(Opportunitas agendi ) may be defined as that which affords an opportunity for a free agent to exercise its causality. The word "free" here does not refer simply to intellectual freedom, but applies analogously to sensory freedom as well; hence, the actions of a dog, as proceeding from an interior principle and as guided by knowledge, may be termed free in this wider use of the word. An occasion can provide a mere opportunity for a cognitive being to act, or it may serve as a kind of inducement for action. If the latter is the case, the occasion tends to merge with the act's final cause, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other in the concrete situation. Examples of occasions will clarify the definition. If a teacher absents herself from a room of fourth graders, she provides an occasion for her charges to become rowdy. Or again, a beautiful summer day may serve as an occasion for a family picnic.
An occasion does not strictly cause the agent to act, although it does exercise influence upon the agent. It is to be noted also that it is not absolutely necessary that a suitable occasion be present for the agent to act. The agent well may act, even when no formal occasion is presented to it; thus the schoolchildren could become rowdy whether the teacher is present or absent, and a family could go on a picnic regardless of weather conditions. Occasion pertains primarily to the agent, and should be distinguished from condition, which pertains primarily to the patient (see action and passion).
An exaggerated emphasis has sometimes been given to occasion, particularly in the era of modern philosophy, where it has been used to deny creatural causality. Particularly associated with this movement are the post-Cartesians A. geulincx and N. malebranche.
See Also: occasionalism.
Bibliography: j. m. baldwin, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, 3 v. in 4 (New York 1901–05; repr. Gloucester 1949–57). l. de raeymaeker, The Philosophy of Being, tr. e. h. ziegelmeyer (St. Louis 1954). b. gerrity, Nature, Knowledge and God (Milwaukee 1947). t. n. harper, The Metaphysics of the School, 3 v. (London 1879–84; reprint New York 1940) esp. v.2.
[g. f. kreyche]