Creation and Artifice in Medieval Theories of Causality

Creation and Artifice in Medieval Theories of Causality
01 Jun 2017, 09:00 to 02 Jun 2017, 17:00
Conference / Symposium
Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB

The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group (AAIWG) annual Spring/Summer Workshop meeting will be held at the Warburg Institute on 1 and 2 June 2017. The theme will be ‘Creation and Artifice in Medieval Theories of Causality’, and keynote lectures will be given by Jon McGinnis and Amos Bertolacci.

Organisers: Richard Taylor (Marquette and KU Leuven), Katja Krause (Durham) and Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute)

The attendance of the two keynote speakers is funded by the Coffin Fund, University of London

The event will include an afternoon visit for AAIWG members on 31 May 2017 with the Faculty at the Institute of Ismaili Studies followed by a presentation by:

Professor Richard Taylor (Marquette University and DeWulf-Mansion Centre, KU Leuven) - Creation and Artifice: The Metaphysics of Primary and Secondary Causality


Workshop programme


Thursday, 1 June 2017

9:00 – 9:15


9:15 – 9:30

Welcome – Charles Burnett (Warburg) and Katja Krause (Durham)

Session 1 - Chair: Mary Catherine Sommers (Houston)

9:30 – 10:25

Michael Chase (Paris): Creation and Continuity In Neoplatonism: Origins and Legacy

10:30 – 11:25

Luís Xavier Lopéz-Farjeat (México): Al-Jabbār and al-Ghazālī on the Controversy over the Createdness or Uncreatedness of the Qur’ān

11:25 – 11:50

Coffee Break (Common room)

11:55 – 12:50

David Twetten (Milwaukee): Aristotle’s Less Transformed: Averroes and Why the Prime Mover is not an Artist, but the Art

12:50 – 14:30

Lunch (provided for speakers, chairs and organisers only)

Session 2 - Chair: To be confirmed

14:30 – 15:25

Ann Giletti (Oxford): The Eternity of the World and Eternal Creation on the Part of the Creature: Did They Amount to the Same Thing?

15:30 – 16:25

Ed Houser (Houston): Creators — Created and Uncreated: What Aquinas Learned from Avicenna

 16:25 – 16:50

Coffee break (Common room)

Session 3 - Chair: Charles Burnett, London

16:50 – 18:15

Keynote 1: Amos Bertolacci (Pisa): Is God a Substance According to Avicenna?


Reception (Common room)


Buffet supper (for speakers, chairs and organisers)

Friday, 2 June 2017

9.00 - 9:15


Session 4 - Chair: Katja Krause (Durham)

9:15 – 10:10

Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute): Agency and Effect in the philosophy of Abu Ma‘shar of Balkh (Albumasar)

10:15 – 11:10

Nicola Polloni (Durham): 'Indeed, the soul has not been made by the First Maker’: Creation, Imitation, and Matter

11:10 – 11:35

Coffee break (Common room)

11:35 – 12:30

Philippe Vallat (Vienna): Are Creation and the Created Assumed Nature 'real' for God? Remarks on Aquinas's Commentary on the Liber de causis and Christology

12:30 – 12:45

Richard Taylor (Milwaukee): Update on the Work of the AAIWG Members

12:45 – 14:30

Lunch (Provided for speakers and organisers only)

Session 5 - Chair: Richard Taylor (Milwaukee)

14:30 – 15:25

Therese Cory (South Bend): Colour is in the Air, as the Power of Art is in the Instrument: The Concept of Spiritual Inherence in the Arabic and Latin Traditions

15:30 – 16:25

Dragos Calma (Cambridge): Being in the Light of the Intellect 

16:25 – 16:50

Coffee Break (Common room)

Session 6 - Chair: Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute)

 16:50 – 18:15

Keynote 2 - Jon McGinnis (St Louis): For every action …: Medieval Islamic Reactions to Views on Generation and Creation


Dinner (for speakers, chairs and organisers)


Attendance details: The event will be free of charge and will include tea/coffee but lunch will not be provided. To register please click on the bookings link below.




