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Aristotle’s teaching about the difference between the final cause and other sorts of cause Essay

Aristotle believed that all things possess souls. For Aristotle, “soul” labels the distinctive capacities that a thing possesses for example an acorn possesses the capacity to grow into an oak tree. Certain things have certain potentials, these are not interchangeable. Possessing a soul means that a thing has within itself the potential to change. Although an acorn relies on certain external factors such as sunlight, rain etc, to become an oak tree, it carries within itself the capacity to become an oak tree. It is created with this capacity; it does not develop it over time. This is why natural things are better than artificial things.

A lump of marble can only become a statue if it is sculpted, whereas an acorn will become an oak tree of its own accord. Aristotle suggested that the less an object depends on external factors to achieve its potential, then the greater it is. He created a hierarchy of being, which began with the four basic elements of earth, water air, and fire, and ended with God. In between there are plant life, animal life, human life and then, directly below God, the “heavenly bodies” i. e. the stars and planets. Aristotle said that the four elements had the most basic potentials, which is why they are positioned at the bottom of the hierarchy.

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Plants only have the potential to feed, grow and reproduce, and so they are positioned just above the elements. Animals have a more advanced potential that that of plants, but still less advanced than human potential, which is to feed, grow, reproduce, move and feel etc and also the potential to use rational thought, which is the most important for humans. Aristotle stresses the fact that, although they do not consciously strive to fulfil their potential, the heavenly bodies are eternal and have an innate tendency for unending circular motion, and ensuring a basis for the rest of the hierarchy to exist on.

Highest of all is God. God does not represent anything, but rather God is perfect form. He is actuality rather than potentiality. God depends on nothing else for his existence, but is completely self-sufficient and, on the contrary, everything else depends on him to exist. These links between God and everything else are crucial when Aristotle begins to talk about “causation”. He claimed that God is the final cause of the universe. He has fulfilled his potential and there is no further advancement that he can undergo.

Aristotle also said that “cause” may be understood on four different levels. The first is “material cause” which defines the things that an object is made of. For example, the “material” cause of a statue is the marble, clay etc that it was made from. The second level of “cause” is “efficient cause”. This defines the method by which an object was formed. The “efficient cause” of the statue would be the sculptor, or more precisely the process of sculpting. The third level is “formal cause” describes the characteristics possessed by an object.

Aristotle defines the formal cause of a statue as being the shape it possesses, which makes it recognisable as a statue. This leads us onto the fourth and “final” cause. The “final cause” is the ultimate reason why a thing exists in the first place, when it might never have existed at all. The final cause in the case of the example would be the statue itself, because it is what the sculptor aimed to create from the start. The final statue fulfils the sculptors’ intention. Aristotle was not particularly interested in the causes of statues and other inanimate objects.

He applied his theory of causation to living things and, most importantly, to the universe. The final cause of the universe is God, so in taking this view, God is the final cause of everything exists. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Aristotle’s views on causality. Aristotle’s views on causation have many strengths. Firstly it gives a plausible explanation to why things exist but it steers clear of the theory that the universe was created by God in its entirety. It gives us an idea of why we exist and what we need to do to fulfil our own potential.

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