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Book Two, Chapter Three

29 September, 2015 - 10:06

Now that we have established these distinctions, we must proceed to consider causes, their character and number. Knowledge is the object of our inquiry, and men do not think they know a thing till they have grasped the ‘why’ of it (which is to grasp its primary cause). So clearly we too must do this as regards both coming to be and passing away and every kind of physical change, in order that, knowing their principles, we may try to refer to these principles each of our problems.

In one sense, then, (1) that out of which a thing comes to be and which persists, is called ‘cause,’ e.g., the bronze of the statue, the silver of the bowl, and the genera of which the bronze and the silver are species. In another sense (2) the form or the archetype, i.e., the statement of the essence, and its genera, are called ‘causes’ (e.g., of the octave the relation of 2:1, and generally number), and the parts in the definition. Again (3) the primary source of the change or coming to rest; e.g., the man who gave advice is a cause, the father is cause of the child, and generally what makes of what is made and what causes change of what is changed. Again (4) in the sense of end or ‘that for the sake of which’ a thing is done, e.g., health is the cause of walking about. (‘Why is he walking about?’ we say. ‘To be healthy,’ and, having said that, we think we have assigned the cause.) The same is true also of all the intermediate steps which are brought about through the action of something else as means towards the end, e.g., reduction of flesh, purging, drugs, or surgical instruments are means towards health. All these things are ‘for the sake of’ the end, though they differ from one another in that some are activities, others instruments. This then perhaps exhausts the number of ways in which the term ‘cause’ is used.

  1. What is Aristotle’s method in this text? Does it have anything in common with that of the Categories?
  2. In Book Two, Chapter Three, Aristotle lists his ‘four’ causes; the translator has numbered them. These causes have come to be known as
    1. Formal
    2. Final
    3. Material
    4. Efficient

Try to identify which number corresponds to which of these causes.

The Greek word translated as ‘cause’ here is ‘aitios’; the Greek word can mean either cause or explanation. Which of Aristotle’s fouraitia most closely maps our own notion of a cause?

Aristotle’s view came to be known as ‘hylomorphism’—the view that all substances are form/matter compounds. It’s helpful at thispoint to introduce a little technical terminology, partly derived from later, scholastic writers. If we take my dog Helga as an exampleof a substance, what will her substantial form (what Aristotle here calls her ‘nature’; what later philosophers call her ‘essence’)be?

This essence explains and fixes everything she can do, and everything that can happen to her. She can’t play the ukulele; she cansniff a treat at five hundred yards. She has these features because she is the kind of thing she is.

But forms never exist on their own. (This is a departure from Plato.) There’s no such thing as humanity apart from individualhuman beings. Forms, then, require matter: a form is always a form of some chunk of matter. In Helga’s case, what is that matter?

She will have lots and lots of other properties besides her essence. Some of these follow necessarily from that essence. For instance,she has narrow toenails. Other properties have very little relation to her essence. For instance, she has only one eye. This is an ‘accident,’in two senses of that term.

We can now see another role that prime matter—matter denuded of all forms—plays for Aristotle. Can you see how the principlethat all forms inhere in matter might make trouble, and what prime matter is supposed to be doing?

  1. Why does Aristotle think there is such a thing as nature, in his sense? What then does he make of artificial things, like a bed? Do they not have natures?
  2. Aristotle argues that form has a better claim on being ‘nature’—an internal principle of change—than does matter.
What is his argument for this?