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Role of Final Cause in the Science of History

The scenes and stages of history which draw the attention of the historians cannot include all happenings or all aspects of historical events. In this world there are many physical, biological or physiological phenomena which are beyond the limits of the historical field. These phenomena have their own appropriate laws. Some of them are of vital importance from the viewpoint of the historians and have retained their significance even after the passage of hundreds of years. But still they do not fall within the scope of the norms of history and are governed by other laws and norms.

All the phenomena which fall within the scope of the norms of history have one distinguishing feature which does not exist in the case of the other phenomena of the world. Every phenomenon in life and nature is governed by the causative system and comes into being as the result of a sequence of causes and effects. This sequence exists everywhere in this world. For example, we take into consideration the case of the boiling of water in a kettle. It is a natural phenomenon which depends on certain conditions such as a particular degree of temperature and the nearness of the kettle to fire to a particular extent. This is the case of a sequence of a cause and its effect and a relationship of the present and the past in prearranged conditions. But there exist some phenomena in the field of history which have a different type of relationship. They are linked to their objects. In their case an action aims at achieving a certain object, and in the terminology of the philosophers, besides the causative agent there exists a final and real cause also. Such relationships do not exist in every case. When water boils as the result of heat, its past and the cause of the boiling are there, but the consequence of the boiling is not being visualized, except when boiling is done by human action. When a person performs an act with an objective in his mind, his act besides having a relationship with its cause and with its past, also has a relationship with that objective, which does not exist at the time of the performance of the act and which can materialize only subsequently. Hence this relationship is the relationship of the future, not of the past. This is true of all cases in which an act is related to its objective. Any historical act performed with a future objective in view and governed by the laws of history is a purposive act related to its final cause, that is its objective. This objective may be good or bad, beneficial or harmful. On this basis an active historical movement in the domain of historical norms should be purposive and responsible. In relation to an action its objective has a future-looking aspect. It influences man because it exists in his mind. Otherwise as far as its external existence is concerned, it is no more than a wish for the future. As it has no real existence, it is its mental existence that induces man to make efforts and take action.

Thus the future objective or the goal for which man makes an effort initiates and promotes his activity through its mental existence. Man can form in his mind a vivid picture of his goal with all its characteristics and conditions.

Now as we have found out a distinguishing feature of historical phenomena, or rather one of their characteristics which does not exist in the case of any other phenomena in the world of nature, we find that every action in the field of history is related to its objective, which is its final cause as well as its rationale. In other words, this distinguishing feature consists in the role of the final cause in the action. In fact it is the mental existence of its final cause which motivates the action and mentally lays down its guide-lines, which form the relevant norms of history. The norms of history apply only to those actions which are purposive and have a goal besides being linked with other natural phenomena in a sequence of cause and effect. It must be understood that every purposive act is not a historical act and hence every purposive act is not governed by the laws of history. To enter into the domain of the norms of history an act must have besides the dimensions of a cause and a goal, a third dimension also. This dimension must have a social aspect. In other words, the act in question should affect society as a whole and the person who performs it should be a member of that society. It makes no difference whether the effect of the act is comparatively limited or extensive, but it must go beyond the individual level.

A man eats when he feels hungry, drinks when he feels thirsty and sleeps when he gets sleepy. But these acts, though purposive and performed to achieve certain objects, are individual acts, the effect of which does not go beyond a particular individual. In contrast the effect of a social act performed by a person having reciprocal relations with other members of his society, goes beyond his person. For example the effect of the activity of a merchant, who performs a commercial transaction, of a commander who conducts a battle, of a statesman who concludes a political agreement and of a scholar who advances a theory about the world and life, goes beyond the person of those who perform these acts and influence the whole society. Hence, taking inspiration from the terminology of the philosophers we may say: The difference between the philosophical terms of active cause, final cause and material cause, used by Aristotle has been a subject of frequent discussion among the philosophers. The above concept can be explained by means of these terms: The material cause of a historical act is society, for it provides ground for the act. A historical act must affect society or a nation as a whole although the act in itself may be performed by one or only a few individuals. That is why a historical act governed by the laws of history is that act which is purposive and at the same time its effect goes beyond the individual level. Society being its material cause, such an act becomes a collective act of society as a whole.

Adopted from the book: "Trends of History in Qur'an" by: "Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr"

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