Aristotle: Cause and Purpose and Prime Mover

From the OCR syllabus, "Candidates should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Aristotle's understanding of material, efficient, formal and final cause;
  • Aristotle's concept of the Prime Mover.

Candidates should be able to discuss critically the validity of the above points."

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  • Created by: Laura
  • Created on: 01-06-09 17:40



  • Empiricist - believed in sense experience
  • Student of Plato
  • Rejected Plato's Forms
  • Aristotle said everything has potential

Potentiality= Something that has the potential to be something different
Actuality= When an object fulfills its potential and becomes something different.

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1. Material - E.g. Logs.

2. Efficient - E.g. The carpenter.

3. Formal - E.g. The object has the characteristics of a table, four legs, a top.

4. Final - E.g. The table fulfills its purpose as a table.

Something is perfect if it fulfills it's Final Cause, its purpose.
Beginings of Natural Law thought.

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Aristotle's Prime Mover

"The series must start with something, since nothing can come from nothing" Aristotle - Metaphysics.

  • Everything exists in a state of change or 'motion'
    • E.g. weather, people age, seasons, colours

"There must be a mover which moves them, without being moved, being eternal substance, and actuality" - Aristotle

  • The chain of movement must lead to something which moves but itself is motionless
    • This was observed in the way that:
      • The physical world is in constant change
      • Planets seem to have moved eternally
      • Change/motion is cause by something 'else'
      • Material objects are in a state of actuality of potentiality

Aristotle's Prime Mover must be:

  • Necessary
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Aristotle's Prime Mover continued.

Aristotle's Prime Move is linked to God (Not necessarily the Christian concept of God though)

  • The Prime Mover cannot cause motion physically as this would mean he moves and he is supposed to be motionless.
  • Therefore he must remain still and move things by drawing them to him.

The final cause of movement is 'a love of desire for God':

  • God is perfection and everything wants to imitate this and so is drawn to it.
  • God is necessary because there must be an eternal transcendant substance that does not move.
  • God is the actuality of the universe.
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Aristotle's Prime Mover continued.

"We must assert that it is necessary that there should be an eternal unmovable substance" - Aristotle, Metaphysics

  • The Prime Mover must be immaterial it cannot be made of something that has the potential to change
  • The Prime Mover cannot move physically so the activity of the Prime Mover is thought.

Attributes of the PM:

1.) Immaterial
2.) Spiritual
3.) Intellectual

Aristotle's Prime Mover is different to the Christian God as it does not interact with the world.

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Weaknesses of Aristotle's Prime Mover


  • Aristotle has no concrete evidence for believing the material world is the source of true knowledge.
  • Many people do no believe that everything has a purpose.
    • Albert Camus French Writer said "the universe is absurd"
    • Meaning there's no way to understand the universe, it's ridiculous to try
  • The Prime Mover must come from something
    • "The series must start with something, since nothing can come from nothing" - Aristotle
  • Aristotle's principles come from empirical knowledge but no one has ever seen something move through thought.
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Thank you! :)

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