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Aristotle: The Four Causes Essay

Aristotle is considered by many to be one of the most influential philosophers in history. As a student of Plato, he built on his mentor’s teachings of things like The Theory of Forms and his views on the soul. He also challenged them, introducing his own ideas such as act and potency, and the four causes. He used these ideas to explain his account of the soul and of the intellect. Aristotle used the terms act and potency to respond to the arguments about change’s non-existence and bridge the gap between past philosophers. Aristotle used act and potency to examine many things such as, motion, causality and metaphysics.

He explained that the act or reality of a thing is its true way of being and that potential is a things capability of being, further than its own existence. For example, chocolate is good, but if you eat too much you can become obese. According to Aristotle’s reasoning, the becoming or change of the chocolate occurs when a potential is actualized. Though these changes occur, the thing itself stays the same. When the chocolate is eaten, it loses the actuality of being a good taste satisfier and gains the actuality of being a reason to become obese.

Aristotle later explains that the “full reality” of a thing is when the actuality and potentiality of a thing are combined. He notes that while things can be “pure potency,” meaning not actual or real, that there is only one “pure act” and that is God. Aristotle also introduced the concept of Hylemorphism, his belief that all beings were made up of two principles. He rejected his predecessor’s beliefs that there was only one principle, as he believed that in order for something to change and not itself be changed in the process it must consist of two principles; one that changes and one that remains the same.

Aristotle believed that these substances were forms and matter. It was Aristotle’s claim that form is the constant, unchanging principle in a person. It is because of form that we have consistency and permanence. Just as importantly, there is matter, the principle which allows a substance to be changed and prevents it from being stagnant in one place or time. It is because of matter that we have change and imperfections. We can see the idea of Hylemorphism represented in Aristotle’s other doctrine, act and potency.

Matter is a things potential, or its ability to be “in potency;” while form is a things ability to change matter from potential to being “actualized”. Aristotle derived his theory of The Four Causes. These causes attempted to explain the cause or purpose of something; or the “why? ” These causes are the Formal Cause, Material Cause, Efficient cause, and Final Cause. The first called the Formal Cause deals with a thing’s form which holds its true nature or essence. Second, the Material Cause explains the matter that a thing is made up of.

The third, the Efficient Cause is whatever brings about change, or keeps something at rest; essentially, the Efficient Cause actualizes its potential. The fourth, called the Final Cause is a things end, goal or purpose. Aristotle used his previously mentioned doctrine of Hylemorphism to attempt to answer questions regarding the soul. He explains that the soul is the first actuality of a living body, and that all living things have souls. According to his belief, the soul is arranged in a nest hierarchy, meaning each soul explained has the abilities of the one before it.

The first type of soul is the nutritive soul. This is the most basic soul, as found in all plants. They are alive and have the ability or power to grow, to gain nutrition and to reproduce; however they have no capability for sensation or knowledge. The second type of soul is the sensation soul; it can be found in all animals. This soul has the same abilities as the nutritive soul, while also having the power of sensation, appetite; it also has the ability to move or travel. The third type of soul is that of the reason soul, found in all human beings.

The reason soul has the abilities of the nutritive and sensation soul while also having its own abilities of intellect, knowledge and free will. Aristotle believed that the soul and the body were inseparable. Despite Aristotle’s belief in the inseparability of the soul and body, he did argue that the mind is immaterial and able to exist without the body. One of his most convincing arguments of the immateriality of intellect is found in his second argument. This argument says that if the mind were material, then every thought must have a material representation of some sort, an organ that corresponds with our thinking.

He theorized that, since all of our senses have organs that correlate with them, then thinking should be like sensing. However, since sensing can never be false, therefore thinking cannot be false; which is cannot be true. This was the concluding reason in Aristotle’s argument for the minds immateriality. Since we know that we can think non-truths, the mind cannot be material. While the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato share many similarities, their views on the soul differ quite a bit. While both schools of thought agreed that all living things had souls, Aristotle believed that the soul is the cause for every living being, as we can see in the Four Causes.

Plato believed that the body had many different souls within different parts of our bodies that keeping our organs alive. Because Plato believed that the soul was immortal, he also believed in the transmigration of the soul from the body after death. Aristotle believed that our souls could not exist without our bodies, thus making transmigration impossible. Aristotle differed from Platos belief in the soul’s immortality; believing that when a thing dies, its soul which contains its powers of growth, sensation and intellect dies as well.

Plato theorized that a “form” is the nature or essence represented by a thing. He believed that these forms existed independently of the mind and the material world, in what was called the Third-Realm. Within this theory, we can separate the difference between the World of the Forms, which is eternal, un-changing, and known through our intellect; as well as, the World of Material Things, which are temporary, changeable, imperfect and known through our senses. Plato believed that a thing in the material world could take on a form, but it does not become that form.

While Aristotle agreed that these forms existed, he disagreed with Plato’s distinction of them existing in two separate worlds. He believed that there was only one world and that forms existed in specific things. He believed that form existed in matter and the combination of the two was essential to being. He used this distinction to the base. With self-help books garnishing millions of dollars annually, it’s no mystery that people have been looking for a “correct” way to live out their lives. This was as prevalent in ancient Greece as it is today.

Aristotle had what he thought was an ideal activity for all those who wanted to live life to the fullest, be happy, and have purpose. Aristotle argues that the best and most satisfying activity is study on the grounds that it fulfills the requirements for happiness as an activity better than others. One might object that one need not do something to be happy, but Aristotle could adequately reply that to be happy in its proper virtue is undoubtedly the most fulfilling life for humans. Aristotle’s first premise is that happiness must be an activity in accord with virtue.

He explains in the previous section that happiness can only be found in activities (rather than states), and that only those activities in accord with virtue could be things that lead us to happiness. The supreme virtue is that which is the best thing. I can honestly say that if I was to pick one of the philosophers, Plato or Aristotle, I would have to pick Aristotle. I would pick his because I think that Plato’s was too black and white. He didn’t have any leeway. Aristotle has him with feelings. I think that I would lean more towards him then Plato.


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