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ation of an image, free from colour (in perfect eyes), is the final cause of the lens and vitreous humour having their dispersive powers in a certain relation to each, by which, in theory, that condition will be secured*
In all such instances we, in fact, use a very circuitous mode of expression in adopting the term “ final cause.” It was remarked before, that in ordinary language we often use the term “ cause” to signify the reason, object, or motive, influencing some moral or intelligent agent. Now when we consider the end or design, in order to which, one thing is arranged in a certain adjustment to another :—when we observe things so adjusted to each other as to be able to trace manifest indications of such plan, then we say of two things so adjusted, that the one is the reason for the other; that the first arrangement was made with a view to the second, or that the second is the use, end, final reason, or lastly, final cause, of the other. We mean, then, a cause operating not in one arrangement upon the other, (as physical cause and effect,) to produce it, or even to regulate it, but in the motive or reason of the intelligent agent, who, we infer, contrived and designed the adjustment.
Thus the term “ final causet” really implies no more than is implied by the term “ design.” In the
* See Note D.
+ The etymology is illustrated by the expression of Crellius : “ Res hujus universi omnes finis gratiâ existere."--De Deo et ejus Attrib. c. iii.
first instance, we find, as mere matter of fact and observation in the order of nature, a recondite adaptation, or fitness, of all the parts of organized beings, and of all the functions of unorganized matter, to each other. We observe that every natural arrangement has its relations to other arrangements: that every physical effect has its dependencies, its uses, its purposes, in reference to others. We discover that in every such relation, (so universally and immutably preserved,) some particular end is, in fact, answered, some particular object secured. It is from the notice and conviction of this bare matter of fact, that we are led on to the further idea and belief of design and intention: that the end which we see answered was contemplated, that the object which we see attained was designed *
There is, however, another sense in which the same term “ final cause” has been used by some writers, which it is worth while to consider, more especially as the confusion thus introduced has led to serious misapprehension of their opinions.
In some cases we may trace the dependence of a phenomenon through a series of physical causes ; end the last, highest, or ultimate, cause to which we can thus refer, has been sometimes called the “ final cause." And where men have been unable or unwilling to investigate such proximate physical causes, they have been prone to refer at once, as an ultimate or “ final” cause, to the will of the Deity; and to
* See Note E.
resolve the whole into an immediate effect of the Divine interposition. We shall have occasion to recur to some instances of this sort in the sequel; for the present, the following passage from an eminent philosopher will sufficiently exemplify the case :
“Tous les événements, ceux même qui par leur petitesse, semblent ne pas tenir aux grandes lois de la nature, en sont une suite aussi nécessaire que les révolutions du soleil. Dans l'ignorance des liens qui les unissent au systéme entier de l'univers, on les a fait dépendre des causes finales, ou du hasard; mais ces causes imaginaires ont été successivement reculées avec les bornes de nos connaissances, et disparaissent entiérement devant la saine philosophie qui ne voit en elles, que l'expression de l'ignorance où nous sommes des véritables causes*.”
From this passage it is manifest that the author uses the term “ final cause," simply in the sense of “ arbitrary agency,” or “ direct intervention:" or, in other words, employs the term “ final” as equivalent to “ ultimate.”
To add another remark:
The inquiry into final causes may fairly call for the exercise of much caution in distinguishing real cases of adaptation from many which are but apparent and fanciful. Far-fetched and overstrained instances of this kind are sometimes urged where
* Essai Philosophique sur les Probabilités, p. 2.
no real or substantial indications of design can be rationally admitted. And those who are bent on finding such evidences everywhere, are too apt hastily to decide that one result was actually ordained with a special view to another, where the connexion is too remote to allow us reasonably to consider it so. Such a course is apt to produce no other result than that of exposing to reproach the whole investigation of final causes. And the judicious inquirer will perceive at once the injury done to the truth by weak and delusive arguments adduced in its support, and how little need there is for such doubtful aid in the abundance of substantial evidences with which we are surrounded.
Use of Final Causes in Science.
THE only case in which there can be any reasonable ground for dispute about the use of terms, is where they may be so chosen as to lead to ambiguity or mistake, as to the ideas for which they stand.
Now much discussion has arisen as to the investigation of final causes; and, especially, whether the study of them be a legitimate part of the province of natural philosophy. But all dispute may, I conceive, be avoided, simply by attention to the precise meaning of the term.
According to what was above observed, we certainly may agree to use the term “final cause” as simply equivalent to describing the fact of the
adjustment which we actually observe. Our meaning will then be totally free from all ambiguity. But then, this is only an inconvenient and circuitous way. of expressing what would be more clearly and simply described by the plainer terms, “ fitness,” “ arrangement,” “ adaptation,” of things to each other.
On these grounds I agree, therefore, with those who prefer to discard altogether the use of the term “ final cause,” and to employ in its stead only the plain terms “ adjustment,” &c., which express the facts we actually observe or inductively collect.
We should thus be relieved from all controversy about the introduction of final causes in natural philosophy. Since no dispute exists as to the propriety, nay necessity, of considering those adaptations and arrangements in our physical inquiries which are in a great measure forced on our observation, and without which our researches would be miserably defective in their most valuable, instructive, and important results.
In regard to the reasoning, we should thus escape all danger of perplexing (even in appearance) the order and chain of it; which is often greatly entangled by the mere introduction of an ambiguous term. By adhering to these more simple and perspicuous modes of expression, we should more palpably preserve that distinctness of meaning in form, which, at all events, must be preserved in substance. We shall keep clear the inferences from the order of physical causes, and the study of the