have a better grasp of their real meaning. We can, for instance, perceive the many activities
of man as the result of a free rational activity, which is itself a consequence of his specific
essence, and as a result, we are able to grasp them in their true dimension. Otherwise, even
though we might obtain a very detailed description of human activities and succeed in measuring
many aspects of human behavior, our knowledge of the human person would remain extremely
poor; we would even fail to realize that man has a spiritual and immortal soul.

Summing up, we can say that our knowledge begins from the sense-perceptible
properties of things, perceived as manifestations of a thing which has being (esse). These
properties reveal the essence to us, and the accidents, in turn, are seen as stemming from this
substance, which provides the light for a better knowledge of them. This process is not, of
course, undergone and completed once and for all in an instant. In fact, an unending flux
characterizes our knowledge, as we move on from the accidents to the substance, and from the
substance to the accidents, thus gradually acquiring a deeper knowledge of both.48

Contrary to Hume, the Human Person is Not A Bundle of Perceptions; Instead,

the Human Person is a Rational Supposit, an Individual Substance of a Rational Nature
(Natur Rationalis Individua Substantia), a Rational Subsistent (Subsistens Rationale)

Supposit: Being in the Fullest Sense. A consideration of the various constitutive

principles of being should naturally have as its goal being in the fullest sense, which is the
supposit, our subsisting subject. The term subsisting subject refers to the particular being with all
of its perfections. The supposit or subsisting subject is being in the full sense; it is being in the
most proper sense of the term, subsisting, existing in itself as something complete and finished,
distinct from all other things. The supposit designates the particular being with all of its
perfections. The supposit is defined as the individual whole, which subsists by virtue of a single
act of being (esse), and which consequently cannot be shared with another.

Characteristic Marks of the Supposit. The characteristic marks of the supposit are 1. its
individuality (only singular beings [entia] exist in extra-mental reality, while the universal exists
in the mind; a universal essence cannot be a suppositum for it cannot receive a proper act of
being of its own [esse proprium]); 2. subsistence (we must add subsistence for not everything
that can be called individual can subsist; accidents, for example, are individual but are not
subsistent, not having an act of being of their own [esse as actus essendi]); and 3.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 55-57.

incommunicability or unsharedness (because of the preceding two characteristics, namely,
individuality and subsistence, the supposit cannot be shared by others. The supposit cannot be
participated in by various subjects for it exists as something unique and distinct from other
subjects. A rock, for example, does not share its being with the dog that is next to it).

Elements of the Supposit. What are the elements that make up the supposit? The finite
subsisting subject or finite supposit (suppositum) is composed of act of being (esse, which gives
subsistence to the subject, making it be), essence (essentia, which in corporeal beings is
hylomorphically composed of prime matter and substantial form), and accidents (which are acts
that perfect the receptive subject in potency to be perfected by them).

Supposit and Nature. St. Thomas writes in the fourth article of Quodlibet 2: In every
thing to which can accede something which does not belong to the concept of its nature, the thing
itself and its essence, i.e., the supposit and nature, are distinct. For, in the meaning of the nature
is included only that which belongs to the essence of the species, whereas the supposit has not
only what belongs to the essence of the species but also whatever else accedes to this essence.
Hence, the supposit is signified by the whole, but the nature or quiddity [is signified only] as the
formal part. Now, in God alone no accident can be found added to the essence because His act of
being is His Essence, as has been said; hence in God supposit and nature are entirely the same.
But in an angel [i.e., an unreceived subsistent form] the supposit is not entirely the same [as the
nature] because something accedes to it which does not belong to the concept of its essence. For
the act of being itself of an angel is in addition to the essence or nature; and other things [acts of
intellect and will] accede to it, which belong to the supposit but not to the nature.49

Alvira, Clavell and Melendo explain that the essence, and more particularly the form,
gives the individual whole a way of being similar to that of other individuals, thus situating it in
a given species. Due to a common essence or nature, men form part of the human race or species.
As the intrinsic principle of similarity at the level of the species, the essence can be contrasted
with the supposit or individual, which is an unshared reality (distinct and divided from all
others). Consequently, the relation between supposit and its nature is not that which exists
between two principles of being; rather, it is one that entails a real distinction; the supposit is
distinct from its nature in the same way a whole is different from one of its parts.50 The real
distinction between nature and supposit can be seen in two ways: a) in every individual, there is a
distinction between the individuated essence and the whole subsisting subject; b) every
individual is distinct from the common specific nature (taken as a universal perfection which all
individuals share, and which sets aside particular characteristics).51

In his treatment of the distinction between supposit and nature, Renard explains that the
supposit does add something not contained in the nature. It includes everything, says everything
that can be predicated of a being. The nature on the contrary in creatures is distinct from and

Quodlibet. 2, a. 4.
The distinction between nature and suppositum is of paramount importance in theology. St. Thomas Aquinas
made use of this doctrine to express with precision the mystery of the Incarnation: the human nature of Christ
despite its being singular and its full perfection as nature cannot be a suppositum, for it does not include in itself
the act of being.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, pp. 120-121.

consequently does not contain its to be (esse) and its accidents. These words: person,
hypostasis, and supposit designate an integral being.52 A human supposit is the entire being that
is this man.53 The supposit implies that which is most complete.54 Therefore, it takes in the
accidents whereas the nature does not. Consequently, the nature is part of the supposit, a part
which is designated as the formal part.55

Moreover, since the to be (esse) is the highest actuality in the order of being, and the
supposit demands the most perfect completeness in that order, it follows that the substantial to
be (esse) by which a being subsists is of the very essence of the supposit. It is not the supposit
itself, for the supposit includes the whole being; but we may say that it is its most important
factor: for it is that because of which and by which a being attains its highest completion in the
order of being, and by which it exists in its own right (it subsists). The to be (esse) is that in
which the unity of the supposit is founded.56 The to be (esse) pertains to the very constitution of
person.57 Person signifies that which is most perfect in the entire nature, namely, a being
subsisting in a rational nature.58 It must include, therefore, the to be (esse) which is the
actuality of all acts, and the perfection of all perfections.59 Indeed the most perfect completion
consists precisely in this, that a being has its to be (esse), which is an analogous participation in
the divine to be (Esse).60

To repeat then the individual nature differs from the specific nature in that it adds to
the latter the individuating principles (in actu secundo); the supposit differs from the individual
nature in that it adds the to be (esse) and the necessary concomitant accidents.

The Supposit Adds the Proper To Be (Esse) to Individual Nature. It is, therefore, this
substantial to be the very act of esse (which to be is proportioned and due to each individual
nature) that conjoins with the nature to establish the supposit and render it incommunicable in
an absolute sense. Thus the supposit is established by the very act of coming into existence. Let
us analyze this last statement. Since the supposit demands perfect completion, and since the
highest completion in a being consists precisely in the actuation in the order of being by a to be
(esse) that is proportioned to its individual nature, that is to say, by a proper to be (esse), it
follows that an individual nature with its to be will establish a supposit. In other words, the
supposit adds to an individual nature its proper to be (esse).61

Act of Being as the Source of Unity of the Supposit. Alvira, Clavell and Melendo explain
that the act of being (esse) belongs to the supposit and that the source of the unity of the supposit
lies in its proper act of being (esse): The constituent act which makes the suppositum real is
esse. What is most proper to the individual is to subsist, and this is solely an effect of the act of

Compendium Theologiae, ch. 211.
In III Sent., d. 5, q. 3, a. 3.
Cf. Quodlibet II, q. 2, a. 4 ; Summa Theologiae, III, q. 2, a. 2.
Quodlibet IX, 3, ad 2m.
Summa Theologiae, III, q. 19, a. 1, ad 4m.
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 29, a. 3.
De Potentia Dei, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9.
Cf. Quodlibet, XII, q. 5, a. 5.
H. RENARD, op. cit., pp. 230-231.

being.62 Nevertheless, one cannot disregard the essence in explaining the subsistence of a
subject, since a being receives esse if it has an essence capable of subsisting; that is, it must be a
substantial essence, not a mere accidental one. For instance, as man is able to receive the act of
being in himself and to be a suppositum because he possesses human nature, an essence meant to
subsist in itself (and, thus, not to inhere in something else, as in the case of accidents).

However, the specific nature of a thing does not subsist unless it forms part of a
subsisting subject (the individual). That is why it is not quite correct to say that the act of being
belongs to the nature; it only belongs to the suppositum. However, since esse affects the whole
by virtue of the essence, we can say that esse belongs to the suppositum through the nature or
substantial essence. Nature gives the whole the capacity to subsist, although it is the whole
which does in fact subsist through the act of being.

Since esse is the ultimate act of a being, which gives actuality to each of its elements
(which are no more than potency with respect to esse), these parts are united to the extent that
they are made actual by this constituent act, and referred to it. It is quite correct, therefore, to
claim that the act of being is the basis of the unity of the suppositum.63 No part of the whole,
taken separately, has esse of its own; it is, by virtue of the esse of the composite. To the very
extent that the parts of the whole have esse, they must be a unity, since there is only a single act
of being that actualizes them. Matter, for instance, does not subsist independently of the form;
rather, both matter and form subsist by virtue of the act of being received in them. Operations are
no more than an expression of the actuality which a being has because of its esse, and the same
thing can be said of the other accidental modifications as well. In spite of the variety of
accidents, the unity of the suppositum can easily be seen if we consider that no accident has an
act of being of its own. All accidents share in the single act of being of the substance.64

Perfections of a Particular Being to be Referred to the Supposit. Alvira, Clavell and

Melendo also explain why all the perfections of a particular being must be referred to the
supposit: We have seen that the entire actuality of a being has its ultimate basis in the perfection
of its act of being. Since the suppositum is the natural seat of the act of being, all the perfections
of the suppositum, of whatever type they might be, have to be attributed to the suppositum as
their proper subject. Actions, in particular, have to be attributed to the subsisting subject. Thus, it
cannot correctly be said that the hand writes, that the intellect knows, or that the will loves. In
each case, it is the entire man who acts through his powers. Only that which subsists can act.

It could be further stated that the manner in which an individual acts follows its nature,
which is what determines its manner of being. It can, therefore, be claimed that acting belongs to
the subsisting hypostasis in accordance with the form and nature specifying the kind of
operations it can carry out. Thus, only individuals act, since they alone exist. There is a certain
similarity, however, among the activities of the members of a species, since all of them share in a
St. Thomas Aquinas always maintained this doctrine, as can be verified from his early writings as well as the later
ones (cf. In III Sent., d. 6, q. 2, a. 2 ; Quodlibet, IX, a. 3, and Summa Theologiae, III, q. 17, a. 3, c.). This was
explicitly defended by Capreolus, one of the commentators of the Angelic Doctor (cf. Defensiones Theologicae divi
Thomae Aquinitatis, T. Pgues Ed., V, Tours, 1907, pp. 105-107). Later on, Suarez and Cajetan regarded the essence
(and not esse) as the ontological basis of the subsisting subject.
Quodlibet, IX, a. 3, ad 2.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 121-122.

common nature. Men think and laugh; dogs bark; each one of the elements of the periodic table
behaves in a particular way. This also explains why no individual can act beyond the limits set
by its own species.

The recognition of the individual as a single subsisting whole provides the metaphysical
basis for avoiding any kind of dualism (between matter and spirit, between senses and
intelligence) and any division of things into stagnant compartments in which the unity of the
whole would be compromised.

This doctrine equally denies the validity of philosophies which acknowledge the
universal as the primary reality (like in Hegelian historicism, socialism, and marxism), thereby
absorbing the individual, robbing it of its metaphysical significance. The actus essendi, as the
single act of the suppositum, impedes any reduction of being to a mere relation or to a set of
relations within the same class or category, as these philosophical systems purport to do.65

Person. A human being is a particular type of supposit, namely, a rational supposit.

