Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy 7

Abstract

The Third Meditation: Of God, that He exists — Part III

The Third Meditation: Of God, that He exists — Part III

In these last set of notes on the Third Meditation, I will conclude discussion of Descartes’ proof (in the Third Meditation) of the existence of God.1

In my previous notes I mentioned how according to Descartes substance—that which requires no other being for its existence, as Descartes defines it in his Principles of Philosophy—has more intentional reality than an ‘accident’, i.e., an individual property or relation, and God has more intentional reality than the idea of (finite, created) substance. Indeed, God has maximal intentional reality. I think we can understand these claims as follows: one can experience or recognise an ‘accident’, i.e., a property or relation, as existing only insofar as one experiences or recognises it as the accident of some substance. It makes no sense to speak of an accident occurring without something which possesses or bears it. But an ordinary, empirical substance is always of this or that empirical kind, e.g., ‘dog’, ‘cat’, ‘water’, ‘wax’, etc. And each of these kinds insinuates those properties, relations and ways of interacting with other substances which are typically, if not necessarily always, possessed by instances of the respective kind. If, however, this is so, then each and every empirical substance insinuates, through the kind it instantiates, numerous other substances of different kinds, and in particular, the empirical world in which they all occur and interact with one another.2 And since, according to Descartes, everything, up to and including the empirical world, has a cause, it follows that the world must have a cause. So the idea of God is implicit in the idea of all finite, empirical substances. The very empirical concepts Descartes possesses lead his mind naturally to the idea of God, which is implicit in them. If anything empirical exists, then God exists.

But, of course, the fact that God has intentional reality, i.e., that I have an idea whose content is God, does not mean that God exists. If Descartes could be certain that those experiences and thoughts he indubitably knows himself to be having now were genuine perceptual experiences, hence mostly true, then he would also know that God exists. For then he would know that the empirical things which cause these experiences and thoughts mostly existed, hence could know that God existed. But he is not yet certain that the experiences and thoughts he knows himself to be having now are genuine, reliable perceptual experiences, and indeed he has argued that unless he knows that God exists, he cannot have such certainty. And so Descartes now sets out to show that the intentional reality of God is so great—precisely maximal—that one may infer the existence of a cause of this idea which possesses the formal, actual or eminent reality of God—roughly, the totality of the various properties and features definitive of God.3 Descartes lays the foundation for this move from the intentional reality of God (as the content of one of his ideas) to the existence of something which possesses the formal, actual or eminent reality of God, i.e., to the existence of God Himself, in the following paragraphs:

Now, it is evident by the natural light of reason that there must be at least as much reality in an efficient4 and total cause as in the effect of that cause. For I ask: where could the effect get its reality from, apart from its cause? And how could the cause give it that reality unless it also possessed it? It follows from this that something cannot be made from nothing and, likewise, that something which is more perfect—in other words, that which contains more reality in itself—cannot be made from that which is less perfect. But this is no less evidently true in the case of effects, the reality of which is actual or formal, than in the case of ideas when only their intentional reality is considered. Thus not only is it impossible, for example, that some stone which previously did not exist could now begin to exist unless it was produced by something which contained, either formally or eminently,^10^ [see note 10, p.204, of Clarke’s translation for an explanation of this jargon] all the reality which is produced in the stone; in the same way, heat cannot be produced in something that was not previously hot except by something that is at least of the same order of perfection as heat, and so on for other examples; but it is also true that there cannot be an idea of heat or of a stone in me unless it was put there by some cause in which there is at least as much reality as I conceive in heat or a stone. Although the cause in question does not transfer any of its actual or formal reality to my idea, it should not for that reason be considered as less real, for the reality of the idea is such that, in itself, it requires no more formal reality than what is borrowed from my thought, of which it is a mode. But when an idea contains one particular intentional reality rather than another, it must surely get this from some cause in which there is at least as much formal reality as is contained intentionally in the idea. For if we claimed that an idea contained something that was not in its cause, it would therefore get it from nothing. But however imperfect may be the mode of being by which a thing exists intentionally in the mind by means of an idea, clearly it is still not nothing and therefore it cannot come from nothing.

