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Cause and Effect

International Institute for Islamic Studies

Ali Shakeri


Ali Shakeri
Causation is one of the most important issues that are discussed in philosophy. It is an issue
which exists from the almost beginning of philosophy, simultaneously with the time of Aristotle
and Plato. This issue is one of the most important needs of other sciences and principles to the
philosophy; since the base of all scientific attempts is the causality among the phenomena. And
all sciences use this principle as a general principle. From another aspect, totality and certainty of
all scientific laws are based on causation.1 Denying of causation implies that there is no order
and law in cosmos and there is no relation between two things; and it also means that all sciences
are false since each science is a set of laws that exist in the universe and those laws are some
kind of causation. Secondly, each law is the result of some preconditions; if there is no causation,
there is no relation between those preconditions so there is no law and there is no science.2

The Concepts of Cause and Effect

Term cause illah has two meanings in philosophy; one of which is general and the other one is
specific: a. cause is a being without which existence of another being is impossible; b. cause is a
being which existence of another being is simultaneously necessary with its existence. And the
being which exists by cause is called effect malul. We should take note of the point that a
dependent existent (i.e. an effect) is called an effect solely with respect to its aspect of
dependence and in relation to the existent upon which it is dependent, not with respect to any
other aspect nor in relation to any other existent. Likewise, something is called a cause in virtue
of that very aspect in which another existent depends upon it and in relation to that very existent,
not with respect to any aspect or any existent.3

Types of Cause
According to the general meaning of cause we can find several types of cause each of which has
its own meaning. What follow are those types:

Philosophical instruction, Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, translated by Legen howzen, vol.2 p.26
Introductory philosophy, Abd al-Rasul Ubudiyyat, p.167-168
Philosophical instruction, p.14-15

1. Complete and Incomplete Causes

A cause is either enough for an effect to be existed, in a way that existence becomes
necessary for effect simultaneously with existence of cause; and effect does not need to
anything else for its existence; or it is not enough to make an effect to be existed i.e. that
effect for being existed needs to other thing or other things in addition to that cause; The
first one is called complete cause and the second one is called incomplete cause. Both of
them have a common similarity: the effect cannot exist if each of which does not exist.4

2. Simple and Compound Causes

Simple cause is the one which has no part within itself; and compound cause is the one
that has some parts within itself. Hence there are three categories of compound cause;
there are three types of simple cause. Sometimes the compound is external compound
such as compound substances which are combination of form and matter; in contrast
there is external simplicity such as reason. Sometimes the compound is intellectual
compound such as reason; in contrast there is intellectual simplicity such as supreme
general. And sometimes the compound is analytical compound such as simple kinds
which are combination of quiddity and existence; in contrast there is analytical simplicity
that is necessary being.5

3. Immediate and Mediate Causes (Near and Far causes)

Immediate cause is the one that there is no intermediary between it and its effect e.g. the
causality of man on his hand movement; and the mediate cause is the one which there
exist some intermediary between it and its effect for example the causality of man on the
movement of a pen.6

4. Irreplaceable and Replaceable Causes

Effect can exist in two ways: a. to exist just trough a specific cause and no other cause
can makes it exists; b. to exist trough one of several causes interchangeably. For example,

The same, p. 18; Niahyah al-Hikmah, Muhammad Hussain Tabatabayi, commented by Ghulamreza Fayyazi, vol.3
p.609-610; Rahiq e Makhtum, Abd Allah Javadi Amuli, vol.9 p.318
Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.610-611
The same; Philosophical instruction, vol.2 p. 18

light that sometimes comes into existent by sun and sometimes comes into existent by a
lamp. The latter is called replaceable cause and the former is called irreplaceable cause.7

5. Internal and External Causes

It must be bore in mind that this typology is about the incomplete causes as Sadra stated
this in al-Asfar, vol.2 p.127.
Sometimes, cause is in a way that it remains within the effect and makes a unity with it,
such as elements which remain interior to the existence of a planet. This category of
cause is named internal cause. And sometimes the cause is external to its effect, e.g. the
existence of craftsman who is external to the existence of his product. This is called
external cause. Each of which is classified into two types.
Internal Cause

Mater: which is the ground for the existence of an effect; and it is the potentiality of
a thing.

Form: which is the shape for the existence of an effect; and it is the activity of a
thing; and it is the source of the new effects in it.

These two causes together compose the existence of an effect. And it must be kept in
mind that these two are specialized just in those material effects which are composed of
mater and form.
External Cause

Efficient: This is the one that an effect is originated from it, such as one who creates
the form in the mater.

