Author: Stephan Schmid
Part ofSuárez’s Metaphysics (coord. by Simone Guidi)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: January, 10th, 2022
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.5795474

The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Schmid, Stephan, “Francisco Suárez on Causation”, Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.5795474”, URL = “”, latest revision: January, 10th, 2022.


Suárez devotes a major part of his Metaphysical Disputations (viz. 16 of 54 disputations) to the discussion of causes. In fact, Suárez’s treatment of causes is amongst the most extensive and scrupulous discussions of causes in the entire history of scholasticism and constitutes an integral part of his overall project of his Metaphysical Disputation, which seeks to provide a thorough investigation of being insofar as it is real being. This is because for Suárez, such an investigation includes not only the study of the nature of being qua real being (DM II), its common characteristics (or “properties”) (DM III-XI), and its different categories (DM XXXII-LII), but also the study of its causes (DM XII-XXVII). As is the case with most other central topics of Suárez’s metaphysics, his treatment of causes is crucially determined by Aristotelian doctrines, but leads significantly beyond Aristotle’s original theory. Most importantly, Suárez accepts Aristotle’s distinction of four kinds of causes, viz. material, formal, efficient, and final causes (which Aristotle introduced in his Phys. II.3, 194b23-34). But while Aristotle teaches that “cause” is “said in many ways [pollachos legomenon]” (see Phys. 195a4 and 195a29; Met. 983a26, 1013b4, 1052b4–8; De An. 415b9 and (Stein 2011)), Suárez thinks – like many late scholastic thinkers (see Capriati 2019) – that the four kinds of causes share a common (univocal) characteristic on account of which they all qualify as causes. Moreover, in line with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, Suárez seeks to integrate the activity of an omnipotent, omniscient and providential creator-God into Aristotle’s framework of causes. These adjustments lead to significant changes of Aristotle’s original conception of causes and make Suárez an important figure in the history of the development of the notion of causation.

This entry gives an overview about Suárez’s theory of causation in general, and his accounts of material, formal, efficient and final causation in particular. It concludes with a brief note on the systematicity of Suárez’s theory of causation and on its position in the long history of the concept of causation.

Four Aristotelian Causes and Causation

Nowadays, philosophers are used to conceive of causation as the relation between cause and effect. Aristotle, by contrast, offered a very different picture of causation, according to which there are four different kinds of causes – of which only one kind of cause, the efficient cause, is the cause of an effect. Apart from this, Aristotle famously taught, there are material, formal, and final causes. What are these Aristotelian causes and why should we believe that they exist?

Aristotle introduces his causes by way of providing a comprehensive account of changes, which he conceives as a processes of becoming in the broadest sense of the term, that is, as transitions of (something) not-(yet)-being-such-and-such to (this something) being-such-and-such. Take the process of the growth of an apple for instance. According to Aristotle, this change or process is but the transition from there not (yet) being an apple to there actually being an apple. Now, such a change or process, Suárez explains by closely following Aristotle, depends on four factors or “causes”. He writes:

If something comes to be from anew, it is necessary that there is some other thing [res], from which it comes to be, because the same thing cannot make itself, and this thing we call efficient cause. This produces its effect either from nothing [ex nihilo], or from some thing that it presupposes for its action. The first cannot always be said because it is clear from experience that the sculptor makes the statue only from wood or bronze and fire does not heat without presupposing something which receives the heat, nor does it cause fire unless from wood, a tow or a similar thing [res]. […] Thus, that subject, which is presupposed by the action of an efficient cause, we call material cause. But it is necessary that the efficient cause introduces some thing into such a subject; otherwise, nothing new would be caused, contrary to the posited hypothesis. This then is what we call form – whatever it might be, about which we will see later. Finally, since causes do not act per se randomly or fortuitously, as is plain from the very experience of things, in particular in human action, where this thing might be uncontroversial, it is necessary that besides to these three there [causes] there is also the end for the sake of which the efficient cause is operative. (DM, XII, s. 3, n. 2)

Suárez’s rather abstract consideration can be explicated by returning to the example of the growing apple. Such an apple, Suárez plausibly suggests, does not come about by itself or spontaneously. Rather, the becoming and growth of an apple is triggered by something – usually by a bee pollinating an apple blossom – and this something that triggers a process of becoming is this process’s efficient cause. As Suárez goes on to explain, such an efficient cause usually operates on something, in which it triggers or induces the relevant process of becoming. In our case, this something is the apple blossom (or, more precisely, its style and stigma). For Suárez there is in fact only one efficient cause capable of bringing about something out of nothing – and this is God when he creates something. Natural processes, by contrast, occur in something (affected by the efficient cause) and this something is the process’s material cause. More precisely, natural processes are constituted by an underlying subject (or material cause) acquiring a new form. With respect to the growing apple, the form in question might be the form of the fruit, which is induced into the apple blossom when it is pollinated and will be fully actualized once the apple is fully developed. This form – whatever it might be precisely –, which is induced by an efficient cause and actualized in the course of a natural process, is the process’s formal cause. Finally, Suárez argues, processes – like the growth of an apple – do not happen randomly or fortuitously. Rather, they take place for the sake of a certain purpose. In our case this goal or purpose might be the existence of the apple, which serves as food for animals or as a suitable vehicle to distribute the seeds of the apple tree. And while it might be controversial whether (and to what extent) all natural processes do have goals or purposes for the sake of which they occur, it is out of question for Suárez that at least human actions occur for the sake of certain ends. And these ends, goals or purposes for the sake of which processes occur are these processes’ final causes.

At first sight, it seems that Aristotle’s four causes are nothing but explanatory factors needed to fully account for a natural change or process, which is construed as the actualization of a certain form in some underlying matter: While this process’s “intrinsic causes”, i.e. its material and formal cause, are the elements constituting this process, its “extrinsic causes” – i.e. its efficient and final cause – are the factors that explain the occurrence of this process. In fact, scholars have described Aristotle’s four causes in precisely this way (see for instance Hocutt 1974). Whether this is the correct reading of Aristotle is not our concern. It is clear, however, that this was not Suárez’s conception of Aristotelian causes. He explicitly argues that causes must be more than mere explanatory factors since there are other explanatory factors of changes or processes that are not listed among Aristotle’s causes (see DM, XII, s. 2, n. 2 [25: 384a]). A telling case is in point is a subject’s privation, that is, a subject’s lack of a form to be induced in it. A pot of water, for instance, can only be heated up if it is not hot yet, but capable of being hot, that is, if it is deprived of the form of heat. And this is no exception. Generally, a subject S can only acquire the form F if S is not (actually) F yet, but has the potential to be F – that is, if S is deprived of F. A subject’s privation, then, is a prerequisite for a subject’s change and is therefore to be factored into a complete account of this subject’s change. Nonetheless, a privation is not a genuine cause for Suárez.