Rational or intellectual supposits are called persons. A human being, therefore, is a person. The
sixth century A.D. Roman philosopher Severinus Boethius gave the definition of the person as an
individual substance of a rational nature (natur rationalis individua substantia). Aquinas
defines the person as every being which subsists in an intellectual or rational nature;66 a person
is a rational or intellectual subsistent. Person is the name used to designate the most perfect
beings that exist, namely, God, the angels and men. Since all perfections stem from esse, the
excellence of these substances is due either to the possession of the fullness of the act of being
(God as Esse Subsistens), or to a high degree of participation in esse which angels and men have.
In the final analysis, to be a person amounts to possessing a likeness of the divine esse in a more
sublime way, that is, by being spiritual; it means having a more intense act of beingultimately,
the entire dignity of the person, the special greater perfection of his operations, is rooted in the
richness of his act of being. The latter is what makes him a person and provides the basis of his
psychological uniqueness (self-knowledge, spiritual love, etc.) and of his moral and social value.
Consequently, neither consciousness nor free-will, neither responsibility nor inter-personal
relations can constitute a person. All these perfections are merely accidents whose being is
derived from the act of being, the only real core of personality.67

Hume on Causality

Hume attacks the objective validity of efficient causality operating in extra-mental

reality: he denies the affirmation that objective, universal and necessary efficient causality is
truly operative in the extra-mental world.68 It is simply not objectively, universally, and

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 122-123.
Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 35.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 123-124.
Studies on Humes views on causality: H. W. JOHNSTONE, Humes Arguments Concerning Causal Necessity,
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 16.3 (1956), pp. 331-340 ; J. W. LENZ, Humes Defense of Causal
Inference, Journal of the History of Ideas, 19.4 (1958), pp. 559-567 ; J. A. ROBINSON, Humes Two Definitions
of Cause, The Philosophical Quarterly, 12 (1962) ; T. J. RICHARDS, Humes Two Definitions of Cause, The
Philosophical Quarterly, 15 no. 60 (1965), pp. 247-253 ; J. A. ROBINSON, Humes Two Definitions of Cause
Reconsidered, The Philosophical Quarterly, 15 (1965), reprinted in Hume: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited

necessarily true, he argues, that every effect has a cause in extra-mental reality, since in human
perception cause and effect are in fact two phenomena with two separate existences, one
following after the other. We cannot therefore conclude that the latter phenomenon is due to the
causality of the former just because it comes after it. The only conclusion that we can come up
with is that, owing to the laws of the association of ideas,69 it is believed (felt) that a certain
phenomenon is caused by another, because, by habit, we have grown accustomed to believe it.

by V. C. Chappell, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1966 ; C. J. DUCASSE, Critique of Humes
Conception of Causality, The Journal of Philosophy, 63.6 (1966), pp. 141-148 ; D. W. LIVINGSTON, Hume on
Ultimate Causation, American Philosophical Quarterly, 8.1 (1971), pp. 63-70 ; D. GOTTERBARN, Humes Two
Lights on Cause, The Philosophical Quarterly, 21 no. 83 (1971), pp. 168-171 ; J. ARONSON, The Legacy of
Humes Analysis of Causation, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 2.2 (1971), pp. 135-156 ; T. L.
BEAUCHAMP, Humes Two Theories of Causation, Archiv fr Geschichte der Philosophie, 55 (1973), pp. 281-
800 ; G. E. M. ANSCOMBE, Whatever Has a Beginning of Existence Must Have a Cause: Humes Argument
Exposed, Analysis, 34.5 (1974), pp. 145-151 ; M. MANDELBAUM, The Distinguishable and the Separable: A
Note on Hume and Causation, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 12.2 (1974), pp. 242-247 ; P. GOMBERG,
Coherence and Causal Inference in Humes Treatise, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 6.4 (1976), pp. 693-704 ;
A. PARUSH, Is Hume a Sceptic About Causation?, Hume Studies, 3.1 (1977), pp. 3-16 ; B. STROUD, Hume on
the Idea of Causal Necessity, Philosophical Studies, 33.1 (1978), pp. 39-59 ; T. L. BEAUCHAMP and A.
ROSENBERG, Hume and the Problem of Causation, Oxford University Press, New York, 1981 ; J. BROUGHTON,
Humes Scepticism about Causal Inferences, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 64.1 (1983) pp. 3-18 ; A. J.
JACOBSON, Does Hume Hold a Regularity Theory of Causality?, History of Philosophy Quarterly, 1.1 (1984),
pp. 75-91 ; P. RUSSELL, Humes Two Definitions of Cause and the Ontology of Double Existence, Hume
Studies, 10.1 (1984), pp. 1-25 ; B. EN, Hume on Causal Necessity: A Study from the Perspective of Humes
Theory of Passions, History of Philosophy Quarterly, 2.3 (1985), pp. 235-256 ; A. D. KLINE, Humean Causation
and the Necessity of Temporal Discontinuity, Mind, New Series 94 no. 376 (1985), pp. 550-556 ; H. O.
MOUNCE, The Idea of a Necessary Connection, Philosophy, 60. no. 233 (1985), pp. 381-388 ; D. R. SHANKS,
Hume on the Perception of Causality, Hume Studies, 11.1 (1985), pp. 94-108 ; A. J. JACOBSON, Causality and
the Supposed Counterfactual Conditional in Humes Enquiry, Analysis, 46.3 (1986), pp. 131-133 ; T. F.
LINDLEY, David Hume and Necessary Connections, Philosophy, 62 no. 239 (1987), pp. 49-58 ; G.
STRAWSON, The Secret Connexion-Causation, Realism, and David Hume, Oxford University Press, Oxford and
New York, 1989 ; A. SCHWERIN, The Reluctant Revolutionary: An Essay on David Humes Account of Necessary
Connection, Peter Lang, New York, 1989 ; M. J. COSTA, Hume and Causal Realism, Australasian Journal of
Philosophy, 67.2 (1989), pp. 472-490 ; J. BROACKES, Did Hume Hold a Regularity Theory of Causation?,
British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 1 (1993), pp. 99-114 ; D. GARRETT, The Representation of
Causation and Humes Two Definitions of Cause, Nos, 27.2 (1993), pp. 167-190 ; M. BELL, Hume and Causal
Power: The Influences of Malebranche and Newton, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 5.1 (1997), pp.
67-86 ; M. BA, Is Causation In Here or Out There?: Humes Two Definitions of Cause, History of
Philosophy Quarterly, 16.1 (1999), pp. 19-35 ; K. LEVY, Hume, the New Hume, and Causal Connections,
Philosophy, Hume Studies, 26.1 (2000), pp. 41-75 ; P. K. STANFORD, The Manifest Connection: Causation,
Meaning, and David Hume, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 40.3 (2002), pp. 339-360 ; H. BEEBEE, Hume
on Causation, Routledge, London, 2006 ; F. W. DAUER, Hume on the Relation of Cause and Effect, in A
Companion to Hume (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy), edited by E. S. Radcliffe, Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken,
NJ, 2008 ; P. MILLICAN, Hume, Causal Realism, and Causal Science, Mind, 118-Issue 471 (July 2009), pp. 647-
A prominent part of Humes philosophy is his theory of associationism. We speak, for example, of the principle
of causality, and consider it to be a universally and necessarily valid axiom that Every effect must have a cause.
Hume claims that this axiom is derived from experience. What we perceive is an invariable sequence of events: one
thing invariably follows an antecedent event, and from this sequence we conclude that the antecedent event causes
the one that follows as an effect. We do not perceive anything like the production of one thing by another. From
his phenomenalistic, sensationalistic standpoint, Hume could not admit real causation. Whenever we observe one
event to occur, we feel the mental compulsion to assert that the other will follow. But whence the mental compulsion
to conjoin just these two events as cause and effect? Hume gives as the reason that the mind is carried by habit,
upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual attendant and to believe that it will exist. In other words, it is

For Hume, one cannot affirm that objective efficient causality truly occurs in extra-
mental reality (what occurs in extra-mental reality is, for him, unknowable); rather, efficient
causality, for him, is a subjective phenomenal complex idea, a creation of the human mind. With
this doctrine Hume dismisses the traditional a posteriori demonstrations of the existence of God
as being devoid of demonstrative capacity.70

For Hume, efficient causality is nothing but a complex idea. It is fabricated by the
human subject and is not an extramental reality. One can never know a priori what will
eventuate. Experience shows the movement of two billiard balls but never any causal action, any
transmission of movement: nothing is observed but the succession of two things moving. Then
Hume makes his sweeping extrapolation and generalization: therefore, the principle of causality
is nothing but an association of successive impressions. Through habit and custom, those telling
words that Sextus Empiricus used long ago, men come to expect that the succession will take
place; in reality, however, there is no necessary connection. Once the habit is acquired, one
cannot think any other way.71

So, what is this efficient causality that the scholastics boast about? Simply a subjective
product of habit. We have gotten so used to seeing fire burn that, by habit, we say that fire causes
the burning; but since Hume states that we cannot sense this causing, this causing can be but a
subjective product of the imagination.

The common man in the street observes a constant conjunction of A and B in repeated
instances, where A is contiguous with B and is prior to B, and so he calls A the cause and B the
effect. Hume writes in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: When one particular
species of events has always, in all instances, been conjoined with another, we make no longer
any scruple of foretelling one upon the appearance of the other, and of employing that reasoning
(casual inference) which can alone assure us of any matter of fact or existence. We then call the

the association of ideas which compels us to formulate necessary and universal judgments, axioms, and principles.
Such judgements, axioms, and principles have no objective value, but are mere associations of impressions derived
from the succession of phenomena(C. BITTLE, The Whole Man: Psychology, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1945, p. 317).
Having eliminated an objective origin for the idea of active power and the causal bond, Hume had to trace them
to purely subjective conditions within the perceiver. The objects of perception are atomic, unconnected units which
may, nevertheless, follow one another in a temporal sequence and pattern. Through repeated experience of such
sequences, the imagination is gradually habituated to connect antecedent and consequent objects in a necessary way.
The necessity does not arise from any productive force or dependence on the side of the objects so related but comes
solely from the subjective laws of association operating upon the imagination to compel it to recall one member of
the sequence when the other is presented. The causal bond consists entirely in our feeling of necessity in making the
transition, in thought, from one object to the other. The philosophical inference from effect to cause is abstract and
empty until it is strengthened by the natural relation set up by the workings of habit and association upon the
imagination. Given this all-embracing psychological basis, however, causal inference can have nothing stronger than
a probable import. Absolute certainty cannot be achieved, since the mind is not dealing with dependencies in being,
on the side of the real things, but is confined phenomenalistically to its own perceptions and their relations. It is very
likely that our habitual connection among ideas corresponds to some causal link among real things, but this can
never be verified. Hence causal inference can yield only probability and belief, not certainty and strict knowledge.
Hume rigidly applied this conclusion to the a posteriori argument for Gods existence, maintaining that it is, at the
very most, a probable inference and nowise a demonstration(J. COLLINS, God in Modern Philosophy, Regnery,
Chicago, 1967, p. 117).
R. CHERVIN and E. KEVANE, Love of Wisdom, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988, pp. 243-244.

one object cause, the other effect.72 Suitably to this experience, therefore, we may define a
cause to be an object, followed by another, and where all the objects similar to the first are
followed by objects similar to the second. Or, in other words, where, if the first object had not
been, the second never had existed.73

For Hume, causation can be considered either as a philosophical relation or as a natural

relation. Considered as a philosophical relation, he defines cause as follows: A cause is an
object precedent and contiguous to another, and where all the objects resembling the former are
placed in like relations of precedency and contiguity to those objects that resemble the latter.74
As a natural relation, Hume defines cause thus: A cause is an object precedent and contiguous
to another, and so united with it that the idea of the one determines the mind to form the idea of
the other, and the impression of the one to form a more lively idea of the other.75 Hume
observes that though causation be a philosophical relation, as implying contiguity, succession
and constant conjunction, yet it is only so far as it is a natural relation and produces a union
among our ideas, that we are able to reason upon it or draw any inference from it.76

It is thus that Hume gives an answer to his question why we conclude that such
particular causes must necessarily have such particular effects, and why we form an inference
from one to another.77 Our pan-phenomenalist empiricist gives us a psychological reply,
referring to the psychological effect of observation of instances of constant conjunction. This
observation produces a custom or propensity in the mind, an associative link, whereby the mind
passes in natural fashion from, for example, the idea of a flaming torch to the idea of heat or
from an impression of a flaming torch to the lively idea of heat.

