What is Aristotle’s Teaching of the Four Reasons?

What is Aristotle’s Teaching of the Four Reasons?

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

According to Aristotle, there are four reasons that enable anything and the universe as a whole to come into existence. These four reasons are: Material Cause (causa materialis), Formal Cause (causa formalis), Factor (agent) Cause (causa efficiens) and Final (purpose) Cause (causa finalis). This situation, which is valid for the universe in general, is also valid for all individual things and particulars.

Aristotle’s teaching of the four causes can be explained item by item as follows:

Material Cause: The reason that shows from which substance something is formed is called material cause. For example, consider a tombstone. Undoubtedly, a substance, such as marble, will be needed for the formation of this stone. The tombstone will be made of marble. Thus, the marble will be the material cause (causa materialis) of the tombstone.
Formal Reason: The formal cause of something is called the formal reason. In order for the marble we mentioned above to turn into a tombstone, there must be the possibility of “becoming a tombstone” in the marble and the marble must gain the form of a tombstone. Thus, the form of the tombstone will be the second condition for the formation of the tombstone. Thus, the form of the tombstone will be the formal cause (casua formalis) of the tombstone.
Effective Cause: The cause that enables the substance to take shape is called the active cause, the active cause or the perpetrator. For example, the marble’s being in the form of a tombstone does not occur spontaneously in marble. It will take someone, a sculptor, a craftsman, a stonemason, to carve the marble and turn it into a tombstone. The stonemason who carves the marble will also be the active or effective reason (causa efficiens) of the tombstone.
Final Cause: Finally, there must be a purpose for a substance to take shape, and the reason showing this purpose is called the final cause. In other words, while the stonemason is trying to put the marble into a form, the aim of the stonemason is to turn the marble into a tombstone. For this purpose, the stone will be erected at the bedside of the deceased in a cemetery, and will carry some basic information about him like an inscription. Thus, the fourth reason, namely the purpose or the target reason (causa finalis), will also be determined.
In order for the marble to turn into a sculpture, there must be a possibility of “being a sculpture” in the marble and the marble must gain the form of sculpture. (Image: Pexels)

Aristotle’s teaching of the four causes, summarized above, is a holistic teaching that compiles everything that the philosophers before him put forward as the cause of the universe and is so comprehensive that it has remained valid for hundreds of years after it and has become one of the most permanent and classical teachings in the history of philosophy.

Aristotle did not dismiss any explanation that was put forward as the cause of the universe before him. For example, he adopted the different material causes (earth, water, air and fire) put forward by natural philosophers as the four material causes of nature; He argued that material things, other than abstract structures such as God, celestial bodies, spirit, and mind, ultimately emerged from these four material causes.

On the other hand, he accepted Plato’s ideas as the formal cause of the universe, albeit with a different interpretation. Anaxagoras’ Nous or Plato’s Demiourgos preceded the prime mover, the pure thought, the pure form, which is self-thinking, in Aristotle’s four causes teaching.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook