July 20, 2010

Aristotle's Four Causes, Part 2


In Aristotle's Metaphysics, there are four main causes of change in nature: the material cause, the formal cause, the efficient cause, and the final cause.

Each of these "causes" was a different sense of the Greek word aition, which Aristotle thought was ambiguous and needed to be clarified. The distinction between them can be understood using a wooden table as an example. The material cause is the wood out of which the table is made; the formal cause is the form or shape of the table; the efficient cause is the carpenter who creates the table; and the final cause is the purpose for which the table will be used, e.g. a desk, an altar, a decorative console, etc.

1.) The material cause is the substance or material out of which something is composed. Thus the material cause of a table is wood, and the material cause of a statue might be bronze or marble.

2.) The formal cause is the thing or being into which the substance or material becomes. A leather worker turns leather into shoes for example.

3.) The efficient cause is the person or thing that effects change in a substance or material

4.) The Final cause, or telos, is defined as the purpose, the good, or the goal of something. For example, the final cause of a pen is writing. Aristotle believed that the final cause is the most important of the four causes - determining the three other causes

For another explanation of Aristotle's four causes go here.

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