Nor should I suppose that, because I am considering only the intentional reality of my ideas, it is not necessary for that same reality to be contained formally in the causes of those ideas and that it is enough for it to be found there intentionally. For just as the intentional mode of being belongs to ideas because of their nature, so likewise the formal mode of being belongs naturally to the causes of ideas or, at least, to their principal and primary causes. And although it is possible for one idea to generate another, this does not lead to an infinite regress. Eventually one has to reach some first idea, the cause of which is like an archetype that contains all the formal reality which is found only intentionally in the idea. Thus it is evident to me by the natural light of reason that my ideas are like images of some kind that can easily fall short of the perfection of the things from which they are derived, but they cannot contain something that is greater or more perfect than themselves.

However, I recognize all these things as true more clearly and distinctly as I examine them further and in greater detail. What may I finally conclude from this? It is that, if the intentional reality of any one of my ideas is so great that I am certain that I do not contain this reality in myself either formally or eminently and, therefore, that I myself cannot be its cause, it follows necessarily that I am not alone in the world and that something else also exists, which is the cause of that idea. However, if I find no such idea in myself, then clearly I have no argument that makes me certain of the existence of something distinct from myself because I have examined everything very carefully and, so far, I have not been able to find any other argument. (pp.35-36)

Descartes appears to me to be arguing here as follows: no change in something involves the acquisition of ‘unprecedented’, ‘novel’, ‘undetermined’ properties and relations. If in the course of a certain change, something A acquires a certain property or relation, then the cause of the change in A has the potential to cause A to acquire this property or relation. In general, each change in properties and relations A undergoes correspond to some properties, features or relations in the cause of the change. Let us assume that A is caused by B to acquire the properties F, G, H, …, or alternatively, to come into existence with the properties F, G, H, …. Then all of the properties F, G, H, … are caused in A, or A is caused to come into existence with them, in virtue of certain properties F*, *G*, *H*, … . Evidently, the idea behind this seems sound enough: all changes in A are lawful: if A comes to have the property F, or to come into existence with this property, then there is some feature F* in the cause B of the change which reliably and regularly causes this change. In this sense, A can never exceed B in its reality; it can never have a property or feature for which no property or feature of B is causally responsible.

Now Descartes seems to extend this point to ideas, more precisely, the content of ideas. This is what he is getting at when he says, “(I)t is also true that there cannot be an idea of heat or of a stone in me unless it was put there by some cause in which there is at least as much reality as I conceive in heat or a stone.” (p.35) The content of an idea—its character as being about such and such—can be viewed as a property of the idea. So this property of an idea must similarly correspond to some property in the cause of the idea which has a structure analogous or isomorphic to its structure. In other words, if an idea is caused to come into existence with the property of being about something which is F, G, H, …, then the cause of the idea has certain properties F*, G*, *H*, … that are individually responsible for those aspects of the content of the idea which correspond to the properties *F, G, H, … possessed by what the idea is about. In this sense, no idea can exceed the reality of its cause.

Descartes hurries to point out that this does not mean that the cause of an idea transfers any of its actual or formal reality to the idea. That is, this is not to be understood as the claim that if an idea is about something which is F, G, H, …, then it is caused by something which is itself F, G, H, …—as if an idea could only ever be about some object A if A caused the idea in the mind of whoever is thinking it. Nothing said thus far entails that the properties F*, G*, *H*, … *are identical with the properties F, G, H, … . There is an obvious reason why one would seek to avoid any such entailment: it would mean that one could never have a false idea, thought or belief or even an idea, belief or thought about something non-existent since it would mean that the only thing which could cause one to think of some specific thing with properties F, G, H, … would be precisely this thing with properties F, G, H, … . Obviously, I do have false thoughts and ideas about things, for example, about Santa Claus, in particular, that he exists, but also about existent things, as when I believe that J.S. Bach wrote the beautiful song Bist Du bei mir.

What, however, Descartes’ claim does mean is that there is always an isomorphism between an the content of its idea and its cause: if I have an idea of something F, G, H, …, then the cause of my idea has certain properties and features which individually account for the individual aspects or features of the content of my idea, that is, for the fact that my idea is about something which is F; and about something which is (also) G; and about something which is (also) H; and about something which is (also) … . Thus, the cause of my idea of something which is F, G, H, … has a property F* which is causally responsible for my idea’s involving, as a part of its content, the concept of something which is F; and it has a property G* which is causally responsible for my idea’s involving, as a part of its content, the concept of something which is G; and so on, for aspects or parts of my idea’s content.

