Aristotle's ideas about cause and purpose in relation to God

Topic: Ancient Greek influences on philosophy of religion

OCR Philosophy of Religion

On Aristotle

  • Greek philosopher - student of Plato
  • However, rejected some platonic concepts such as duality and Plato's dismissal of the empirical method
  • In comparision to Plato, Aristotle's philosophy was more 'Earth-based' or grounded
  • Placed emphasis on the empirical method and sensory experience - key to discovering and understanding the natural world as knowledge rests on careful observation
  • Aristotle's work is characterized by careful observation, reflection on and categorisation of phenomena
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Aristotle's theory of cause and purpose

  • Causality one of Aristotle's key questions
  • Recognised multi-layered explanation of existence
  • Sought to combine various types of causality into theory of cause by outlining the four causes of a thing
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Four forms of cause

  • Material cause: addresses what something is made out of
  • Scientific approach to causality as science often looks to take apart something to better understand what it is
  • Efficient cause: activity that makes osmething happen
  • Transforms potential of something's material cause into actuality
  • Leads to the creation of something new
  • Formal cause: developed formal cause to term the form something has
  • Allows a thing to be identified when partnered with efficient and material cause
  • Final cause: something's purpose; its reason for existing
  • Telos - final purpose of something
  • The soul is the formal and final cause of a thing
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Aristotle on body and soul

  • Soul is the pattern of humanity - each unique person has a unique pattern and a unique soul
  • Soul is a substance, an essence, a real thing
  • The body of the creature is made of matter while the soul provided its form
  • Believed that the form of a creature was its characteristics, covering function, including sensation, movement and reproduction
  • Soul is the strcture of the body that dictates the way the matter of the body is organised
  • There exists of hierarchy of souls - plant (vegetative) souls at the bottom, animal souls in the middle and human souls at the top
  • Vegetative souls provided the power to gain nutrition, grow and reproduce
  • Animal souls provide the same but in addition give the ability to move
  • The human soul does much the same but provides the ability to reason - Aristotle believed this was unique to humanity
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The Prime Mover

  • Aristotle came to the realisation the universe was in a constant state of change and motion
  • Considered that there might be an infinite chain of change and causation
  • However, he rejected this notion as an infinite chain would still require some outside cause
  • Postulated some first cause needed to begin change and cause in the Universe - the prime mover which would cause movement and change in all other things but not in a physical manner
  • PM is non-physical - it causes without being affected in order to remain separate from the chain
  • Perfectly good as the PM is pure actuality - badness is an inherent lacking
  • PM would attract things towards tiself and is the object of everything - the final cause of movement is desire for God as everything else in the universe is drawn towards it
  • PM exists independently with no depedence - eternal and immaterial - necessary NOT contingent
  • Eternal due to lack of potential for change - cannot change therefore cannot cease to exist; therefore, if existence, must always exist
  • PM would think only of its own perfection; intellect most God-like part of humanity as it is pure contemplation akin to the PM
  • Aristotle's stance woven into Christian theology
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Evaluating Aristotle - strengths

  • Compatible with science - accepts empirical view of scientific study
  • Ideas of cause explain varied level of human experience - what forms of an object is not its sole cause/purpose
  • Almost unites scientific and religious theories - prime mover theroy seems almost logical
  • Provides a starting point for explaining the relationship between body and soul
  • Justifies education/continual advancement of humanity - intellect
  • Lays foundation of modern science
  • Argues truth and understanding can be found in our world
  • PM provides a specific cause for the universe
  • Grounded and holds positive appraisal of the human perspective
  • Gives a position human purpose
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Evaluating Aristotle - weaknesses

  • Highly contradictory works which lack clarity - difficult to evaluate as its unclear as to what Aristotle meant
  • Some criticise isolation of science as the only source of knowledge - religious experience, intuition etc.
  • Others disagree with the idea of the universe having a purpose at all
  • Questionable existence of the prime mover - is the universe simply random?
  • Theists question the idea of a 'distant' God - can God be discovered through more than just the consideration of nature
  • Rejection of dualism may be incorrect
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