Is God a Substance According to Avicenna?

Amos Bertolacci (Pisa)

The paper aims at showing that Avicenna’s position on the issue of whether God is a substance or not is less straight-foward than one should expect: distinct passages of his works, and in particular of his magnum opus Book of the Cure/Healing, appear to hold views on the subject that are not perfectly congruent. The exposition focuses on the various elements and constraints (Aristotelian; Neoplatonic; Theological; genuinely Avicennian) that interact in Avicenna’s account of the topic, finding in the writings of the Shaykh al-Ra’is an incomplete synthesis.


Agency and Effect in the philosophy of Abu Ma‘shar of Balkh (Albumasar)

Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute)

The ninth-century astrologer, Abu Ma‘shar Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Balkhi gave a sophisticated account of how generation and change in the sublunar world is effected by the movements of the heavenly bodies. He sides with the philosophers against the astrologers, and takes as his principle sources Arisotle and Hermes.


Being in the Light of the Intellect

Dragos Calma (Cambridge)

The preliminary remarks on the different readings of the fourth theorem of the Book of Causes given by Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome will provide the context of the discussion on being and essence in some early 15th c. authors, such as John of Nova Domo, Heymeric of Campo and Gerard of Monte. I will mainly show that our present-day reading of the fourth theorem does not coincide with those of the late Thomists and Albertists who interpreted it to define and redefine the notions of flowing and creation. Indeed, while scholars consider that Albert understood the first created being to be the first undetermined concept, John of Nova Domo and Heymeric of Campo considered that Albert designated in his exegesis the being produced in the light of the God’s intellect - the being from which all created thing derive. But upon closer inspection, one can identify the doctrine and the vocabulary tacitly borrowed from Giles of Rome. Late Thomists, such as Gerard of Monte, disagreed with these interpretations and proposed a close reading of Aquinas’ metaphysics, and concluded in favour of a concord with Albert the Great.


Creation and Continuity In Neoplatonism: Origins and Legacy

Michael Chase (Paris)

To a certain extent, Ammonius’ interpretation of Aristotle’s Prime Mover as an efficient cause determined the common heritage of pagan and Christian Neoplatonists from Late Antiquity onwards. Pagan Neoplatonists such as Proclus and Simplicius argued that reality comes into existence as a result of a process of atemporal, continuous emanation of ontologically lower principles from those that are higher in the hierarchy. Christians such as Philoponus, by contrast, argued that God creates reality instantaneously (en tôi nun). At first glance, it is not easy to perceive the difference: for both parties, reality is produced atemporally. For the pagans, however, this production is atemporal because time does not apply to suprasensible realities, and hence not to the “process”, if we can use this term, by which the First principle emanates forth reality, giving rise to the Intellect, the Soul, Nature and sensible reality by means of a greater or lesser number of intermediaries. For Philoponus, creation is atemporal because it takes place in the now or the instant (en tôi nun), that instant that is not a part of time because it is the limit of time.

I will argue in this paper that what distinguishes the two views is primarily that for the pagans, “creation” is continuous, while for Philoponus it is discontinuous. To provide the background for this contrast, I discuss some examples of the pervasive debate between proponents of continuity of and discontinuity in the Greek and Arabic traditions, insofar as they relate to the question of creation. Particular attention will be paid to the locus classicus in the arguments of Aristotle against the atomists in Physics VI and VIII. As transmitted by such commentators on the Physics as Alexander, Porphyry, Themistius, and Philoponus, these arguments were well known to the Arab-speaking word, where they combined with influences from mathematics and geometry to give rise to important tendencies within the Kalām. Thus, Greek controversies between continuity and discontinuity came to be reflected in Islamic debates on the eternity of the world, between, on the one hand, the eternalist falāsifa, who emphasized continuity, and on the other al-Kindī and the atomist mutakallimūn, who, maintained that the world was created in time. 


