If the emergence of cancer is a causal process and we want to know what causes cancer and we want to design something that causes cancer cells to die, I suppose a good way to start is to have a proper understanding of what a cause is in the first place. Again, what follows is an attempt to briefly lay out a few important Scholastic concepts with regard to causality as it will be relevant before ditching "random variation" and natural selection" as "explanations" or "reasons" or "causes" for the emergence of cancer. Again, I will mostly use the texts used previously for those interested in delving further into the topic.
I will use the same example as in the previous post as described here. The process has two stages, protonation and nucleophilic addition. For the purposes of this post I will concentrate on the nucleophilic addition process.
Since we are dealing with charged substances, we will be dealing with the electromagnetic force and fields. The nucleophilic addition can be described as follows (I think): a) The charges generate electric fields. b) The electric fields interact with each other. c) This interaction generates a force on the electric charges. d) This force results in the movement or change of the electric charges. This basic description (feel free to correct or include more detail )will be transmogrified into the Scholastic view of causality.
The Traditional Definition of "Cause"
G.H. Joyce described it most succinctly as "…that which makes a thing to be what it is." (Joyce GH, 1916, Principles of logic, p220). Others define(d) it as:
- Anything which has a positive influence of any sort on the being or happening of something else (Coffey, Ontology: Theory of Being, p357).
- Anything which contributes in any positive way to the existence or happening of something else (Coffey, Science of logic II, p62).
- Cause in general, as that which is a principle of Being to another, or that upon which the Being of another depends. (Rickaby, General metaphysics, p300).
- Principle, as expressing priority of nature, leads us to the general idea of cause, which is defined, "A principle which by its influence determines the existence of something else : or a principle which in some way furnishes the ground for the existence of an object; a principle which of itself gives birth to something else" (Rickaby, p299).
Causa In Esse and the Causa In Fieri
The Scholastics differentiated between the causes of being (causa in esse) and the causes of becoming or change (causa in fieri). Along with this also came the Scholastic saying "Cessante causa, cessat effectus” (When the cause ceases to operate, the effect ceases) (Joyce GH, 1916, Principles of logic, p246). This might at first seem to be logically insupportable as one can argue that there are numerous instances of effects that do not cease long after the causes are not present anymore. In the example it might argued that the bromide and the prop-2-ylium caused 2-bromopropane to exist and that they are long gone after 2-bromopropane came into existence. Such a view seems to imply that causes are only prior in time.
The Scholastic view of causality is much richer. For them there were not only causes prior in time, but cause prior in nature and prior in origin (Rickaby, p299). The causes of being are intrinsic principles namely the formal and material causes. The extrinsic cause of becoming is the efficient cause with the final cause is an intrinsic and immanent cause of becoming. With the four causes also comes other terminology such as act and power, action and passion, agent and patient, principle, condition, reason, perfection, effect and actualized potentiality, secondary matter, essence etc.
These concepts should make more sense after a few pointers on the causa in esse and the causa in fieri. Figure 3 attempts to capture all the major themes.
The Material and Formal Causes of Being
The union of the material cause and the formal constitutes a compound material substance. Each substance has an immanent essence. “The essence of a thing is that whereby it is constituted this kind of thing and not that. We may define it as what-a-thing-is”. (Mercier, p521)
The material Cause (Mercier, p528).
A) The material cause of a substance is altered by an act or an agent or an efficient cause or an action. B)The material cause, when altered, is capable of introducing a substance to a new form. C) The reception of a new form by the material cause constitutes or realizes a new substance.
“Material causality thus receives the formal cause and, as the result of its intrinsic union with it, constitutes the new being. These two functions of the material cause, however, are not of equal importance : it is primarily receptive, and secondarily unitive.”
The Formal Cause:
…is “the intrinsic incomplete constituent principle in a substance which actualizes the potencies of matter and together with matter composes a definite material substance or natural body (Oderberg, p65). Its causality is exercised primarily in the perfecting of the essence of the substance and secondarily in respect of its existence” (Mercier, p529). “It is a cause in that it is communicated intrinsically to matter and, by its union with it, constitutes a substance of a definite kind” (Mercier, p530).
