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Aristotle’s Four Causes

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.

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  1. James M. Essig

    On July 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    It occurred to me to comment on a rather strange idea involving a conjecture with regard to universes, cosmoses, or what ever one desires to call them wherein their is literally no space or no space-time at all.

    The idea involves the notion of a set of elements or objects within such a realm that may range in number from a finite but huge ensemble to a Cardinality of Infinity that is so great or rich that such an infinity could not be symbolically described even on a nanoscale charactered writing tablet as large as our universe if not our entire multi-verse, even by the most advanced ETI beings, even by the entire intellectual output of all ETI beings combined. Basically, I am conjecturing about such a huge number of such elements that even the most advanced ETI civilizations could not fathom the number.

    Note that the concept of lesser and greater numerical infinities was developed largely by the late 19th Century/early 20th Century mathematician, Georg Cantor. The lowest or smallest infinity is reffered to as Aleph 0 and refers to the number of elements in the entire set consisting of all of the integers. The next higher or larger infinity or Cardinality is reffered to as Aleph 1 is the number of elements in the set of all of the real numbers. Similarly, there are ever greater Cardinalities of Aleph 2, Aleph 3, …, Aleph (Aleph 0), Aleph (Aleph 1),…, Aleph (Aleph (Aleph 0)), Aleph (Aleph (Aleph 1), … on so on in a never ending eternal sequence.

    These absolutely non-spatial, non-geometrically extended, and perhaps even non-temporal entities would interact with each other directly or indirectly, completely, or non-completely with absolutely no extended dimensionality, field, energy, nor anything else that has spatial or geometric extension. These objects would be present to each other but not in the spatial, geometrically, topologically, or extended sense. The presence could be complete and immediate or intermediary, or partial and immediate or intermediary.

    Such entities might effect each other in a casual way based on temporal sequential, anti-sequential, and/or simultaneous effects or there may be partially or absolutely non-temporal serial, anti-serial, or partially or collectively existential or ontological immediate effects by which the elements interact.

    Another option would be that the entities would interact in a completely or partially non-casual manner.

    The closet concept to this that I can think of is the Judeao-Christian concept of pure spirits referred to as angels although I mention angels simply as an analogous example to convey some highly abstract concepts and in no way as an attempt to convert anyone.

    Regarding the concept of the entities or objects described above interacting in a completely or partially non-casual manner, one version of such non-casual interaction may simply be the real inter-relations between the objects by which the relative characteristics of the objects are defined. For instance, if an object somehow evolved or improved within on its own, while the other object or objects did not, the relative relation among the combined set of objects would change as would the relation between the object that evolved and the other objects. Even if the change in the evolving object was not caused by any other object such as by a spatial-temporal effect, force or energy field, or casual interacting, in a sense all of the objects would change because their relative inter-relationship would change. This seems true because part of what defines an object is its relative characteristics wherein relative only has meaning with reference to other objects.

    Another concept of non-casual interaction involves the notion of the final cause which is an Aristotelian concept of cause that accordingly explains the cause of something in terms of its conceived end, or the purpose why it is made. This end or purpose by which something or an object is made or comes into being might change as other beings are made or created or otherwise come into being or become inter-related with the former said object. Since objects are defined in part by their relative inter-relation, the creation or coming into being of the latter objects can define or alter in some way the conceived end or purpose of the former said object. With a change in the conceived end or purpose of the former said object, the meaning of an object changes and this meaning is what defines in part an object at the level of its inherent value or goodness.

    Note that the notion of the final cause would seem to imply some higher meaning or objective purpose for each element of creation and so the existence or purpose for each object would seem to be implicit. The reader of this posting might attribute such a higher purpose to each element of creation to a kind of cosmic consciousness, a cosmic force, a God or Deity, or to some impersonal objective reality of a good or of the notion of purpose.

    Then of course, there could be anywhere from one to an innumerable if not indefinably large Cardinalities of existential, or ontological principles of the same class as cause and effect but each as different from each other as they are different from cause and effect. The possibility of such gives me all the more awe about this great creation we call the cosmos in which we are just on the first stepping stone in eternity. That first stepping stone for us is the Earth’s moon and is another small step for man that we will take when we go back by 2020.

    As a conserative Catholic, I have confidance in GOD\’s megalomanic creative power and believe that in the eternal scheme of things, We ain\’t seen nothen yet. I will even state my opinion that even the most advanced extraterrestrails, if they exist, ain\’t seen nothin yet.

  2. Matt

    On March 30, 2009 at 11:25 am


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