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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 10. Teleological Reasoning



Teleological Reasoning

Intentional actions may be classified into types on the basis of the intention with which they are done. Natural processes, in contrast, fall under types because they are governed by principles of motion and rest inherent in the natural things that are involved in these processes. I have argued that such processes instantiate types of complex processes, so that one may distinguish between a cause and an effect within them. I have further argued that all processes that are complex in this way must have a final cause.

The main aim of this chapter is to develop an account of teleological reasoning that does for natural processes what practical reasoning does for intentional actions. Charles claims that intentional agency and goal-directedness in nature are two fundamentally different modes of “teleological causation” (1991). I will show how one of them, natural teleology, can be derived from the other, intentional agency. It may be derived by a process of generalization.

This is not to say that natural processes are really a species of intentional movements. On the contrary, intentional actions will turn out to be a rather special kind of natural process. Nonetheless, the kind of reasoning that applies to intentional actions is more familiar to us than what I call teleological reasoning. Therefore, it will be helpful to begin with an account of practical reasoning and introduce teleological reasoning by modifying this account. I←221 | 222→ will therefore begin by...

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