In keeping with his immanentist phenomenalism, Hume denied the affirmation that
objective efficient causality truly operates in the extra-mental world, reducing efficient causality
affirmed by methodical realism into nothing but a mere succession of phenomena put together by
the associative force of habit, a mere product of our imagination. When we observe, for example,
a lighted torch and then feel heat we are accustomed to conclude a causal bond. But in fact,
Hume points out, it is the imagination, working by habit, that conjures up this causal bond from
what is in fact a mere succession of phenomena: We have no other notion of cause and effect
but that of certain objects, which have been always conjoined togetherWe cannot penetrate
into the reason of the conjunction. We only observe the thing and always find that from the
constant conjunction the objects acquire a union in the imagination.78 Attacking the objective
validity of efficient causality in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he states:
When we look towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never
able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connection; any quality, which
binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequent of the other. We only
find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse of one billiard-ball is
attended with motion in the second. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The
D. HUME, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, VII, 2, 59.
D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, I, 3, 14.
D. HUME, op. cit., I, 3, 6.
D. HUME, op. cit., I, 3, 3.
D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, I, 3, 6.

mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects: consequently,
there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the
idea of power or necessary connection.79

Hume denied the affirmation that there exists a valid, objective cause and effect
relationship in the extra-mental world. In the pan-phenomenalist theory of knowledge of Hume,
man learns to associate the glaring noonday sun with heat, in our assocation among ideas, but
according to Hume, man is mistaken in affirming that the sun really, objectively, causes heat, or
possesses the power which produces heat, in the extra-mental world apart from our states of
consciousness. For this empiricist there is merely a repetition of two incidents so that the effect
habitually attends the cause but is not a necessary cause of it. Describing Humes attack on
objective efficient causality operating in the extra-mental world, Thonnard writes: At first, it
was by means of the principle of causality that philosophers flattered themselves into thinking
that they could attain objects beyond experience. Thus, Locke and Berkeley elevated themselves
by its aid to Gods existence as the foundation of religion and of morality. Hume, in the name of
empiricism, begins by reducing their pretentious thoughts to nothingness. How can the principle
that everything which began has a cause, be justified? It is not evident by intuition or by
demonstration. Sensible intuition does not certify a necessary connection between two facts, but
only their succession; for instance, one perceives the visual impression of a flame, then the
tactual impression of a burn. But the causal link totally escapes the senses. Rational
demonstration of this principle, by the method of the clear idea, is impossible. For, in looking for
all the simple ideas which are constitutive of an effect, one does not find therein that of the
cause, or, in the cause, that of the effect. It will be easy for us to conceive any object to be non-
existent this moment, and existent in the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause
or a productive principle.80 Consequently, it is impossible to demonstrate, a priori, through the
simple analysis of ideas, the necessity of a cause to explain that which happens. This relation,
Hume concludes, through which one infers to the existence of a distinct cause from the existence
of an effect, or through which the presence of the same cause makes us admit the necessary
existence of the same effect, has no speculative value, since it is beyond experienceOne should
not, however, proscribe it completely, but delimit its value by explaining its origin.

By psychological analysis we are aware of a triple element in the relationship of

causality which we employ. a) There are two successive facts of experience intuitively known
through an actual impression or at least reproduced by memory; for instance, the movement of a
billiard ball, followed, after contact, by the movement of another. b) One can then certify that the
same experiences repeat themselves and one acquires a habit of association which makes the
succession constant and practically necessary, so that the sight or the memory of one of the facts
invariably invokes the attention to the other, even in the future. When we see the player hit the
first ball, we are sure, that if it meets the second, this one will, in turn, move. c) Finally, we
consider this second fact so grasped not only as an idea, but as having real and independent
existence, due to a transfer of assent or of belief. It is by this final element that the relation of
causality is distinguished clearly from any other association of ideas; as re-enforced by habit, it
becomes not only a constant succession, but a necessary bond in virtue of which one real object

D. HUME, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, VII, 1, 50.
D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, I, 3, 3.

produces another. There but remains a determination of the value of this belief in order to know
the value of causality.

Belief, for Hume, is nothing else but the assent given to the existence of the object of a
perception. This assent or judgment of existence is attached to certain ideas which are thus
distinguished from fictions of the imagination; it always accompanies our impressions of
sensation. But, according to the principle of empiricism, we have no right to admit anything real
but perception itself. We do not have infallible certitude of the existence of a reality distinct from
the fact of consciousness. The idea of existence, then, is the very same with the idea of what we
conceive as existing. To reflect on any thing simply, and to reflect on it as existing, are nothing
different from each other.81 If then, we admit by belief to a double existence, one of ideas or
impressions, then that of exterior objects, this latter is but an uncontrollable hypothesis. But
belief has no need of this hypothesis in order to be explained; it is engendered by the especially
high degree of vividness which a perception enjoys. The incredulous and the believing have the
same ideas in their spirit; but, in the believer the ideas have more force, vividness, solidity,
firmness and stability.82 For this reason, it is normal that every impression is accompanied with

Now the impression has this property of communicating to ideas which are in
connection with it, something of its own vigor and vividnessmore precisely, causality
establishes between the impression and the idea a more narrow connection; thus, aided by this
very strong association, the belief which determines the reality of one of two facts is
spontaneously transported to the other

As a consequence, the total necessity of the principle of causality is referred to the

stability of a psychological habit, often strengthened by heredity, but which could, without
absurdity, actually change. This habit, for Hume, justifies the usage of the notion of cause in
daily life, but not in the sciences. That which remains speculatively indubitable and definitively
true is, uniquely, the fact of consciousness, the subjective phenomenon taken either in itself, or
as an element of various groups. Every attempt to go beyond this object is condemned83

B. A. G. Fuller explains that, for Hume, the causal tie and the necessary connection
supposed to subsist between cause and effect exist, so far as knowledge is concerned, entirely in
the mind. They cannot be said to exist in the external world, because, in the first place, we have
no certain knowledge that such a world exists and no knowledge of what it is like if it does exist.
Nor are they in themselves impressions or qualities of impressions, as we have already pointed
out. Our ideas of them are drawn from a feeling, which arises from a custom or habit of
association. But it guarantees nothing. We cannot know for certain that in the past or in the
future given antecedents will have the consequences they now have.84

D. HUME, op. cit., I, 2, 6.
E. BRHIER, Histoire de la philosophie, vol. 2, Paris, 1932, p. 410.
F.-J. THONNARD, A Short History of Philosophy, Descle, Tournai, 1956, pp. 636-639.
B. A. G. FULLER, A History of Philosophy, Book II, Henry Holt and Co., New York, p. 100.

Critique of Humes Attack on Objective Efficient Causality Operating in the Extra-
Mental World

Kreyche explains that it is primarily by Hume that the major attack is launched upon
efficient causality. According to Hume, man knows only his ideas and images directly, and not
the world of reality. Mind is, for him, simply a state of successive phenomenal impressions, and
judgment is replaced by association. In asking whether causality can be justified, Hume requests
that one show how its most important characteristic, necessary nexus, is grounded in experience.
Not finding it rooted there, he concludes that the necessary connection between cause and effect
is psychological, having its ground in custom and the association of ideas. Cause thereupon
becomes a relationship among ideas, and no longer an influence of one thing upon the other in
the real worldThe principal shortcoming of Humes view stems from his empiricism and
nominalism. He attemped to have the senses detect, in a formal way, causality and necessity per
se something that those powers are incapable of doing. Aquinas had himself observed that not
even substance is sensible per se, but only per accidens. Since he did not admit abstraction of an
intellectual nature, Hume was consistent within his own system in rejecting causality and
substance. And, unable to justify causality ontologically, he did the next best thing in justifying it

G. F. KREYCHE, Causality, in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 3, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1967, p. 346.
Benignuss Critique of Humes Rejection of the Affirmation that Objective Efficient Causality Truly Operates in
Extra-Mental Reality: 1. Sensism. Humes original error, which led to his rejection of substance and causality as
valid philosophical concepts, was sensism. He considered experience as the sole ultimate source of valid human
knowledge, which it is, but by experience he meant pure sensation, or at very best perception, and nothing more.
Impressions of sense and their less vivid relics in the mind, namely, ideas, are the only data of knowledge for which
experience vouches, according to Hume. We have no impression of causality or substance; therefore, he argues,
these are not given in experience.
Hume mistakes an analysis of the factors in perception for an account of the perceptive act. The data of pure
sensation are, as he says, fragmentary and intermittent sense impressions. But the act which he is analyzing is not an
act of pure sensation. What I perceive is not these fragmentary impressions, but the things of which they are
accidents. It is doubtful that even animals perceive merely sensory qualities. Substances (i.e., particular, concrete)
are the data of perception. They are incidental sensibles immediately perceived by means of internal sense co-
operating within external sense. In his analysis Hume takes as the immediate datum of perception something which
is actually known only as a result of a difficult abstraction, namely, the pure sensation. Then his problem is to
discover how, starting from pure sensations, we come to believe in objective substances which exist unperceived
and permanently. It is a false problem.
2. Human Experience Includes Understanding. Hume is right in saying that we never have a sensory impression
of causality or substance. But he is wrong in saying that we never experience causes or substances. Efficient causes
are immediately experienced every time we observe anything physically influencing anything else, every time, for
example, we see a hammer driving a nail. But the cause qua cause is never sensed directly; cause, like substance, is
only sensed per accidens. The cause as a sensible object, its movement, and the subsequent movement of the object
acted upon are the immediate data of sense. But to limit experience to the sensible data perceived is to imply that
man perceives without ever at the same time understanding what he perceives. When I perceive a hammer
descending upon a nail and the nail moving further into the wood, I also understand that the hammer is something
and is driving the nail into the wood. Both perception and understanding are equally parts of the experience. To
exclude the understanding is to reduce all human experience to uncomprehending sense awareness. Not only is this
not the only kind of human experience, but, at least in the case of adults, it never normally occurs at all. We simply
do not perceive without some understanding of what we are perceiving; we do not perceive phenomena without
perceiving them as the phenomena of something; nor do we perceive one thing acting upon another without at the
same time understanding the former as a cause of the effect produced in the latter.
3. Understanding in Perception. There is surely a crystal-clear distinction between mere perceiving and
understanding. The domestic animals of the battlelands of Europe are no more spared the bombing and the fire, the

