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Aristotle S Four Causes

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Aristotle, differing from Plato, believed that by observation we could explain the world and all matter. Aristotle refuted Plato’s idea of having an absolute explanation. Aristotle’s approach, empiricism, is the foundation of science. Empiricism is the use of the five senses to observe objects and gain knowledge.
Aristotle observed that the world was constantly changing, a movement from potentiality to actuality. One of Aristotle’s examples, whiteness, shows that something that is ‘not white’ has the potential to become ‘actually white’. Aristotle came to the conclusion that there are stages, due to the movement from potentiality to actuality. He called these the ‘four causes’: Material, Formal, Efficient and Final causes.
Aristotle understood that an object could not reach actuality without completing each of the four causes successfully. His first cause, the material, describes what the object is made from. For example, a computer is made up of wires, plastic and other materials, these things become the ­­material cause of the computer. Aristotle used the example that a bronze sculpture and silver saucer would have the material causes of bronze and silver. Objects can have as many material causes as deemed necessary.
The second cause, formal, it is what we recognise as the item we are looking at. For instance, you recognise a phone to be a phone because you have an already formed image of its actuality. This links with Plato’s theory of the forms, in the sense that Plato believes there to be absolute views of objects which exist.
His third cause was the efficient cause, this is the way in which something is made/built/manufactured to achieve its actuality. For example, a sculpture’s efficient cause could be a hammer, chisel, water and cloth. My computer’s efficient cause may vary from machines to people to screwdrivers. Once this third cause is complete, the object reaches its actuality.
Lastly, the final cause of a thing is its purpose (telos).Aristotle used the example of health being the cause of walking, he asks ‘why does one walk? That one may be healthy’. Once something has reached its actuality it is also in a state of potentiality. An object, once reached its actuality, has the potentiality to grow old and be damaged, therefore outliving it’s purpose. From this, we can see that Aristotle saw that the universe was in a constant change between potentiality and actuality. This is relatively the most important of all of the causes, if an object does not fulfil its actuality then it is does not reach its purpose and therefore it’s useless.
In one of his works, Aristotle identifies three substance categories. Substance category one contains thing which are subject to decay, die or change. These things are moved by the four causes from a state of actuality to potentiality. Substance category two involves things which are subject to the four causes but never die, decay or cease to exist. Aristotle believed that, within this category, the universe and time was placed because of pre-existing matter. The final category was ‘substance’ category three. Aristotle placed eternal things that are not subject to the four cases, mainly mathematics and what he called the Prime Mover.
The Prime Move is the efficient and final cause of the universe. It exists in a state of pure actuality incapable of change, only contemplating its existence. Aristotle believed this to be his ‘God’. Objects that move from potentiality to actuality fulfil their purpose because their change is bought about by the prime mover.
In conclusion, Aristotle believed the four causes acted upon everything and understood that they are a movement from potentiality to actuality. This movement though material, formal, efficient and final causes was ultimately bought about by the prime mover.

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