Aristotle – Four Causes

Following on from Plato’s Theory of Froms, we will now discuss Aristotle’s Four Causes.

Who was Aristotle? 

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato. However, he did not agree with all of Plato’s Philosophies! Aristotle was interested in the nature of things and how we explain why things exist, just as Plato was.

What was Aristotle interested in?

  • Plato suggested that all things were an imitation of an ideal Form. Aristotle rejected this idea.
  • Instead he was interested in matter and why a particular piece of matter exists in the way it does.
  • If we look at a TV, for example, we can see that the TV is made of different materials, has a certain design and we know that people or machines put it together to become a TV. After all, having a pile of parts which make up a TV is not the same as having a real TV.
  • Hence, Aristotle observed that there must be more than one cause for things to exist. Aristotle believed there were four causes.

Aristotle’s Four Causes: 

  • The Material Cause – this is the substance that something is made from. For example, a TV is made from glass and metal and plastic.
  • The Formal Cause – this refers to what gives the matter its form. For example, a TV is not just a piece of glass but glass and metal arranged in a certain way and programmed to work as it does.
  • The Efficient Cause – this refers to the reason behind somethings existence. For example, a TV exists because someone has the idea to build one and put all the parts together to make it work.
  • The Final Cause – this cause is the reason why something is the way it is. This asks the question, what is the function of this object? Why does a TV have glass on the screen? So that we can watch it.
  • The Final Cause is the reason why a thing exists in the first place, what is its function.

Aristotle’s Four Causes Example: 

If we ask what caused a house to exist, Aristotle would give you the following answers:

Material Cause: It is made of bricks and concrete.

Formal Cause: The bricks and concrete have been assembled so that a structure has emerged.

Efficient Cause: A builder put all its parts together.

Final Cause: Its function is to be a place where we can sleep and be warm.


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