What then is a cause for Suárez? What do form, matter, efficient and final cause share, which other explanatory principles (such as privations) lack? Suárez answered this question by what can be called his influxus-theory of causation:

A cause is a principle that essentially inflows being [per se influens esse] into another thing. […] By the term “essentially inflowing” privation and all accidental causes, which do not transfer or inflow being into something else per se, are excluded. The word “inflowing”, however, is not to be understood strictly, in its customary sense as it is particularly attributed to the efficient cause, but in more general sense, so that it is synonymous with “giving or communicating being to another thing”. (DM, XII, s. 2, n. 4)

According to Suárez, what distinguishes real causes from other explanatory factors (like privations or accidental causes) is that they exert a distinctive influence (influxus). A cause is something which “essentially inflows or imparts being into another thing”. Now, this characterization of the essence of real causes is clearly metaphorical, and so Suárez points out that a cause’s influx on another thing should not be understood in its usual sense, according to which the phrase “A has an influence on B” just describes the phenomenon of A affecting B, which is an instance of efficient causation. Rather, the mentioned influx is intended to capture an essential feature of all kinds of causes, and should thus be understood in the broad sense of “giving or communicating being to another thing”. And while Suárez concedes that this characterizes efficient causes best (since efficient causes bring about or produce another thing by triggering a process or change; see DM, XII, s. 3, n. 3 and XXVII, s. 2, n. 10), he also thinks that inflowing being into another thing captures the essence of material, formal, and final causes as well. He explains:

Matter and form inflow being into a compositum by communicating themselves and their entities indeed. However, the being that emerges through this is distinct from the being of both matter and form, and hence properly depends on these, because each of them conveys its own being to the constitution of that [compositum]. And so there emerges a being that is distinct from both of them, which couldn’t exist without them. The same holds for the efficient cause (omitting the final cause for now, which has a very obscure influx).” (DM, XII, s. 2., n. 7)

According to Suárez then all four kinds of causes agree in that they essentially inflow being into another thing. At the same time, they differ from another insofar as they do so in different ways. Matter and form “inflow being” by constituting a complex substance or a material subject endowed with certain accidents, and an efficient cause “inflows being into another thing” by producing it. Due to this, a central aim of Suárez’s discussion of the four Aristotelian causes is to pin down their distinctive influx by which they qualify as a distinctive cause. For the nature of each cause or its “causation or causality” [causatio vel causalitas], as Suárez calls it, is “nothing but that influx or concursus by which each kind of cause in act inflows being into the effect” (DM, XII, s. 2., n. 13). Accordingly, Suárez’s treatment of the four causes seeks to answer the following three guiding questions:

  • What is the distinctive influx (or causality) by which something qualifies as a material, a formal, efficient or a final cause?
  • Which kind of entities figure as a material, formal, efficient, or final causes by exerting a distinctive influx; and
  • What are the effects which the different kinds of causes give rise to by exerting such an influx?

In order to fully appreciate Suárez’s answers to these questions, it is important to take note of Suárez’s influential theory of distinctions and his corresponding view of there being two fundamental kinds of entities – res and modes (see Menn 1997, Pasnau 2011: 253-256, and Schmaltz 2020: 35-63, for detailed discussions). According to this view, we should distinguish between two kinds of entities: entities that have a complete essence, and therefore can (with a few exceptions) at least in principle (and given God’s conservation) exist independently or on their own. These are res. Apart from such res, Suárez argues, there are essentially dependent entities, entities which can only exist in or dependent on certain res. These are modes. (Given their essential dependence on res Suárez is even hesitant to call these modes (full-blown) ‘entities’; see DM VII, s. 1, n. 27, n. 30). Suárez’s distinction between res and modes as two fundamental kinds of entities is closely related to his famous theory of distinctions. This theory is motivated by Suárez’s view that different non-identity statements of the form ‘A is distinct from B’ can be of different ontological significance. More precisely, Suárez argues that such statements can express different ontological distinctions, depending on the objects denoted by their employed concepts ‘A’ and ‘B’. If ‘A’ and ‘B’ denote two distinct res, for instance, A and B are said to be really distinct from another such that a real distinction [distinctio realis] holds between them. If ‘A’ denotes a mode of a res denoted by ‘B’ (or vice versa), then A and B are said to be modally distinct from another, and there is a modal distinction [distinctio modalis] between them. In case of ‘A’ and ‘B’ denoting the very same object, a non-identity statement of the form ‘A is distinct from B’ expresses only a conceptual or rational distinction [distinctio rationis]. This makes good sense since unlike real or modal distinctions, which track distinctions between separate entities (viz. res or modes), a conceptual distinction doesn’t hold between different entities. It rather results from conceiving of the same object in different ways. Since there are two fundamentally different ways of differently conceiving of a single object for Suárez, he distinguishes between two corresponding subtypes of conceptual distinctions: The distinctio rationis ratiocinandi (often translated as ‘distinction of reasoning reason’; a better translation would be ‘conceptual distinction on part of the reasoner’) and the distinctio rationis ratiocinatae (often translated as ‘distinction of reasoned reason’; a better translation would be ‘conceptual distinction on part of thing reasoned about’). The first of these subtypes, the distinctio rationis ratiocinandi, results from conceiving of the same object merely according to its different roles it can play in our thought. Suárez gives the example of Peter as the subject of the identity relation ‘Peter is identical to Peter’ in contradistinction to Peter as the term of this relation (DM VII, s.1, n. 5). By conceiving of Peter in these two ways (i.e. as subject and as a term of an identity relation), we do not trace any objective distinction in Peter, but merely observe that Peter can occupy different positions or places in an identity statement. Hence a distinctio rationis ratiocinandi (i.e. a conceptual distinctions on part of the reasoner) does not reveal any information about the object to which it is applied: By learning that Peter can occur as the subject and the term of an identity relation, you don’t learn anything about Peter which you wouldn’t have already known just by having the concept of Peter alone. Accordingly, Suárez stresses that conceptual distinctions on part of the reasoner typically hold between adequate concepts, i.e. complete concepts, which fully reveal their objects. Often, however, we have only inadequate concepts, which reveal their objects only partially. When we then conceive of the same object in terms of two inadequate concepts, we can in fact learn something about the object: we can learn about its different aspects, which we wouldn’t have known if we sticked to only one of its inadequate concepts. Suárez gives the example of the distinction between God’s justice and God’s mercy. Given God’s absolute simplicity, both these features must be ontologically the same: they are but aspects of God’s infinite being. Consequently, the distinction between God’s justice and his mercy must be a conceptual distinction [distinctio rationis]. Unlike a conceptual distinction on part of the reasoner [distinctio rationis ratiocinandi], however, the distinction between God’s justice and mercy is ontologically significant as it reveals different aspects its object (here: of God), aspects that neither of the two concepts (here: ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’) reveal by themselves. Accordingly, such a conceptual distinction has a “foundation in reality” [fundamentum in res], as Suárez puts it (in DM VII, s.1, n. 5). It thus is aptly called distinctio rationis ratiocinatae (i.e. ‘conceptual distinction on part of thing reasoned about’).