hunger and the cold, the noise and the stench, than are their human owners. But they have no understanding of what
is going on; no reason for what is happening is known to them, and none is sought. Their minds do not grope for
reasons the way their parched tongues crave for water. The darkness that their eyes suffer when they are driven in
the midst of the night through strange lands is matched by no darkness of intellect seeking a reason which it cannot
find that awful darkness which is so often the lot of man. Failure to understand could no more be a privation and a
suffering in man if his intellect were not made for grasping the reasons and causes of things, than blindness would
be a suffering if sight never grasped the visible. A man who does not understand feels frustrated, because his mind is
made for understanding; he suffers when he cannot grasp the reason, because he knows that there is a reason.
Perception is not understanding; but normally some understanding occurs together with perception: we could not
possibly have the experience of failing to understand what we perceive, if we did not have the prior experience of
understanding what we perceive.
4. Cause is Given to the Intellect. Cause is something that we grasp intellectually in the very act of
experiencing action whether our own action or anothers. We understand the cause as producing the effect: the
hammer as driving the nail, the saw as cutting the wood, the flood as devastating the land, the drill as piercing the
rock, the hand as molding the putty, ourselves as producing our own thoughts, words, and movements, our shoes as
pinching our feet, a pin as piercing our finger, our fellow subway travelers as pressing our ribs together. We do not
think that the nail will ever plunge into the wood without the hammer, the marble shape up as a statue without a
sculptor, the baby begin to exist without a father, the acorn grow with no sunlight; if something ever seems to occur
in this way, we do not believe it, or we call it a miracle (i.e., we attribute it to a higher, unseen cause). In a similar
manner, substance is given directly to the intellect in the very act of perception; the substance is grasped as the
reason for the sensible phenomena.
5. The Subjectivistic Postulate. The arguments of Hume are based on the subjectivistic postulate, namely, that
we know nothing directly except our own ideas. From this starting point, certitude about real causality can never be
reached. The only causality that could ever possibly be discovered if the primary objects of our knowledge were our
own ideas would be the causal relations among the ideas themselves. No such relations are as a matter of fact found,
since none exist and since the subjectivistic postulate is false to begin with. Causal relations exist between objects
and the mind, and between the mind and its ideas, but not between ideas and ideas. Hume places causality in our
mind, as a bond between ideas, when he accounts for our idea of causality by attributing it to mental custom.
Whatever his intention, he actually presents similar successions of ideas as the cause of our ideas of causality and
the principle of causality. As a matter of fact, such causality would not account for our belief in causality, because it
would never be an idea, but only an unknown bond connecting ideas. It is only because Hume is already in
possession of the concept of causality gained through external experience that he is able to formulate the theory that
invariable succession of ideas produces mental custom, which in turn gives rise to the idea of cause.
6. Imagination and Causality. It is, perhaps, this locating of causality among our ideas that leads Hume to a very
peculiar argument against the principle of causality: We can never demonstrate the necessity of a cause to every
new existence, or new modification of existence, without showing at the same time the impossibility there is that
anything can ever begin to exist without some productive principleNow that the latter is utterly incapable of a
demonstrative proof, we may satisfy ourselves by considering, that as all distinct ideas are separable from each
other, and as the ideas of cause and effect are evidently distinct, it will be easy for us to conceive any object to be
non-existent at this moment, and existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause or productive
principle. The separation, therefore, of the idea of a cause from that of a beginning of existence, is plainly possible
fot the imagination; and consequently the actual separation of these objects is so far possible, that it implies no
contradiction nor absurdity; and it is therefore incapable of being refuted by any reasoning from mere ideas; without
which it is impossible to demonstrate the necessity of a cause(D. HUME, Treatise of Human Nature, I, 3, 3).
This argument, even if we overlook the flagrant petitio principii in the statement that all distinct ideas are
separable from each other, is no argument at all. What Hume says is nothing more than that he can imagine a thing
beginning to exist without a cause, and that consequently no argument from mere ideas can ever prove the necessity
of a cause. We can agree with him that no argument from mere ideas can ever prove real causality; but we will add
that that is why Hume could never prove it he started with mere ideas, or rather images. Aside from this, the
argument is utterly unrelated to the subject of causality. Imagination has nothing to do with causes or with
beginnings of existence. I never imagine anything as beginning to exist, or even as existing; I simply imagine the
thing, and in my image there is no reference to existence. The thing which I imagine may as easily be a fire-
breathing dragon as my own brother. The reference to existence lies in thought, not in imagination. The words of
Hume, The separation, therefore, of the idea of a cause from that of a beginning of existence, is plainly possible for
the imagination, have no real meaning, because the imagination never possesses the idea of a beginning of

Against Hume: The Objective Existence of Efficient Causality Operating in the
Extra-Mental World

Contrary to the deniers of the affirmation that objective efficient causality operates in the
extra-mental world, we instead maintain the objective validity of efficient causality operating in
extra-mental reality. A mere invariable sequence of antecedents and consequents is not sufficient
to account for cause and effect; instead, there really are efficient or agent causes in extra-mental
reality that are the primary principles of actions which make things either simply to be, or to be
in a certain way.86

existence. Thought judges whether a thing conceived exists or not, and thought (even Humes natural belief)
judges that nothing begins to exist without a cause. Surely, I can imagine a situation in which a certain thing is not
an element and then a situation in which it is. To do this is not to conceive the thing as beginning to exist; it is
merely to imagine it after not imagining it. Such imaginative play has no connection with causality, except in the
obvious sense that I could not imagine anything, to say nothing of making imagination experiments, if I had not the
power of producing, that is, causing images in my mind; and presumably that is not the sense in which Hume
intended his illustration to the interpreted.
7. Loaded Dice. The subjectivistic postulate prejudices the whole issue as to the reality of causes before
examination of the question even begins. If knowledge cannot attain to anything real and extramental, it cannot
attain to real, extramental causes. The only causality it could possibly discover would be causal relation among
images in the mind. If the object is read out of court by the postulate that we know only our ideas, objective
causality is read out with it. It is not surprising that sensism and subjectivism should lead to the explicit denial of the
principles of causality, sufficient reason, and substance, since they begin with their implicit denial. Sensations,
impressions, images, separated from any being arousing them must be viewed by any intelligent mind as so many
phenomena without any sufficient reason for existing. Normal men cannot abide sensory experiences without
objective reasons. They regard a person who has such experiences as a psychopathic case; they say, He imagines
things, and suggests a psychiarist(B. GERRITY, Nature, Knowledge, and God, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1947, pp. 337-
Bittle writes: In proving the existence of efficient causality among things, it will be necessary first to show that
the assumptions which underlie the position of the opponents are unwarranted; then it will be necessary to adduce
the positive evidence which supports the view that efficient causality actually is present in nature.
The opposition against the existence of efficient cause is based primarily on an adverse theory of knowledge,
and not on the facts themselves. As such, the denial is made primarily on epistemological grounds. Kant, since he
maintained that we can have no knowledge of things-in-themselves, naturally had to deny any knowledge of
efficient causality as existing among these things-in-themselves. It is the purpose of epistemology to vindicate the
sources of our knowledge, among them being sense-perception, consciousness, and reason. In this connection we
will restrict ourselves to one consideration. If Kants fundamental assumption were correct, we could know nothing
of the existence and activity of other minds beside our own, because these other minds are evidently things-in-
themselves. But we have a knowledge of other minds. This is proved conclusively by the fact of language, whether
spoken or written or printed. We do not use language to converse with ourselves; conversation is essentially a
dialogue between our mind and other minds. Hence, we can and do acquire knowledge of things-in-themselves, as
they exist in themselves, through the medium of language. Kants fundamental assumption is, therefore, incorrect.
Consequently Kant is wrong, when he asserts that we could know nothing of efficient causality, if it existed among
things. If we can show that efficient causality exists in ourselves, we prove that efficient causes exist in nature,
because we ourselves are a part of nature.
Hume, Mill, and others, denied efficient causality because of their phenomenalism. According to their
assumption, all we can perceive are the phenomena, and phenomena are revealed to us in our senses merely as
events in invariable sequence. Whenever, then, we perceive phenomena as invariably succeeding each other in
place and time, we are prompted by habit and the association of ideas to imagine a causal connection to exist
between them, so that the earlier event is the cause and the later even the effect. This is, in their view, the origin
within our mind of the concept of efficient causality.
This is a deplorable error. The fact is, we clearly distinguish between mere invariable sequence and real
causality. We notice, for example, an invariable sequence between day and night every twenty-four hours, and we
are convinced that this sequence has been maintained throughout the ages; at any rate, we have never experienced a

single exception in this sequence. We also notice, when the day is hot and humid, and a sudden, decisive drop in
temperature occurs, that a rainstorm develops; this sequence, however, is by far not as invariable as the sequence
between day and night. No one, however, dreams of considering day and night as being in any causal connection, as
if the day produced or caused the night. On the other hand, we certainly are convinced of the existence of a
causal connection between the states of the weather, although the occurrence has by no means the invariability of the
sequence we observe between day and night. Hence, the fundamental assumption of the phenomenalists, that our
observation of invariable sequence is the basis of our concept of efficient causality is opposed to fact. In
accordance with their principle, the phenomenalists must maintain a parity in all cases of invariable sequence. We,
however, do not judge the cases to be the same. There must, then, be some other reason why we judge a causal
connection to exist between phenomena, between things and events.
Besides this, we clearly distinguish between conditions and causes, even if there be an invariable succession
between them. We know by experience that we are unable to see objects except in the presence of light. In the dark
all objects are invisible; light must first be admitted before we can see. There is an invariable sequence between the
presence of light and the seeing of objects. According to the phenomenalists principle, therefore, we should judge
that light is the cause of vision, because its presence invariably precedes vision. But we do not so judge. We
consider light to be the condition, not the cause, of vision, although vision must always follow after the admission
of light in sound eyes. And so it is with all conditions.
It is entirely untrue to assert that we obtain our concept of cause and effect from the observation of the
frequency of an occurrence through habit and the association of ideas. We judge of the presence of causality even in
single cases. When the first steam engine, or the first telephone, or the first automobile, went into operation, no one
waited for the hundredth or thousandth appearance or operation in order to apply the principle of causality; this was
done immediately. Similarly, when an accident or disaster occurs, we do not wait until it occurs frequently before
we think of cause and effect; we look for the causal connection as soon as it occurs. On the other hand, though we
see a million automobiles follow each other down the highway, we never think of the one being the cause of the
other, due to association of ideas or habit.
Hence, mere sequence, no matter how frequent and invariable, is not the principle which forces us to accept the
concept of efficient cause and causal connection as valid in nature. The facts themselves compel our reason to judge
that the relation of cause and effect exists between things.
Our experience proves causality. Critical analysis of our internal states and of external nature convinces us of its
reality. Internal consciousness is an indubitable witness to the fact that our mental activities not only take place in
us, but that they are also produced by us. Such are the activities of thinking, imagining, desiring, willing. They are
clearly observed to be produced by ourselves, and this production is observed to be due to our own action, so that
their existence is intrinsically dependent on this productive action. Thus, we are conscious that we deliberately set
about to solve a certain mental problem by combining ideas into judgments, judgments into inferences, and a whole
chain of inferences into an extended argumentation. With the help of our imagination we work out poems, essays,
melodies, pictorial scenes, machines, etc., before they ever appear outside the mind. We desire certain things and
consciously will them; and we are fully aware that we are the responsible agents of these desires and acts of the will,
because we produce them by direct action. No one can deny these facts; they are present for everyone to observe.
But if the conscious knowledge of ourselves as the active agents in the production of these internal activities is
unreliable and false, all our knowledge, of whatever character, must be adjudged an illusion, because knowledge
rests ultimately on the testimony of consciousness. In that case, however, universal skepticism is the logical
outcome, and that means the bankruptcy of all science and philosophy. Hence, our consciousness is a trustworthy
witness to the fact of efficient causality within us.
External experience proves the same. We speak. Language is an external expression of our internal ideas. It is
impossible for us to doubt that we actually produce the sounds of language which express our own thoughts. We
intend to express these thoughts in conversation, and we actually do; and we are conscious of the fact that we are the
agents in this process. If I am a painter, I set up my canvas, mix the paints, apply the colors, and with much effort
project my mental images upon the canvas in form and color; I know that all this is not a mere sequence of events,
but a production of something in virtue of my own actions. So, too, if I take pen and ink and write something on
paper, I not only perceive one word following the other, but I am also convinced beyond the possibility of any
rational doubt that I am the author of the words appearing on the paper. Neither Hume, nor Mill, nor any other
phenomenalist, disclaimed the authorship of the books which appeared in their name, nor would they refuse to
accept royalties from their publishers on the plea that they were not the efficient causes of these books.
Again, we are convinced that many bodily actions are of a voluntary nature. I move my hand, my arm, my head,
and I know that these members move because I make them move. If I am set for a sprint, and the gun goes off, I

Answer to Hume: What is Efficent Causality?