At this point Descartes asks what follows from this as far as the possible causes of his ideas are concerned. (Once again, we must recall that for Descartes everything has a cause and so his ideas, whether or not they are radically deceiving him, must be caused by something, either sleep, an evil mind, or indeed himself, if he has some faculty unknown to him which is in fact causing his current stream of experiences and thoughts.) According to Descartes, it follows from what he has just concluded about the nature of ideas and their character as being about certain specific things that “if the intentional reality of any one of my ideas is so great that I am certain that I do not contain this reality in myself either formally or eminently and, therefore, that I myself cannot be its cause, it follows necessarily that I am not alone in the world and that something else also exists, which is the cause of that idea.” (p.36) In other words, if the content of any one of Descartes’ ideas is of such a kind that it is inconceivable that Descartes himself could be its cause, then it must be caused by something other than him. And of course this cause of the idea must implicate an actual or ‘formal’ richness of structure and differentiation which corresponds to the intentional richness possessed by the content of the idea.

It is hardly clear what exactly Descartes is getting at here. Perhaps there is sense in which there must be the kind of correspondence Descartes is getting at between the content of an idea and its cause. It does seem plausible to say that every feature or aspect of the content of an idea is ultimately due to some feature of what caused the idea to be in my mind. But Descartes seems to be trying to show that a certain idea—the idea of God, naturally—has such richness of content that he cannot account for how it has come to be in his mind except by regarding it as caused by precisely the object represented by the idea in virtue of its having this content. It is hard to see how Descartes could possibly hope to extract this conclusion from the point he is making here about the need for a structural isomorphism between the cause and content of any given idea in his mind.

But his subsequent argument seems to suggest the following: when he speaks of his being the cause of an idea, he means a process which causes him to possess this idea or concept by drawing upon, or exploiting, concepts (ideas) he either already has or are at least of the same type or kind as concepts or ideas he already has. If, then, he can find an idea in his mind whose presence there cannot be explained in this way, then the object of this concept will have more intentional reality than can be accounted from simply by appeal to items inside his mind which Descartes either has in fact or could ever have acquired ‘on his own’. The presence of such an item in his mind will be absolutely and radically inexplicable. And so the only reasonable explanation of why this idea is in his mind is that it has a cause outside of his mind, one, moreover, which must have a degree of formal or actual reality which corresponds to the degree of intentional reality possessed by the idea in virtue of its particular content.

It is precisely because he wants to determine whether there is such an idea that Descartes has distinguished the types of idea he has:

Now among my ideas—apart from the idea that represents me myself and about which there can be no question at this point—there is one that represents God, there are some that represent physical and inanimate things, others that represent animals and, finally, there are ideas that represent other people similar to myself. (p.36)

He then claims that, as far as those ideas which are about, i.e., have as their content,5

other people, animals or angels, I understand easily that they could be fabricated from ideas that I have of myself, of physical things and of God, even if there were no people, animals or angels in existence. (p.36)

In other words, it is easy to conceive of these ideas as arising through the creative use and extension of the concept Descartes has of himself, the concept he has of physical or material things and even the concept of God. Thus, Descartes can imagine that he has created the concept of another person by using his concept of a physical thing and his understanding of himself: another person is a physical or material thing which has a mind. And he knows what a physical or material thing is from his own experience just as he knows what a mind is by introspecting his own. Similarly, he can imagine that he has created the concept of an angel by using his concept of himself as a finite, limited mind and his concept of God as an immortal, non-material being: an angel is an immortal, non-material being with a mind, a mind which is, however, finite and limited like his own.

As regards ideas of physical things, there is nothing in them that is so great that it seems incapable of having been derived from myself. For if I look into them further and examine them one by one in the same way as I examined the idea of wax yesterday, I notice that there is very little about them that I perceive clearly and distinctly. There is magnitude, or extension in length, width and depth; there is shape, which results from the termination of magnitudes there is the position that differently shaped things adopt in relation to each other; and there is motion or change of position. To these may be added substance, duration and number. The rest, such as light and colours, sounds, odours, tastes, heat and cold, and other tactile qualities—I think about these only in a very confused and obscure way, with the result that I do not even know if they are true or false, that is, whether the ideas I have of them are or are not ideas of real things.11 (pp.36-37)