As we will see in the next sections, these distinctions and corresponding kinds of entities provide the framework, in which Suárez answers the ontological questions (1)-(3) in his treatment on causes. The subsequent sections will briefly reconstruct these answers with respect to all four Aristotelian types of causes in turn.

Material Causation

We have already seen that a material cause qualifies as a cause for Suárez in virtue of conveying its own being to the composite being, which it co-constitutes with an appropriate form. This rough characterization of material causes answers Suárez’s third guiding question about the causes, viz. that about its effect: The effect of a material cause, according to Suárez, (most properly) consists in the composite being that it concurs to constitute (DM, XIII, s. 7, n. 7). It leaves his two other guiding questions open: (1) Which kinds of entities qualify as material causes (which convey their own being to a composite being)? And (2) what does this “conveyance of its own being to the constitution of a composite substance” precisely consist in?

In response to question (1) about the ontology of material causes it is important to recall the general rationale for assuming material causes in the first place, sketched in the previous section. According to this rationale, material causes are the things in which changes or processes (construed as actualizations of forms) occur. In line with the Aristotelian tradition, Suárez distinguishes between two fundamentally different types of natural changes: On the one hand, there are changes through which something (or a substance) comes or ceases to be tout court. These are substantial changes: the generation and corruption of substances. On the other hand, there are changes through which an already constituted substance comes to be different from the way it was before. These are accidental changes by which substances acquire new accidents. Corresponding to this distinction, Suárez distinguishes between two types of material causes that underly such changes. The matter or material cause of a substantial change is prime matter (materia prima), which Suárez describes as a partial or incomplete substance. This is a distinct thing [res], which is naturally united to a substantial form with which it constitutes a complete material substance (DM XIII, s. 1, n. 6.; s. 4, n. 4; and s. 5, n. 20) and the entries by Erik Åkerlund (2019) and Helen Hattab (2020) in this Encyclopaedia for further discussion). The material cause of an accidental change, by contrast, is (at least in natural cases) located in the complete substance – which, despite its label “material cause” needs not be material in the first place. An angel, for instance, is an immaterial substance according to Suárez, which is subject to several accidental changes (like the change of thoughts for instance), and in this respect it figures as a material cause of this change, although it is immaterial (see DM XIV, s. 1, n. 3 and s. 3, n. 2). In such substances, the whole substance figures as the material cause of its accidents. With regard to material substances, however, Suárez defends a highly nuanced view about the order of material causes: in such substances prime matter figures as the bearer or material cause of the accident of quantity (see DM XIV, s. 3, n. 15, and s. 4, n. 44), which in turn figures as the bearer or material cause of all other bodily qualities (such as their colours or shapes) (see DM XIV, s. 4, n. 2 and n. 6). Accordingly, even accidents can figure as material causes of other accidents for Suárez (for more on this see Schmaltz 2020, 66-80). Also, there is the special case of the human soul, which Suárez conceives of as a subsisting form that can (in the afterlife) exist apart from the human body: this form figures as the single bearer or material cause of (at least) its rational capacities (see DM XIV, s. 3, n. 3).

Given this picture of material causes, what does their distinctive influx consist in by which they qualify as material causes in Suárez’s strict sense of the term? Or to take up Suárez’s formulation: in what sense do prime matter and substances (or certain accidents) convey their being so as to constitute a composite being – that is, a complete material substance on the one hand or a substance-accident-complex on the other?

The first important thing to note is that Suárez argues that prime matter has an own being, which it can convey to a composite substance in the first place. Suárez defends this view against the Thomist position according to which prime matter is a pure potentiality in the sense of lacking any actual being by itself. Prime matter, then, enjoys only potential being and exists only actually insofar as it is actualized by a substantial form. Suárez, however, takes this position to be incoherent. As he argues, if prime matter were to lack any actual existence on its own, “it could not fulfil any true and real task in nature, and while corrupting things are ‹rightly› said to resolve into matter, they would collapse into nothingness; and while they are ‹in fact› produced out of matter, they would come to be ex nihilo.” (DM XIII, s. 4., n. 3). An implicit assumption in this reasoning is that something which does not exist actually, but only potentially, does not exist at all. (Otherwise, it would not follow that something which resolves into something that exists only potentially collapses into nothingness, as Suárez assumes). The view that only actual beings exist is often called ‘actualism’ – and Suárez endorses actualism for powerful theological reasons (which he can expect to convince his Thomist opponents, too). According to Suárez, to exist only potentially or to only be in potency, is not to be at all, for otherwise God’s creation would not amount to a creatio ex nihilo, as surely creatures were possible even before God created them if God’s creation is not to be impossible (see DM XXXI, s. 3, n. 1, and Embry 2017 as an entry point into the debate about the ontological status of creatures before their creation).

Despite his position that prime matter has its own share of actuality, Suárez is eager to maintain that prime matter is rightly characterized as a pure potentiality. Of course, this must not be understood in the sense (defended by Suarez’s Thomist opponents; Suárez cites Capreolus, Soncinas and Javelli) that prime matter does only exist in potency and thus lacks any actuality on its own. Rather, Suárez suggests understanding the claim that prime matter is pure potentiality in the sense of prime matter being a potency, that is, that prime matter is an actual thing with a certain essential capacity or disposition (DM XIII, s. 5, n. 12). More precisely, a thing with the essential capacity to receive any substantial form, without the actualization of which it cannot naturally exist (DM XIII, s. 5, n. 11).

Against the backdrop of this conception of prime matter, Suárez can give a straightforward account of what it means for a piece of prime matter to convey its own being to the constitution of a composite substance. It simply means that this piece of prime matter actualizes its essential capacity of being informed by a substantial form and thereby co-constitutes a complete material substance (which, supernatural exceptions by divine interventions aside, it does in fact permanently). Suárez distinguishes two contexts, in which prime matter has this essential capacity actualized: (a) in the context of becoming a material substance (in fieri), that is, when a new material substance comes to be, and (b) in the context of being a material substance (in facto esse), when a material substance exists and keeps on existing. In the first context (a), the material causality exerted by prime matter consists in “the generation itself, insofar as it essentially depends on matter for through this ‹process of generation› matter concurs with the eduction of the form or composition of a compositum, and the causality of a cause is nothing but its concurrence.” (DM XIII, s. 9, n. 8) In the second context of being a composite substance (b), Suárez construes the distinctive causality of matter as the specific union with its form that matter is engaging in. That is, “the causality of matter with respect to its form (when the form is such that it is caused by matter and depends on it) is nothing but the proper union of such a form with matter insofar as that union is materially caused by matter it is that by which the form depends on the matter.” (DM XIII, s. 9, n.10)

For Suárez then, prime matter exerts two types of material causality, which are even ontologically distinct from one another (see DM XIII, s. 9, n. 16): the material causality involved in the becoming of a composite substance consists in this substance’s process of generation insofar as it depends on its underlying matter. Ontologically speaking this generation is a particular action, emanating from the efficient cause of the composite substance, which Suárez characterizes as a distinctive mode (see DM XVIII, S. 10, n. 8, and XLVIII, s. 6, n. 7). However, since Suárez’s construes efficient causality as a mode of action, too (as will become clear in section 5 below), it is not fully clear to what extent this first type of material causality should really count as material causality – especially since what Suárez usually seems to have in mind when he talks about material causality is the material causality involved in the being of a material substance (b). This type of material causality, by contrast, consists in a mode of union by which the substantial form is united to prime matter (see DM XIII, s. 9, n. 16).

