Explain Aristotle’s Theory of the Four Causes Essay

1031 WordsJan 6, 20135 Pages
Explain Aristotle’s theory of the Four Causes Unlike his teacher, Plato, Aristotle believed that the world could be explained by physical observation. This approach of using the five senses, cataloguing and categorising, is the foundation of scientific enquiry and study. The approach is known as empiricism. Plato believed that we needed to look beyond the physical for a metaphysical explanation of the universe in the guise of the World of Forms. Aristotle refuted this. Aristotle’s understanding of the four causes begins with the assumption that is present in all Greek philosophy, the notion of pre-existing matter. He observed the world around him and noticed that it was in a state of constant flux, a movement from potentiality to actuality. Aristotle uses the example of ‘Whiteness’. Something that is ‘not white’ has the potential to become ‘actually white’ (to actualise this potential), for example my laptop has the potential to run out of battery as I type but is currently in a state of actualised use of battery power. This movement from potentiality to actuality lead Aristotle to the conclusion that there are stages in causation. He called these the four causes: Material, Formal, Efficient and Final causes. He understood that each of the four causes was necessary to explain the change from potentiality to actuality. His first cause, the material, explained what the object or thing being described was made from. Aristotle used the example of a bronze sculpture and a silver saucer. Bronze or silver in this case would be the material cause. However, objects can have more than one material cause. Take for example my laptop. It is made of wires, plastic, alloys and other materials. These things become the material cause of my laptop. The second cause takes the formal shape of the object or the pattern which this class of object or thing takes; the definition
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