Aristotle's Theory of the Four Causes

Pages: 3 (788 words) Published: November 11, 2010
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who was fascinated by the physical world around him which he wanted to understand and explain. Aristotle highly admired his tutor Plato; however he dismissed his theories about the alternative world of forms and the true form of objects. Instead he tried to explain why things exist as they do in the real world. Aristotle believed we can only know a thing fully when all its causes of existence are understood. So he explored how things come into existence and tried to analyse how we identify objects. He realized that the human brain automatically categorizes everything based on its matter, shape, creator and purpose, in order to identify its common name. Aristotle developed this idea further and proposed the theory of the four causes; which explain why a thing exists as it does. He called these the material, formal, efficient and final causes.

The material cause of an object refers to what something is made from. For example a painting is made up of oil paints and canvas. Aristotle believed that this painting is as it is purely because it is oil paints and canvas; if it was made up of pastels and paper it would not be the painting that it is.

The formal cause refers to what identifies an object. For instance the formal cause of a painting is that it is a pictorial representation of something which creates visual stimulation and enjoyment for a viewer. The formal cause is to do with the colour, arrangement and style of the painting. Therefore this painting is the painting that it is because of the shapes, shading and colours that are unique to it.

The efficient cause is Aristotle’s way of explaining how the object actually came to exist. The immediate efficient cause of the painting is the painter, as he physically created it. However there are other contributing factors to consider which could affect what the efficient cause is. For example someone could have had the painting commissioned and therefore asked...
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