Four Causes

Topics: Aristotle, Causality, Philosophical concepts Pages: 2 (854 words) Published: November 2, 2014

a) Explain Aristotle’s understanding of the four causes (25) Unlike his teacher, Plato, Aristotle believed that the world could be explained by physical observation. The approach is known as Empiricism. Plato believed that we needed to look beyond the physical for a metaphysical explanation of the universe in the pretext of the World of Forms. Aristotle contradicted 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 change, a movement from potentiality to actuality. For example, Potentiality refers to a thing’s capacity to develop or achieve a certain goal. All living organisms, Aristotle says, has a natural potentiality to become something. Once that goal has been accomplished, we say that the potentiality has been actualised. Take the example of a puppy. A puppy has the natural potentiality to develop into a dog. Once it accomplishes its goal, then the actuality of this living organism has been accomplished. Potency (i.e., potentiality), though, is not just some inactive state of possibility. Potency is linked to action for Aristotle. A thing can only reach its actuality if it continually acts in a way that allows that goal to be accomplished. This movement from potentiality to actuality lead Aristotle to the conclusion that there are stages in causation. Aristotle called these the four causes: Material, Formal, Efficient and Final.Aristotle understood that each of the four causes were 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 marble sculpture and a silver saucer. Marble or silver in this case would be the material cause. The second cause is the formal cause; this refers to what gives the matter its form. For example, a marble...
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