Efficient Cause

An efficient or agent cause87 is the primary principle or origin of an action which makes
something simply to be, or to be in a certain way. The (secondary) efficient cause in the example
of Michelangelo sculpting the Piet would be Michelangelo himself. Alvira, Clavell and

jump into action. But I am conscious that there is not a mere sequence between the shot and my running; and I am
also conscious that the shot does not make my limbs move so rapidly: it is I myself who decides to run and who
deliberately produces this action of running. This is all the more obvious to me, when I compare this sort of action
with the action of the heart or of the liver, etc., over which I have no control. I clearly distinguish between
sequence and causality. Hume, as we have seen, claims that we cannot know of this causal connection between
our will and our bodily movements, because we cannot feel the energy involved in this operation. This merely
proves that we do not observe the whole process. Of the fact of causation itself we are most assuredly aware, and we
are also aware of the exertion and fatigue involved in producing these effects; but if we produced nothing, of if
there were no energy expended in the production (for instance, in walking, working, running, making a speech, etc.),
why should we feel exertion and fatigue? And thus our external experience also testifies to the fact that we ourselves
are efficient causes which produce definite effects.
In order to disprove the opponents contention, no more is required than to prove a single case of causality. We
could, therefore, rest our case with the above argument taken from the internal and external experience of our own
selves. However, we contend that the existence of other efficient causes in nature is also capable of proof.
Reason demands efficient causality in nature. If reason demands that we admit the existence of efficient causes
acting in the universe, the philosopher cannot refuse to accept the verdict of reason, because science and philosophy
are based on the operations of reason. Now, if I am convinced beyond doubt that I am the cause of the picture I
paint, what am I to conclude, when I see someone else paint a picture? I must conclude that he is doing what I did,
when I went through the same series of actions. Of course, all that my senses can observe is a sequence of actions;
my reason, however, demands that he, too, must be the producer of his picture, just as I am of mine. This is
common sense and sound logic. And the same principles applies to all actions performed by others, when I observe
them doing the same things that I do or have done: if I am the efficient cause, they must be efficient causes for the
same reason. There is a complete parity between my actions and their actions, and so I know, through a conclusion
of reason, that real causality exists in nature in these and similar cases.
It is only a short step from instances of such activities to productive activities in the world at large. A farmer
places seed into the soil. After a period of time it sprouts, grows, and eventually matures into an abundant harvest.
Here something new has originated. And so with animals and men. We were not here a hundred years ago; but we
are here now. We perceive new living beings coming into existence daily. They are new realities. But if they did not
exist always and do exist now, they must have received existence. Their existence is a produced existence, a
caused reality, because they were brought from non-existence to existence. That, however, which exerts a positive
influence through its action in the production of another, is an efficient cause. Efficient causes, therefore, exist in
nature. We must, then, reject phenomenalism as false and accept efficient causality as the only adequate
interpretation of the facts as observed(C. BITTLE, The Domain of Being: Ontology, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1941, pp.
Studies on efficient causality: O. LA PLANTE, The Traditional View of Efficient Causality, Proceedings of the
American Catholic Philosophical Association, 14 (1938), pp. 1-12 ; F. X. MEEHAN, Efficient Causality in
Aristotle and St. Thomas, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1940 ; R. O. JOHANN,
Comment on Secondary Causality, The Modern Schoolman, 1947-1948, pp. 19-25 ; T. M. FLANIGAN,
Secondary Causality in the Summa contra Gentiles, The Modern Schoolman, 35 (1957), pp. 21-37 ; E. GILSON,
Avicenne et les origines de la notion de cause efficiente, in Atti del XII Congresso internazionale di filosofia, vol. 9,
pp. 121-130 ; E. GILSON, Pour lhistoire de la cause efficiente, AHLDMA, 1962, pp. 7-31 ; C. FABRO, La
difesa critica del principio di causa, in C. Fabro, Esegesi Tomistica, Libreria Ed. della Pontificia Universit
Lateranense, Rome, 1969, pp. 1-48 ; M. L. COLISH, Avicennas Theory of Efficient Causation and Its Influence on
St. Thomas Aquinas, in Atti del Congresso internazionale (I): Tommaso dAquino nel suo settimo centenario, 1974,
pp. 296-306 ; T. D. HUMBRECHT, Note sur la cause efficiente et lonto-thologie, Revue Thomiste,105 (2005),
pp. 5-24.

Melendo explain that the intrinsic causes found in corporeal creatures require the action of an
external agent. Since matter and form are two distinct principles by themselves, they cannot
bring about the formation of a thing; they need an external cause that has to put them together.
Besides, experience shows that a corporeal being only acquires a new substantial or accidental
form by virtue of an actual extrinsic principle whose precise role is to make matter acquire a new

From this point of view, the efficient cause is by nature prior to the material and formal
causes. The latter cannot exert their causal influence on one another without the prior influence
of the efficient cause. Therefore, the study of matter and form alone is not sufficient; it should
naturally lead to a consideration of the efficient cause. 88

In corporeal beings, the efficient cause always acts by altering some (secondary) matter
so as to educe a new form from it. Hence, it can also be called a moving cause (causa movens).
The efficient cause is the cause of the causality of matter and form, since by its motion or
movement it makes the matter receive the form, and makes the form inhere in matter.89 In the
case of created causes, the agent always requires a potency upon which it exerts its activity, or, in
other words, a subject on which it acts in order to obtain a new effect. God alone causes without
any need for a pre-existing reality, since He produces the totality of the effect.90

Distinctive Characteristics of Efficient Causality

Alvira, Clavell, and Melendo give us some the features of the efficient cause: a) Unlike
the material and formal causes, the efficient cause is a principle extrinsic to the effect

b) The efficient cause imparts to the subject the perfection which makes it an effect of
the agent, a perfection which the agent must actually have. A teacher, for instance, is the
efficient cause of the knowledge of the student, because he imparts to the student a portion of his
own actual knowledge.

In this respect, the efficient cause is always an exemplary cause, since no one can give
another a perfection which he does not have. Thus, only an actual being can impart actuality to
an effect, and it can only do so to the extent that it is itself actual (every agent acts insofar as it is
in act).

c) The effect always pre-exists in its cause in some way. The perfection transmitted may
be found in the cause either in a more eminent manner or at least in the same degree. A man, for
instance, can engender another man. To warm another body, the warming body must have a
higher temperature.

Consequently, when an agent acts, it always produces something like itself. The likeness
does not refer to any perfection whatsoever, but precisely to that perfection by virtue of which
the agent acts in the given instance. Fire, for instance, does not warm insofar as it is actually

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, p. 201.
In V Metaphysicorum, lect. 3.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 201-202.

luminous, but insofar as it is actually hot. Producing an effect means imparting to matter a form
which is like that possessed by the cause. Since this form may be possessed in either of two
ways, either naturally or intellectually, the likeness of the effect may refer to either. A colt is like
the horse with respect to the form which is possessed by both in a natural way. A cathedral,
however, is not like the architect, but like the model which the architect conceived in his mind.

Furthermore, the principle by virtue of which something acts in producing an effect is its
form, and not its matter, since it is by virtue of the form that it is actual. This is true both in the
case of the substance and of the accident: 1) The specific actions of a substance stem from its
substantial form and from its consequent operative powers. If man can think and will, this is
because he has a spiritual soul, which is endowed with intelligence and will. 2) Acquired
perfections in the sphere of activity stem from operative habits. Thus, only a person who has the
knowledge and skill of the architect can design houses.91

Types of Efficient Causes

There are various types of efficient causes, namely: the primary cause and the secondary
cause; the principal cause and the instrumental cause; the total cause and the partial cause; the
coordinated cause and the subordinated cause; the universal cause and the partial cause; the
physical cause and the moral cause; the per se cause and the per accidens cause; the
proximate cause and the remote cause; the necessary cause and the free cause; the univocal
cause and analogical cause; the natural cause and the rational cause.

1. Primary Cause and secondary cause. God is the sole First or Primary Efficient Cause,
for the definition of primary efficient cause is this: a cause which is wholly independent of other
things; a cause which has, in no sense, a cause of its own. Creatures are secondary efficient
causes; they depend upon the First Cause for their existence and their equipment and their

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 202-203.
P. J. GLENN, Ontology, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1957, p. 318. The Causality of the First Efficient Cause (God) and
the Causality of Secondary Efficient Causes (Creatures):
Explaining the limits of created causality and how, in the final analysis, secondary causes (creatures) have need
of a First Cause, God, Who is the cause of the act of being (esse), Alvira, Clavell and Melendo write:
Becoming and Forms Constitute the Proper Object of the Efficient Causality of Creatures. The action of a
created agent is the cause of the coming into being (fieri) of the effect; however, it does not produce the being of
the effect as such. It effectively brings about the production of a new reality, (in the case of generation and
corruption) or the acquisition of a new mode of being by an already existing being (in accidental changes).
However, once the action of the natural agent ceases, the effect remains in its being, which reveals the effects
actual independence with respect to the cause which produced it. When an architect builds a house, for instance, he
imparts a new accidental form to already existing materials, making them suitable for dwelling. In this way, he
effectively brings about the construction of the building or its coming into being (becoming). Once the construction
activity is finished, however, the house preserves its being by virtue of certain principles which no longer depend on
the builder in any way. The same thing happens in the case of a new animal begoten by its progenitors.
The proper terminus of created causality, in the processes of generation and corruption, is the form, which is the
primary act of a corporeal substance. In the case of accidental changes, the terminus is a new accident of the
substance. The proper effect of the causality of creatures is always the eduction of a form. We can see this clearly if
we recall that a substance is a cause to the extent that it really influences its effect, or, in other words, to the extent
that the latter cannot exist if the former is suppressed. It is obvious, however, that what disappears when a created
efficient cause is removed is the process of in-forming some matter or the production of a new form, which is