Final: this is the motivation of efficient cause for creating an effect; in other word, it
is the one that an effect is created because of it; e.g. the goal which one has for his
free actions and performs them for the purpose of achieving that aim.8

6. Real and Preparatory Causes

Sometimes the cause is applied to a being on which the effect really depends, in a way
that separation of that cause is impossible for the effect; for example, the causality of self

Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.18-19

The same, p.19-20; Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.611-612

for mental forms. In this respect, cause is called real cause. Sometimes the cause is
applied to a being which prepare the ground for existence of an effect but the effect does
not depend on it really and it can be separated of it; e.g. in the relation between a father
and his son. This is the preparatory cause or preliminary muidd.
The status of a muidd is preparing a capacity. And hence is one of statuses of mater we
can understand that this kind of causes appertains to the material issues.9

7. Exigent Cause and Conditions

Sometimes the existence of an effect depends on a specific state and quality, in which
case the cause is called an exigent, and that state and quality, which is necessary, is called
condition. There is another thing which is necessary for effect to be existed that is nonexistence of an obstacle which is called an absence condition shart e adami.10
Now that we understand the meaning of cause and effect, both general and specific, and get
familiar to the different types of causes; we can go further to the principle of causality.

The Principle of Causation

There are at least two expressions for causality that are mentioned by philosophers, including
Islamic philosophers and Western philosophers: a. every single effect needs a cause; b. every
single being needs a cause. The latter which belongs to some of Western philosophers leads to
this question: what is the cause of creator (God)?. To respond to this question, Islamic
philosophers, who believe in the former, say the subject of the principle is effect, and it is
obvious that God is not an effect.
This proposition does not need to any proof because it is an analytical proposition which its
argument exists within itself; when its, subject which is an effect, is analyzed, its predicate will
be gained. This kind of proposition is called primary self-evident proposition that is needless to
any argumentation and proof.11

Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.19; Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.612-613

Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.19
Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.28; Introductory philosophy, p.167-169

The Criterion of the Need for a Cause

According to the principle of causation this question emerges: why an effect needs a cause?
What is the criterion of the need for a cause? What is the cause of needless for a cause? Those
who believe in the causality state four responses to these questions.


Materialistic view
In this view the cause of need for a cause is existence, then every single existent needs a
cause and it is impossible to be an existent without having any cause. This view belongs
to the new materialists who do not believe in necessary being. They say that whatever we
experience is a kind of material causality.
Those arguments which prove the existence of necessary being are the objection for this


View of Huduthi
Mutikallimin believe that the cause of need for a cause is huduth (the property of having
come into existence) and the cause of needless is eternality. According to this view, they
believe that there is just one eternal being that is God.
Objection: the attribute huduth is applied to a thing after its existence; existence is after
creation; creation is after necessity; necessity is after requirement; and requirement is
after need. If huduth, which is after existence, is the cause of need, it must be before itself
and it is impossible.12


View of Contingency
In this view, which belongs to philosophers, the cause of need is the contingent.
Whatever has quiddity and existence and these are separated from each other needs a
cause because the quiddity is a contingent and every contingent in respect to the existence
and non-existence is equal; so there must be a cause that bring it to existence. In this view
there is no different between eternal and mortal beings. On the other hand, a being that
just has existence and it is not the combination of quiddity and existence does not need a
cause; and only God is like this.
This view is based on the fundamentality of quiddity not existence.


Rahiq e Makhtum, vol.9, p.342

Objection: contingency of quiddity is the attribute of quiddity; quiddity is subsidiary of

existence; existence is after creation; creation is after necessity; necessity is after
requirement; and requirement is after need. Then if contingency of quiddity is the cause
of need, it must be before itself and it is impossible.13


View of Ontological Poverty

According to this view, the cause of need is the mode of effects existence. Sadra says
that effect does not have any independent existence and ontological poverty and innate
dependence is natural for effect. This view is homogeneous with the fundamentality of

