Aristotle and the four causes of the end purpose of an object or action

The Greek word had meant, perhaps originally in a "legal" context, what or who is " responsible ", mostly but not always in a bad sense of "guilt" or "blame"; alternatively it could mean "to the credit of" someone or something.

Aristotle and the four causes of the end purpose of an object or action

Introduction Aristotle was not the first person to engage in a causal investigation of the world around us. From the very beginning, and independently of Aristotle, the investigation of the natural world consisted in the search for the relevant causes of a variety of natural phenomena.

Both in the Physics and in the Metaphysics Aristotle places himself in direct continuity with this tradition.

Aristotle and the four causes of the end purpose of an object or action

At the beginning of the Metaphysics Aristotle offers a concise review of the results reached by his predecessors Metaph. From this review we learn that all his predecessors were engaged in an investigation that eventuated in knowledge of one or more of the following causes: However, Aristotle makes it very clear that all his predecessors merely touched upon these causes Metaph.

That is to say, they did not engage in their causal investigation with a firm grasp of these four causes.

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They lacked a complete understanding of the range of possible causes and their systematic interrelations. Put differently, and more boldly, their use of causality was not supported by an adequate theory of causality. According to Aristotle, this explains why their investigation, even when it resulted in important insights, was not entirely successful.

This insistence on the doctrine of the four causes as an indispensable tool for a successful investigation of the world around us explains why Aristotle provides his reader with a general account of the four causes.

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That proper knowledge is knowledge of the cause is repeated in the Physics: My hesitation is ultimately due to the fact that not all why-questions are requests for an explanation that identifies a cause, let alone a cause in the particular sense envisioned by Aristotle.

This account is general in the sense that it applies to everything that requires an explanation, including artistic production and human action.

Here Aristotle recognizes four types of things that can be given in answer to a why-question: All the four types of causes may enter in the explanation of something. Consider the production of an artifact like a bronze statue. The bronze enters in the explanation of the production of the statue as the material cause.

Note that the bronze is not only the material out of which the statue is made; it is also the subject of change, that is, the thing that undergoes the change and results in a statue. The bronze is melted and poured in order to acquire a new shape, the shape of the statue.

This shape enters in the explanation of the production of the statue as the formal cause. However, an adequate explanation of the production of a statue requires also a reference to the efficient cause or the principle that produces the statue.

For Aristotle, this principle is the art of bronze-casting the statue Phys. This is mildly surprising and requires a few words of elaboration. There is no doubt that the art of bronze-casting resides in an individual artisan who is responsible for the production of the statue.

But, according to Aristotle, all the artisan does in the production of the statue is the manifestation of specific knowledge. This knowledge, not the artisan who has mastered it, is the salient explanatory factor that one should pick as the most accurate specification of the efficient cause Phys.

By picking the art, not the artisan, Aristotle is not just trying to provide an explanation of the production of the statue that is not dependent upon the desires, beliefs and intentions of the individual artisan; he is trying to offer an entirely different type of explanation; an explanation that does not make a reference, implicit or explicit, to these desires, beliefs and intentions.

More directly, the art of bronze-casting the statue enters in the explanation as the efficient cause because it helps us to understand what it takes to produce the statue; that is to say, what steps are required to produce the statue.

But can an explanation of this type be given without a reference to the final outcome of the production, the statue? A model is made for producing the statue.

Aristotle and the four causes of the end purpose of an object or action

A mold is prepared for producing the statue. The bronze is melted and poured for producing the statue. Both the prior and the subsequent stage are for the sake of a certain end, the production of the statue. Clearly, the statue enters in the explanation of each step of the artistic production as the final cause or that for the sake of which everything in the production process is done.

In thinking about the four causes, we have come to understand that Aristotle offers a teleological explanation of the production of a bronze statue; that is to say, an explanation that makes a reference to the telos or end of the process.

Moreover, a teleological explanation of the type sketched above does not crucially depend upon the application of psychological concepts such as desires, beliefs and intentions. This is important because artistic production provides Aristotle with a teleological model for the study of natural processes, whose explanation does not involve beliefs, desires, intentions or anything of this sort.

Some have contended that Aristotle explains natural process on the basis of an inappropriately psychological teleological model; that is to say, a teleological model that involves a purposive agent who is somehow sensitive to the end.

This objection can be met if the artistic model is understood in non-psychological terms. In other words, Aristotle does not psychologize nature because his study of the natural world is based on a teleological model that is consciously free from psychological factors.

For further information on the role that artistic production plays in developing an explanatory model for the study of nature, see Broadiepp.

One final clarification is needed.

The Four Causes

By insisting on the art of bronze-casting as the most accurate efficient cause of the production of the statue, Aristotle does not mean to preclude an appeal to the beliefs and desires of the individual artisan. On the contrary, there are cases where the individual realization of the art obviously enters in the explanation of the bronze statue.The purpose of action in the tragedy, therefore, is not the representation of character: character comes in as contributing to the action.

Hence the incidents and the plot are the end of the tragedy; and the end is the chief thing of all. Aristotle is not committed to the view that everything has all four causes, let alone that everything has a final/formal cause.

In the Metaphysics, for example, Aristotle says that an eclipse of the moon does not have a final cause (Metaph b 12). Refers to the cause of an object or thigh existing. In other words, "why" the thing exists. A book exists because someone wrote and printed it; the author of the book is the cause of the book existing rather than it just being a pile of paper.

The final cause, according to Aristotle is that for the sake of which motion happens. It is the end or purpose for which the motion takes place.

Again, it is easy to understand this doctrine if one considers motions which humans initiate. - Aristotle said there were four causes that make an object go from potential to actual e.g. a willow tree has the potential to become another actuality such as a cricket bat - This is the telos/end purpose of the object e.g.

the purpose of the cricket bat is to score runs. Refers to the cause of an object or thigh existing. In other words, "why" the thing exists. A book exists because someone wrote and printed it; the author of the book is the cause of the book existing rather than it just being a pile of paper.

Summary Sheet: Aristotle's Four Causes - Philosophical Investigations