As Clarke points out in the note to this passage (note 11, p.205), in his discussion of his ideas of physical things, Descartes is alluding to the doctrine of primary and secondary qualities or properties. Secondary qualities are those which one cognises through one particular sense, precisely colour (sight), sound (hearing), texture (touch), odour (smell) and flavour (taste). According to those who, like Descartes believe in the distinction, secondary qualities are either not really, or at least not completely, inherent in the object to which we ascribe them. Thus, on Descartes’ version of the doctrine, there are two senses in which one speaks of any secondary quality, an objective and a subjective one. Colour, objectively speaking, is a certain arrangement of the corpuscles which make the coloured thing up, that arrangement, namely, which is causally responsible for colour in the subjective sense, which is the sensation caused in us by the coloured thing in virtue of how the corpuscles which make it up are arranged. The same applies for all the other secondary qualities. By contrast, primary qualities are genuinely and completely in the things to which they are ascribed. In their case, there is no distinction between the subjective and the objective to make.

Now according to Descartes our ideas of secondary qualities are all inherently insubstantial (p.37)—by which he appears to mean that they are all to be understood or defined in subject-relative terms, that is, in terms of how subjects such as he himself are affected by things beyond them. If, however, this is so, then they are all ideas or concepts which Descartes could have derived entirely by himself, by appeal solely to his experience. As for our ideas of primary qualities, which, according to Descartes, are those features of our ideas of physical things which are clear and distinct, these

seem to have been partly borrowed from the idea of myself—for example, from the ideas of substance, duration and number and, possibly others of the same kind. For when I think that a stone is a substance, that is, the kind of thing that can exist on its own, and when I also think of myself as a substance then, even though I conceive of myself as thinking and not extended but think of the stone as not thinking and extended, and hence there is the greatest difference between the two concepts, they still seem to agree insofar as they are both substances. Likewise, when I perceive that I exist at present and remember that I have existed for some time, and when I have different thoughts and understand how many of them there are, I acquire the ideas of duration and number, which I can subsequently transfer to anything else. All the other features of which the ideas of physical things are constructed, namely extension, shape, position and motion, are not formally contained in me since I am [assuming myself to be] nothing but a thinking thing. However, they are merely modes of a substance, whereas I am a substance, and therefore it seems possible for them to be in me eminently. (pp.37-38)

It is not easy to understand what Descartes is getting at when he says that the ideas of the primary qualities of physical things—extension, shape, position and motion—, while not formally contained in him, are so eminently. But perhaps he means the following: he cannot regard these ideas formally contained in him, i.e., actually borne by him, because this would break with his resolve to not to make use of any assumption about himself which entails that he is more than a thinking thing. But he can regard himself as capable, as least in some sense which is yet to be explained, these kinds of property. In this sense, he has the ‘power’ (capacity) to have these properties and relations, even though it is not clear exactly how he stands to (what appears to him to be) his body, hence in what sense he may legitimately be said to display extension, shape, position and motion. So, here, too, he has the resources he needs in order to derive from his own case the idea of some other thing distinct from him which is physical, hence extended, shaped, positioned and moved.

It seems, then, that only one idea remains, the idea, namely, of God:

Thus the idea of God is the only one left about which to ask the question: does it contain something that could not have originated from me? By the word ‘God’ I understand some infinite substance, which is independent, supremely intelligent and supremely powerful, and by which both I, and everything else that exists (if anything else exists), were created. All these ideas are surely such that, the more carefully I examine them, the less likely it seems that they could have originated from myself alone. Therefore one should draw the conclusion from what has been said that God necessarily exists. And even though I have an idea of a substance from the very fact that I am a substance myself, it would not, however, be an idea of an infinite substance because I am finite, unless it originated from some substance that genuinely infinite. (p.38)

This final and crucial paragraph casts some light on just what Descartes is and has been arguing over the paragraphs immediately preceding. The crucial claims are these:

  1. All his ideas have causes which contain at least as much reality as is contained intentionally in these ideas. (In other words, if the content of a given idea involves the components or aspects F, G, H, …, then the cause of this idea in the mind involves at least as many structurally analogous components or aspects F*, *G*, *H*, … each of which is causally responsible for the corresponding component of aspect of content.) As Descartes himself points out, this is just a specification of the general claim that everything has a commensurate cause, i.e., a cause with at least as much reality as what it causes.

  2. All his ideas, with one exception, have essentially finite contents, as is shown by the fact that it is possible that these ideas should have originated entirely in him, i.e., been acquired simply on the basis of his own conceptual and intellectual resources. As such, Descartes’ possession of these ideas entails nothing about whether there is anything beyond Descartes which is causally responsible for them.