The case of accidental material causality is analogous to the case of substantial material causality (DM XIV, s. 1, n. 9). As Suárez puts it, accidental material “causality is in fact nothing but the accidental union of a form to its subject, since it is by means of this union that a subject and an accident form a composite entity” (DM XIV, s. 1, n. 6). However, this “union” connecting an accidental material cause to its accident, takes different forms depending on the ontological status of the corresponding accident. For unlike substantial forms, which are all distinct res according to Suárez, accidents form an ontologically heterogeneous class. While some accidents are mere extrinsic denominations (like the accident of being seen) and as such no proper entities there are to be united to the subject they are attributed to, there are at least two types of intrinsic accidents: real accidents on the one hand, which consist in distinct res, and mere modifications on the other hand, which are modes of their subject. With respect to real accidents, a material cause exerts its material causality by a distinctive mode of inherence (pertaining to the inhering accident) by which the real accident inheres in it. With respect to accidental modes, no distinct mode is needed to glue them to their bearers or material causes as it were. Rather, such accidental modes are united to their subjects immediately in virtue of modifying them (or in virtue of being “directly affixed” to them, as Suárez sometimes puts it). For this reason Suárez sometimes says that there is only a proper material cause with respect to real accidents (see DM XIV, s. 1, n. 3).

Formal Causation

Formal causes are – like material causes – intrinsic causes which inflow being into another thing insofar as convey their own being to the composite being that they co-constitute with an appropriate material cause. And as there are two types of material causes – that is, substantial material causes constituting complete material substances and accidental material causes that constitute substance-accident-complexes –, Suárez distinguishes two corresponding types of formal causes: substantial and accidental formal causes, which he identifies with substantial forms and accidental forms.

As above, the pressing question is what the influence of these two types of formal causes consists in precisely. By what do these forms convey their own being to the constitution of a composite substance or substance-accident-complex?

Let’s consider substantial formal causes first. As noted, Suárez identifies these formal causes with substantial forms, which he construes as distinct res or even as incomplete substance (see DM XV, s. 5). (An interesting consequence of this identification is that it renders the capacity for engaging in formal causality as constitutive for being a substantial form, which makes immaterial forms to be no proper substantial forms; for a discussion of this consequence see Richardson 2015). Like their corresponding prime matter, Suárez construes these forms as distinct res, which in natural circumstances can only exist in matter; the human soul being an exception as it is supposed to survive the corruption of its body (DM XV, s. 2., n. 1 and n. 10). Now, these substantial forms act as formal causes insofar as they actually inform a distinctive portion of prime matter by being united to it. And they are united to their (prime) matter in virtue of engaging in a mode of union (DM XV, s. 6, n. 7). In fact, Suárez argues that this mode of union, in which the formal causality of substantial forms is realized, is the very same mode as the mode of union, which he identified as material causality, i.e. the mode by which prime matter is united to its substantial form. Hence, formal and material causality are only conceptually distinct from one another. It seems however that by these distinct conceptions we conceive of different objective aspects of this very mode. Or as Suárez puts it:

“[T]he very same union, insofar as it is from the form, is the medium or reason by means of which the form actualizes the matter and constitutes the composite, and in this way it is said to be the causality of the form. But, insofar as through it the form adheres to matter and is sustained by it, it is a dependence of the same form upon matter.” (DM XV, s. 7, n. 10)

Given that formal causality consists in the mode of union insofar it is by this mode that the form in question informs and thereby actualizes its underlying matter, and given that material causality is this very same mode of union insofar as it is the mode by which the matter in question receives and sustains its form, these two types of causality are conceptually distinct form another on part of the thing reasoned about: they are different objective aspects of the same mode of union.

With respect to the formal causation involved in substance-accident-complexes, it is important to distinguish between different types of accidents. As Suárez explains, accidents can be construed in a broad way such that every non-essential feature F, which can be said to hold of a substance s (by making a true statement of the form “s is F”), qualifies as an accident. As already seen above, however, such accidents in this broad sense form an ontologically heterogeneous class of entities (see DM XVI, s. 1, n. 39, and DM XXXVII, s. 2, n. 7), which contains mere extrinsic denominations, modes, and real accidents, that is, full blown res, which are really distinct from their subjects and which can also supernaturally exist without their subjects. Now, Suárez is clear that only the latter type of accidents, the distinct accidental res, engage in proper formal causation. This is because only these are full-blown entities that are to be united to another entity in order to constitute a unified substance-accident-complex. Extrinsic denominations, by contrast, are no proper entities in the first place (what they really are, however, is a vexed question; for more on this see Embry 2019), while modes are essentially “affixed” to the subject which they are joined to and thus need not to be joined to their bearers.

But what does this formal causality by which accidental res are joined to their underlying subjects consist in ontologically speaking? As Suárez explains, “this causality is nothing but the actual union or inherence of the accident in the subject – just as it has been said about the substantial form, for it is of the same proportional nature.” (DM XVI, s. 1, n. 6) So, just as the formal causality of a substantial form with respect to its underlying matter consists in a distinctive mode of union, a real accident’s formal causality consists in a mode of union as well. However, this accidental mode of union is nothing but the accident’s mode of inherence, by which it exists in its underlying substance (and which Suárez takes as the paradigm of a mode, when introducing this kind of entities in DM VII, s. 1, n. 17). Thus, according to Suárez, an accidental res exerts its distinctive (accidental) formal causality by inhering in its underlying substance by means of a mode of inherence.

Efficient Causation

An efficient cause for Suárez is something which brings about or produces a certain effect. It is very naturally covered by his general influxus-theory of causation since by producing its effect an efficient cause rather straight-forwardly ‘inflows’ or communicates being: it makes its effect be. It is not surprising therefore that Suárez holds that an “efficient cause inflows being most properly” (DM XXVII, s. 1, n. 10). Suárez also holds that everything but God only exists because it was produced or brought about by something (see DM XXVIII, s. 1, n. 4). This entails that for Suárez everything but God, that is, every finite, actually existing res or mode, is an effect of an efficient cause. This answers the third guiding question about the specific effects of efficient causes: everything (but God) is an effect of some efficient cause. This leaves us with the two other guiding questions: (2) which kind of entities can figure as efficient causes? And (1) what does the distinctive influx of efficient causes, that is, the efficient causality by which an efficient cause brings about or produces its effect consist in?

