“Being Given” A Cause is an Effect of an Effect

Phil 6958: The Uncertain Boundaries of the Subject


Short Paper on Being Given

I was drawn to Jean-Luc Marion’s claim that a cause is the effect of an effect (165). It is the effect that is encountered and which is necessary in order for us to seek a cause. Therefore an effect is temporally nearer to us than the cause, and it is the cause of our look for a cause. Phenomenologically, it is only the effect which is encountered and is thus primary to experience. The very cause-effect scheme is the instituting of an epistemological structure on phenomena. The cause-effect logical scheme forces phenomena into necessary functions as effects awaiting logical causes, and causes which provide evidence for the logical effects (165). “The effect alone imposes itself with certainty; consequently, one rests on it in order to ‘deduce’, after the fact, the cause, whose function consists less in producing it than in understanding it” (166). Thus the cause-effect scheme is more of an epistemological instrument than a metaphysical entity of necessity. It is a result of the will to know (166). This will to know, or imposition of an epistemological scheme, undercuts the privilege of a phenomenon as an event

Marion moves on to defining the event: “the event does not have an adequate cause and cannot have one” (167). In the case of an “event” subjected to the cause-effect scheme, we grope for causes and find myriad. I would say that this myriad characteristic of causes happens because causes are distant from our first or primary experience of the event construed as an effect. The causes are fundamentally a posteriori and theoretical, whereas the effect is directly encountered and concrete. Marion explains that we find a myriad of causes for an event because what qualifies phenomena as an event is overabundance (168). The event can always admit more causes so that no one cause or combination of them will encompass it. Marion then gives two examples of events: the start of World War I and a description of eating cake by Marcel Proust.

In the following sections, I did not have such a clear understanding of Marion’s meanings. One passage that threw me was: “The event announced by this pleasure provokes, immeasurably beyond, the arising of a world, the world” (170). In what way does the event of eating cake—though eating the cake is not reducible to the cause of the event—provoke the arising of a/the world? Is “world” meant metaphorically here or is it reminiscent of a sort of explosive expansion of one’s hermeneutic horizon—i.e. one’s world/horizon of understanding?

Another difficulty I had was being convinced of the “three notae” that follow the event. In writing that there are three things that follow the event, isn’t Marion instituting an epistemological (or metaphysical) framework on phenomena—precisely what he was criticizing the cause-effect scheme for doing? This was especially troublesome in the section on excessiveness. “The more the excess is noted, the more the event imposes. The level of eventness—if one can speak thus—is measured by the amount of the phenomenon’s excess over its antecedents” (171).  Shouldn’t it be that an event is characterized by the complete absence of antecedents to which it can be compared? Isn’t this what is meant when Marion says that the event provokes the arising of a world? Or perhaps this takes place only after the event, in which case the measuring is a post-event structuring. But is measuring the event according to antecedents innate to human experience or peculiar to the attentive philosopher? Is it a necessity or a contingency?


About C.P.

Collin is a professional writer and scholar. He holds an MA in Philosophy and a BA in English literature. His philosophical work has appeared in print published by Wiley/Blackwell and Open Court. More of his writings, philosophical, literary, comic, and just plain nonsensical are available online. He currently lives in Seattle where he is writing science fiction, dressing up for Cons, and wreaking havoc on his opponents (npcs and tabletop humans alike).
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