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Exemplary Causality


A special type of causality associated with the doctrine of exemplarism and mainly discussed by scholastic philosophers and theologians. It specifies the determination or form of an effect as this is preconceived by an intelligent agent. While scholastics generally agree that the exemplary cause is not itself a fifth type of cause, they part company on the question to which of the traditional four it is more properly reduced. Some conceive it as a type of efficient causality and others classify it under the causality of form; a third, and possibly more acceptable, position regards it as an aspect of final causality.

A few thinkers, such as duns scotus and F. suÁrez, regard exemplary causality as within the order of efficient causality, no doubt because of the exemplar's close connection with the will of the intelligent agent. Even St. thomas aquinas, who considered the exemplar to be a type of formal cause, occasionally refers to it as an operative idea (De ver. 2.3 ad 3; Summa Theologiae 1a, 15.1 ad 2). This is because the exemplary form or idea exerts its influence upon the effect only through the will (Summa Theologiae 1a, 14.8). It thus touches upon the very causality of the efficient cause, whence it is said to be an operative or productive idea.

Strictly speaking, however, since the exemplary cause is of the intentional order, being the idea of some form or determination to be realized in the effect, it is not a type of efficient cause. Rather its function is to direct the agent, measuring his action every step of the way. Because the exemplary cause is the form of the work as preconceived by the intelligent agent, St. Thomas and many of his followers regard it as reducible to the genus of formal cause. However, they then speak of it as being an extrinsic formal cause. While this view is certainly tenable, for the exemplar is a preconceived form, it has the weakness of doing violence to the intrinsic-extrinsic division of causes, according to which division the formal cause is intrinsic to the being of its effect.

Consequently, since the exemplary cause is extrinsic to the effect and exerts its influence as an idea in the intentional order, it is more properly reducible to final cause. Thus, while the final cause considered as a preconceived form of a work exerts an attractive influence upon the will of the agent, it performs at the same time a secondary role of measuring the agent's action; in the latter respect it is an exemplar. Since one might think that the exemplary cause is not always of the intentional order because the artist often selects for his model something already in existenceit must be noted that the object selected has been assimilated to the intellect of the artist, and that even in this case the artist is working under the influence of an idealized form (cf. De ver. 3.2).

Thus, while the exemplary cause does touch upon the areas of efficient and formal causality, precisely as exercising its influence as an idea in the intentional order it can be identified with the final cause.

See Also: exemplarism; neoplatonism; emanationism.

Bibliography: c. a. hart, Thomistic Metaphysics: An Inquiry into the Act of Existing (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1959). g. girardi Metafisica della causa esemplare in San Tommaso d'Aquino (Turin 1954). a. fossati, Enciclopedia Italiana di scienze, littere ed arti, 36 v. (Rome 192939) 2:4647.

[t. kondoleon]

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