where the influence of the agent of itself ends. The very reality of the effect, which continues in its own being, is not
Consequently, the created agent is not the sole or the absolute cause of its effect; rather, it is the cause of the
production of the effect. Generation, which is the most profound type of causality in material things, has to be
considered as a via in esse or as the way by which an effect comes to be, namely, by receiving a new substantial
form. Consequently, when the action of the agent in generation is removed, the transition from potency to act,
which is the coming into being (fieri) of the begotten, ceases, but the form itself, through which the begotten has the
act of being, does not cease. Hence, when the action of the agent in generation ceases, the being of the things
produced persists, but not their becoming (De Potentia Dei, q. 5, a. 1, c.).
Creatures are Particular Causes of Their Effects. The finitude of created causes becomes even more manifest as
we take into account the way in which they act:
a) Natural agents always act by transforming something. Both in the case of accidental changes and the
production of a new being, creatures act by merely altering an already existing reality.
b) Hence, in their activity, created causes presuppose a preexisting object. If they are bringing about an
accidental change, they need an actually existing subject that will be affected by this modification. If they are
generating a new substance, they also need prime matter from which they can educe the new substantial form, while
divesting it of the form it previously had. Fire engenders fire in another material substance; plants grow from seeds,
with the help of some other elements provided to them by their material surroundings. Animals beget their offspring
by means of their own bodies.
c) The efficient causality of finite beings is limited by their own active capacity and by the conditions of the
subject on which they act. It is evident that one cannot produce more perfection than what he himself possesses (no
one can transmit knowledge which he does not have or generate a substantial form different from his own). Besides,
the efficient power of a cause is restricted by the potentiality of the matter which it transforms or influences. No
matter how intelligent a scientist may be, he can never transmit more knowledge than what his students are able to
grasp. Similarly, the skill of a sculptor is hampered by the poor quality of the marble be carves.
d) Consequently, the act of being of their effects is not the immediate and proper effect of the causality of
creatures. The causality of a creature cannot account for the effect in its totality; it can do so only for some of its
perfections, which the efficient cause is able to impart, and the subject, because of its conditions, is able to receive.
Consequently, no created cause produces the total being of its effect. Even in the case of generation, it does not
produce being from absolute non-being (from nothingness); rather, it produces this thing from something which was
not this thing. This is how a new plant grows from seed.
What the created cause immediately and directly influences is the effects manner of being, (as a substance or as
an accident), rather than its act of being. Strictly speaking, its causal influence ends in the form. A horse, for
instance, is the immediate cause, not of the colts being (its having the act of being), but of its being a colt.
This does not mean that the created cause does not influence the being of the effect (otherwise it would not
really be a cause). It truly does, but in an indirect and mediate fashion, that is, through the form, which is its proper
effect. No creature can be a cause of being as such, since its activity always presupposes something which already is
or has the act of being (esse). Created agents are not the cause of the act of being as such, but of being this of
being a man, or being white, for example. The act of being, as such, presupposes nothing, since nothing can preexist
that is outside being as such. Through the activity of creatures, this being or a manner of being of this thing is
produced; for out of a preexistent being, this new being or a new manner of being of it comes about(Summa Contra
Gentiles, II, 21).
Hence, it must be said that in relation to the act of being, created causes are always particular causes; in other
words, they attain their effect not insofar as it is being but only insofar as it is a particular kind of being. Besides,
everything acts to the extent that it is actual, and since creatures possess a limited act of being (they are not pure act
of being), they necessarily have to cause limited effects in the ontological order.
Created Causality Requires a First Cause Which is the Cause of the Act of Being. Summarizing the conclusions
of the two preceding sections, we can say that the efficient causality of creatures is not sufficient to explain the being
of an effect. We have underlined the fact that it extends only to the latters coming into being or becoming.
At the same time, we have also emphasized that the created cause is a real cause. Hence, to say a created thing
causes a new substance is perfectly valid. Even though the form is the end of the act of generation, the effect is a
new substance. But it is also evident that this new substance proceeds not only from the active power of the agent,
but also from the preexistent passive potency of matter (ex materia).

Therefore, all causality of creatures necessarily demands the act of being that is presupposed. The cause of this
act of being (esse) is God, the Subsistent Esse, the First and Universal cause, in contrast to which other beings are
merely secondary causes. Only divine causality can have esse as its proper object.
God has the act of being as the proper object of His causality, both in terms of creation and the conservation of
all things in being. Creation is the act of giving the act of being (esse) to creatures out of nothing. In God, creation is
an act co-eternal and one with Himself (ab aeterno), but from mans point of view, creation is carried out in time.
The duration in time of that divine act is known as conservation, which is not really distinct from the act of creation.
As a consequence, if God had not created, nothing would exist; seen from the angle of conservation (which is the
same as creation), everything would fall into nothingness if God would not maintain in being what He had created.
To give the act of being ex nihilo is exclusive of God, for only God is the Subsisting Act of Being, as well as the
only universal and omnipotent Cause. Let us consider this briefly:
a) He is the Subsisting Act of Being and Being by essence. Only the Absolute and Unlimited Being, the Fullness
of Being, can have the act of being of creatures as its proper effect. In contrast, a particular manner of being, with a
finite and participated esse, lacks the power to reach anything which transcends that restricted mode of being.
b) He is omnipotent. We have already seen that creatures presuppose some substratum on which they act. To the
extent that this substratum is more or less distant from the act which it is to acquire, a more or less powerful efficient
cause is required to actualize the potency. For instance, to make a piece of iron red-hot, a thermal power greater than
what suffices to set fire to a piece of wood is needed, since the latter, compared to iron, is in much more proximate
potency to ignition. Since the act of being does not presuppose anything, an infinite power is needed to cause it. It is
not simply a matter of bridging a great gap between act and potency, but of overcoming the infinite chasm between
nothingness and being. Omnipotence is an attribute of God alone, since He alone is Pure Act which is not restricted
by any essence.
c) He is the only universal cause. The act of being is the most universal effect, since it embraces all the
perfections of the universe in terms of extension and intensity. It includes the perfections of all beings (extension)
and all the degrees of perfection (intensity). Hence, no particular cause immediately affects the act of being; rather,
esse is the proper effect of the first and most universal cause, namely, God, who has all perfections in their fullness.
God alone, then, is the agent who gives being (per modum dantis esse), and not merely one that moves the agent
or alters (per modum moventis et alternantis)(In IV Metaphysic., lect. 3).
This does not mean that God creates continuously out of nothing. It means rather that in His creative act, God
created all being whether actual or possible. This act gave rise not only to those beings God created at the
beginnning of time, but also to those that would come to be through natural and artificial changes in the course of
time(T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 234-239).
Characteristics of the Causality of the First Cause (God):
Explaining the characteristics of the causality of the First Cause (God), Alvira, Clavell and Melendo write: The
terms First Cause (God) and secondary causes (creatures) are equivalent to others which are also often used: cause
of being (esse) and cause of becoming (fieri); universal cause and particular cause; transcendental cause and
predicamental cause.
The cause of the act of being is the first cause since it is presupposed by any other cause, just as being is
prerequisite to every other effect. It is an absolutely universal cause since it embraces each and every created
perfection, whereas particular agents only influence a certain type of effect. It is a transcendent cause for the same
reason, since its proper effect, being, transcends all the categories; in contrast, predicamental causes only produce
determinate modes of being.
In contrast to secondary causes, the First Cause can be defined by the following characteristics: a) It is the cause
of the species as such, whereas secondary causes only transmit them. A man, for instance, cannot be the cause of
human nature as such, or of all the perfections belonging to it, for he would then be the cause of every man, and,
consequently, of himself, which is impossible. But this individual man is the cause, properly speaking, of that
individual man. Now, this man exists because human nature is present in this matter. So, this man is not the cause of
man, except in the sense that he is the cause of a human form that comes to be in this matter. This means being the
principle of generation of an individual manNow, there must be some proper agent cause of the human species
itself ; This cause is God(Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 65).
b) It is also the cause of matter, whereas creatures only give rise to successive changes of the form. As we have
seen, in the production of any new effect, creatures presuppose a prior subject, which in the case of generation is
matter. Matter, which is the ultimate substratum of all substantial changes, is the proper effect of the causality of the
supreme cause.

c) It is the most universal cause, in contrast to creatures, which are only particular causes. Acting, by way of
transforming, all secondary causes produce a type of particular effects, which necessarily presuppose the action of a
universal cause. Just as soldiers would achieve nothing for the final victory of the army without the overall plan
foreseen by the general and without the weapons and ammunition provided by him, no creature could exist or act,
and consequently produce its proper effects, without the influence of the First Cause, which confers the act of being
both on the cause and on the subject which is transformed.
d) It is a cause by essence, whereas creatures are only causes by participation. Something has a perfection by
essence when it possesses it in all its fullness. In contrast, the perfection is only participated if the subject possesses
it only in a partial and limited way. Since everything acts insofar as it is actual, only that which is Pure Act or
Subsisting Act of Being can act and cause by essence. Any creature, however, which necessarily has the act of being
restricted by its essence, can only cause by participation, that is, by virtue of having received the act of being and in
accordance with the degree it is possessed.
Consequently, God alone has causal power in an unlimited way, and for this reason He alone can produce
things from nothing (create them) by giving them their act of being. Creatures only possess a finite and determinate
causal capacity proportionate to their degree of participation in the act of being. Besides, for their proper effects,
they presuppose divine creative action which gives the act of being to those effects.
Creatures produce their proper effects, which are only determinations of being, insofar as they are conserved
by God. That which is some kind of thing by essence is the proper cause of what is such by participation. Thus, fire
is the cause of all things that are enkindled. Now, God alone is Being by essence, while other beings are such by
participation, since in God alone is Esse identical with His essence. Therefore, the act of being (esse) of every
existing thing is the proper effect of God. And so, everything that brings something into actual being does so
because it acts through Gods power(Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 66)(T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T.
MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 239-241).
The Relationship Between the First Efficient Cause (God) and Secondary Efficient Causes (Creatures):
Illustrating the relationship between the First Efficient Cause (God) and secondary efficient causes (creatures),
Alvira, Clavell and Melendo write: The being and the causality of creatures are, as we have seen, based totally on
God who is the First Cause and the Cause by essence. This entails a relationship of total subordination, and not
merely of parallel concurrence in which Gods power and that of creatures would combine to produce a single
effect. To illustrate the relationship between Gods efficient causality and that of creatures, we can recall the
relationship between the principal cause and an instrumental cause, instead of that between two partial causes which
are extrinsically united to attain a single result (as two horses joining forces to pull a carriage). Just as a paint brush
would be unable of itself to finish a painting, a creature would be devoid of its being and its power to act if it were to
be deprived of its dependence on God.
Nonetheless, some clarification has to be made regarding this matter: a) A created instrumental cause is truly
dependent on the agent only with respect to the action of the instrument, whereas the creature is also subject to God
with regard to its own act of being.
b) A creature possesses a substantial form and certain active powers which truly affect it in a permanent way;
these are the root of its activity, to such an extent that in natural activity, the actions of secondary causes are
proportionate to their causes. In an instrument, however, in addition to the form it has, by which it can produce its
own non-instrumental effects, there is also a new power present in a transient manner, capable of producing an
effect disproportionate to the instrumental cause. Hence, in the stricter sense, creatures are called instruments when
they are used by God to produce effects which exceed their own capacities, especially in the realm of grace. They
are called secondary causes when they act in the natural order.
Three consequences can be drawn from the total subordination of secondary causes to the First Cause: a)
Compared with the secondary cause, the First Cause has a greater influence on the reality of the effect.
Analogously, a painting is more correctly attributed to the artist than to the paint brush or palette which he used. In
the case of ordered agent causes, the subsequent causes act through the power of the first cause. Now, in the order of
agent causes, God is the first causethus, all lower agent causes act through His power. The principal cause of an
action is that by whose power the action is done, rather than that which acts; thus, the action springs more strictly
from the principal agent than from the instrument. Therefore, compared with secondary agent causes, God is a more
principal cause of every action(Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 67).
b) Both the First Cause and secondary causes are total causes of the effect in their own respective order, since
the effect is entirely produced by each of them, and not partly by one and partly by another. The same effect is not
attributed to a natural cause and to divine power in such a way that it is partly done by God, and partly by the natural

