Aristotle S Four Causes

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 October 2016

Aristotle S Four Causes

Aristotle, di? ering from Plato, believed that by observa? on we could explain the world and all ma? er. Aristotle refuted Plato’s idea of having an absolute explana? on. Aristotle’s approach, empiricism, is the founda? on of science. Empiricism is the use of the ! ve senses to observe objects and gain knowledge. Aristotle observed that the world was constantly changing, a movement from poten? ality to actuality. One of Aristotle’s examples, whiteness, shows that something that is ‘not white’ has the poten? al to become ‘actually white’.

Aristotle came to the conclusion that there are stages, due to the movement from poten? ality to actuality. He called these the ‘four causes’: Material, Formal, E*cient and Final causes. Aristotle understood that an object could not reach actuality without comple? ng each of the four causes successfully. His ! rst cause, the material, describes what the object is made from. For example, a computer is made up of wires, plas? c and other materials, these things become the – material cause of the computer. Aristotle used the example that a bronze sculpture and silver saucer

would have the material causes of bronze and silver. Objects can have as many material causes as deemed necessary. The second cause, formal, it is what we recognise as the item we are looking at. For instance, you recognise a phone to be a phone because you have an already formed image of its actuality. This links with Plato’s theory of the forms, in the sense that Plato believes there to be absolute views of objects which exist. His third cause was the e*cient cause, this is the way in which something is made/built/manufactured to achieve its actuality.

For example, a sculpture’s e*cient cause could be a hammer, chisel, water and cloth. My computer’s e*cient cause may vary from machines to people to screwdrivers. Once this third cause is complete, the object reaches its actuality. Lastly, the ! nal cause of a thing is its purpose (telos). Aristotle used the example of health being the cause of walking, he asks ‘why does one walk? That one may be healthy’. Once something has reached its actuality it is also in a state of poten? ality.

An object, once reached its actuality, has the poten? ality to grow old and be damaged, therefore outliving it’s purpose. From this, we can see that Aristotle saw that the universe was in a constant change between poten? ality and actuality. This is rela? vely the most important of all of the causes, if an object does not ful! l its actuality then it is does not reach its purpose and therefore it’s useless. In one of his works, Aristotle iden?! es three substance categories. Substance category one contains thing which are subject to decay, die or change.

These things are moved by the four causes from a state of actuality to poten? ality. Substance category two involves things which are subject to the four causes but never die, decay or cease to exist. Aristotle believed that, within this category, the universe and ? me was placed because of pre-exis? ng ma? er. The ! nal category was ‘substance’ category three. Aristotle placed eternal things that are not subject to the four cases, mainly mathema? cs and what he called the Prime Mover. The Prime Move is the e*cient and !

nal cause of the universe. It exists in a state of pure actuality incapable of change, only contempla? ng its existence. Aristotle believed this to be his ‘God’. Objects that move from poten? ality to actuality ful! l their purpose because their change is bought about by the prime mover. In conclusion, Aristotle believed the four causes acted upon everything and understood that they are a movement from poten? ality to actuality. This movement though material, formal, e*cient and !nal causes was ul? mately bought about by the prime mover.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 October 2016

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