Let’s start with question (2) about the ontological nature of efficient causes. The answer to this question is complicated by the fact that Suárez distinguishes between the cause that brings about a certain effect, the causaquod, and the cause by or in virtue of which, it does so, the causaquo. Consider a fire, for instance, which causes a kettle to boil: What should we qualify as the efficient cause of the kettle’s boiling: the fire or the heat by which it does so? In a way, Suárez argues, both res qualify as efficient causes: The fire’s (real) accident of heat causes the kettle to boil as its proximate cause. But of course, it can only do so because it exists in the substance of fire, which thereby qualifies as a cause, too. In general, Suárez holds that all efficient causal work is done by res. Modes, on the other hand, cannot figure as efficient causes according to Suárez. This is because modes are, as spelled out in section 2 above, only diminished entities for Suárez, which lack an own essence. Accordingly, they also lack an essence that is robust enough so as to inflow being into anything essentially, as Suárez’s influxus theory requires for causes (see DM XVIII, s. 4, n. 7-8, and Schmaltz 2020, 135). In particular, Suárez concedes that real accidents (i.e. accidental res), or, more specifically, qualities (like heat or wetness or faculties, such as the will or the intellect) figure as genuine efficient causes, too (DM XVIII, s. 4, n. 3, and n.7). At the same time, he insists that the ultimate (or principal) cause of a certain process is to be located in the acting substance, and not in its acting accidents (DM XVIII, s. 6, n. 2): In general, a res’ classification as a causa-quod or causa-quo depends on its ontological status: if its operation depends on an underlying substance, in which it inheres or by which it is employed, it qualifies as a mere causaquo; otherwise, it qualifies as the causaquod.

With respect to the res which qualify as efficient causes, Suárez joins a tradition which goes back at least to Scotus and distinguishes between two fundamental types of causes: necessary and free causes. Necessary causes are causes “that operate necessarily once all the things they require for operating are present.” (DM XVIIII, s. 1, n. 1). As Suárez makes clear (in DM XVIIII, s. 1, n. 14), by “necessity” here, he understands “metaphysical necessity”: that is, once the things required for a necessary cause’s operation are present, not even God could prevent such a cause from bringing about its effect. By “things required for operation” Suárez refers to the necessary conditions for an efficient cause to bring about its effect. Suárez discusses altogether nine such conditions (in DM XVIIII, s. 1), which we can for our purposes boil down to the following four (for a more extensive discussion see Schmid 2015a, 110-118):

  1. The cause has full and sufficient power to act (DM XVIIII, s. 1, n. 2);
  2. There are susceptible and sufficiently close patients (ibid.);
  3. There are no impeding powers (DM XVIIII, s. 1, n. 4;
  4. God grants his concurrence [concursus] (ibid.).

As conditions I-III seem to be straightforward, we can focus on Suárez’s fourth condition. Suárez holds that there are three ways in which God figures as an efficient cause of the universe – and he devotes each of these three ways a distinct Disputation. The first is by creating this world or by bringing it about ex nihilo (discussed in DM XX); the second is by preserving or conserving the world and thereby preventing it from lapsing into nothingness as it were (discussed in DM XXI); the third is by concurrence that is by supporting finite causes to bring about their effects (discussed in DM XXII). As just seen, Suárez even thinks that such divine concurrence is a necessary requirement for a finite thing’s efficient causal operation. That is, a finite res cannot act as an efficient cause and thereby bring about anything, unless God grants his concursus. One of Suárez’s arguments for this view relies on biblical evidence: He takes the story of Daniel 3 about the three young men cast into a fiery furnace who remained unaffected to show that God can prevent causes from bringing about their effects by denying his concursus (DM XXII, s. 1, n. 11.)

The important general point to glean from all this is that Suárez takes necessary causes to be efficient causes whose necessary conditions for operation are also jointly sufficient. Free causes, by contrast, are causes whose necessary conditions for operation are not jointly sufficient. Suárez describes a free cause as a cause which “given that all things required for acting are posited, is able to act and not to act.” (DM XVIIII, s. 4, n. 1). According to Suárez, only rational or intelligent substances can be free causes – and they are so in virtue of their faculty of will, which is the proximate principle of free actions. Hence, the will is the only genuine free cause, which is able to act and not to act, given that all things required for acting are posited (see DM XVIIII, s. 5, n. 3, n. 13). Accordingly, the will constitutes the ultimate source of (logical) contingency for Suárez. That is to say that the will is the ultimate ground for why things could be otherwise than they actually are – or as Suárez puts it: “with respect to the whole order or collection of agent causes there can be no contingency in the effects unless a free cause intervenes in that collection of causes.” (DM XVIIII, s. 10, n. 6; for more on Suárez’s treatment of freedom see Penner 2013)

So much about Suárez’s view on the different types of efficient causes. They all qualify as efficient causes insofar as they “inflow being” into their effects in the most proper sense of the term: by making them be or by producing them. But what does this production or distinctive influx of an efficient cause consist in? What, in Suárez terms, is efficient causality? Like the causality of forms and matter, Suárez identifies the specific causality of efficient causes in a distinctive mode: the mode of action [actio] (DM XVIII, s. 10, n. 8). That is, efficient causes bring about their effects by means of an action, which Suárez construes as a mode of the produced effect. At least four points are noteworthy concerning Suárez’s suggestion:

First, Suárez’s notion of action [actio] is much broader than our contemporary notion, which is restricted to intentional actions. Suárez follows the standard scholastic usage, according to which “action [actio]” applies to all kinds of causal operations (ranging from the heating of fire or the falling of a stone up to the choice of a human being and its ensuing action or God’s creation). In particular, Suárez takes actions to include changes [mutationes] in the traditional Aristotelian sense, that is, operations or actualization of forms that occur in some underlying matter. However, Suárez’s category of action goes crucially beyond Aristotelian changes. This is because Suárez conceives of God’s creatio ex nihilo, which does precisely not presuppose any matter, in which it occurs, as an action too. In fact, Suárez deliberatively defines efficient causality (i.e. the distinctive influx of efficient causes) as an action, as opposed to a mere change, because he wants God to qualify as an efficient cause as well (see DM XVII, s. 1, n. 4, and DM XX for an extensive treatment of creation as a case of divine efficient causation).

The second point worth mentioning is that by characterizing actions as the distinctive causality of efficient causes, Suárez rejects conceiving of them as effects:

[I]t is part of the notion of a causality […] that it should be, as it were, a medium or link between the cause and the effect. And it is in this way that an action is related to its terminus and to the efficient principle or cause from which it emanates. But the action itself does not emanate by means of another action; otherwise there would be an infinite regress. (DM XVIII, s. 10, n. 8, transl. Freddoso: 255)

In order to avoid a vicious regress, an action or a cause’s efficient causality should not be construed as effect of that cause, but as the very causing of this effect, which mediates between the efficient cause and its effects. For the same reason, we should not conceive of an action as a proper cause of the effect to which it tends. For if we were, we had to concede that it does so by exerting efficient causality, that is, by another action. But if actions are causes of their effects, so is this second action, which would force us to postulate a third action as the second action’s efficient causality, and so on, ad infinitum (see also DM XVIII, s. 4, n. 5.)

