Aristotle’s Four Causes pertains to the four things that explain the cause or purpose of something.
Aristotle’s theory maintains that all the causes form several divisions. The total number of these divisions depends on the ways the question “why” may be answered. The major kinds of causes come under the following divisions:
The first is called Material Cause . Material cause pertains to the cause of something in terms of the physical made-up. The Material Cause comes into existence due to its parts, constituents, substratum or materials. The explanation of causes is reduced to its parts such as factors, elements, constituents, ingredients, forming the whole. Aristotle cite as an example to material cause the bronze and silver as the causes of a statue. If we consider the production of an artifact like a bronze statue, the bronze in the explanation of the production of the statue is considered as the material cause. In this example, the bronze is not only the material that can be made into a statue. Like the statue, the bronze is subject of change. This means the bronze may undergo the change and results in a statue. In order for the bronze to become a statue, the bronze is melted and put in a wax cast to acquire the desired shape, that of a statue.
Formal Cause. The second cause according to Aristotle is the formal cause. This cause pertains to the essence or “pattern” of something. The Formal Cause simply points out to us what a thing is, that any thing is identified by the “definition, form, pattern, essence, whole, synthesis, or archetype” (Wikipedia, 2006). The account of causes can be gleaned from the fundamental principles or general laws being the whole as caused by its parts.
For instance, the formal cause of a statue is what it is for in order to be called a statue: it must have a head, be a certain length, it portrays a certain person or goddess, and others. This shape is part of the explanation of the production of the statue and is know as the formal cause.
Efficient Cause. The third type of causation according to Aristotle is the Efficient Cause. Efficient cause explains something in terms of its starting point of change or stability. Aristotle pointed out that “Efficient cause is “the primary source of change”. The Efficient Cause is that from which the change or the culmination of the change was introduced. It implies all agents of change whether nonliving or living. For instance, in the above example the efficient cause of the statue was the sculptor. It was he who made the change in the bronze and silver, making it into a statue. But an in-depth explanation of the production of a statue points to a deeper efficient cause or the principle that produces the statue. Aristotle believes it is not just the artist but more importantly the principle is the art of bronze-casting the statue. Aristotle believes that the artisan merely manifest his knowledge in the production of the statue. This knowledge then, not the artisan who has mastered it, is the most accurate depiction of the efficient cause.
Final Cause. Lastly, Aristotle describes the final cause. Final cause explains the cause of something in terms of its conceived end, or the purpose why it is made. According to Aristotle, final cause is “the end (telos), that for the sake of which a thing is done”. The Final Cause is that for the sake of which a thing exists or is done, its purpose and instrumental actions and activities. The final cause or telos is the end to which something must serve. For example, the final cause of a statue could be to portray a goddess or for decorative purposes. A wax cast is first made to make a statue. Then bronze is melted and poured in the wax cast. The prior and the subsequent stage are done for a certain end, the production of the statue. Each step of the artistic production leads to the final cause or that for the sake of which everything is done which is, in this instance, the statue.