It is best to think of Aristotle’s causes as explanations or reason for being. He believed that it was important for people to understand the definition of cause and its different types for them to understand the world around them (Falcon). Aristotle identified four causes, which aimed to explain what something is made of, what made it, what its shape is, and its purpose. He identified four causes to this effect, which are the material, efficient, formal, and final cause. The aim of coming up with the four causes was to explain physical observations. Aristotle believed that knowledge of the four causes was important to gain a full understanding of an object. The knowledge of the four causes enables a person to view the object from different angles.
The material cause explains what something is made of. For instance, the desk I am using is made from wood. Therefore, wood is the material cause. However, things can have more than one material. For instance, the same desk could be made of wood and iron. The computer I am using to write this paper is made from different materials including wires, plastics, and others. The selection of the materials is important as it helps in explaining a lot concerning the object. The materials that make up the object come from larger classes. For instance, iron and bronze are metals. Hence, metals are also considered the material causes of an object. The materials undergo changes in the process of creating the final product. Their nature determines the change they are capable of undergoing. Metals are cut and melted into shape and woods are cut and smoothed to create an object. This indicates the importance of knowing the qualities and the characteristics of a material.
The second cause consists of the formal cause. It is the formal shape of an object. People recognize this cause as the thing they are observing. This cause also considers the arrangement of an object or its pattern, and its structure. In his understanding, Aristotle also thought of form as the functional organization of something. A substance will share this functional organization with others of its kind. The external shape of a substance might change but its form will remain. For instance, people have the ability of changing their shape when they become taller or shorter or when they reduce or increase their weight. However, their functional organization does not change in the midst of this transformation. They retain the soul that makes them human. They continue performing the same activities that distinguishes them from creatures and objects of other kinds (Magee).
The third cause is the efficient cause. This seeks to explain how something was made from potentiality to actuality. For instance, in the process of making a statue, materials and tools such as chisels, hammers, bronze, and hands were used in the process. Someone had to develop the idea into actuality. These substances were essential in changing the initial stone to the desired product. For this paper to be realized, I had to use the materials, which are in form of syllables and arrange them in a comprehensive and logical manner to develop a legible and understandable essay. When determining the most specific efficient cause, one has to determine the salient explanatory factor. For instance, the creation of a statue originates from the ideas and prior knowledge that someone has. The person creating the statue manifests the knowledge he has of its existence. Hence, the knowledge could be considered the most salient explanatory factor in this case. The mental vision of the creator, such as the sculptor, architect, and designer is what is important.
The fourth cause of the object is its purpose. The cause seeks to answer the question why is this thing here? For instance, for what purpose is my computer? The fact that people use an object for different reasons means that they can have more than one purpose. Someone explains the final cause of the object based on how he uses it. The purpose of my computer is to help me in my studies. For another person that object exists for his enjoyment because he uses it for entertainment purposes. To yet another person, the computer is there for his financial benefit. Aristotle used the illustration of health to explain why people walk. He reasoned that people walked because they want to be in good health. Another person will argue differently as his main purpose for walking is to reach a destination. Things need to change for them to achieve their full purpose. When something attains its actuality, it has the potential to change. A changeable object exists in one state and it has the potential to become another state.
Aristotle explained change using the four causes. He noted three types of change including generation, destruction, and motion. When considering generation and destruction, one considers the substance of a thing. Under the two changes, a substance can come to be or it can cease to exist as it is. Natural change is internal to a substance. Many people today understand causality and change under the efficient cause. However, using Aristotle’s four causes compels someone to examine the occurring changes in a deeper way.
Falcon, Andrea. “Aristotle on Causality.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015
Magee, Joseph M. “The Four Causes.” Thematic Philosophy Page. 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015
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