The third point to note is that by identifying an efficient cause’s distinctive causality as a mode, Suárez adopts a non-reductionist position regarding the question about the reality of efficient causes, and thereby opposes a reductionist position favoured by medieval nominalists such as Ockham, who argued that efficient causation is nothing over and above an effect coming into existence once its cause is posited. But by construing efficient causality as a mere mode (and not as full-blown res) Suárez defends a moderate version of non-reductionism, which might avoid the most forceful nominalist objections (for a discussion, see Tuttle 2016).

Fourth, it is worth emphasizing that Suárez characterizes an efficient cause’s causality – its action – as a mode of its effect. Given that we usually attribute actions or operations to their causes, this might appear puzzling. Yet, Suárez has at least two strong reasons for construing an action as a mode of its effect (rather than of the cause from which it proceeds). The first is Aristotelian: In Physics III.3 (202a13-b29) Aristotle localizes the change (involved in the operation of an efficient cause) in the patient, rather than in the agent or efficient cause. Given that a change for Aristotle is but an actualization of a form induced by an agent, this makes good sense: as this form comes to be actualized in the patient (and is typically already actualized in the agent), it is in the patient, where the change takes place. And as seen, an action [actio] in Suárez’s sense comprises changes. So, Suárez has all Aristotelian reasons to conceive of actions as occurring in the patient and hence to attribute them to the effect in which they result. Suárez’s second reason is theological. As mentioned, Suárez conceives of God’s act of creation as an action, too. At the same time, Suárez subscribes to the traditional view that God is a perfect and therefore immutable being, in which there cannot be any change (see DM XXX, s. 8, n. 2). This combination of views rules out the option of construing actions as modes of efficient causes for Suárez: this would render God’s immutability incompatible with his being an efficient cause. Thus, Suárez has all theological reason to conceive of actions as modes of the effects they result in, rather than as modes of the causes they emanate from (see DM XVIII, s. 10, n. 9).

For Suárez then, everything but God is an effect of some efficient cause, and most res are capable of figuring as efficient causes once their conditions for operation are satisfied. And potential efficient causes become actual efficient causes once they engage in an action by which they tend to bring about their specific effect. This action is what Suárez identifies as the proper influx or causality of efficient causes. Ontologically speaking, it is a mode of the effect it results in (if successful).

Final Causation

As already seen (in DM XII, s. 2., n. 7, quoted in section 2 above), Suárez takes final causality – the distinctive influx by which ends qualify as proper final causes – to be “very obscure”. It is not surprising therefore that scholars have debated whether Suárez really allows for genuine final causes or whether he ultimately rejects them like so many philosophers would do after him (see Carraud 2002; Schmaltz 2008). At the same time, it seems evident that (at least officially) Suárez never wanted to deny the reality of final causes, teaching as a “certain conclusion that an end is a true, proper and real cause.” (DM XXIII, s. 1, n. 7) Indeed, Suárez even claims that the “final cause is in a certain way the principal of all ‹kinds of causes›, and even prior to the others” (DM XXIII, prologue) or that it is “the first of the causes” (DM XXVI, s. 3, n. 3), thereby attributing final causes a certain priority in comparison to the other three kinds of Aristotelian causes. Let me thus reconstruct Suárez’s account of final causality before briefly sketching the scholarly debate about it.

For Suárez (like for Aristotle) a final cause is that for the sake of which something exists or occurs (see DM XXIII, s. 1, n. 7). It is what we refer to when saying things like “eyes exist for the sake of vision” or “we exercise in order to remain healthy”. In line with this, Suárez distinguishes (amongst others) between the end of a produced thing [finis res facta] and the end of an action or operation [finis actionis] (see DM XXIII, s. 2, n. 10-11). At the same time, he takes ends of operations to be prior to ends of things, since “the end of the produced thing is commonly thought to be some operation for the sake of which it is made, like the vision of God in the case of the human being and illumination in the case of the sun” (DM XXIII, s. 2, n. 11). Thus, according to Suárez, (produced) things ultimately exist for the sake of certain operations or activities – and so it is the end of these activities, which ultimately explains their existence (such as it is the vision of God, which ultimately explains the existence of human beings for Suárez). Accordingly, Suárez holds that final causes are primarily final causes of operations, such that operations are the primary “effects of final causes” (that is, the kinds of things which are primarily explained with respect to them).

Suárez takes final causes to be operative in at least three different contexts: (i) Among natural beings (such as plants or even whole eco-systems) insofar as they engage in purposeful activities, (ii) among finite rational agents (most notably human beings), who perform intentional actions for the sake of certain ends, and (iii) in God, the infinite rational agent, who also acts for the sake of certain ends, but ultimately for the sake of his own goodness (see DM XXIII, s. 1, n. 8). Since Suárez thinks that the distinctive influx of final causes, or their “ratio causandi is more obscure” than that of the other causes (DM XXIII, prologue), he adopts the methodological strategy to elucidate the nature of final causality in a piece-meal fashion. That is, by providing first an account of final causality as it occurs in the context of intentional actions of finite rational beings, with which we are directly acquainted and are thus best known to us. It is only after having developed this account of final causality as it occurs in the context of finite rational agency that Suárez is going to expand it in order to accommodate the final causality displayed in God’s actions (in DM XXIII, s. 9) and in the operations of natural agents (in DM XXIII, s. 10).

We have already noted that Suárez takes operations to be the primary effects of final causes. Turning to the case of rational human agency, with respect to which Suárez develops his core-account of final causality (before expanding it to the other, lesser known cases), we can even be more precise. Among human activities that are due to final causes or for the sake of certain ends, Suárez distinguishes between two further classes: a class of immediate or direct effects of final causes (Suárez calls them “internal effects of a final cause”), and a class of indirect effects of a final cause (mediated through direct effects of final causes; Suárez calls them “external effects of a final cause”). Suárez takes it to be “certain that a final cause […] per se primarily and principally causes some act or affect in the will itself” (DM XXIII, s. 3, n. 2) such that the immediate effects of final causes are acts of the will (i.e. volitions) or affections of the will (such as the desire for justice). Hence only the formation of volitions and affections of the will are due to some direct influence of an end according to Suárez. Our other purposeful actions, such as going for a walk or praying, are only mediate (or “external”) effects of a final cause for Suárez, insofar as they result from certain volitions, which are immediate or “internal” effects of a final cause (see DM XXIII, s. 3, n. 18). According to Suárez’s core-account of final causation, then, (at least in the context of finite rational agency) this kind of causation occurs primarily with respect to the will and its specific activities.

