Teachings of Aristotle

Aristotelian Teachings

Home | Life |Teachings | Impact | About

Aristotle's Doctrine of the "Four Causes"

Four Causes In Aristotle's Metaphysics, there are four main causes of change in nature: the material cause, the formal cause, the efficient cause, and the final cause. In his own words:

"Cause" means: (a) in one sense, that as the result of whose presence something comes into being - e.g. the bronze of a statue and the silver of a cup, and the classes for which contain these; (b) in another sense, the form or pattern; that is, the essential formula and the classes which contain it - e.g. the ratio 2:1 and number in general is the cause of the octave - and the parts of the formula.(c) The source of the first beginning of change or rest; e.g. the man who plans is a cause, and the father is the cause of the child, and in general that which produces is the cause of that which is produced, and that which changes of that which is changed. (d) The same as "end"; i.e. the final cause; e.g., as the "end" of walking is health.For why does a man walk? "To be healthy," we say, and by saying this we consider that we have supplied the cause. (e) All those means towards the end which arise at the instigation of something else, as, e.g. fat-reducing, purging, drugs and instruments are causes of health; for they all have the end as their object, although they differ from each other as being some instruments, others actions.

~Metaphysics 1013a, translated by Hugh Tredennick

Learn more about The Four Causes >>

The Unmoved Mover

The unmoved mover (kinoumevov kinei) is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as the first cause that sets the universe into motion. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action. In his book Metaphysics, Aristotle describes the unmoved mover as being perfectly beautiful, indivisible, and contemplating only the perfect contemplation: itself contemplating.

Read more about the Unmoved Mover here >>
The Unmoved Mover

Aristotle's Writings

Aristotle Lecturing

The works of Aristotle fall under three headings: (1) dialogues and other works of a popular character; (2) collections of facts and material from scientific treatment; and (3) systematic works. Among his writings of a popular nature the only one which we possess of any consequence is the interesting tract On the Polity of the Athenians. The works on the second group include 200 titles, most in fragments, collected by Aristotle’s school and used as research. Some may have been done at the time of Aristotle’s successor Theophrastus. Included in this group are constitutions of 158 Greek states. The systematic treatises of the third group are marked by a plainness of style, with none of the golden flow of language which the ancients praised in Aristotle. This may be due to the fact that these works were not, in most cases, published by Aristotle himself or during his lifetime, but were edited after his death from unfinished manuscripts. Until Werner Jaeger (1912) it was assumed that Aristotle’s writings presented a systematic account of his views. Jaeger argues for an early, middle and late period (genetic approach), where the early period follows Plato’s theory of forms and soul, the middle rejects Plato, and the later period (which includes most of his treatises) is more empirically oriented. Aristotle’s systematic treatises may be grouped in several divisions:

  • Logic
    1. Categories (10 classifications of terms)
    2. On Interpretation (propositions, truth, modality)
    3. Prior Analytics (syllogistic logic)
    4. Posterior Analytics (scientific method and syllogism)
    5. Topics (rules for effective arguments and debate)
    6. On Sophistical Refutations (informal fallacies)
  • Physical works
    1. Physics (explains change, motion, void, time)
    2. On the Heavens (structure of heaven, earth, elements)
    3. On Generation (through combining material constituents)
    4. Meteorologics (origin of comets, weather, disasters)
  • Psychological works
    1. On the Soul (explains faculties, senses, mind, imagination)
    2. On Memory, Reminiscence, Dreams, and Prophesying
  • Works on natural history
    1. History of Animals (physical/mental qualities, habits)
    2. On the parts of Animals
    3. On the Movement of Animals
    4. On the Progression of Animals
    5. On the Generation of Animals
    6. Minor treatises
    7. Problems
  • Philosophical works
    1. Metaphysics (substance, cause, form, potentiality)
    2. Nicomachean Ethics (soul, happiness, virtue, friendship)
    3. Eudemain Ethics
    4. Magna Moralia
    5. Politics (best states, utopias, constitutions, revolutions)
    6. Rhetoric (elements of forensic and political debate)
    7. Poetics (tragedy, epic poetry)