2. Principal cause and instrumental cause. The principal efficient cause exercises its
own activity with the aid of another cause which subserves that activity. The writer, for example,
exercises his activity with the aid of pen or pencil. The instrumental efficient cause operates
(exercises its causality) under the movement and direction of a principal cause. The pen or pencil
which serves the writer is an instrumental cause. Notice that the whole effect (in our example, the
finished piece of writing) is attributable to both the principal cause and the instrumental cause,
but in different respective ways. The writer wrote the whole letter; so did the pen. But the letter
is, first and foremost, the writers; as an expression of thought it must be attributed to the writer
alone; no one would praise the pen for high sentiments or graceful phrasing. But the letter is
attributable to the pen as used by the writer, and as having a fitness or suitability to serve the
writer in the activity of writing. The instrument thus has its efficient causality in its disposition or
fitness to serve a certain use, and this causality is actually exercised only under the transient
application of the instrument to its use by the activity of the principal cause.93

agent; rather, the effect is totally produced by both, in different ways, just as the same effect is wholly attributed to
the instrument and likewise wholly attributed to the principal cause(Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 70).
As we have seen, the proper and adequate effect of a secondary cause is the form (substantial or accidental), and
creatures receive a particular degree of participation in the act of being through the form. The immediate proper
effect of God, however, is the act of being of all things, and through the act of being, His own power influences all
the perfections of creatures. The all-encompassing character of divine causality arises from the special nature of esse
as the act of all acts and the perfection of all pefections of a created substance. Since any creature as well as
everything in it shares in its act of beingevery being, in its entirely, must come from the first and perfect cause(In
II Sent., d. 1, q. 1, a. 2).
Therefore, divine Providence embraces everything which exists in the universe. It includes not only the
universal species but also each individual, not only the necessary or predetermined activity of inferior beings but
also the free operations of spiritual creatures. It extends not only to the most decisive actions of free creatures (those
which alter the course of mankinds history) but also to their seemingly unimportant daily activities, since both
kinds of actions share in the actuality of the esse of the person doing them. This act of being is the immediate effect
of divine efficient causality.
c) The subordination of secondary causes to God does not diminish the causal efficacy of creatures; rather it
provides the basis for the efficacy of their activity. Gods action increases and intensifies the efficacy of subordinate
causes as they progressively get more closely linked with God, since a greater causal dependence entails a greater
participation in the source of operative power. This is somewhat like the case of a student who faithfully follows the
instructions of the professor guiding him in his studies, or that of the apprentice who conscientiously does what the
accomplished artist tells him. They experience greater efficacy in their activity.
Secondary causes have an efficacy of their own, but obviously they have their power by virtue of their
dependence on higher causes. A military officer, for instance, has authority over his subordinates because of the
power invested in him by higher officers of the army; the chisel transforms the marble because of the motion
imparted to it by the artist.
Hence, the power of a lower agent depends on the power of the superior agent, insofar as the superior agent
gives this power to the lower agent whereby it may act, or preserves it, or even applies it to the action(Summa
Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 70). Since God not only confers operative power on secondary causes but also maintains
them in their being, and applies them to their effects, their efficacy is multiplied as they become more submissive to
divine action.
The great significance of this profound reality can be seen in practical activity, especially in the sphere of
human freedom. Submission to Gods law does not in the least diminish the quality of mens actions. On the
contrary, it invigorates them and confers on them an efficacy that surpasses natural standards(T. ALVIRA, L.
CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 241-244).
P. J. GLENN, op. cit., pp. 318-319.

Regarding the principal cause and the instrumental cause,94 Alvira, Clavell, and Melendo
state: We have so far stressed that the efficient cause is always superior to its effects.
Experience clearly shows, however, that there are certain effects which surpass the perfection of
the causes which produce them. A surgeons knife, for instance, restores health to a patient; a
combination of uttered sounds enables a man to convey his thoughts to another man. As we can
easily see, the enormous efficacy of these causes stems from the fact that they are employed as
instruments by some other higher cause.

An instrumental cause is a cause which produces an effect not by virtue of its own form,
but on account of the motion or movement conferred on it by a principal agent. A principal
cause, in contrast, is a cause which acts by its own power.

A distinction has to be made between two effects of an instrumental cause, namely, that
stemming from the instruments own form (proper effect) and that arising from the influence of
the principal cause (instrumental effect). The proper effect of a paint brush, for instance, is the
transfer of paint to the canvas; its instrumental effect, however, is the landscape scene impressed
on the canvas by virtue of the skill of the painter, who is the principal cause.

The action of the instrument as an instrument is not different from the action of the
principal agent, since the power which permanently resides in the principal agent is acquired in a
transient manner by the instrument insofar as it is moved by the principal agent. The skillful
painter always has the ability to do an excellent work, but the paint brush only has it while it is
being used by the artist.

Consequently, the effect of the instrumental action has to be attributed to the agent
rather than to the instrument. Strictly speaking, miracles are not attributed to saints but to God,
just as literary work is not attributed to the authors typewriter but to the author himself.

It is quite obvious, however, that in order to obtain certain effects the agent needs
suitable tools. To cut something, for instance, a sharp hard instrument is required. One should
keep in mind that the instrument achieves the instrumental effect through its proper effect. Once
a saw has lost its sharpness, it will not anymore be suitable for cutting and cannot be utilized for

Instrumental causality has considerable importance not only in daily life, but also in the
supernatural dimension of human life in relation to God, who makes use of the natural actions of
creatures as instruments to obtain supernatural effects. This is why instrumental causality is dealt
with quite extensively in Theology.95

3. Total cause and partial cause. By reason of the scope of their influence, efficient
causes may be either total or partial. A total cause is the complete cause of the effect in any given
order, whereas a partial cause only produces a portion of it. For this reason, partial causes are
always coordinated. Each of the horses in a team, for instance, is a partial cause of the movement

Cf. J. S. ALBERTSON, Instrumental Causality in St. Thomas, The New Scholasticism, 28 (1954), pp. 409-435.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 205-207.

of the carriage or of the plow. Men are partial causes of peace in society, since it is attained
through the good will of individuals.96

4. Coordinated cause and subordinated cause. A coordinated cause is the same as a

partial cause and thus accounts for only part of the effect. A subordinated cause is a cause which
depends upon another cause. If such a cause depends upon another cause in the very exercise of
its causality, it is called an essentially subordinated cause. Such a cause produces the whole
effect, but in dependence upon the other cause. For instance, the chisel of a sculptor is a cause
which exercises influence upon the whole statue, but is dependent upon the sculptor in the very
exercise of its causality. If a cause depends upon another cause, but not in the exercise of its
causality, it is said to be accidentally subordinated to this cause. For example, a man depends on
his father as upon upon a superior cause for his existence, but in the act of begetting a son he
does not depend upon him; hence he is only accidentally subordinated to his father, insofar as the
act of begetting a son is concerned.97

5. Universal cause and particular cause. This classification refers to the coverage or
extension of the causal influence or the set of specifically distinct effects to which it extends. A
cause is universal if it extends to a series of specifically distinct results; it is particular if it is
restricted to a single type of effects. In the strict sense, God alone is a universal cause, since He
alone is an efficient cause who creates and sustains in existence every kind of creature. In a
wider sense, however, a cause is universal if its causal efficacy extends to all the specifically
distinct effects within a given sphere. In the construction of a building, for example, the architect
is a universal cause with respect to the many other agents (carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers,
etc.), who work together to build the structure.

In a different sense, a universal cause is a cause which produces a given effect from a
more universal point of view. God, for instance, produces all things from the supremely universal
point of view of being. A particular cause, in this sense, is a cause which achieves its effect from
a more limited point of view. A man, for example, produces a cabinet in so far as it is a cabinet,
but not insofar as it is a being.

The more actuality a cause has (that is, the more perfect it is), the greater its operative
power is, and the wider the field of influence it has. As we ascend in the hierarchy or degrees of
being in the universe, we find a greater causal influence. The causal influence of plants goes
further than that of inanimate things. In the case of man, through his intelligence, he achieves a
wide span of effects inconceivable in the world of lower living things and of inanimate things,
which are rigidly directed towards a determinate kind of effect. God, who is supremely Perfect
Act and is, therefore, at the peak of efficient causality, infinitely transcends all causal influence
of creatures as regards both intensity and extension.98

6. Physical cause and moral cause. A physical efficient cause is one that produces an
effect by its own physical activity. A moral efficient cause (which is not an efficient cause
properly so called, but as such by an extension of meaning) is one that exercises an influence on

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., p. 204.
H. J. KOREN, Introduction to the Science of Metaphysics, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1965, pp. 247-248.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 204-205.

a free agent (that is, a free actor, doer, performer) by means of command, persuasion, invitation,
force of example. The free agent who is moved to action by such influences is the physical
efficient cause of the action; the one who exercises such influences over the physical cause is the
moral efficient cause of the action.99

7. Per se cause and per accidens cause. A per se efficient cause is one that tends by
nature or intention to produce the effect that actually is produced. Fire is the per se efficient
cause of light and heat; it tends by its nature to produce light and heat. A hunter who shoots a
rabbit is the per se efficient cause of the killing, because he intends it. A per accidens efficient
cause is one that produces an effect by accident, since it is either not such a cause as naturally
produces this effect, or the effect is not intended. A man drilling a well for water strikes oil; the
drilling is not by nature calculated to bring up oil in each case, but, in this case, it does so per
accidens. A man digging a grave uncovers buried treasure per accidens. A hunter shoots a dog,
mistaking it for a rabbit; he is the per accidens cause of the killing of the dog, because he did not
intend it. The term per se means of itself; and the term per accidens means by accident. A
cause which of itself (that is, by its nature, or by the intention of a free agent) produces an effect
is the per se cause of that effect; a cause which happens to produce an effect, although the cause
is not naturally ordinated to the producing of this effect, or in case of a free agent acting as
physical or moral efficient cause is not intentionally directed to the producing of this effect, is
the per accidens, or the accidental cause of the effect.100

8. Proximate cause and remote cause. A proximate (or next door) efficient cause
admits no medium between itself and its effect. A remote (or farther off) efficient cause has
one or more mediate causes between itself and the effect. A thief is the proximate cause of the
theft; the man who ordered the thief to steal, or showed him how to do it, is the remote cause. A
disease may be the proximate cause of death; the contagion or infection which induced the
disease is the remote cause. There is here an axiom of value for philosopher and moralist: causa
causae est causa causati which is translated literally as, The cause of a cause is the cause of
what the latter produces. We may translate the axiom freely thus, The remote cause is a true
contributor to the effect of the proximate cause. Of course, the degree or measure of the
contribution will depend upon the actual influence which comes through to the ultimate effect
from the remote cause. A moral efficient cause is always a remote cause of the ultimate effect.
Our little Catechism lists the nine ways of being accessory to anothers sin, and therein presents
for our consideration a series of moral and remote efficient causes, and indicates that
responsibility for the ultimate effect rests upon the remote cause as well as upon the proximate
cause: causa causae est causa causati. Another way of expressing the truth of this axiom (as

P. J. GLENN, op. cit., p. 319. Koren observes that a physical cause produces its effect by direct action towards
this effect; e.g., the carpenter is the physical efficient cause of the table he produces. A moral cause produces an
effect by proposing a purpose to the physical cause; e.g., a customer, by offering money, induces the carpenter to
make a table(H. J. KOREN, op. cit., p. 248).
P. J. GLENN, op. cit., pp. 319-320. Koren states: A cause is called direct (per se) if it tends to produce a certain
effect either naturally or freely. For example, the act of digging naturally tends to produce a hole, and the digger
freely intends to produce a hole. By an accidental cause is usually meant a cause which produces some effect other
than that which was freely or naturally intended. For instance, the act of digging a hole may be the accidental cause
of a treasure trove(H. J. KOREN, op. cit., p. 248).

touching free agents) is this: qui facit per alium, facit per se, He who does a thing through an
agent or proxy or representative, does it himself.101

9. Necessary cause and free cause. A necessary cause is one that is compelled by nature
to produce its effect when all conditions for it are fulfilled. Fire under dry chips is the necessary
cause for flame. The sun is the necessary cause of daylight. A free cause is one that can refrain
from producing its effect when all conditions for it are fulfilled. A hungry man with appetizing
food before him may still refuse to eat.102 Concerning determined cause and free cause, Alvira,
Clavell and Melendo state the following: A determined cause is a cause which produces its
proper effect as the result of the mere vitality of its nature. These causes are sometimes called
necessary causes, in another divergent sense. A plant, for instance, spontaneously produces its
flowers and fruit. Consequently, in the absence of any impediment, these causes necessarily
produce their effects and can never act in a different way.

