Tag Archives: Aristotle

Things Happen

When someone says “Things Happen”, we think they are being superficial. That’s because we want to hear an explanation of why the thing has happened. In fact, the “Principle of Sufficient Reason” mandates that everything must have a reason or cause. Still, you can’t argue with the fact that things do happen.

Aristotle described four causes that explain why things happen. These four causes are called the efficient, material, formal, and final causes. This classification was all the rage back before the scientific revolution, but now it has been mostly abandoned.  Still, with some modification, I believe it can be useful for the modern world.

Why do things happen? They happen by actions, from parts, into structures, and for functions.

This fourfold is a mixture of two others: Structure-Function and the prepositions I’ve associated with Aristotle’s Four Causes.





Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions

Here are some additional fourfolds from philosopher Richard McKeon.

McKeon wrote much on the subject of rhetoric. A favorite fourfold of concepts was that of Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions. He called these “commonplaces of inquiry” or “places of invention and memory”. Two rhetorical devices he used were amplification and schematization. Amplification can extend the scope of, for example, words to the other three, similar to the principle of indifference. “Objectivity is the inclusive principle of indifference by which it is recognized that being is grasped only in what we think, and say, and do about it.” [1] Schematization was used to identify and distiguish, for example, commonplaces. Thus I think amplification is a conjunctive device, and schematization is a disjunctive device.

Another fourfold of subjects by McKeon was Topics, Themes, Theses, and Hypotheses. McKeon wrote, “Speculation concerning discourse must avoid the fixities of categories, doctrines, methods, and assumptions which discourse assumes in any one form of philosophy or inquiry, if it is to include all the forms which discourse takes in philosophy and in inquiry, action, and production. This is possible because the variety of categories or elements is approached in discourse by way of common topics or ‘commonplaces’; the variety of facts or statements of what is the case by way of common hypotheses; the variety of arts or methods of treating problems by way of common themes; and the variety of assumptions or principles by way of common theses.” [2]

Are both these fourfolds aligned correctly with the previous Knowable, Knowledge, Known, and Knower? McKeon’s use of terms in his rhetoric was very fluid, perhaps to prevent systemization or to promote pluralism. However, his main reference to fourfolds was Aristotle’s four scientific questions, or Four Causes, which we can use to try to understand his fourfolds.


Theresa Enos (ed.) / Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age

[1] Richard McKeon / Selected Writings of Richard McKeon: Volume One: Philosophy, Science, and Culture

[2] Richard McKeon / Selected Writings of Richard McKeon, Volume Two: Culture, Education, and the Arts

Click to access McKNotes-Semantics&Inquiry_Intro.pdf

H. L. Ulman / Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions: the problem of language in late Eighteenth-Century British rhetorical theory

[*5.197, *6.140, *7.162, *7.165]



The Archic Philosophers

In a word, the Sophist begins from man, the Democritean from matter, the Platonist from form, and the Aristotelian from functioning.

— From The Architectonics of Meaning, by Walter Watson

Inspired by philosopher Richard McKeon, I believe that philosophy as a whole is encompassed by four main philosophical stances, exemplified by four ancient philosophers: the Sophists (as a group), Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle. Their four systems of thought lay out principal philosophical directions, much like the compass directions east, south, north, and west lay out a complete set of primary directions.

Of course the compass directions can be subdivided into north-east, or south-south-west, and so on, and similarly each of these philosophical systems can be divided into four parts. This division into a four-by-four matrix is called the Archic Matrix and was written about at length in the separate but complementary works of Walter Watson and David Dilworth.

Watson and Dilworth described the four main philosophical directions to be perspective, reality, method, and principle: perspective for the Sophists, reality for Democritus, method for Plato, and principle for Aristotle. I have written about these philosophical perspectives previously in several ways.

Thus philosophy as a practice goes around and around and revisits the same ideas over and over. Perhaps McKeon thought his philosophical system followed in the footsteps of Aristotle, and probably Watson and Dilworth had a similar view.

Likewise, I believe that my fourfold of Structure-Function represents these four philosophical directions in the following way: Action(s) for the Sophists, Part(s) for Democritus, Structure for Plato, and Function for Aristotle.




Aristotle’s Four Causes is an important fourfold that seems to be the basis for many of the fourfolds, both original and not, presented in this blog. Two of the causes, efficient and material, are acceptable to modern scientific inquiry because they can be thought of as motion and matter, respectively, but the other two causes, formal and final, are not. Why is that?

