Aristotle on the Cause of the Universe

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Aristotle's Prime Mover

          Looking at cause and effect made Aristotle wonder about the existence of the universe as a whole.

          The two ‘causes’ that bothered him the most when applied to the universe were the efficient cause and the final cause: What causes the different objects in the universe to actualise their potential? What is the purpose of the universe as a whole?

          Aristotle rejected the idea of an infinite chain of cause and effect.  He did not think that endless cause and effect explains the efficient cause of the universe.

          Instead, Aristotle argued that there must be a Prime Mover (sometimes called the Unmoved Mover), a cause which actualises the potential in everything.

          This Prime Mover was what Aristotle saw God as being: something that causes without being affected, something which already is everything that it could be, ‘pure actuality’ with no potential, and, the first of all things.

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Aristotle's view on the Nature of God

          In Aristotle’s view, the Prime Mover is perfectpure actuality’ and this incapable of change.  This has implications for his ideas about God’s nature and means that:

1.     God causes movement and change. Everything in universe is drawn towards God’s perfection and wants to imitate it, so by attraction, the Prime Mover causes movement in everything else. He does nothing; but it is the object of everything.

2.     God is not dependent on anything else for existence

3.     God is immaterial – this is because matter is capable of being acted upon and changed.  Instead God is purely spiritual.

4.     God thinks only about himself and his own perfect nature – to think about anything else, e.g. our universe, would cause him to change.

5.     God is eternal and beyond space and time – future and the past are the same for God.

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