Plato Part 3


The Final Cause

Before we leave the subject of all living and dead things having a ‘form’ that says something about their potential ‘action,’ I must add that Aristotle had a remarkable view of causality in nature.

when we talk about the ’cause’ of anything, we mean how it -o happen. The windowpane was smashed because Peter hurled through it; a shoe is made because the shoemaker sews pieces eather together. But Aristotle held that there were different types of =,.se in nature. Altogether he named four different causes. It is import-er to understand what he meant by what he called the ‘final cause.’ r the case of window smashing, it is quite reasonable to ask why Iwer threw the stone. We are thus asking what his purpose was. There =re be no doubt that purpose played a role, also, in the matter of the ►roe being made. But Aristotle also took into account a similar ‘purpose’ .fen considering the purely lifeless processes in nature. Here’s an 3rT1 p I e : iNthy does it rain, Sophie? You have probably learned at school that r rains because the moisture in the clouds cools and condenses into ni-,drops that are drawn to the earth by the force of gravity. Aristotle would have nodded in agreement. But he would have added that so ix you have only mentioned three of the causes. The ‘material cause’ s •at the moisture (the clouds) was there at the precise moment when to air cooled. The ‘efficient cause’ is that the moisture cools, and the rtxmal cause’ is that the ‘form,’ or nature of the water, is to fall to the earth. But if you stopped there, Aristotle would add that it rains because plants and animals need rainwater in order to grow. This he called the final cause.’ Aristotle assigns the raindrops a life-task, or ‘purpose.’ We would probably turn the whole thing upside down and say that plants grow because they find moisture. You can see the difference, can’t you, Sophie? Aristotle believed that there is a purpose behind everything in nature. It rains so that plants can grow; oranges and grapes grow so that people can eat them. That is not the nature of scientific reasoning today. We say that food and water are necessary conditions of life for man and beast. Had we not had these conditions we would not have existed. But it is not the purpose of water or oranges to be food for us. In the question of causality then, we are tempted to say that Aristotle was wrong. But let us not be too hasty. Many people believe that God created the world as it is so that all His creatures could live in it. Viewed in this way, it can naturally be claimed that there is water in the rivers because animals and humans need water to live. But now we are talking about God’s purpose. The raindrops and the waters of the river have no interest in our welfare.

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