The formal cause is problematic because the formal is usually considered to be an abstract concept, a construction of universals that may only exist in the human mind. The final cause is also problematic because it is associated with the concept of telos or purpose. There, too, only human or cognitive agents are allowed to have goals or ends. So for two causes, efficient and material, all things may participate in them, but for the two remaining, formal and final, only agents with minds may.

These problems may be due to the pervasive influence of what the recent philosophical movement of Object Oriented Philosophy calls correlationism: ontology or the existence of things is limited to human knowledge of them, or epistemology. The Four Causes as usually described becomes restricted to the human creation and purpose of things. Heidegger’s Tool Analysis or Fourfold, which also appears to have been derived from the Four Causes, is usually explained in terms of the human use of human made things: bridges, hammers, pitchers. Even scientific knowledge is claimed to be just human knowledge, because only humans participate in the making of this knowledge as well as its usage.

Graham Harman, one of the founders of Speculative Realism of which his Object Oriented Ontology is a result, has transformed Heidegger’s Fourfold so that it operates for all things, and so the correlationism that restricts ontology to human knowledge becomes a relationism that informs the ontology for all things. Instead of this limiting our knowledge even more, it is surprising what can be said about the relations between all things when every thing’s access is as limited as human access. However, this transformation is into the realm of the phenomenological, which is not easily accessible to rational inquiry.

I wish to update the Four Causes, and claim that they can be recast into a completely naturalistic fourfold operating for all things. This new version was inspired by the Four Operators of Linear Logic. Structure and function are commonplace terms in scientific discourse, and I wish to replace formal and final causes with them. It may be argued that what is obtained can no longer be properly called the Four Causes, and that may indeed be correct.

First, let us rename the efficient cause to be action, but not simply a motion that something can perform. I’m not concerned at the moment with whether the action is intentional or random, but it must not be wholly deterministic. Thus there are at least two alternatives to an action. I’m also not determining whether one alternative is better than the other, so there is no normative judgement. An action is such that something could have done something differently in the same situation. This is usually called external choice in Linear Logic (although it makes more sense to me to call it internal choice: please see silly link below).

Second, let us call the material cause part, but not simply a piece of something. Instead of the material or substance that something is composed of, let us first consider the parts that constitute it. However, a part is not merely a piece that can be removed. A part is such that something different could be substituted for it in the same structure, but not by one’s choice. Like an action, I am not concerned whether one of the alternatives is better than the other, but only that the thing is still the thing regardless of the alternative. This is usually called internal choice.

Next, we will relabel the formal cause to be structure, but not simply the structure of the thing under consideration. Ordinarily structure is not a mere list of parts, or a set of parts, or even a sum or integral of parts, but an ordered assembly of parts that shapes a form. Ideally structure is an arrangement of parts in space. However, in this conceptualization, structure will be only an unordered list of parts with duplications allowed.

Last, instead of final cause we will say function, but not simply the function of the thing as determined by humans. Ordinarily function is not a mere list of actions, or a set of actions, or a sum or integral of actions, but an ordered aggregate of actions that enables a functionality. Ideally function is an arrangement of actions in time. However, like structure, function will be only an unordered list of actions with duplications allowed.

As we transform the Four Causes from made things to all things, both natural and human-made, we will later examine how that changes them.






[*6.144, *7.32, *7.97]



The Theory of Evolution

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection”

— Charles Darwin

Can we cast the theory of evolution into a fourfold? I propose that the following four processes can serve as an abstract model for evolution: generation, variation, speciation, and selection. These four entities are similar to the fourfold of Structure-Function, currently in development. By my analogy which will be explained later, Generation is action, Variation is part, Speciation is structure, and Selection is function. A more familiar analogy matches these four processes to Aristotle’s Four Causes: Generation is efficient cause, Variation is material cause, Speciation is formal cause, and Selection is final cause.

Generation: Offspring are like their parents by and large, except when made different by processes of variation. Mainly the act of reproduction, procreation, or replication, but includes the ordinary evolutionary factors of descent and heredity.

Variation: Offspring can be different than parents. Includes the factors of genetic variation, mutation, sexual reproduction, and genetic drift.

Speciation: Includes the factors which keep species separated and differentiated from each other.

Selection: Really natural selection. I always thought this was a negative process, where species become extinct or are selected out if they are ill adapted to their environment. Apparently the original meaning was that the fittest organisms and their traits continue: that is, they are selected to survive by nature because of their adaptive traits.

