Reading Spinoza's Ethics I find myself fascinated by the distinction bewteen inmanent cause and transitive cause.

In the Ethics comes like so:

E1 PROP. 18. God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.

As I understand it, a transitive cause is one which its effect transcends the cause itself. The sun can be a transitive cause of my sunburn: even though there is no sun anymore, my burn remains.

A immanent cause is one which its effect cannot trascend the cause. The effect exists inside the cause and cannot outlive it; the effect exists as long as the cause does.

I read somewhere that an example of an inmanent cause is fire (as the cause) and light (as the effect). When the cause fire stops existing, so does the effect light.

What are some other examples of such inmanent causes and effects that we can find in everyday nature?

  • Please explain how an "immanent" cause is distinct from other kinds of causes. The link to wikipedia does not seem to explain "immant cause". - Your example with fire and light is a standard cause for the relation of cause and effect, not for immanent cause and effect. - Please note that your quote speaks about "transient", while you speak about "transitive".
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


What Spinoza is calling an indwelling cause is what modern language calls the underlying structure that gives rise to an epiphenomenon. A running computer application is an epiphenomenon of your computer hardware in its particular configuration and power state. Both the computer application and the computer hardware are epiphenomena of Spinoza's impersonal God, who should not be confused with the God of Christianity or other major religions. See: SEP:

since God has all possible attributes, then the attribute to be possessed by this second substance would be one of the attributes already possessed by God. But it has already been established that no two substances can have the same attribute. Therefore, there can be, besides God, no such second substance.

Immanence is the related religious concept that the divine is present in part or all of nature. The adjective immanent can only describe gods or other supernatural beings.

Transience is temporariness. A transient cause is one that happens and is over, i.e., God creates the sun and the moon to light day and night, and they get on to lighting it without further influence from God.

Transitivity is a property of verbs or mathematical relationships. There are no transitive causes (nouns). All causings (verbs) are transitive in the grammatical sense, since cause requires a direct object: "God caused the rainstorm" means something; "God caused" begs the question "caused what?" There's no relation to transience except that they share etymological roots.

  • So immanence implies monism, and we can call the one thing God or not?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 19:03
  • 1
    @ScottRowe not necessarily. Immanence can be a property of gods or spirits in pantheism, which is monist- God/gods are nature and nature is God/gods; panentheism, which is somewhat monist and somewhat not - nature is in and of God, but God is not nature, much as you are not your liver; certain forms of monistic idealism (nature is in the mind of God); and traditional monotheism and polytheism via omnipresence and the investiture of objects respectively, which are not monist.
    – g s
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 19:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .