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Explain Aristotles understanding of the four causes. (25)
Aristotle was an empiricist, and believed that we gain our knowledge of the world from what
we experience by using our senses. He rejected Platos' idea that true knowledge exists in
the empirical world and that two different realms existed. He said we live in a
spacio-temporal world in which we can find true knowledge as it's though our experience
that we can come to understand things. Aristotle believed that as there is no evidence for
the existence of the world of the Forms, it doesn't exist and therefore we can only really
know about this world as we can use our senses to gain reliable facts about it.
Aristotle looked at the world around him and asked what does it mean for something
to `exist' and what gives particular objects their characteristics. Although he was a pupil of
Platos, he didn't follow the Platonic route of abstract Forms of objects. He believed that
the form is the structure and characteristics of objects and can be found within the actual
object itself. From this, Aristotle explains how the forms can be seen and discovered to
humans by the use of the senses.
Aristotle talked about two states of being: potentiality and actuality. He used these
terms to explain the possibility of doing something and when it is actually achieved.
Although many objects have the potential to become or do something, not all will achieve
its potential. Just because there is potential, does not mean it will definitely be actualised.
Aristotle said that something needs to happen to cause things to change from potentiality
to actuality as he believed it cannot happen on its own.
To explain the movement from potentiality to actuality, he came up with a chain of
causes to explain how things are. He decided that the explanation of things could be seen in
four different ways, at four different levels. He called these the four causes.
The first Cause that Aristotle came up with was the Material cause. This answers the
question `what is the material or matter than an object is made of?" Aristotle used the
example of bronze and silver as examples of the material cause. He explains how a statue is
made of bronze and therefore the material cause of the statue is bronze as it is needed in
order to produce the statue. The bronze is a subject of change because it undergoes
changes in order to result in the statue. Objects however may contain more than one
material cause, such as a chair, as it may be made of a component of materials such as
wood and metal. Without these elements, the objects wouldn't exist.
Aristotle then discovered the Efficient Cause. This is the way in which the object came
to being, the way in which an object was created. Had there not been an efficient cause,
these objects would not exist as something causes it to be. This efficient cause might be an
agent or a natural phenomenon. To continue Aristotles sculpture idea, the efficient cause
would be the way in which the bronze was moved from its state of potentiality to becoming
the actual statue. A sculptor would be the efficient cause.
The next cause is known as the Formal Cause. This cause explains the kind of thing
that it is. This cause looks at the shape of which the material of the object has. If it were not
that shape, then it would not be the object. For example, the formal cause of a statue
might be that is has the characteristics of a statue or the pattern that the sculptor followed.
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It is no longer just a lump of material such as marble or bronze that someone has picked
away it: it looks like something specific such as a person. The formal cause is the Form that
it conforms to and answers the question, `What are its characteristics?'
The fourth cause, the Final Cause is seen as the most important out of all the causes
that Aristotle came up with. The Final Cause is the aim for which an object is created.…read more