As a process of change, evolution has been suggested by scientists to operate at many levels of nature, not just for the biological. One such scientist is Eric Chaisson, who has written many books on his idea of “cosmic evolution”.








Eric Chaisson / Epic of Evolution: seven ages of the cosmos (2005)


Also note the similarity between this fourfold and the fourfold I have drawn for Kevin Kelly’s Philosophy of Technology. In “What Technology Wants”, Kelly claims that technology develops in an evolutionary manner.



The Square of Opposition

Some readers may think I’ve never met a fourfold I didn’t like. However, there are several that I haven’t presented here because they don’t seem to play well with the others. The Square of Opposition, created by Aristotle, is one such fourfold. The four logical forms of the square are relations between a subject and predicate, S and P, and supposedly exhaust the possibilities of belonging: Some S are P, Some S are not P, All S are P, and No S are P (or All S are not P).

In the diagram I have removed the S and P, and the logical forms become spare and like a Zen Koan or nursery rhyme: Some Are, Some Are Not, All Are, and None Are (or All Are Not). By doing so, they resonate more brightly with the other fourfolds and how they are presented herein. Now, the logical forms can be about existence, or the subject and predicate withdraw and become implicit to the thought.


Compare and contrast the Square of Opposition to the Tetralemma and the Semiotic Square.

The 3rd World Congress on the Square of Opposition is soon to convene. May the meeting be rewarding!






[*4.84, *5.82, *7.70, *7.90]


Walter Watson and David Dilworth’s Archic Matrix

Throughout the history of philosophy, there have been many conflicting stances both towards claiming what exists (ontology), and how we can know our claims are valid (epistemology). There are the oppositions between idealism and realism, between rationalism and empiricism, between thinking all is change and all is changeless, between all is many and all is one, and so on. One approach to overcome these oppositions is to combine them to form their Hegelian synthesis. Another is to deconstruct them à la Derrida. Another pluralistic approach is to consider that there is a germ of truth on each side of the conflicting stance, an aspect of reality for which that stance is valid. Some might think that pluralism is the same as relativism, but it is not. Relativism and pluralism form yet another philosophical opposition like others mentioned above.

Regardless of the validity of pluralism, it can be very useful to analyze what philosophical stances are possible and how they relate to one another. The philosopher Richard McKeon created a rich schema for philosophical semantics that deserves greater recognition. This schema was both simplified and elaborated on by Walter Watson and David Dilworth in their books about the Archic Matrix. There are four main aspects, all exemplified by ancient philosophers: the Sophists, Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle. Everything else is a combination of these original aspects, or essentially a rehashing of them. The main aspects are perspective from the Sophists, reality from Democritus, method from Plato, and principle from Aristotle. These partition “what is”, however it is conceived, into four aspects, each of which can be interpreted in four different ways.

Considering Whitehead’s Criteria, note that perspective has consistency, method has coherency, reality has applicability, and principle has adequacy.

Further Reading:

Walter Watson / The Architectonics of Meaning: foundations of the new pluralism

David A. Dilworth / Philosophy in World Perspective: a comparative hermeneutic of the major theories






Richard McKeon’s Aspects of Knowing

Richard McKeon’s system of Philosophical Semantics arises from the sixteen pairwise and ordered relations between his four aspects of knowing or cognates: knower, knowledge, the known, and the knowable. These sixteen relations can be sorted in four groups of four elements each: methods, interpretations, principles, and selections.

Between knower and knowledge, and between the knowable and the known, arise the four methods of two each: the universal and the particular.

  • From knower to knowledge, the operational method.
  • From knowledge to knower, the dialectical method.
  • From the knowable to the known, the logistic method.
  • From the known to the knowable, the problematic method.

Between knower and the known, and between the knowable and knowledge, arise the four interpretations of two each: the phenomenal and the ontic.

  • From knower to the known, the existential interpretation.
  • From the known to knower, the essential interpretation.
  • From the knowable to knowledge, the entitative interpretation.
  • From knowledge to the knowable, the ontological interpretation.

Between knower and the knowable, and between knowledge and the known, arise the four principles of two each: the meroscopic and the holoscopic.

  • From knower to the knowable, the actional principle.
  • From the knowable to knower, the simple principle.
  • From knowledge to the known, the comprehensive principle.
  • From the known to knowledge, the reflexive principle.

Between each of the aspects of knowing with itself, arise the four selections.

  • From knower to itself, the perspectival selection.
  • From knowledge to itself, the transcendental selection.
  • From the knowable to itself, the reductive selection.
  • From the known to itself, the functional selection.

