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Aristotle's Four Causes

Boris Hennig

This book examines Aristotle’s four causes (material, formal, efficient, and final), offering a systematic discussion of the relation between form and matter, causation, taxonomy, and teleology. The overall aim is to show that the four causes form a system, so that the form of a natural thing relates to its matter as the final cause of a natural process relates to its efficient cause. Aristotle’s Four Causes reaches two novel and distinctive conclusions. The first is that the formal cause or essence of a natural thing is not a property of this thing but a generic natural thing. The second is that the final cause of a process is not its purpose but the course that processes of its kind typically take.

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Chapter 2. Two Epistemic Directions of Fit

Extract

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Two Epistemic Directions of Fit

Aristotle writes that in order to even begin investigating nature, one must start from the assumption that natural things are subject to change (Physics I 2, 185a12–14; cf. VIII 3, 253a32–b6). That they may change is thus not something that one finds out about natural things by mere observation. Rather, it is an assumption one must begin with in order to be able to study them as what they are. As I have argued in the previous chapter, the four questions to which Aristotle’s causes are answers apply to all natural things. Because natural things are capable of change, they must be material things with a paradigmatic form, and they must undergo processes that involve efficient and final causes. All this follows from something that one must assume beforehand about natural things, in order to bring them into view as the natural things they are.

If one can know something about a thing before even being able to study this thing, one knows it a priori. Our knowledge that the four causes apply to all natural things is synthetic a priori knowledge. It is synthetic because it tells us something a priori about the object of our knowledge, not only about our ways of thinking and talking about it.

Kant claims that synthetic a priori knowledge is possible because the objects of our knowledge conform to our cognition rather than vice versa. When←53...

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