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In jure non remota causa, sed proxima, spectatur, is the first of Lord Bacon's “ Maxims of the Law.”
An unsuccessful search for this maxim has been made in the civil law. It does not appear to have been used in the English law prior to Lord Bacon's time. As he plainly intimates that some of the maxims were original with him, this was probably one of that number.
In the 82d and following Aphorisms of the “De Augmentis," he says, “a good and careful treatise on the different rules of law conduces as much as any thing to the certainty thereof. ... The collection should consist, not only of the common and well known rules, but of others, likewise, more subtle and abstruse, which may be gathered from the harmony of laws and decided cases, such as are sometimes found in the best tables of contents; and are in fact the dictates of reason, which run through the different matters of law, and act as its balance. . . . After a rule has been stated in a concise and solid form of words, let examples . . . be added. . . . It is a sound precept not to take the law from the rules, but to make the rule from the existing law.”
And in the Preface to the rules or maxims, for he calls them by both names, he says, “whereas these rules are some of them ordinary and vulgar, that now serve but for grounds and plain songs to the more shallow and impertinent sort of arguments; others of
them are gathered and extracted out of the harmony and congruity of cases, and are such as the wisest and deepest sort of lawyers, have in use, though they be not able many times to express and set them down.”
But whether the maxim be original with Bacon or not, it is from him that it derives its authority. It is said to be a maxim of general application. It is employed by the courts as an authoritative rule in cases of maritime insurance, in actions for negligence, and when it is sought to determine the defendant's liability for damages. In such cases it is often used with a different meaning, and receives a different application from any intended by Lord Bacon. What Lord Bacon meant by it can be plainly shown.
It was the chief object of Bacon's study and labor to point out that the methods of investigating truth, then and before his time in vogue, were erroneous. It was his further aim to teach what he considered to be a new and a true method. It was his opinion that the investigation of truth is a search for causes. Philoso phers of all ages have held the same opinion. All philosophy rests upon causation.
The method of philosophizing, prior to Bacon, was by an assumption of first principles, which led for its result to nothing but vague speculation. Bacon's aim was to teach a vigorous analysis, in each instance, for the purpose of discovering the proximate cause. From that alone, in his opinion, can a true and certain inference be made. In this opinion, as to the necessity of the proximate cause for accurate reasoning, he was not at variance with Aristotle and the schoolmen.
That it was the proximate cause (whatever that may be) with which his philosophy was to deal, he has asserted in no doubtful terms.
In the 2d Aphorism of the 2d book of the “ Novum Organon,” he says, “It is a correct position that true knowledge is knowledge by causes.” He adopts Aristotle's division of causes. “ And causes again are not improperly distributed into four kinds : the material, the formal, the efficient, and the final.” He confines all philosophy to the search for the proximate cause. These are his words: “But of these, the final cause rather corrupts than advances the sciences, except such as have to do with human action. The discovery of the formal is despaired of. The efficient and the material (as they are investigated, that is as remote causes) are slight and superficial, and contribute little if any thing to true and active science.” That is, he leaves nothing for the investigation of science, but the proximate cause as distinguished from the remote.
That he intended to include the law with the other sciences which were to be investigated by the proximate cause, is shown by the 127th Aphorism of the 1st book of the “ Novum Organon.” After having generally enounced his method of induction and its application to philosophy, he says, “ It may also be asked (in the way of doubt rather than objection) whether I speak of natural philosophy only, or whether I mean that the other sciences, logic, ethics, and politics should be carried on by this method. Now I certainly mean what I have said to be understood of them all, and as the common logic which governs by the syllogism extends not only to natural, but to all sciences, so does mine also which proceeds by induction embrace every thing."
In the 8th book of the “ De Augmentis,” he treats of law, among other sciences, the investigation of which is to be conducted by his method of inquiry.
Taking that view of causes which Lord Bacon did, what is more natural than that, when framing maxims which, according to his own account, were the commencement of the application of his system of philosophy to that particular science, he should commence by asserting that doctrine which he regarded as the cornerstone of all philosophy; that in law, as in every thing else, proximate and not remote causes were the proper objects of inquiry ? He expresses the groundwork of his philosophy in a single sentence. He places the maxim in its proper position as the first, the introduction to the others. There is a significance in the first words, “ In jure.” He had, in other places, taught that the neglect of the remote and the search for the proximate cause was the key to all science. Now, when treating of a particular science, he reasserts it in regard to that science.
The maxim then, as used by Bacon, is but the assertion of the general principle of philosophical inquiry. He uses the word cause in the broad signification which it has in the writings of Aristotle and his commentators the schoolmen, that is, as nearly synonymous with the word reason.
