Fifi LaRue, golf, and chance

Fifi LaRue, seeking relief from the academic grind, decides to play a therapeutic round of golf. When she arrives at the first tee, she finds no one there, so she sets off alone. She bogeys the first and second holes and on the third, a par three, unwisely uses a four wood and overdrives the green by twenty-five yards, her ball disappearing into a wooded area with dense undergrowth. Not one to let a new ball go without a search, Fifi wades into the wild, using her wedge as a makeshift machete. Ten minutes of fruitless search go by and an annoyed Fifi brings her club fiercely down, half burying the head in the ground. There is a clinking sound. Curious, Fifi scrapes away the weeds and dirt when what to her wondering eyes should appear but a steel case. She unearths it, lashes it to her golf cart, takes a double bogey and goes on. In the privacy of her room, she pries open the metal case. It is full of United States gold coins. In subsequent days, despite national coverage, no claimants come forth. Fifi is rich. How can we explain the change from penurious to loaded?

Doesn’t our narrative tell us how it came about? Fifi found a fortune because she had the good sense to play golf. Her errant shot on the third hole is the cause of her being in the brush. Her anger at losing her ball causes her to strike the ground and thus discover the buried treasure. Those are the reasons or causes of what happened. True as that seems, we would nonetheless note that not everyone who plays golf finds a fortune; not everyone who overdrives a green finds buried treasure; not every irate linkster strikes metal let alone a metal box filled with money when he buries a club in the turf. If these are causes of what came about, and they are, they are causes of a very peculiar kind.

Each of these causes is aimed at some goal other than finding treasure. If Fifi had not gone golfing, had not overdriven, had not half buried her club, she would not have found the money. But the aim of golfing is not to find buried money, nor is this the goal of any of the actions that enter into Fifi’s round. By doing what she does for the purposes she has, she happens to find the money. Finding the money happens to Fifi when she is golfing. That event is related accidentally to the activity in which she is engaged for a purpose. Fifi is the accidental cause of finding the money because it is a result accidentally related to the goal she seeks. The event, of course, is rare. If student golfers are constantly coming upon buried treasure while golfing, we would speak differently of what has happened. Fifi might be surprised, but regular golfers would not be.

What is ascribed to luck is accidental to what is sought, is rare and is significant, that is, good or bad for the agent. If a cobra had fallen off a passing circus train and taken refuge in the weeds behind the third green, Fifi might have been bitten and died; her bad luck accidentally related to her golfing as was her good luck in our original story.

Being rare is not enough to qualify as a chance event. Fifi might have been out on the course with a metal detector — say she does this every evening and finds her share of lost fountain pens, pennies, and safety pins — but tonight, bonanza! Rare as this outcome may be, it is what she seeks to bring about. We would call her lucky, maybe, but a difference between this story and the original one is vast. – from A First Glace at Thomas Aquinas (A Handbook for Peeping Thomists)