The Efficient Cause of Becoming
“By efficient cause we understand that by which anything takes place, happens, occur… Every change is originated by some active principle, and this we call the efficient cause of the change. (Coffey, 1914 p366-368)”.
Efficient causes can be described as a) partial or total, b) proximate or remote among others (See Coffey, 1914, p378). An agent’s nature or essence and its active powers and the exercise of its active powers are all efficient causes.
The Principle of Causality is, to my understanding and seems to be suggested by many authors, associated with efficient causality and thus becoming or change.
The Principle of Causality
The principle of causality has been stated differently (although essentially meaning the same thing) as:
- The existent being to which existence is not essential exists in virtue of some action external to it. (Mercier, p540):
- A being whose essence is not its existence necessarily demands for the explanation of its existence a cause which brought it into existence. Or The existence of a contingent being demands a cause. (Mercier, p375)
- Whatever happens has a cause ; Whatever begins to be has a cause ; Whatever is contingent has a cause ; Nothing occurs without a cause. (Coffey. Ontology, theory of being ,p369)
- Cause and effect being correlative, to say that "Every effect has a cause" is to state a truism. The principle is usually stated thus : "Whatever happens (occurs, takes place, begins to be) has a cause";. The axiom Ex nihilo nihil fit is a negative statement of the same principle. And another statement of it, "Whatever is contingent (i.e. whatever does not contain in itself, in its own essence, the sufficient reason of its actual existence) has a cause" shows the connexion of the principle of causality with the principle of sufficient reason. Being that is necessary and self-existent has no cause. It is itself the reason of its own existence; whereas all contingent being is caused. The principle of causality is evidently a necessary principle in regard to contingent being, i.e. it is essentially involved in our very concept of contingent being. Nothing can happen without a cause: whatever happens has necessarily a cause, i.e. something which brings it about, which makes it happen, whether this cause be free (i.e. self-determining) or not, in its mode of action. (Coffey, Science of logic II, p61)
- Every thing must have a sufficient reason why it is rather than is not, and why it is thus rather than otherwise : The only sufficient reason for a real change is efficient causality : Therefore every real change has an efficient cause (Rickaby, General metaphysics, p319).
- Axioms such as the principle of Causality that “Whatever comes into being must have a cause”, and the principle of Contradiction that “It is impossible for a thing both to be and not to be at the same time”, together with all the truths of Mathematics possess this higher degree of necessity. (Joyce, p238).
Another way of saying it is “nothing can be reduced from potentiality except by something in a state of actuality” (Feser, Aquinas, 2009, p65 from the Summa Theologica I.2,3).
The Final Cause of Becoming
Final causes (or intrinsic), from an Aristotelian view, are intrinsic and immanent in substances. Extrinsic finality, computation carried out by computers for example, which is imposed, is as a result of a much deeper finality (intrinsic and immanent) that is inherent in every substantial being. In the case of computers it is just the result of a combination of the final cause of rationality which is intrinsic and immanent in rational or intellectual animals (us) and the natural inclinations of substances making up a computer (artifact with extrinsic finality) . “In the Scholastic theory the extrinsic finality of the universe follows from the internal orientation and disposition of each individual being” (Mercier, p541).
The causality of final causes is that of “attraction”. Attraction in the sense that it “efficient causes are drawn by final causes to act in a definite direction and to make their native forces converge to one and the same purpose” or end. Final causality in non-conscious substances is just a natural inclination, an internal tendency, derived from what kind of thing it is, its essence and perfected by its formal cause or active principle of being (matter is passive principle of being).
Non-conscious substances thus, on this view, spontaneously change according to their immanent finality. Efficient causes are extrinsic causes for this change and the final causes are the intrinsic causes.
Other concepts: Power and Act, Agent and Patient, Action and Passion, Imperfection and Perfection
Power and Act: Active powers derive from a substance’s form and passive powers derive from the material component or prime matter of a substance (Oderberg, p131). In the example, an active power of prop-2-ylium is its charge and ability to generate an electric field (Figure 3). A passive power of prop-2-ylium is the ability to form a bond with bromide (Figure 3).
The exercise of, or the immediate principle of action of an active power is “act”. In the example, when an active power (the charge for example) actually generates an electric field it constitutes an act.
Agent and patient: An agent is an efficient cause. A patient is the receiver of change. The passive potentiality is some aspect within a patient.
Action and passion: Action is the production of a change or the exercise of a power in some other object. Passion is the reception of change from some agent. (Joyce, p138). From the point of view of the patient, the causality itself of the efficient cause is called action. From the point of view of the final cause of the act, the efficient cause it is called passion. Or, the actuation of a passive potentiality by an efficient cause is action from the view of the thing acted upon (the patient or the passive potentiality/power “in” the patient). Action and passion, therefore, are not expressions of one and the same concept. They express two distinct concepts of one and the same reality, viz. the change. See figure 5.
Imperfection and perfection: The exercise of an active power (act) is a perfection and the passive potentiality /power upon which it acts is an imperfection.
Principle, Condition and Reason
Causality is also contrasted with or compared to Principle, Condition and Reason.
Principle: "Principle is that from which anything proceeds in any way whatsoever", "A real principle is some reality from which the being or happening of something originates and proceeds" (Coffey1914, p357-359). "The idea of cause is contained in the more general idea of principle : every cause is a principle, though not every principle is a cause" (Mercier, p552) .
Condition: Is that which in one way or another enables the causes to act in the production of the effect, but which does not make the thing what it is. (Joyce p221). Is something which must -be realized or fulfilled before the event or effect in question can happen or be produced (Coffey1914, p357-359).Or "A condition is that which in one way or another enables the causes to act in the production of the effect, but which does not make the thing what it is" (Joyce GH, 1916, p222).
Reason: "To ask for the reason of any event or phenomenon, or of the nature or existence of any reality, is to demand an explanation of the latter ; it is to seek what accounts for the latter, what makes this intelligible to our minds. Whatever is a cause is therefore also a reason, but the latter notion is wider than the former" (Coffey1914, p357-359).
An Example: The Transmogrification of Nucleophilic Addition to the Scholastic Picture of Causality.
If the above-mentioned view of bond formation is essentially correct (again, any corrections are welcome), then there are at least 4 processes or changes or "instances" of "becoming" to describe.
1) Generation of an electric field by a charge. (Figure 4A)
2) The interaction of electric fields. (Figure 4B)
3) The generation of a force by the interacting fields. (Figure 4B)
4) The generation of movement (and ultimately bond formation) as a result of this force. (Figure 4C)
By focussing on this reaction (Figure 4A-4C), let's see whether the following two principles hold up:
1) Cessante causa, cessat effectus (When the cause ceases to operate, the effect ceases)
2) Nothing can be reduced from potentiality except by something in a state of actuality
When the material and formal cause of a substances ceases to exist, the substance (the effect of these causes) ceases. For example, the formal causes of Br- and C3H7+ (prop-2-ylium) cease to operate as soon as the substantial change is complete (Figure 4C). When the active power of prop-2-ylium (negative charge, the efficient cause in this case) ceases to be (for example when prop-2-ylium undergoes substantial change and loses the charge), the act of actualizing an electrostatic field (the effect) cease to be. Principle 1 seems to be in tact. Principle two also seem to be in tact.
The Scholastic view of causality seem to be more complex but more complete (I would argue). Describing a process such as the emergence of cancer seems daunting. The important tasks are to determine the powers and potentialities involved in the process. These are all derived from the nature or essences of the substances (or accidents) one is dealing with. As Oderberg states, "properties are an index of essence". The scholastic aphorism "As a thing is so it acts: Action is the index of essence" is also relevant. A full appreciation of the four causes as well as the conditions and reasons should then yield the principles for the emergence of cancer. This will be discussed in the following post.