Aristotle's Four Causes

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To know a thing, says Aristotle, one must know the thing’s causes. For Aristotle the knowledge of causes provides an explanation. It is a way to understand something. Because of the importance of causality to knowledge and understanding, Aristotle developed something like the complete doctrine of causality, distinguishing efficient, material, formal, and final causes, and later concepts of causality have been derived from his analysis by omission. Aristotle’s four causes gives answers to the questions related to the thing to help ascertain knowledge of it, such as what the thing is made of, where the thing comes from, what the thing actually is, and what the thing’s purpose is. The thing’s purpose is used to determine the former three, in addition to the purpose being basically the same thing as what the thing actually is, as the purpose of the thing is used to determine whether or not a thing is what it is.
The first cause needed to gain knowledge of a thing is the material cause. The material cause answers the question “what is the thing made of?” It is the “of which.” An example would be a car. A car itself is composed of a variety of different materials including metal, glass, rubber, and plastic. The metal makes up the body and engine, the glass makes up the windows, the rubber makes up the tires, and the plastic makes up the components of the interior of the car, such as the dashboard. All these materials are used in the production of a car.
The next cause is the efficient cause. The efficient cause gives an answer to the query of “where does the thing come from?” It is the “from which.” The car begins as a thought in the mind of an automobile designer, which the designer then sketches the form of the car in a design model...

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...ause is used to answer “what is the thing?” And lastly the final cause is used to establish “what is the thing’s purpose or function?” In the example of the car its material cause was the metal, rubber, glass, and plastic it was made of. The efficient cause was the designer from where the car was thought of and the factory where it was put together. The formal cause was that it was in fact a car because it had four wheels, an engine, and could transport people. And the final cause was that its function was to transport people from one place to another. The final cause is of crucial importance as it determines the former three and can be used interchangeably with the formal cause, as the cars “whatness” and the cars “for which” is basically the same thing. One can now use and apply these four causes in their life in order to gain knowledge and understanding of things.
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