Aristotle’s Four Causes

Material: That from which something is made.

Efficient: That by which something is made.

Formal: That into which something is made.

Final: That for the sake of which something is made.

— from Aristotle for Everybody by Mortimer Adler

“Happy is he who can recognize the causes of things.”

Virgil

Aristotle’s Four Causes is likely the most familiar of all the double duals that I will present. The causes are closer to being “becauses” since they are usually thought of as the reasons or explanations for things. Why not call them the four prepositions?

The standard example of the four causes is what is needed for the building of a house. A house is built by the craftsmen, from the raw materials, into the form shown on blueprints, for the homeowner to live in. This and other usual examples are concerned with the making of something.

Formal and final causes have gotten the short shift since the beginning of the scientific revolution. Francis Bacon stated that the only scientific reasons for things were the efficient and material causes. For those critical of materialism this is often termed mere “matter in motion”. Matter can be thought to exist in space, and motion in time. Where does form or finality exist? I will say in space and time as well.

References:

Max Hocutt / Aristotle’s Four Becauses, in Philosophy, Vol. 49, No. 190. (Oct., 1974), pp. 385-399.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_causes

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_purpose_of_a_system_is_what_it_does

Notes:

John Sowa’s Thematic Roles: initiator, resource, essence, goal.

http://www.jfsowa.com/ontology/thematic.htm

[*4.112, *5.73, *5.162, *5.168, *7.47]

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23 thoughts on “Aristotle’s Four Causes”

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