Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Aristotle ("Metaphysics", Book 5, section 1013a, translated by Hugh Tredennick)
introduces his discussion as follows:
(a) in one sense, that as the result of whose presence something comes into being—e.g. the bronze of a statue and the silver of a cup, and the classes which contain these [i.e., the material cause];
(b) in another sense, the form or pattern; that is, the essential formula and the classes which contain it—e.g. the ratio 2:1 and number in general is the cause of the octave—and the parts of the formula [i.e., the formal cause].
(c) The source of the first beginning of change or rest; e.g. the man who plans is a cause, and the father is the cause of the child, and in general that which produces is the cause of that which is produced, and that which changes of that which is changed [i.e., the efficient cause].
(d) The same as "end"; i.e. the final cause; e.g., as the "end" of walking is health. For why does a man walk? "To be healthy," we say, and by saying this we consider that we have supplied the cause [the final cause].
(e) All those means towards the end which arise at the instigation of something else, as, e.g. fat-reducing, purging, drugs and instruments are causes of health; for they all have the end as their object, although they differ from each other as being some instruments, others actions [i.e., necessary conditions].
Aristotle also discusses the four causes in his "Physics", Book B, chapter 3.
Material cause The material cause of an object is equivalent to the nature of the raw material out of which the object is composed. (The word "nature" for Aristotle applies to both its potential in the raw material, and its ultimate finished form. In a sense this form already existed in the material. See Potentiality and actuality.)
Whereas modern physics looks to simple bodies, Aristotle's physics instead treated living things as exemplary. However he also felt that simple natural bodies such as earth, fire, air and water also showed signs of having their own innate sources of motion and change and rest. Fire for example, carries things upwards, unless stopped from doing so. Things like beds and cloaks, formed by human artifice, have no innate tendency to become beds or cloaks for example.
In Aristotelian terminology, material is not the same as substance. Matter has parallels with substance in so far as primary matter serves as the substratum for simple bodies which are not substance: sand and rock (mostly earth), rivers and seas (mostly water), atmosphere and wind (mostly air below and then mostly fire below the moon). Only individuals are said to be substance (subjects) in the primary sense. In a secondary sense, one can also speak of a genus like fig trees. Finally, secondary substance, in a different sense, also applies to man-made artifacts.
Formal cause Formal cause is a term describing the pattern or form which when present makes matter into a particular type of thing, which we recognize as being of that particular type.
By Aristotle's own account, this is a difficult and controversial concept. It is associated with theories of forms such as those of Aristotle's teacher, Plato, but in Aristotle's own account (see Metaphysics (Aristotle)), he takes into account many previous writers who had expressed opinions about forms and ideas, but he shows how his own views are different.
Efficient cause The "efficient cause" of an object is equivalent to that which causes change and motion to start or stop (such as a painter painting a house) (see Aristotle, Physics II 3, 194b29). In many cases, this is simply the thing that brings something about. For example, in the case of a statue, it is the person chiseling away which transforms a block of marble into a statue. This is the cause of change, and as such is commonly used in modern conceptions of change, as well as cause-and-effect.
Final cause Final cause, or telos, is defined as the purpose, end, aim, or goal of something. Aristotle, who defined the term, explicitly argued that a telos can be present without any form of deliberation, consciousness or intelligence in general. For example (and according to Aristotle), a seed has the eventual adult plant as its final cause (i.e., as its telos) if and only if the seed would become the adult plant under normal circumstances. In Physics II.9, Aristotle hazards a few arguments that a determination of the final cause of a phenomenon is more important than the others. He argues that the final cause is the cause of that which brings it about, so for example "if one defines the operation of sawing as being a certain kind of dividing, then this cannot come about unless the saw has teeth of a certain kind; and these cannot be unless it is of iron." According to Aristotle, once a final cause is in place, the material, efficient and formal causes follow by necessity. However he recommends that the student of nature determine the other causes as well, and notes that not all phenomena have a final cause, e.g., chance events.