Ontological Poverty
At the first encounter with this proposition: the cause gives existence to the effect the mind
consider five beings: the cause which gives the existence, the effect which gains the existence,
the existence itself, the action of giving and the action of gaining; but it is just cause and effect
that are real. Because the quiddity is an artificial thing and before effect it does not have even
virtual existence; the concept of giving and gaining are just mental images; and also in the
situation that effect does not exist yet there is no gainer so that gains a thing, and after gaining
there is no meaning for gaining existence from cause. Someone who imagines that the reality of
causation consists in the succession or simultaneity of two phenomena will consider causality to
be a mental concept. He will hold that there are no instances of causality except for the relation
(ifah) of simultaneity or immediate succession (a relation which is considered to be one of the
nine categories of accidents). However, there are problems with the interpretation of causality in
terms of the relation of simultaneity or succession: No relation ever has any entified reality, and
therefore, the interpretation of causality as a kind of relation is really a denial of causality as an
entified objective relation.
Assuming that relations generally or that this particular relation is entified and based on its two
terms, there is still no instance of it prior to the existence of the effect, for something which
depends on two terms and is parasitic on them cannot occur without the two terms mentioned

The same
Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.30-32; Introductory philosophy, p.175-178

above. If it is supposed that the relation comes into existence after or simultaneous with the
occurrence of the effect, this implies that the effect in its essence has no relation with the cause,
and is connected with it merely by means of an external relation, as if the above mentioned
relation were a rope binding them together. Furthermore, if this relation were a entified thing,
this thing would inevitably be an effect, and the question about the quality of its relation to its
cause would be repeated, and there would have to be an infinitude of causal relations!
Hence, none of the mentioned assumptions is correct. In truth, the existence of the effect is a ray
radiated by the existence of the cause, as well as the relation itself and its very dependence, and
the concept of possession or relation is abstracted from its essence, and in technical terms it is
said that the existence of the effect is an illuminative relation (ifah ishrqiyyah) of the
existence of the cause, not a relation to be considered as belonging to one of the categories
abstracted by recurring relations between two things.
In this way, existence may be divided into two parts, one relational and one independent. Every
effect in relation to its creating cause is relational and dependent. Every cause in relation to the
effect it creates is independent, however much it may itself be the effect of another existent, and
in relation to that, it will be relational and dependent. The absolutely independent is a cause
which is not the effect of the existence of anything; and it is only one who is God.15

The Dependence of the Effect on the Cause

The dependence of the effect on the cause is in three positions: the mutual implication of cause
and effect, the simultaneity of cause and effect and the need of persistence of the effect on the
cause, that each of which will be expressed in following:

The mutual implication of cause and effect

If the complete cause of an effect exists, the effect will exist surly and the existence of it will be
necessary. Because, if the existence of an effect does not be necessary with the necessity of its
cause, its non-existence must be possible; and if the non-existence of effect is assumed with the
existence of its cause, either the cause of its non-existence exists that leads to combination of two
opposites (the cause of existence and the cause on non-existence) or that cause does not exist that

Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.36-39; Introductory philosophy, p.170

leads to existence without any cause; and both of them are impossible.16 On the other aspect, the
meaning of complete cause is that whatever effect needs to be existed is available, and if the
effect does not exist it means that the existence of effect needs some other things, that it is in
contradictory with the first assumption (existence of the complete cause); the assumption of
existence of an impediment also means the absence of completeness which is in contradictory
with the first assumption; since the absence of an impediment is a part of complete cause.17
Some think that this rule cannot imply to the agents who have free will; since, in respect to those
kinds of agents, there is free will in addition to the complete cause. But, to respond to this
objection it must be said that free will is one part of complete cause.18

The simultaneity of cause and effect

When mutual implication of cause and effect is proved another rule can be found: the
simultaneity of cause and effect. Whenever a cause is a temporal being and at least one part of its
complete cause is temporal, cause and effect come into existence simultaneously; since, if after
existence of complete cause, the effect comes into existence after a while, it means that on that
time (between the existence of cause and effect) the existence of effect is not necessary while it
is proved that whenever a complete cause comes into existence the existence of effect becomes
It must be bore in mind that this rule is only for complete cause no incomplete causes; since with
incomplete cause, the effect does not became necessary.
On the other hand, preexistence of effect about its cause (complete or incomplete) is impossible.
Since, no effect can exist before its cause.
Another thing which must be noted is that this rule as it shows is just for material causes and
there is no room for it in the realm of metaphysic where both cause and effect are immaterial.
Since, there is no meaning for time in this realm. When the cause is completely immaterial and
the effect is temporal, the case is the same i.e. there is no room for this rule.19


Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.615-616

Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.57; Rahiq e Makhtum, vol.9, p.361
Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.58; Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.620-621
Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.58-60

