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Today’s post is part 2 to yesterday’s post: Lewis on Chance. In that post I mentioned a second opinion by a Catholic philosopher but that will have to wait until tomorrow because there is a term that must be defined before we move on to his opinion. Although, I will be quoting him today because that is where we encounter the term in question.

We frequently use such expressions as, ‘A game of chance,’ ‘This happened by chance,’ etc., to refer to various types of situations in our experience. This seems at first glance to deny the above thesis on the need of final causality to explain all action, as we have just established.

The One and the Many, W. Norris Clarke, S.J.

The term we need to understand here is ‘final cause’. St. Thomas, in his Summa Theologiæ, said “the first of all causes is the final cause.” I know that sounds counter-intuitive and it took me a while to understand it. What helped with my understanding of this term centers on the proper understanding of how St. Thomas is using the word ‘final’. To us it sounds like he is saying that the last in a series of events (the final cause) is actually the first, which makes no sense whatsoever. But that is not how the word final is being used. Instead, final means the end or purpose for something happening. And the final cause is linked to the efficient cause, although they answer different questions. (And here we need another definition: an efficient cause is that which causes an effect.) Fr. Clarke puts it thusly,

The efficient cause answers the question: Which being is responsible for this effect’s coming to be? The final cause answers the question: Why did this efficient cause produce this effect rather than that? For in many cases the same efficient cause can produce several different possible effects. (p. 202)

I suppose you could say that the final cause gives direction to the efficient cause so that there is actually an effect that takes place. Because, if there is more than one possible effect there must be something there to choose from all the options so that this effect happens rather than that one. Therefore, without a final cause – a purpose – would there be anything that ever happened at all?

Tomorrow (maybe), we will see how this applies to Fr. Clarke’s understanding of chance, and then later compare that with what Lewis had to say on the matter.

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