Explain Aristotle(TM)s theory of the Four Causes

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17 April 2009

Explain Aristotle’s theory of the Four Causes. (33 Marks)

Aristotle (384 BC- 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher who was the pupil of Plato and teacher of Alexandra the Great. He wrote on many different subjects including physics, metaphysics, logic, ethics and biology. Due to his scientific background Aristotle was an empiricist, empiricism is a theory of knowledge emphasising the role of experience, especially sensory perception, in the formation of ideas. Though he was the student of Plato, he greatly disagreed with some of Plato’s ideas; Aristotle’s ideas were based on what we experience whereas Plato’s ideas were based on a world beyond that of what we see. Aristotle wanted to examine what it meant for something to be real, and this is how he formed his ideas of the four causes. His theory was based on knowledge that was acquired through experience and empirical observation, i.e. the physical world.

Unlike Plato, Aristotle did not believe forms to be abstract, but instead believed them to consist of matter which could be perceived by the senses. He therefore believed that we acquire our knowledge of the form of something by experience and our knowledge of these forms are aposteriori, this means that we only acquire knowledge of the form after we have had contact with an example of the form. For In the book metaphysics, Aristotle examines the concept of substance. He concludes that substance is a combination of matter and form and this is what a thing is made up off. The Form is a things specific and distinguishing characteristics, and matter being the material that the thing is made from. For example the matter of a house is the bricks, timber, etc, or whatever constitutes the potential house, while the form of the house is the actual house.

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One of the most important aspects of his philosophy was the development from potentiality to actuality; this provided a basis for the discussion of the beginning and existence of all things, including the universe. This development of potentiality to actuality is the progression from the idea of something to the idea becoming a reality. In conclusion the matter of a house is its potential and the form is its actuality. Aristotle used his theory of the four causes to explain the movement of potentiality to actuality; the four causes are the material cause, the efficient cause, the formal cause and ...

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