The Medievals

John Marenbon

in The Oxford Handbook of Causation

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780199279739
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191577246 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

The Medievals

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  • History of Western Philosophy


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Medieval philosophers used the language of cause and effect as frequently as philosophers do now. Viewed very, very broadly, they had in mind a similar notion, at least when they were speaking of efficient causality (and even the three other types of Aristotelian cause — material, formal, and final — can be brought loosely under this concept): causes are in some sense prior to their effects, which they produce and the existence of which they explain. Viewed more closely, medieval notions of causality are sharply different from contemporary ones, and these differences are especially evident in explicit discussions of causation. This article discusses the idea of essential causation. It looks at the aspect of medieval thought about causation that seems to come closest to the modern debates instigated by Hume, the supposed medieval occasionalists such as the Islamic thinker al-Ghazali (1058–1111) and the Parisian Arts Master and student of theology, Nicholas of Autrecourt (d. 1369), and the critiques of occasionalism offered by Averroes (c.1126–98), who wrote in Muslim Spain, and Aquinas.

Keywords: cause and effect; medieval philosophy; efficient causality; Aristotelian cause; causality; essential causation

Article.  7232 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics ; History of Western Philosophy

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