What kind of things can figure as final causes? Here, Suárez’s answer is breathtakingly permissive: Absolutely everything can figure as a final cause to the extent that it is represented (either correctly or incorrectly) as being good in some sense (i.e. as honest, delightful or useful; see DM XXIII, s. 5, n. 12). That is, even the holy grail can figure as a final cause, provided that there is someone who believes that the holy grail exists and takes it to be good to find it. Thus, unlike other causes, which must actually exist in order to figure as causes, actual existence is no requirement for final causes for Suárez. Instead of real being, all they require is intellectual being or cognized being (see DM XXIII, s. 7, n. 3, and s. 8, n. 7; see also Åkerlund 2011). Thus, absolutely everything (including merely possible and even impossible res) can figure as a final cause as long as it is conceived to exist and to be good in some sense.

In the paradigmatic case of human agency, then, a final cause is simply a cognized good that gives rise to our wanting or desiring this good. But how does a cognized good bring us to want it? What is the distinctive influx, by which a final cause makes the will embrace it? Suárez construes this influx as a peculiar motion, which he describes as a “metaphorical motion” (thereby adopting a widely shared late-medieval label, which goes back to Aristotle, De Gen I.7, 324b14–15, who explains that “health is not active, except metaphorically”). Suárez explains this peculiar metaphorical motion, which constitutes the distinctive influx of final causes, as follows:

[T]he causality of the end consists in a metaphorical motion. However, […] such a motion is not actual, unless the will is actually moving, and when it is put in reality, it is nothing different from the act of will itself. But […] one and the same act of will is caused by the end and by the will itself. And insofar it arises [a] from the will, it is efficient causality, and insofar it arises [b] from the end, it is final causality. And in the first way [a] it is a real and proper motion, because such an action stems from a power as a proper physical principle. In the second way [b], however, it is a metaphorical motion, since it stems from an object which allures the will and attracts it. ” (DM XXIII, s. 4, n. 8)

As Suárez makes clear in this passage, an end figures as a final cause, which brings the will to embrace it, in virtue of “alluring” or “attracting” the will. Thus, an end’s distinctive influx, its causality, consists in the attractive influence it exerts on rational agents and by which it incites them to choose it. Ontologically speaking, this influence is a motion in the Aristotelian sense of the term, that is, an actualization of a certain power or potentiality. More precisely, the metaphorical motion induced by the final cause is but the actualization of the will, its transition from only potentially willing some good to actually willing it. As Suárez explains further, this very motion can be described or conceived of in two ways: (a) as a “real and proper motion” arising from the will as the efficient cause of its volition and (b) as a “metaphorical motion” (or as exertion of an attractive influence) induced by the end. Conceived in the first way (a), this motion constitutes the will’s efficient causality by which it brings about its volition. Conceived in the second way (b), this motion constitutes the end’s final causality by which it attracts the will to embrace it. This suggests that at least with respect to the operations of the will, efficient causality and final causality are realized in the very same entity, namely in the very mode by which a volition comes about (see also Schmid 2014 and the classic treatment of Seiler 1936). Thus, efficient and final causality seem to be only conceptually distinct from one another. They are but two aspects of the very same mode: its aspect of resulting from an efficient cause, and its aspect of being directed towards a certain object in virtue of its (alleged) goodness. (Some scholars have thus reconstructed Suárez’s theory of final causality as a theory of “normative powers”, see Pink 2018). And since these aspects seem to be objectively different, the difference between efficient and final causality seems to be a conceptual distinction on part of the thing reasoned about [distinctio rationis ratiocinatae].

Since Suárez takes other operations (in fact, all operations) to be due to final causes as well, this core-account of final causality needs to be expanded. Suárez does so in three steps: First, he explains the final causality involved our intentional actions resulting from volitions due to their being mediate or “external” effects of final causes: They exhibit final causality (in the sense of being directed towards a certain object in virtue of its (alleged) goodness) because they are efficiently caused by these volitions, which are immediate or “internal” effects of final causes (see DM XXIII, s 4., n. 15). (In this context it is important to distinguish between final causes and what Suárez calls “exemplary causes” (and discusses at length in DM XXV; see Renemann 2010 and Perler 2021 for a discussion). Exemplary causes are something like mental blueprints or models by which rational agents cognitively anticipate the intended products of their actions and which play an important role in the control and guidance of their actions. Accordingly, an exemplary cause’s proper mode of operation does not consist in attracting our will, but rather in determining the execution of our actions once we have decided to bring about a certain object. Thus, rather than as instances of final causes, Suárez characterizes exemplary causes as instances of efficient causes (see DM XXV, s. 2, n. 8-14).)

Suárez’s explanation of final causality in external or mediate effects of final causes can be extended so as to account for the final causality involved the operation of natural agents as well. This marks the second step of Suárez’s expansion of his core-account. To be sure, natural agents lack the rational capacities by which they could be liable to any attractive influence of the ends of their operations. But according to Suárez’s theory of divine concursus (sketched in section 5 above), natural agents cannot perform their operations unless assisted by God’s co-operation. And to the extent that God concurs with the operations of natural agents with their ends in view, Suárez explains (in DM XXIII s. 10, n. 5-6), these ends become proper final causes and the operations of natural agents become endowed with final causation (see Schmid 2015b: 406-412, for a discussion).

This leads to the third step of Suárez’s expansion of his core-account so as to accommodate divine actions as well. While God has rational capacities that one might appeal to in order to explain the final causation involved in his actions, we have already seen (in section 5 above) that Suárez takes God to be a perfect and thus immutable being. Consequently, there cannot be any motion in God. But so there cannot be any metaphorical motion in God either, which is what final causality is according to Suárez’s core-account. Suárez tries to overcome this problem by denying that the ends of God’s actions only qualify as final causes to the extent that they exert any attractive influence on God (which they cannot). Rather, Suárez explains, the “the final causality of God with respect to the effects outside of him consists in the fact that God produces the effects outside of him by the intuition and love of his goodness.” (DM XXIII s. 9, n. 9) Hence, God’s actions are endowed with final causality in virtue of proceeding of God’s eternal love of his own goodness for the sake of which he does everything he does.

Given the complexity of this account of final causation, it is not surprising that its correct interpretation is controversial. While some have argued that in explaining final causation in terms of a metaphorical motion, Suárez has in fact given an eliminativist account of final causes (Schmaltz 2008: 33-36) others argued that Suárez did reduce final causation to efficient causation (Olivo 1997 and Carraud 2002: 145-148). Others in turn argued that Suárez’s expanded account of final causation with respect to God is inconsistent with his influxus-theory of causation (Schmid 2015), while (Penner 2015) offers a defence of all these charges on Suárez’s behalf.

