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Dr Zita Tóth (KCL) presents Little Souls, Great Aims: The Role of Teleology in Aquinas's Theory of Causal Powers.


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Thursday 7th March 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM in the Reach Space (see below for directions).

The talk will last around 60 minutes. It will be followed by 20-30 minutes Q&A and a drinks reception.

External visitors very welcome – please email to arrange campus access.

Abstract: Just like Aristotle, Aquinas thinks that to properly and fully explain something, one has to refer to four distinct kinds of "causes" or explanatory principles: the material and formal, as well as the efficient and the final cause. It is the efficient cause that shows up in the most familiar causal explanations. When fire heats up a pot of water, that happens, in this broadly-speaking Aristotelian framework, because fire exercises its active power of heat on a patient endowed with a corresponding passive power to be heated.

There has been an emerging recent interest in Aquinas's theory of causal powers; nevertheless, the precise role that final causes play in this picture has remained a puzzle. If one maintains, as Aquinas does, that causal powers necessarily produce their effects on suitably disposed patients, then why does one need to posit, beside all this machinery, final causes in nature? What explanatory gap do these final causes fill?

After a brief recapitulation of the recent debate on this question (some maintain that final causes in inanimate things should be imagined by analogy to the will in humans; others think that they are responsible for why things act in the first place), I offer an interpretation that regards final causes as fundamental and primary in the explanatory order, as they ground the directionality of efficient causal powers. This interpretation makes Aquinas's theory resilient to the "Little Souls" objection raised later by Descartes, and may help to answer a challenge that, relying on some early modern critiques, casts doubt upon the metaphysical plausibility of causal power theories altogether.

Directions to Reach Space: The REACH Space is located on Level 3, Surrey Street East Wing building. Enter the Strand building through the main reception and walk straight ahead to Level 0 of the King’s Building. Walk past a flight of stairs on your left, after which take an immediate left, signposted on the floor as ‘Access to East Wing, Philosophy & North Wing’. Walk straight ahead until you come to some double wooden doors on your right that lead into the East Wing. Then, either take the lift or stairs up to Level 3 where you’ll find the REACH Space.

Event details

Strand Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS