Version: v1, Published online: 1998
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3. The case for occasionalism
Is occasionalism simply a historical curiosity, or does it have the potential to become a viable position for present-day theists? Leaving aside Geulincx’s far-from-evident principle, there are two principal arguments for occasionalism, based respectively on the critique of natural causality and on the pre-emptive causality of God. The argument from the critique of natural causality proceeds as we have already seen in al-Ghazali and Malebranche. Various criticisms are employed (many familiar to us through Hume) to argue that causality as we experience it in nature is not the necessary, genuinely productive relationship that we ordinarily take it to be. Natural causation having thus been disposed of, God is invoked as the ‘true cause’ for whose efficacious acts the various states of created beings are mere occasions. This argument, however, is dialectically weak. The occasionalist begins (as we all must) from our ordinary intuitions about causality developed through our ordinary, everyday causal interactions with the world. These intuitions are then undermined through the critique of causality. But then the occasionalist invokes those very same intuitions in order to point to God as the truly efficacious and productive cause of all that occurs; causation by God, however, is not subjected to the kind of critical analysis that has been applied to natural causation. Clearly, this procedure is inconsistent. If the critique of causality is as effective as occasionalists think, then (as Hume rightly saw) divine causation is, if anything, worse off than natural causation in consequence.
In view of this, the main burden of support for occasionalism needs to be borne by the argument for the pre-emptive causality of God, also employed by both al-Ghazali and Malebranche. (The argument of Malebranche based on continuous creation is a special case of this.) Classical theists are in agreement that God’s causal activity must be seen as universal and pervasive throughout the created world. To suppose that there is some part of created reality in which God’s activity is not involved is just to make that part of the creation independent of God, which detracts from divine dignity. Any attempt to circumvent this problem by designating different aspects of causation which pertain respectively to God and to creatures runs up against the complaint that the aspect assigned to creatures is removed from the sphere of God’s activity, thus diminishing the honour due to God. Medieval Aristotelians tried to meet this challenge by the theory of dual causation, which claims to give full value both to the divine ‘first cause’ and to creaturely ‘second causes’. This theory was spelled out in their doctrines of divine conservation and divine concurrence with creaturely action, but no detailed consensus was arrived at (see Creation and conservation, religious doctrine of §5). Contemporary philosophical theology has barely begun to address the issue, so it could fairly be urged that on this point occasionalism presents theistic philosophy with a challenge it has not yet met.
Hasker, William. The case for occasionalism. Occasionalism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K057-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/occasionalism/v-1/sections/the-case-for-occasionalism.
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