The examples cited by him, by way of illustration, prove this. They show that the law deals with definite reasons, and is not led
into uncertain speculation. They are no authority for the maxim as now commonly used.
But is not the maxim capable of a more exact application ? What is the precise thing which is a proximate cause to be searched out, and what is the precise thing which is a remote cause to be neglected in true philosophical reasoning ?
Bacon adopts Aristotle's classification of causes, but the agreement between them is deeper than this.
Aristotle, in his “ Organon,” says, “ there is a difference between knowing that a thing is, and knowing why it is, and the science of the why, has respect to tò ngõõrov dítiov” or the proximate cause, causa proxima, as it is translated by the schoolmen ; thus agreeing with Bacon in the “ Novum Organon," that true knowledge is knowledge by causes, and that knowledge by causes, is knowledge by the proximate cause.
This and parallel passages in Aristotle are the foundation for the scholastic division of causes into proximate and remote. What do the schoolmen mean by this division ? Stripped of technical language and verbal refinement, it is this : A proximate cause is one in which is involved the idea of necessity. It is one the connection between which and the effect is plain and intelligible ; it is one which can be used as a term by which a proposition can be demonstrated, that is, one which can be reasoned from conclusively.3
A remote cause is one which is inconclusive in reasoning, because from it no certain conclusion can be legitimately drawn. In other words, a remote cause is a cause the connection between which and the effect is uncertain, vague, or indeterminate. It does not contain in itself the element of necessity between it and its effect.
I Post Analytics, Book 1, ch. 13. 2 Zabarellæ Opera, 416 b. 835 f.
3 Duæ sunt Demonstrationis species. Prima, quæ demonstrat őri, sive Quod res sit; probando, vel simpliciter et directe rem ita esse, et tum vocatur Ostensiva, seu potius Directa ; vel si non sit, absurdi aliquid necessario secuturum. ... Ostensiva Directa fit duobus modis.
1. Quando aliquid demonstratur per Effectum ; ut si diceres ; Luna Soli opposita nigra cernitur ; ergo patitur Eclipsin. 2. Quando per Causam remotam ; ut si idem colligeres quia Sol et Luna diametraliter opponuntur. Quod si illud demonstrares per Causam prorimam, quia nempe Terra inter Solem et Lunam interponitur, tum fieret.
Secunda Demonstrationis species Acóti, i. e. quæ docet Quare, vel Propter quid res sit; causam ejus assignando, non quamcunque, sed proximam seu immediatam. Sic enim statuunt Logici quod Scientia omnis est Cognitio rei per causam, sed proprie dicta per propriam, h. e. proximam; nam per remotam Cur sit aliquatenus ostenditur ; nihil amplius quam Quod sit demonstratur.
Artis Logicæ Rudimenta. Aldrich, Mansel's 3rd edition, p. 118.
not necessa hetween the cause and a remote ca
Marsilius Ficinus ? says, “ From the remote cause the effect does not necessarily follow.” This idea of necessity — the necessary connection between the cause and the effect is the prime distinction between a proximate and a remote cause. The proximate cause being given, the effect must follow. But although the existence of the remote cause is necessary for the existence of the effect (for unless there has been a remote cause there can be no effect), still the existence of the remote cause does not necessarily imply the existence of the effect. The remote cause being given, the effect may or may not follow. “Nam posita causa remota non ponitur effectus, sed ipsa remota removetur.” 2
The schoolmen agree in saying that a knowledge of the proximate cause is a knowledge of the górı, the propter quid, the reason why. They agree in saying that there can be no demonstrative reasoning but by the proximate cause. Averroes, the most famous of the Arabian schoolmen, in his Commentary on the Post Analytics, 3 says, “ It is necessary for demonstration, showing why a thing is, that it should be by a proximate cause."
Petrus Tartaretus 4 says, “ The demonstration why a thing is, proceeds by a proximate cause.”
Sebastianus Contus 5 says, “ The knowledge why a thing is, is gained by a proximate cause."
Albertus Magnus says the appearance of a comet is the remote cause of war and famine. The immediate cause, which is used as synonymous with proximate cause, is the quarrel from which the war began. In the Middle Ages there was but one mode of adjustment for the disputes of princes, and as surely as war followed disagreement, so surely did devastation follow war, and famine devastation.
The scholastic distinction between proximate and remote causes has nothing to do with their relative distance from the effect either in space or time. The schoolmen did not view them as connected together like the links of a chain. The distinction has nothing to do with their retrogression from the effect as long as the effect necessarily follows from the cause. As long as the element of necessity exists in the mind, each cause in the line of causation is
1 Theologica Platonica, Book 9, ch. 4.
4 Expositio super textu logices Aristotelis. 6 In Universam Dialecticam Aristotelis, 1 Anal. Post, cap. 10.