Colour is in the Air, as the Power of Art is in the Instrument: The Concept of Spiritual Inherence in the Arabic and Latin Traditions

Therese Cory (South Bend)

This paper investigates a kind of instrumental causation which involves a special kind of presence of some form or quality in an instrumental cause, as in the case of an artist's use of instruments, or the presence of light and colour in the air.  (The examples of art and colour, incidentally, are both linked to the active intellect by Aristotle).  In the Latin tradition, these phenomena are associated with the notion of esse spirituale or esse intentionale.  I will investigate this the notion of intentional inherence in instrumental causes, as it is unfolded in treatments of light and colour in the Islamic tradition (Avicenna, Averroes), and their development in central thinkers at Paris in the mid-13th century (Albert, Bonaventure, Aquinas).


The Eternity of the World and Eternal Creation on the Part of the Creature: Did They Amount to the Same Thing?

Ann Giletti (Oxford)

Latin scholastics confronting Aristotle's controversial theory of the Eternity of the World often also treated, in the same context, a theory long familiar to the Latin West, Eternal Creation.  Aristotle had proved that the world was eternal in Physics, using principles of natural philosophy.  His theory conflicted with the biblical account of Creation and was condemned by the Bishop of Paris in 1270 and 1277.  The other theory, Eternal Creation, was that God, with his eternal, infinite power, eternally creates the world.  Scholastics debated Aristotle's theory using principles mostly of his natural philosophy and some metaphysics.  The approach to Eternal Creation was divided into two angles:  God's eternal creative power (Eternal Creation on the part of God); and what the world, for its part, is capable of (Eternal Creation on the part of the world/creature).  The philosophical possibility that God could eternally create the world gained substantial acceptance, in deference to his infinite power; while the idea that the world could exist eternally as a result was hotly contested and condemned.  Nevertheless, some prominent scholastics accepted the idea, including Aquinas.  In the debate over Eternal Creation on the part of the creature, arguments drew on principles of natural philosophy and metaphysics.  Many arguments were the same as those used to debate Aristotle's theory.  The two theories were distinct, yet did proving the possibility of Eternal Creation on the part of the creature amount to proving the possibility of Aristotle's theory?  The approaches and reactions of several scholastics suggest they thought this was the case, or feared it could be seen this way.


Creators—Created and Uncreated: What Aquinas Learned from Avicenna

Rolen Edward Houser (Houston)

What we call creation or creativity Avicenna and Aquinas thought of as a kind of efficient causality; and about God as the creative efficient cause of the world Aquinas learned much from Avicenna, for he himself has said so. When answering the question “Is God’s existence known self-evidently (per se notum)?” in his Scriptum super libros Sententiarum (1.d.3.2), he said that God’s existence is not self-evident but can be demonstrated. As an example of a demonstration “from efficient causality” of God as creator of the world, he mentions no Christian author, nor Aristotle, but Avicenna. And Aquinas learned much from Avicenna about both created and uncreated creators. In this paper, I propose to look at Avicenna’s explanations of creators—both God and creatures—and then consider what parts of Avicenna’s doctrine Aquinas embraced, what he left behind, and why.


Al-Jabbār and al-Ghazālī on the Controversy over the Createdness or Uncreatedness of the Qur’ān

Luis Xavier López-Farjeat (México)

In 833 the abbasid caliph al Ma’mun (d. 833) began a religious persecution known as the miḥna against the opponents of the Mu‘tazilite doctrine of the creation of the Qur’ān. With al-Mu‘tasim (d. 842) and al-Wathiq (d. 847), the two successors of al-Ma’mun, the persecution lasted for fifteen years. Around 849-850, al-Mutawakkil proclaimed the opposite doctrine, that is, the uncreatedness of the Qur’ān. As with most theological matters in the early Islamic context, the doctrinal disagreements took place between the Mu‘tazilites and the Ash‘arites. In this case, whereas the Ash‘arites held that the Qur’ān was eternal and uncreated and contained the Word of God—as Sunni Islam holds—the Mu‘tazilites taught that the Qur’an indeed is the Word of God but is created in time. Behind this theological controversy there is a well-known philosophical issue, namely, the discussion on the origin of language and specifically the origin of the Arabic language. Is Arabic—the language that God uses to transmit the Qur’ānic message—a perfect and uncreated language, a divine attribute as the Ash‘arites and al-Ghazālī holds, or, is it something created and conventional, designed to transmit God’s Word, as al-Jabbār held, representing the Mu‘tazilite stance. In this paper I shall discuss the consequences of these two ways of understanding language in the way of conceiving Islam.