  3. This one exception is the idea of God, which is radically unlike any of his other ideas. That is, its content is not such that this idea would have been constructed out of any other conceptual and intellectual resources Descartes possesses, whether these concern physical things or his own status as a thinking thing. In particular, by God Descartes cannot mean anything merely negative, as it would have to be were it constructed out of his other conceptual and intellectual resources. If it had this origin, then his idea of God could only be simply the idea of something which possesses certain familiar properties, only to some unspecified degree greater than anything he has ever encountered or will encounter. But this is, according to Descartes, incoherent:

Nor should I think that I do not perceive the infinite by means of a true idea but merely by the negation of the finite, in the way in which I perceive rest and darkness by the negation of motion and light. On the contrary, I understand clearly that there is more reality in an infinite substance than in a finite substance and therefore the perception of the infinite occurs in me in some way prior to that of the finite, that the perception of God is prior to the perception of myself. Indeed how would I understand that I doubt, that I desire—that is, that I lack something and am not completely perfect—if I had no idea of some more perfect being by comparison with which I could recognize my own deficiencies? (pp.38-39)

This seems to me to be an absolutely crucial passage in Descartes’ argument. It is incoherent, he claims, to regard his idea of God as simply the indeterminate extension or extrapolation of any idea of a finite thing and its properties or relations because this would presuppose that he could be aware of himself and of other finite things without appeal to the idea of God. In fact, as he now argues, the very possibility of his being able to grasp himself, to refer to himself in first person fashion as doubting, as having experiences which he is unsure about, and as having desires, presupposes that he understands his activity of thinking to be a limited version of what goes on in the Divine case rather than conversely understanding the Divine as the indeterminately beefed up, limiting case of what goes on in his case. To have an idea of oneself as thinking just is to have an idea of oneself as engaged in a cut-down, reduced version of what God essentially does. In this sense, Descartes’ clear and distinct perception of himself, as achieved via the method of withholding assent, ultimately turns out to implicate a clear and distinct perception of God, or rather, of the infinite cause of his idea of God.

At any rate, Descartes can now infer from claim (3) that the cause of his idea of God cannot consist a whole lot of finite realities which have caused the various finite ideas out of which his idea of God has been fabricated. Rather, it must have one single cause and this cause must display, in accordance with claim (1), at least as much formal or eminent reality as the content of this idea displays intentional reality. And so Descartes can conclude that the mere presence of the idea of God in his mind entails the existence of an infinite cause of this idea which must therefore be distinct from him (since he is not an infinite being).

This result will, of course, immediately provoke the objection that even if there should be an infinite cause of his idea of God, it does not follow that this infinite cause is God. However infinite the cause of his idea of God may be, Descartes still has no license to identify the cause of the idea with its object, understood as what the idea is about. But Descartes seems to think that he has in fact already taken care of this objection. He claims, namely, to have shown that the proper relation between his ideas of finite things, and in particular, of himself, is dependent upon his idea of God rather than the other way around. The whole business of showing that he cannot account for his idea of God as an extrapolation out of his various ideas of finite realities shows, he thinks, that the degree of certainty which attaches to his idea of God is precisely the same as that which attaches to his idea of himself. The one idea is no more or less certain than the other. But he is certain of his own existence as thinking. So he is certain of God as existing. Indeed, he is certain that God exists as the original, thoroughly perfect version or archetype of what he knows himself with certainty to be, namely, a thinking thing. Descartes’ certain knowledge that he is as thinking is certain knowledge that he is as something which displays in limited, restricted form something displayed by the infinite cause of his idea of God. So this cause must be God.

Evidently, if this is how Descartes thinks he can deal with the objection, he is making a rather dubious move. It is, after all, not at all clear why the infinite cause of his idea of God must actually be God simply because, as it now turns out, what Descartes understands by his thinking he understands from the outset to be a cut-down, imperfect version of something perfectly displayed by the infinite cause of his idea of God. Why could this cause still not be a supremely powerful evil mind who is deceiving him?

At any rate, the claim that his clear and distinct perception of himself as a thinking thing implicates and presupposes a clear and distinct perception of God as that perfect existent of which he implicitly understands himself to be a less adequate example explains the next move Descartes makes. For this claim insinuates an existential dependence on God: Descartes discovers that, qua finite, limited thinking thing, he exists in essential relation to God. And so Descartes turns to discuss how precisely his existence depends on God. This issue seems to underpin the question Descartes asks himself at this point, namely, whether he could exist if there were no such being as God. For if he can only exist if God exists, then he needs to understand the nature of this dependence. In particular, this dependence needs to be reconciled with how he can at the same time be naturally dependent on causal processes in the world, in particular, on those processes which constitute the act of procreation by his parents which brought him about as the particular empirical individual he is, namely, René Descartes.