Conclusion: Suárez’s Theory of Causation

Suárez’s theory of causation is rich, complex, and impressively systematic. He follows Aristotle in assuming that there are four kinds of causes, but insists that they share a common nature (or ratio) by which they qualify as causes in the first place. As Suárez argues this common nature consists in the fact that they all “inflow being” in a specific way: intrinsic causes, i.e. matter and form, do so by constituting a complex being, while extrinsic causes, i.e. efficient and final causes, do so by contributing to the production of a new being. Accordingly, the four Aristotelian causes for Suárez come along with four different types of causation, which all share the same structure insofar as they consist of (i) a cause (of a distinct kind) and (ii) a (specific kind of) effect to which the cause gives rise to by (iii) exerting a distinctive influx or causality. Or as Suárez explains:

“The causality of each cause is that by which it nearly per se and intrinsically refers to the effect and, conversely, through which the effect depends on such a cause. For the causality is like a path or tendency to the effect. Therefore, it is to be found between a cause and an effect just like between two terms ‹or endpoints of a line›. This is, because by causality a cause inflows into the effect and the effect proceeds from the cause.” (DM XVIII, s. 10, n. 6)

What is more, Suárez takes the different positions of the general structure of causation to be occupied by entities of the same ontological kind. While effects can consist in res and their modes, only res can figure as genuine causes for Suárez (even though, in the exceptional case of final causation these causing res need not to exist actually). Also, the distinct types of causality exerted by the different kinds of causes all consist in modes according to Suárez. In fact, the four types of causality are realized in only two modes: The causality of the intrinsic causes, matter and form, is realized in the same mode of union (in the case of substantial formal or material causality) or in the same mode of inherence (in the case of accidental formal or material causality). Accordingly, material and formal causality are only conceptually distinct from one another – but with a foundation in reality, insofar as they consist in different aspects of the same mode: material causality consists in the uniting mode being the way by which the material cause figures as the bearer of its form, while formal causality consists in this uniting mode being the way by which the formal cause informs and actualizes its underlying material cause. Analogously, the causality of the extrinsic causes, efficient and final cause, is realized in the same mode of action such that their distinctive causalities are only conceptually distinct from another, but, again, with some foundation in reality: while efficient causality consists in an action’s aspect of being the production of a new being resulting from an efficient cause, final causality consists in this very same action’s aspect of being directed towards a certain object in virtue of its (alleged) goodness.

As mentioned at the outset, it might be odd, from an original Aristotelian perspective, to take all four types of Aristotelian causes as being involved in different types of causation by which they give rise to different types of effects – for it seems to be a distinctive feature of the efficient cause to have an effect (hence its name). That Suárez does so, shows that he takes efficient causation to be conceptually privileged. He takes efficient causation to be the model according to which we should conceive of the other kinds of Aristotelian causes and hence their corresponding causation as well. It is not surprising, therefore, that he repeatedly stresses that efficient causes are causes in the most proper sense of the term (DM XII, s. 3, n. 3; DM XVII, s. 1, n. 8; DM XVII, s. 1, n. 10-11). However, this conceptual priority of efficient causes in relation to the other types of Aristotelian causes, should not be understood as entailing the view that efficient causes are also metaphysically prior to all other types of causes. Especially not in light of the fact that Suárez explicitly (and repeatedly) stresses that final causes are prior to the other types of causes (DM XXIII, proeomium; DM XXVI, s. 3, n. 3; DM XXVII, s. 2, n. 7). Nor should we take Suárez assertion of the priority of final causes to be incompatible with his concession that the causality of final causes is the most obscure of all causes. To the contrary, this is precisely, what we should expect a good Aristotelian to say, who takes the order of being to be inverse to the order of knowing.

How should we describe Suárez’s position in the long history of the concept of causation? The brief answer is: Somewhere midway in between Aristotle’s original conception of four causes and the nowadays prevalent conception of causes, according to which causation is a lawlike relation between a cause and its effect. It is midway in between these two conceptions because it is deeply indebted to Aristotle’s idea that there are four kinds of causes that we have to appeal to in order to make sense of natural changes, which are conceived of as actualizations of forms. At the same time, Suárez’s conception of causation considerably differs from Aristotle’s conception, in conceptually privileging efficient causes as the model for all other causes, such that each type of cause comes along with a distinctive type of causality by which it gives rise to a distinctive type of effect. In doing so, Suárez seems to agree with modern conceptions who construe causation as the relation between cause and effect. Also, there is an important element in Suárez’s theory of efficient causation that anticipates the modern view that the relation between cause and effect is lawlike. According to this view, A can only be a cause of an effect B if there is a law of nature which states that for all (natural) circumstances, if A obtains, then B does. Interestingly, if only somewhat covertly, Suárez takes such laws of natures (or universal propositions of the form ‘for all (natural) circumstances, if A obtains, then B does’) to be a necessary requirement for A being an efficient cause of B, too. This is due to his theory of divine concursus (sketched in section 5 above). For due to this theory, A can only be an efficient cause of B, if God concurs with A in bringing about B. Now, if God does so, he does not do so blindly, but voluntarily and for good reasons. And God’s usual reason for concurring with A in bringing about B is that A has by its very nature the power to bring about B. So, “in concurring he accommodates himself to the natures of the entities, and he gives to each a concurrence that is accommodated to its power.” (DM XXII, s. 4, n. 3, Freddoso: 217). We have already seen that Suárez considers God to be immutable. But being immutable God does not change his will, and so “once he has decided to effect and conserve secondary causes [i.e. finite causes], he concurs with them in their operations by an infallible law.” (ibid.) Given then that God’s concursus is a prerequisite of a finite thing A to bring about B, and given that God’s granting such a concursus depends on his unshakable decree that for all (natural) circumstances, if A obtains, then so shall B, which thereby amounts to an infallible law, laws of natures are necessary conditions for things bearing causal relations towards another for Suárez, too.



Primary Sources

  • Suárez, Francisco, Disputationes Metaphysicae. Paris, 1866. Reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1965, 2 vols.
  • Suárez, Francisco, On the Formal Cause of Substance: Metaphysical Disputation XV, trans John Kronen and Jeremiah Reedy, Marquette University Press, 2000.
  • Suárez, Francisco, On the Various Kinds of Distinctions [= DM 7], trans Cyril Vollert, Marquette University Press, 1947.
  • Suárez, Francisco, On Efficient Causality: Metaphysical Disputations 17, 18, and 19, trans Alfred J. Freddoso, Yale University Press, 1994.
  • Suárez, Francisco, On Creation, Conservation, & Concurrence: Metaphysical Disputations 20-22, trans Alfred J. Freddoso, St. Augustine’s Press, 2002.

Secondary Sourcess

  • Åkerlund, Erik. 2011. Nisi Temere Agat: Francisco Suárez on Final Causes and Final Causation. Uppsala: Uppsala University | link.
  • Åkerlund, Erik. 2019. “Suárez, Francisco – Theory of Prime Matter”, in Conimbricenses Encyclopedia, edited by Mário Santiago de Carvalho and Simone Guidi.
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