In contrast, a free cause is a cause which produces its effect with mastery over its own
operation, thus being able to produce it or not, by virtue of its own decision. A man, for instance,
can decide to go for a walk or refrain from doing so. Free causes have mastery over the goal
which they seek, because they know it and tend towards it by their own will.

The effects of determined causes somehow pre-exist in their respective causes in such a
way that the movement of the cause of itself allows one to foresee its effects. The study of the
nature of a living organism enables a person to know how it will act subsequently, taking into
account its contingency. Free causes, in contrast, are not determined towards a single end. They
may or may not act, and they may act in a particular way or another. Knowledge of their nature
does not enable one to foresee their effects. This is true in the case of the activity of men and of
angels, and of Gods activity with regard to the created world.103

10. Univocal cause and analogical cause. A univocal cause produces an effect of the
identical species to which itself belongs. Human parents are the univocal causes of their children.
An equivocal cause produces an effect which belongs to a different species than that to which the
cause belongs. Thus, April showers bring May flowers; the human sculptor produces a non-
human statue.104 Regarding the difference between univocal cause and analogical cause,
Alvira, Clavell, and Melendo state the following: This classification of causes refers to the
degree of likeness of the effect to its cause. A univocal cause produces an effect of the same
species as itself. One tree produces another tree, etc. An analogical cause produces an effect of a
different and lower species than itself, although there is always some likeness to itself. God is an
analogical cause of creatures: the act of being which He gives them does result in a likeness to
God, since it is a participation of that act which He has by essence. However, since the creatures
act of being is restricted by an essence, the created esse is infinitely distinct from that of God.

P. J. GLENN, op. cit., pp. 320-321. Koren writes: The proximate cause is the cause from which the effect
proceeds immediately. The remote cause acts upon another cause and thus produces the effect mediately. For
instance, if I boil water, the proximate cause of the boiling is the heat of the kettle, and the fire applied to the kettle
is a remote cause(H. J. KOREN, op. cit., p. 248).
P. J. GLENN, op. cit., p. 321. Koren: A necessary cause is determined by its very nature to act in a definitive
way, whereas a free cause has control over its actions(H. J. KOREN, op. cit., p. 248).
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 208-209.
P. J. GLENN, op. cit., p. 321-322.

Man is an analogical cause of the artifacts he produces (a bed, a poem, a car), since these are of a
species different from man. Artificial things are subdued likenesses of the human spirit, since
their forms (received in matter) are similar to the spiritual forms which the artisan conceives in
order to do his work.105 Clavell writes in Metafisica (2006): Causa univoca e causa analoga.
Tale distinzione considera il tipo di somiglianza degli effetti rispetto alle loro cause. Il puledro
assomiglia al cavallo causa univoca per la forma posseduta naturalmente da entrambi, che le
fa avere la stessa essenza ed appartenere alla stessa specie. Una cattedrale, invece, non
assomiglia allarchitetto causa analoga , ma allidea esemplare che questi ha concepito nella
propria mente.

La causa univoca quella che produce un effetto della sua stessa specie, un albero ne
genera un altro, ecc. La causa analoga produce un effetto di specie diversa e inferiore alla causa,
anche se ad essa somigliante. Luomo causa analoga degli artefatti che costruisce un letto,
una poesia, un torchio , poich questi ultimi non sono della stessa specie umana. Tuttavia, le
cose artificiali sono similitudini sebbene degradate dello spirito delluomo, dato che sono
oggetti la cui forma materializzata assomiglia alle forme spirituali concepite dallartista per
realizzare la propria opera.

Lintera attivita naturale del mondo fisico determinata ad un tipo di effetti e alle volte
univoca, mentre lazione originata dallo spirito analoga. Questi diversi tipi di causalit, per,
possono darsi in uno stesso agente. Di fatto, luomo per natura genera sempre un altro uomo e
ne causa agente univoca; e pu al contrario produrre effetti diversissimi in quanto artista o
artefice, e in questo modo anche causa analoga.

Dio causa analoga delle creature, poich d loro un essere che, in quanto
partecipazione di quello che Lui possiede per essenza, simile a Dio ma allo stesso tempo, in
quanto contratto dallessenza, si distingue infinitamente dallessere divino.106

11. Natural cause and rational cause. A natural efficient cause (called agens per
naturam, that is, Acting by its nature) is any necessary cause in the physical order. A rational
efficient cause (called agens per intellectum, that is, Acting with understanding) is a free cause,
a cause which acts with knowledge and free choice.107


Humes main errors lie in his epistemological and ontological immanentism, as well as in
his reductionism of human knowledge to the level of sense knowledge (sensism or
sensationalism). Hume is a thorough immanentist: all that we could ever hope to know are
phenomena, our own internal mental states and not the beings (entia) of extra-mental reality
(pan-phenomenalist immanentism). Thus, thrown out together with metaphysics are substance as
well as objective efficient causality operating in the extra-mental world. Having done this he
remained agnostic concerning Gods existence, a natural consequence of his immanentist, pan-
phenomenalist sensism.

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., p. 205.
L. CLAVELL and M. PREZ DE LABORDA, op. cit., pp. 291-292.
P. GLENN, op. cit., p. 322.

Criticizing Humes pan-phenomenalist sensism, Celestine Bittle notes a number of
things: First, Humes explanation of ideas as faint images of sense-impressions is totally
inadequate. Since both are of a sensory character, they are concrete and individualized. Our
ideas, however, are abstract and universal. There is, as we have shown, a radical difference
between sensations and images on the one hand and intellectual ideas on the other. To
ignore or deny these differences is a serious error. Second, Humes explanation of universal
ideas is totally inadequate.108 The process of forming universal ideas is not at all the way Hume
pictures it. We acquire them by a process of abstraction, taking the objective features common to
a number of individuals and then generalizing the resultant idea so that it applies to the whole
class and to every member of the class. It is not a question of merely labeling objects with a
common name. Intellectual insight into the nature of these objective features, not custom or
habit, enables us to group them together into a class. Third, Humes explanation of the origin and
nature of the necessarily and universally true axioms and principles, such as the principle of
causality and the principle of non-contradiction, is totally inadequate. He explains their necessity
and universality through association. Now, the laws of association are purely subjective laws
with a purely subjective result. Consequently, the necessity which we experience relative to the
logical connection between subject and predicate in these principles would not be due to
anything coming from the reality represented in these judgments, but solely to the associative
force existing in the mind. It is a subjective and psychological, not an objective and ontological,
necessity. The mind does not judge these principles to be true because it sees they cannot be
otherwise; it cannot see them to be otherwise because the mind in its present constitution must
judge them to be true. So far as objective reality is concerned, 2 + 2 might equal 3 or 5 or any
other number; and there might be a cause without an effect, or an effect without a cause. If
Humes contention were correct, that our observation of invariable sequence is the reason for
assuming an antecedent event to be the cause of the subsequent event, then we should perforce
experience the same psychological necessity of judgment in all cases where we notice an
invariable sequence in successive events. Experience, however, contradicts this view. For
instance, day follows night in an invariable sequence; but nobody would dream of asserting that
the night is the cause of the day. In an automobile factory one car follows the other on the belt
line in invariable sequence; but this association does not compel us to think that the preceding
car is the cause of the one following. Reversely, when an explosion occurs but once in our
experience, we search for the cause of this effect and are convinced there must be a cause
present; here, however, there can be no question of an invariable sequence of events. Fourth,
Humes theory, if accepted as true, must destroy all scientific knowledge. The very foundation of
science lies in the principles of non-contradiction, sufficient reason, and causality. If these
principles are valid only for our mind and do not apply with inviolable necessity to physical
objects in nature, the scientist has no means of knowing whether his conclusions are objectively
valid. His knowledge is nothing but a purely mental construction which may or may not agree
with extra-mental reality. But science treats of physical systems and their operations, not of
mental constructions. Since, according to Hume, we can know nothing but our internal states of

Describing Humes nominalism, Bittle writes: Relative to universal ideas, Hume maintains that we find a
resemblance between objects and apply the same name to them; then, after a custom of this kind has been
estblished, the name revives the idea, and the imagination conceives the object represented by the idea(C.
BITTLE, op. cit., p. 317).

consciousness, we could never discover whether the external world and other minds exist at all;
driven to its logical conclusions, such a theory can end only in solipsism or in skepticism.109

Describing the erroneous subjectivist explanations of causal necessity in Hume and Kant,
Hart writes: Various purely subjective explanations are offered to explain the necessity or
invariability of the cause-effect sequence. For Hume it was due entirely to force of habit or
custom, which it would be entirely possible to set aside. We could indeed conceive an absolute
beginning of being from nothingness. He says: As all distinct ideas are separable from each
other, and as the idea of cause and effect are separable from each other, it will be easy for us to
conceive any object as non-existent this moment, and existent the next, without conjoining to it
the distinct idea of cause or producing principle.110 For Kant it is due to an a priori form or
category of necessity innate the intellect which imposes the note of necessity on certain
sequences presented by the senses. On others, the innate form of contingency or nonnecessity is

Hume and Kant have this in common: They reject the intellects metaphysical report of
efficiency in terms of being simply as existing and communicating existence. They accept only
the sense report of causality as a sensible sequence of events in time and place. Any necessity
whereby the intellect declares this effect must have an adequate cause comes entirely from the
minds own action, from the force of habit or custom according to Hume, from the imposing of
an innate form according to Kant. But such an explanation is quite evidently unsatisfactory. If
the intellect itself is the sole source of the necessity, how are we to account for the distinction the
mind makes between necessary or causal sequences and nonnecessary, and therefore noncausal
or casual sequences?

In either the Humean or the Kantian explanation the distinction must be attributed to the
arbitrary action of the mind since from the standpoint of sense data alone both the causal and the
noncausal or casual sequences are quite similar. This common-sense distinction thus becomes a
complete mystery for empiricism and Kantianism. On the other hand, from the metaphysical
standpoint of a realistic philosophy such as that of St. Thomas, the distinction is based on the
compulsion, not of the mind itself, but from that of the realities involved. Going beyond the
sense data and considering the various sequences from the standpoint of the existence of the
beings concerned, the intellect is compelled to say that certain sequences are causal and others
noncausal, or casual, because the different realities involved compel such distinction.112

C. BITTLE, op. cit., pp. 317-319.
D. HUME, Treatise on Human Nature, p. 381.
Cf. I. KANT, Critique of Pure Reason, Part II, Transcendental Logic, 1, 1.
C. HART, op. cit., p. 293-294.