This may seem like a bit of a spurious question but in fact it touches upon an issue which it is crucially important for Descartes to resolve: the issue of how exactly God relates to His creation on the picture Descartes wants to paint. Unless Descartes can give some account of this which does not conflict with the idea that God’s creation, which of course includes human beings, constitutes a causal order in its own right, then Descartes will have problems. So he must clarify just what the radical dependence of his own self upon God is which he claims now to have uncovered. In particular, this dependence must not conflict with his presumptive status as the individual he thinks he is, with the causal history and origin he thinks he has. For this reason, Descartes introduces the idea that God maintains him in existence not in the sense in which his parents brought him into existence, nor indeed in the sense in which the food he eats and the air he breathes keeps him in existence, but in the sense of being that which conserves him as one and the same across time. (p.41)


© Carleton B. Christensen, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014

  1. Daniel Garber maintains that Descartes gives two distinct arguments for the existence of God in the Third Meditation—see http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/DA026SECT6. This seems to me to be incorrect. What Garber regards as a second “cosmological” argument, which begins where Descartes distinguishes the causal role of God, who maintains him in the present, from that of his parents, who merely produced him in the past, I regard not as a (further) that there is a God but rather as an explication of what it is or means for God to be the ultimate cause of Descartes´ own existence as a finite subject and substance. As such, it is an essential clarification, hence further refining part, of the one argument. In particular, Descartes needs the idea that the persistence of himself and all finite substances across time requires an ongoing cause in order to have any hope of reaching the conclusion that the cause of his idea of God (which cannot be himself) must have a formal reality which corresponds to the intentional reality contained in his idea of God. (Garber calls this the bridging principle.) Thus, I do not think that this is really an independent argument to the effect that if he exists, then there is a cause of his existence and this cause is God, but rather a subsidiary spelling out of how he depends on God´s existence which explains why he may avail himself of the bridging principle. (That he is not making a standard causal argument is shown by his rejection of the suggestion that he is arguing that God must exist in order to prevent an infinite regress of causes; no such regress is at issue here because he is not talking about causes in the sense of some event in the past causing something in the present or future (p.42)) All in all, what Garber regards as a second argument is in fact an effort at clarifying the one overall argument. Descartes sets out to explain why he may avail himself of the bridging principle, as seems so implausible when one understands the causality of God on analogy to ordinary efficient causation. Understanding the causality of God in this incorrect way is precisely what it is for Descartes to be so blinded by the senses that he cannot remember clearly why he should endorse the bridging principle (p.40).

  2. This is not to say, of course, that an individual substance can only exist as actually possessing those properties and relations, and interacting in those ways with other substances, which are typical of the kind. Unlike an accident, which can only ever exist as the accident of some substance, a substance can in principle exist without the typical context insinuated by its kind—by what in Descartes’ time was called its ‘substantial nature’. There is nothing incoherent about the idea of a stone existing as the sole constituent of the universe. Even a dog could exist on its own, admittedly only as a dead one.

  3. See note 10, p.204, of Clarke’s translation for an explanation of the Scholastic notions of formal, actual or eminent reality.

  4. Descartes speaks here of an efficient cause because he is alluding to Aristotle’s explication of the senses in which one can speak of ‘cause’. By a ‘cause’ Aristotle primarily means anything to which one could refer in a full causal explanation of something, which includes an account of what a thing can do, why it has come about and what it will actually do. In such a full explanation one will indicate (1) what a thing is made of (its material cause), which explains why it has such sensible properties as hardness, colour, etc.; (2) what kind of thing it is (its formal cause), which identifies what properties and potentialities a thing may be typically expected to have; (3) what goal a thing’s actual and potential behaviours are directed towards (its final cause), which explains what a thing may be, ceteris paribus, expected to do—how it may be expected to actualises its various potentialities; and (4) what brought it about (its efficient cause), which identities what other entity or entities are responsible for its actually existing. The concept of efficient causation is thus the idea of something’s causing something else to happen. We today tend to identify the notion of causation with that of specifically efficient causation.

  5. Or, as is often said, are representations of other people, animals or angels.