For every action …: Medieval Islamic Reactions to Views on Generation and Creation

Jon McGinnis (St. Louis

Abstract forthcoming


Igitur anima non est facta a primo factore: Creation, Imitation, and Matter

Nicola Polloni (Durham)

Gundissalinus’s radical interpretation of Ibn Gabirol’s account of matter as presented in his Fons vitae has pivotal implications for the Archdeacon’s cosmogonic theory. Gundissalinus considers God’s creative action to be limited to the creation and first composition of matter and form generally speaking (De processione mundi). As a consequence, the causative and institutive process of the temporal world in itself and in its parts has to be based upon the causality of a secondary cause. In Gundissalinus’ eyes, this secondary cause does not create (for creation is always ex nihilo), but rather moulds matter through a series of secundariae compositiones which imitate God’s ontogonic causality in ‘creating’ new bodies and souls every day (De animaDe processione mundi). In my talk, I will examine Gundissalinus’s peculiar interpretation of creation from matter on the basis of his sources (starting with Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Daud), and I will draw a first sketch of the dissemination and the influence of his positions on thirteenth-century debates concerning matter and universal hylomorphism.


Aristotle’s Thought Untransformed: Averroes and Why the Prime Mover is Neither an Exclusively Final Cause Nor a Divine Artist

David Twetten (Milwaukee)

Medieval thinkers faced difficult choices as they learned to read Aristotle, especially given that, prior to the Renaissance, no one showed that he is a polytheist (even if, no less than Plato, he believes in a first cause). This paper takes up Arabic and Christian readings of Aristotle on divine causality. The most infamous and dominant reading, traceable to the late antique pagan Neoplatonist Ammonius, took Aristotle’s prime mover to be an artist, identifiable with the demiurge of Plato’s Timaeus and the nous of Plotinus. We find such a reading of Aristotle in Albert and Aquinas, for example, and in nearly all of the Arab philosophers. Only Averroes, the greatest medieval Aristotelian, broke from this reading, but he did so at the cost of being misunderstood. God, he holds, is not the first artisan, but rather the first art. As Stephen Menn has argued, this is Aristotle’s refined reinterpretation of Plato’s first efficient cause. Christian Latin readers of Averroes missed the subtlety of the Commentator’s position, just as we miss Aristotle’s, by framing the main question as follows: is Aristotle’s God an efficient cause (an artist) or an exclusively final cause? I reframe the question so as to bring out Averroes’ (and Aristotle’s) true thought. The paper distinguishes the many senses of “efficient cause” in play: creator (whether creating eternally or with temporal newness); artisan, agent or maker; “agent cause” and generator; “mover;” and Aristotle’s “whence is the beginning of motion” (hothen hē archē tēs kinēseos), which takes as its prime instance an artisan’s art. I present the texts of Averroes that show his acceptance of the latter alone: God is an agent by being a formal cause. Then I discuss the key passage(s) in Averroes that misled medieval Hebrew and Latin readers, as well as our contemporaries: the analogy of the baths. The point of Averroes’ analogy is that first “efficient cause” (properly understood) and the first final cause belong to the same being in the case of immaterial things, and that that being is not the first artisan — the intellectual soul of the outermost celestial sphere. In other words, for Aristotle, the first “efficient cause” (a mere “whence-cause”) is the art, not the artisan. 


What kind of creature is the assumed nature? Aquinas's Greek-Arabic Christology and Chalcedon

Philippe Vallat (Vienna)

Abstract forthcoming




Warburg Events Office
020 7862 8910