Each method can be associated with a discursive process: operational with debate, dialectical with dialogue, logistic with proof, and problematic with inquiry. Each method is also associated with a mode of thought which in turn has two moments and one dependency or assumption: the operational method is debate by discrimination and postulation dependent on chosen theses, the dialectical method is dialogue by assimilation and exemplification dependent on changeless models, the logistic method is proof by construction and decomposition dependent on indivisible constituents, and the problematic method is inquiry by resolution and question dependent on discoverable causes.


Richard McKeon / On Knowing–The Natural Sciences

Richard McKeon / Freedom and History and Other Essays: an introduction to the thought of Richard McKeon

Sadly, the following pages are no longer available:



[*4.47, *5.184-*5.187, *6.20, *6.106]



Arthur M. Young’s Fourfold Theory of Process

I have recently come across the philosophical work of Arthur M. Young (AMY). This is an initial impression of that work since I have only read what is available from the web links below, and even then there is a great deal to digest. In addition, there is difficulty in presenting a summary of his theory because of similarities to my ideas as well as substantial differences. I am sure I will need to return to AMY’s theory after more consideration.

I have hinted at a correspondence between several double duals presented in this blog, but I have steered away from claiming that they are all linked to each other – that they are essentially equivalently exchangeable. AMY’s theory links the four elements, the four causes, Jung’s functions of the psyche, geometrical elements and transformations, as well as several other fourfolds into a cosmic theory of reality.

Some of these same fourfolds are present in my theory, and I am considering how others may be introduced. Some not mentioned by AMY are only mentioned in earlier entries on this blog, without presentation. However, from many of these same fourfolds I have reached substantially different conclusions from AMY. I believe this is because AMY’s theory of process is essentially dualistic, whereas my theory appears to be physicalistic, although one might also say it is a process and/or relational theory.

Below is a table of some of the correspondences for AMY’s theory of process:

of the Psyche
Elements of
Purpose Final Intuition Fire Rotation Spirit
Value Material Emotion Water Scale Soul
Form Formal Intellect Air Inversion Mind
Object Efficient Sensation Earth Translation Body

Below is a table of some of the correspondences for my theory:

Four Elements
of Empedocles
The Here and
the Now
Four Causes
Duality of
Time and
Fire Before Efficient Change time Substance
of content
Water After Final Bear time Form of
Air Above Formal Bear
Form of
Earth Below Material Change
of expression


Arthur M. Young / The Reflexive Universe

Arthur M. Young / The Geometry of Meaning




[*6.84-*6.89, *7.78, *7.79, *8.2, *8.62, *8.63]


Monism = Pluralism


– From A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari

Jeffrey Bell’s blog entry about William James’ radical empiricism reveals relations between Hjelmslev’s Net and Linear Logic. To begin with, Hume was concerned with disjunctive relations (of expression) to the exclusion of conjunctive relations (of content). In addition, James sought the solution to the problem that consciousness (here content) has between the “one and the many”, one consciousness in relation to many consciousnesses. Unable to resolve this problem, James did not realize that conjunction can come in two modes, an additive one and a multiplicative one, a substance and a form.

The substance of content (here consciousness, agency, …) is constituted incrementally from choices between actions, either thoughts (thoughts-as-action) or actual actions (actions-as-action). This is additive AND. The form of content (essence, existence) is assembled by the ordering of those choices, a multiple choice of choices. This is multiplicative AND. These are the powers of AND.

However, Hume’s disjunction (expression) also comes in two flavors: additive and multiplicative (substance and form). It also has a problem with the “one and the many”. The substance of expression is either identity or generation (accident, substance). This is additive OR. The form of expression doesn’t seem like much in Linear Logic, but it is the very form of the logic, invertible with the connective tissue of the calculus (the comma). This is multiplicative OR. These are the powers of OR.

Content and expression are dual to each other, as conjunction is logically dual to disjunction. Is content the “subjective” and expression the “objective”? Is substance the “one” and form the “many”? Each is dual to the other, not distinguishable except by perspective. Perhaps these double duals are like a Mobius Strip, which only has one side, weaving in and out and forming a unity out of multiplicity.

Note that the elements of the double dual shown here are taken from the Protreptikos page “Monism and Pluralism”. The fourfold is made up of different “compositions in being”, each in two parts. There are many echoes to other double duals in these compositions, such as potency/actuality (existence) and substance/form.


Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari / A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia


Further Reading:


Aquinas: Metaphysics




Matter and Form, Substance and Accidents