Unlike his teacher, Plato, Aristotle believed that the world could be explained by physical observation. This approach of using the five senses, cataloguing and categorising, is the foundation of scientific study. The approach is known as empiricism. Plato believed that we needed to look beyond the physical for an explanation of the universe in the guise of the World of Forms. Aristotle disagreed with this.
Aristotle’s understanding of the four causes begins with the assumption that is present in all Greek philosophy, the notion of pre-existing matter. He observed the world around him and noticed that it was in a state of constant motion, a movement from potentiality to actuality This movement from potentiality to actuality lead Aristotle to the conclusion that there are stages in causation. He called these the four causes: Material, Efficient, Formal and Final causes.
He understood that each of the four causes was necessary to explain the change from potentiality to actuality. His first cause, the material, explained what the object or thing being described was made from. Aristotle used the example of a bronze sculpture and a silver saucer. Bronze or silver in this case would be the material cause. However, objects can have more than one material cause. Take for example my laptop. It is made of wires, plastic, alloys and other materials. These things become the material cause of my laptop.
His second cause was the efficient cause. To continue Aristotle’s sculpture idea this was the way in which the marble was moved from its state of potentiality to becoming the actual marble statue. A chisel, hammer and sculptor primarily but also a cloth or water perhaps in order to change the material into the shape required. My laptop’s efficient cause may vary from machines and people to plastic moulds and screwdrivers.
The third cause takes the formal shape of the object or what the object actually...