Causes of Being by Aristotle

Date:  2021-03-13 09:43:22
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In his bid to develop the philosophy of substance, Aristotle argues the four causes as the reasons behind change in the world. The world is constantly undergoing change. Aristotles argument on the cause of change is based on the premise that a complete manifestation of change is based on all four causes. The causes are material, formal, efficient and final. However, Aristotles paradigm of change contrasts from the modern paradigm. While Aristotle perceives change as based on things, the modern perception is based on the paradigm that change is the result of an event. In the present day paradigm, change is perceived as the product of a causative agent that is the event and the change is manifested as the end result of the event.

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Aristotles point of view in introducing the causation was a result of the combination of several points of view of thinkers of his time. Aristotle sought to provide a new definition to becoming and define change not as an illusion but as an experience of nature. According to Aristotle, reality is not the product of external forces but rather a perception of the individual. In some ways, Aristotles thinking is true. Reality is as perceived by the individual depending on their perspective. Many times, people perceive situations differently. The only way reality can be made sensible is that people trust their perceptions and experiences.

Aristotle introduced the concept of causality in a bid to understand the manner in which humans experience physical nature. According to Aristotle, there are many causes. However, there is only one cause that is the basis of all being, teleological. Teleology is according to Aristotle an all-encompassing origin of change. the basis of Aristotles argument is that everything exists based on a fundamental source of becoming and eventually tends towards the final form or end. In the cause of movement towards this final form, Aristotle established subordinate sources of becoming that were ingrained in the teleological movement. These are the formal, efficient and material causes. The formal cause is the manner in which humans perceive the form of the phenomenon as it transits towards its final form. This is the understanding of the sequence of patterns that lead to change in form. The efficient cause is the perception of humans of the present based on what was before. For instance, if a tree is on fire, it is perceived to be so by virtue of being struck by lightning. Material cause explains one cause of becoming of things based on the materials that an object is made of. For instance, a stone is perceived as thus because of the components that make it.

Aristotles explanation of existence is based on the teleological model. The teleological explanation refers to the telos or cause of existence of an object (Cohen 2008). In the teleological explanation, there is no consideration for psychological concepts such as desires, beliefs and intentions. One importance of this is that it provides allowance for the study of natural processes that do not involve belief, attitudes or desires. However, there has been criticism that Aristotles explanation of natural processes is based on inappropriately psychological teleological model (Gotthelf 1976). The criticism arises from the perception that a purposive agent of the teleological model that is in a way sensitive to the end is flawed. However, this objection can be satisfied if the model is understood in non-psychological terms. Aristotles stud of nature is based on a teleological model that is devoid of psychological associations. Subsequently Aristotle does not psychologize nature.

The modern way of thinking does not believe that change can be witnessed or rather the causing of change can be observed. The causing cannot be observed but rather it is the event that can be observed. To identify an event as a cause needs the acceptance that the event occupies a position in a larger structure. The modern paradigm classifies events as causes since the paradigm is based on the principle that does not appeal to anything that empirically cannot be observed. It is therefore on this premise that modern way of thinking that sunrises that the actual causing cannot be observed.

On the other hand, Aristotle held the belied that the actual causing was observable. The activity of the builder building to Aristotle was evidence of the causing under observation. In the modern paradigm m, the builder building was an event that led to change. The result of the builders action was change evidenced by the presence of a built structure. Hume, considered one of the modern thinkers contrasts Aristotles sentiments. For Hume, the causing cannot be observed. In addition, Hume believes that the causing in itself is nor an event.

Aristotle develops his argument by creating arguments that are explanatory of nature based on the four causes and specific to the study of nature. According to Aristotle, all four causes are actively involved in the occurrence of natural phenomena. Therefore, Aristotle believes that the student of nature has to question why in a manner that is fitting the science of nature. This statement best interpreted implies that the science of nature is primarily concerned with the study of natural bodies and their tendency to change and therefore the student of nature is tasked with explaining the change (Sorabji 1980). The basis of natural change turns out to be the form, the matter that leads to the change. however, it is important to note that Aristotle does not imply that all four causes are always involved in each instance of natural change, but that a satisfactory explanation of natural change may have to refer to all four of them.

Aristotle in his defense of the final causality argues that an opponent who argues that the impact of final and material cause in explaining natural changes is final fails to explain the characteristic regularity observed. However, this defense is not sufficient proof of Aristotles argument (Bradie & Miller 1984). By indicating that a study of nature fails to take into account final causality is not enough evidence to prove that final cause do exist in nature. In order to prove that nature demonstrates the element of final causality, it is necessary to do so independently.

The works of Hume were important in shaping the contemporary understanding and explanation of causation (Ruse 1990). Hume led to the dropping of final and efficient but still consideration of causation. Hume argued that all causes are similar and there is no way to distinctly break them down (Ruse 1990). Humes argument was against existence of the four causes. Hume believed there was only one cause that led to the manifestation of change and isolating it was impossible. Humes understanding of the discussion and study of causation was that it must first be reduced to non-causal terms. For Hume, causal notions had to be understood in the context of constant interaction between objects and events.

Aristotle questions the manner in which teeth grow and relates it to how natural change works. How the teeth of animals are differentiated is not based on the need for survival according to Aristotle, it is merely a coincidence (McKeon 2009). When the teeth grow in a manner that they are differentiated, the animal is able to survive and when they do not, the animal cannot survive. According to Aristotle, he considers some sort of natural selection and rejects it. Aristotles argument is torn between necessity and spontaneity. What is, is as it is because it needs to be or there is no purpose or specific reason for existence. Aristotle argues that either there is a real causal relationship between the way teeth of the animal grow or none exists. In this way, the differentiated growth coincidentally happens to be good for the animal and no other reason. An important element of Aristotles argument is that a thing is good because either the animal cannot survive without it or it is good because it benefits the animal.

Aristotles argument on causal agents is based on the prism that existence is the result of material being. In this way, nature is explained by the presence of materials. Change in nature according to Aristotle can be explained through the four causes. For a sufficient explanation of change, Aristotle argues that all four causes (material, formal, efficient and final) need to be taken into account. The view is contradicted by Hume who argues that the final form is the only form. Hume argues that causation cannot be observed and only the final impact of change can be observed.


Bradie, M. and Miller, F.D., 1984. Teleology and natural necessity in Aristotle. History of

Philosophy Quarterly, 1(2), pp.133-146.Cohen, S.M., 2008. Aristotle's metaphysics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.Gotthelf, A., 1976. Aristotle's conception of final causality. The Review of Metaphysics, pp.226-

Lear, J., 1988. Aristotle: the desire to understand. Cambridge University Press.254.

McKeon, R. ed., 2009. The basic works of Aristotle. Modern Library.Ruse, M., 1990. Evolutionary ethics and the search for predecessors: Kant, Hume, and all the

way back to Aristotle?. Social Philosophy and Policy, 8(01), pp.59-85.Sorabji, R., 1980. Necessity, cause, and blame: Perspectives on Aristotle's theory.

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