Aristotle's Four Causes
These notes offer an overview of Aristotle's famous doctrine of the Four Causes.
The doctrine of the Four Causes is presented and applied in Aristotle's Physics and Metaphysics. The Physics is a treatise on nature. It is not an empirical work (cf. Aristotle's biological treatises); rather it analyses concepts which physics (as understood today) must employ, such as 'cause', 'change', 'time' and 'infinity'.
Aristotle's Metaphysics (literally 'after the Physics') is a treatise on being. First philosophy (i.e. metaphysics or ontology) is the study of being qua (or as) being. Aristotle writes:
"There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not generally the case with the special sciences; for none of these others deals generally with being as being. They cut off a part of being and investigate the attributes of this part—this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do." (Metaphysics IV.1)
"It is also clear, then, that it falls to a single science to investigate beings insofar as they are beings. And in every case, science investigates most centrally what is primary, that upon which other things depend, because of which they are spoken of. If, then, this is substance (ousia), the philosopher must possess the principles and causes of substances". (Met. 1003b11-19)
Aristotle holds that the verb 'to be' is ambiguous. As he often puts the point, "being is said in many ways". Strictly speaking, then first, philosophy studies primary beings, or the most fundamental beings. In his work, the Categories, Aristotle tells us that primary beings (what he calls primary substances) are particular biological organisms such as individual plants and animals.
Aristotle believes that knowledge of something requires knowledge of its "cause" (aition). He puts the point as follows in the Physics: "Knowledge is the object of our inquiry, and men do not think they know a thing till they have grasped the 'why' of it..." (Phys. 194b18-21). The doctrine of the Four Causes is then put to work in the explication of the being of being, or, what is equivalent, the being of primary substances.
Contemporary philosophers follow Hume in understanding causation as a relation between events. For example, event A causes ...
This 1609 word solution provides a detailed explanation of Aristotle's doctrine of four causes, in detail, including concepts relating to metaphysical theory.