Despite being Plato’s student, Aristotle’s views conflict with his teacher’s. The biggest difference being that Aristotle was a realist; he saw the value in studying the physical world and trusted his senses, unlike Plato who believed in the world of forms. Plato believed that we need to look beyond the physical world for a metaphysical explanation of the universe, Aristotle refuted this. Aristotle observed nature and used logic and reason to explain how it works; he tried to find the ‘action’ of why things exist and tried to make sense of them. Also, Aristotle’s approach was imperial and he trusted the use of reason based on his experience. Aristotle rejected Plato’s dualism; he thought that the body and soul are one, as the brain and body are.
This opposes Plato’s views that the body and soul were separate. Aristotle believed in the four causes, the principal that everything has four causes of existence: Material cause – refers to what a thing is made of, Aristotle used the example of a bronze sculpture and a silver saucer, Aristotle would say that bronze or silver is the material cause. However, an object can have more than one material cause, for example, the laptop I’m typing on is made of plastic, metal, wires and glass; these would all be material causes. The material cause also counters Plato’s theory of the world of forms, he would say that my laptop has a perfect form however, it is made up of individual things in order to be a laptop, all of the things it is made up of must have their own perfect form according to Plato, making his theory contradictive.
Formal cause – refers to the structure of an object, the shape it takes that makes it what it is. It is what we recognise as the thing we are looking at. An object must have a specific order in order to be what it is, for example, a bronze sculpture is not just a lump of bronze, and it has been shaped into a sculpture in order to function, as my laptop has been assembled into an order so it works.
Efficient cause – refers to how the object has changed from a state of potentiality to what it is, for example, the way a bronze sculpture has been taken from a lump of bronze chiselled until it is made into a statue by the sculptor. The efficient cause of an object may not be as simple as this i.e. my laptop’s efficient cause may vary from machines and people to plastic moulds and screwdrivers. It is the cause of the change.
Final cause – refers to the purpose of an objects being; the purpose of a sculpture might be to be admired, the purpose of my laptop is to let me watch videos of cats playing musical instruments on YouTube. Aristotle uses the example of health being the cause of walking, ‘Why does one walk?’ he asks, ‘that one may be healthy’. The final cause is perhaps the most important of all of the causes. Aristotle’s understanding did not end there, he said that once something has achieved a state of actuality, it will be in a state of potentiality, for example, take ‘whiteness’, when my shirt is washed and becomes clean and ‘white’ but it has the potential to become dirty and ‘not white’ anymore.
Aristotle also came up with the idea of the Prime Mover. The Prime Mover is, according to Aristotle, the ultimate and final cause of the universe. He said that everything in the universe is in a state of change (motus) so the Prime Mover must exist outside the universe, so that it is not affected by what happens inside. The Prime Mover cannot change, because to change something must exist in a state of actuality and have the potential to change i.e. an actual child is a potential adult. Aristotle does not consider the Prime Mover as a God, because a god is a living being which effects what happens in the world, however, the Prime Mover does not affect what happens in the universe, it is just the cause of it. Aristotle says that the Prime Mover has to exist because the universe has to have a cause. The Prime Mover also has to be eternal, because if something comes into existence it must be caused by something else.
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