Friday, 21 October 2011

Causality in Advaita

What happens when you have a restricted diet of examples? Ontological malnutrition no less. Such is the ‘clay and vessels’ of Shankaracarya which has become the standard paradigm of causation in Advaita. The problem is simply stated. Material causality is taken as the paradigm case of causality. Clay is the material cause of a clay vessel of which the pot, dish, plate etc is the effect. Gold is the material cause of rings, bangles, necklaces etc. They are its effects. That particular line of thinking is further developed into reflections on Brahman and what is real but for a start let me focus on the causality issue.

The westerner has an advantage here of having Magister Aristotle as a pedagogue telling him that causality has four aspects to it, material, efficient, formal and final. He reminds us that potency is not act. A lump of clay left there will not transform itself into a vessel just because it can so be transformed. An efficient cause is required for that. The formal cause of the particular vessel will be the standard type that is required for whatever function is desired. Form follows function as is said. The actual material as such does not effect anything in a causal sense but it must of course be a suitable material. It is therefore not correct to speak of Material Cause and its Effect as though the latter flowed from the former. The material cause is not an actuating principle on its own.

Both material and formal elements are intrinsic to the effect as existing ie. this particular plate, that particular pot. Neither element on its own is an adequate explanation for the particular existent. The extrinsic causes of the the particular existent or effect are the efficient and final causes.

In the Thomist manual by Coffey Ontlogy the Aristotelian/Thomistic understanding is put succintly:

In what does the positive causal influence of a material cause consist? How does it contribute positively to the actualization of the composite reality of which it is the material cause? It recieves and unites with the form which is educed from its potentiality by the action of efficient causes, and thus contributes to the generation of the concrete, composite, individual reality.

With that background limned in the consideration of the text from the Chandogya Upanishad VI.i.4 will be in a separate post:

By knowing a single lump of clay, everything that is made of clay would become known. A modification begins with speech, it is a (mere) name. The clay alone is true i.e. real.

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