Sign in to follow this  

Causes. Where have you gone Aristotle?

Recommended Posts

Aristotle describe four kinds of cause:

1. Material

2. Formal

3. Efficient

4. Final

What has become of them in modern times? Material cause is still with us to the extent that we describe matter in terms of its atomic and subatomic components. Since the make up of matter is described mathematically rather than qualitatively, it is bound up with a formal abstract description, rather than in terms of qualities as was common in Aristotle's day.

Formal causation new appears as formal description. All physics theories are stated in mathematical terms. There is no other way to do it. It is the only mode that supports precise and quantitative expression of laws and descriptions of states and processes. Mathematics, is formal cause, in a way. The Mother of Formal Causation in physics are the symmetries, conservation laws and principles of action based on Lagrangian and Hamiltonian functionals (Google or go to Wikipedia for details). Or read a good textbook on modern mechanics, both classical and quantum. (Goldstein's books is excellent if you have the mathematical chops for it).

Efficient cause now appears as interactions. In field theories we have interactions between matter and fields. In quantum field theory we have interactions as exchanges of boson particles.

I think the most interesting latter day manifestation of cause is what happened to Final Cause. It has shown up in biology as -function-. We speak of the various functions of parts of organisms in means to end terms. For example we say the heart -is for- pumping blood. That is a way of looking at. We could also say with equal correctness that the heart pumps blood. O.K. Why does it pump blood? To provide oxygen to the various cells so they can metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins in a complicated metabolic reaction. See Krebs Cycle.

The citric acid cycle [also known as the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the Krebs cycle, or Szent-Györgyi-Krebs cycle (after Hans Adolf Krebs and Albert Szent-Györgyi who first determined the chemical intermediates and reaction sequence of the cycle)] is a series of enzyme-catalysed chemical reactions of central importance in all living cells that use oxygen as part of cellular respiration. In aerobic organisms, the citric acid cycle is part of a metabolic pathway involved in the chemical conversion of carbohydrates, fats and proteins into carbon dioxide and water to generate a form of usable energy. It is the third of four metabolic pathways that are involved in carbohydrate catabolism and ATP production, the other three being glycolysis and pyruvate oxidation before it, and electron transport chain after it.

Entire article at:

That is a reduction of a final cause to a rather elaborate efficient cause. We go from "Why do we put coal in the fire box? To make the engine go" to a detailed description of the engine and its thermodynamics.

Final cause also shows in up evolution theory. Natural selection is based on reproductive success of organisms. In a sense the ultimate purpose of an organism is to make copies of itself. Dawkins even proposes that the purpose of genes are to make copies of themselves and organisms are produced by genes to act as transportation and energy gathering machines to replicate the genes. This is similar to saying eggs make chickens so they can make more eggs. The language of Final Causation is a facon de parler which promotes understanding and can be eliminated and the language of efficient cause can be substituted when it is necessary to deal with the details.

So in a way the Causes that Aristotle loved and wrote about are still with us, but the context has been altered a great deal.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this