A conceptual history of the idea of self-causation: from Plato's forms to Hegel's concrete universal
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The dissertation is a historical-cum-conceptual examination of the idea of self-causation (causa sui). In the Western metaphysical tradition, self-causation has been understood in two ways: (i.) as an individual existent’s spontaneous self-creation and internal causal or ontological determination (what we term ontological self-causation), and/ or (ii.) as an individual’s logical identity with an essence that uniquely characterizes it and out of which all of its features issue (logical self-causation). In sum, self-causation is (i.) the internal reason for an individual’s existence, and/ or (ii) the internal reason for an individual’s individuality. The question whether there really are existents self-caused in at least one of these two senses – and what precisely we can know or say about them – has, in one form or another, occupied metaphysicians of all historical epochs. Our aim is to distil the idea’s logical structure and explanatory scope through philosophical engagement with a careful selection of paradigmatic discourses in the history of metaphysics. These are: Plato’s Theory of Forms, Aristotle’s theory of substance, John Duns Scotus’ and Francisco Suárez’s theories of individuality, G. W. Leibniz’s monadological and Baruch Spinoza’s monistic metaphysics, Immanuel Kant’s transcendental and G. W. F. Hegel’s dialectical theory of individuality – inasmuch as they all contain, presuppose, or prefigure, theories of self-causation. A dialogical discussion of issues specific to each key discourse reveals a shared problematic bound up with an individual’s being or becoming (what it is) according to an internal principle, usually also in relation to other individuals or within a general order of things. It emerges that, after Aristotle’s step away from Plato’s transcendent Forms, the theory of self-causation embeds itself in immanentist, particularistic metaphysics. We argue that this theory finds its most complete articulation in Hegel’s metaphysics of the concrete universal. The outcome of the theory is that an individual can coherently be understood as self-caused only if it is fully identical with a unique essence (logical self-causation) yet without bringing itself into being (ontological self-causation). Self-causation is shown, accordingly, to be a viable criterion for an individual’s logical identity qua individual.
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