The need of persistence of the effect on the cause

Another principle which is derived from the mutual implication of cause and effect is that effect
is in need of the complete cause even after its entrance to the existence i.e. for its duration; since,
if we say that effect will be exist after the destruction of the cause, we must accept that on that
time (the time of the destruction) the effect does not need to the cause, while we know that effect
in its nature is in need of the cause and it cannot separate from it, because of the ontological
poverty of the cause.
Some of theologians believe that effect in its duration does not need to the cause. They say, as
reason, a father in relation with his son is a cause; while when he passes away his son continues
to exist; and when a builder die, the building remains.
To respond to this objection, it must be said that father and builder and such things are not the
complete cause, but they are some kinds of preparatory and incomplete causes.20

The Homogeneity (Sinkhiyyah) of Cause and Effect

There is no doubt that any effect does not comes into existence with any cause. Every specific
effect comes into existence with its specific cause; and every specific cause just brings a specific
effect. This is called homogeneity sinkhiyyah of cause and effect. The sinkhiyyah, which is
necessary in existence-giving cause, is different from material and preparatory causes.
Sinkhiyyah between existence-giving cause and its effect means that cause has the perfection of
its effect in higher level; for if the cause does not have that perfection, which is existence, it
cannot give it to the other. But such a sinkhiyyah does not exist between material and preparatory
causes, since they do not give existence to the effects; of course there is a kind of sinkhiyyah
between them and their effects but it cannot be understood by reason; and to understand it we
must go to the experience.21
Objection: the implication of this principle is that the existence-giving cause must have material
existence and the perfections of material existence while such causes are just immaterial.


The same, p.60-63; the collection of martyr Mutahhari, Murtza Mutahhari, vol.7, p.330-331
Philosophical inistruction, vol.2, p.68-69; Introductory philosophy, p.183

Response: what is necessary for an existence-giving cause is having the perfection of effect in a
higher level not having its deficiency; and the concept of body and its implications are not true
for God because they imply the imperfections and limitations of material existences.22

Unity of Cause for Unity of Effect

The unity means a simple thing in which there is no composition and multiplicity. So unity of
cause means a cause which is simple naturally; and unity of effect means an effect which is
simple in it nature.
What brings the effect into the existence is the existence of cause; and it is proved that there must
be senkhiyyah between them. If several effects that each of which contradicts with each other
come into existence by a cause which is one and there is just one kind of perfection within it, it
means that there are several kinds of perfection within the cause; and as you see the result is in
contradictory with the first assumption (a cause which is one and there is just one kind of
perfection within it). Therefore, one cause does not produce except one effect.
Objection: it is proved that the power of God is absolute while this principle implies that He
does not have such a power that can create more than one thing.
Response: coming into the existence of several effects by one cause is impossible, and His
power does not include impossible thing; hence, the power of God is absolute and all creatures
are His effect either without any intermediate or with intermediate; and the effect of an effect is
the effect of the first cause.
If a cause brings several effects into the existence, there must be composition and multiplicity
within it surely; e.g. a human which does several actions each of which contradicts others

The Impossibility of a Causal Circle

Causal circle means that one thing, for coming into the existence, needs another thing which
itself needs the first thing in order to come into the existence. There are two kinds of causal


Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.69-71

Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.639-645

circle: a. the circle without any intermediate; e.g. A needs B to come into the existence and
B needs A in order to come into the existence. b. the circle with intermediate; either one or
more; e.g. A needs B to come into the existence; B needs C in order to come into the
existence and C needs A to come into the existence.
The impossibility of both is self-evident but here is the reason; since, the implication of both of
them is that one thing in order to come into existence needs itself that leads to antithesis, which
is impossible, because, it means that one thing is in need and is not in need simultaneously.24
There are some objections about the impossibility of the causal circle that we mention one of
Heat is the cause of fire while we know that fire is the cause of heat; then heat is the cause of its
Response: the heat which is the cause of fire is other heat which is the effect of fire. Although
both of them are one in kind, they are multiple with regard to their existence in the external

The Impossibility of Infinite Regress

The term infinite regress in philosophy means that one or both directions of the chain or infinite.
Philosophers say that such a regress is impossible that has two conditions: first, there must be
real ordering between the links of the chain not conventional; second, all of the links must exist
at the same time not such that one is destroyed another comes into the existence following it.25 It
must be noted that the regress in the line of causes is impossible not in the line of effects. 26


Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.647; Introductory philosophy, p.187

Philosophical instruction, vol.2, p.84; Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.647-648; Introductory philosophy, p.187
Niahyah al-Hikmah, vol.3 p.648