Aristotle and his theory of the causes and the Prime Mover



  • we acquire knowledge through our senses and experience
  • more concerned with the concrete tangible things rather than abstract ideas
  • we are INTEGRATED: a substance made up of BODY and SOUL.
  • Substance persists through change : a dog is a dog, whether a puppy or an OAP. Change is when matter is given new form but the essence/substance remains the same.
  • BELIEVED UNIVERSE HAD CLEAR PURPOSES/TELOS goals and results. This is called teleology- things are understood not by what they are but rather what their goal or purpose is.
  • A cause= "aiton"

THE FOUR CAUSES: material, efficient, formal, final. "If purpose is present in art, then it must be present in nature" This idea of everything having a purpose feeds into Catholic thinking and into the cosmological and teleological arguments- that the universe itself has a purpose and a final cause too. This final cause of the universe gives everything else its purpose. "It is obvious that there is some first principle" "Thus is there is no first term, there is no cause at all" [METAPHYSICS]

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"pure thought thinking about itself" This is later used in Christian theology to apply to God although changed had to be made as he did not think of God as a creator but more of a "physical necessity than a proper object of worship" according to ROBERT SOLOMON.

"Knowledge is the object of our inquiry"

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Soul/Body Distinction

In his work in De Anima, he rejects Plato's dualism but as GILBERT RYLE puts it, he has an INTEGRATED view of the person, quite similar to the biblical view. A soul is simply what gives a living body life.

"One should not ask if the soul and body are one, any more than one should ask it of the wax and the shape" -> DE ANIMA

what separates animals and humans is that humans have REASON, which makes them at the top of the hierarchy.

When the body dies, the soul does too. The only thing which is pre-existent is "nous" or THOUGHT which for A, is divine and immortal.


The final cause of a natural object is not a purpose, plan or intention but rather it is what lies at the end of the regular series of developmental changes that typical species undergo. e.g. telos of a developing tiger is to be a tiger. A believes in regularity in nature, opposes chance or randomness. Biological individuals run true to form. So final cause is like formal cause- final cause of a developing plant/animal=form it will ultimately achieve.

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Prime Mover

  • exists by necessity (necessary being)
  • not capable of change- pure actuality by nature so it's nature is good. Lack of goodness means you can do better meaning you can change. Also, without change there can be no time thus PM is eternal - outside time.
  • Final cause- ultimate explanation of why things exist.
  • Final cause leads to movement like the action of being loved- love is not just about actions but also about attraction. P.M. is the ultimate reason and final goal to movement. All action is ultimately aimed at the PM
  • "A living being, eternal, most good...."
  • In Philosophical terms: "divine simplicity" -> without parts and indivisible.
  • Pure actuality containing no potentiality.
  • thought on thought ("pure thought, thinking about itself)
  • Rejected idea of God thinking about the universe and what happens in it as this would be God would change as a result of this knowledge.
  • Isaac Newton also came up with the same conclusion in his Law of Motion "action and reaction are equal and opposite" explaining that process of movement and a reaction is equal as well as completely opposite.
  • Just like HERACLITUS who believed everything was subject to change: "you never step in the same river twice"- change= eternal. Cannot have been a first
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  • change because something would have needed to have happened to make that change happen. Behind every movement, there must have been a chain of events which brought about that movement but is unmoved itself.
  • Metaphysics Book 12- inspired by Plato's theory of a "self-originated motion" described in The Laws Book 5.
  • Final cause must be started by something which does not require physical action which would consequentially alter it.
  • Like saucer of milk attracts a cat. Milk attracts the cat but is not changed in the process.
  • Ultimate explanation of why things exist and is final goal of movement so therefore is final cause rather than efficient. It is the PURPOSE of the movement.
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Strengths and Weaknesses


  • Sensible and useful way of thinking about chain of causes and effects (causation) that lie behind existence of something.
  • Thus ancient, they provide an invaluable framework for modern scientific explanation.
  • can be defended because it is derived from reflection on studies of the natural world. (strength compared to Plato?)
  • Enormous influence on Christian thinking- God is cause of existence, universe exists for reason with function to perform?


  • argues against Plato's a priori evidence but how do we know material world is the source of true knowledge?
  • makes sense to say things have final cause but how do we establish final cause of natural things?
  • why must everything have a purpose? universe could be entirely random like
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  • famous radio report in 1948 between Copleston and Russel: "I should say that the universe is just there and that's all"
  • Why does there have to be a beginning to a casual chain? Couldn't the existence of events be compatible with no beginning?
  • PM argument incoherent? Nothing can cause itself EXCEPT PM?! what moved the PM?
  • For Christians, PM's immovability is a problem: they believe God can be affected in some way by prayer.
  • Hume: no need to attribute cause and purpose to everything, this was merely "wish fulfillment".
  • Newton's First Law states: it's as natural for a body to move at a constant velocity as it is for a body to be at rest.
  • In Metaphysics, A implies that he thought there was more than one unmoved mover- thought as many as 55?
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