A relation of causes: Efficient cause in the context of formal and final cause for Plato and Aristotle

Catherine Ann Jack, Fordham University

Abstract

It is generally accepted that early modern thinkers dispense with formal and final causes and identify efficient cause alone as a ‘real’ cause. My thesis is that formal and final causes determine the character and operation of efficient causes, in which case efficient causes cannot operate independently of formal and final causes. This dissertation explores the relation of efficient, formal, and final cause for Plato and Aristotle and, ultimately, argues that formal and final causes shape efficient causes. ^ I begin with an overview of the early modern notion of cause. In the first chapter, I sketch reasons that early modern thinkers abandoned a classically-inspired understanding of causes in favor of mechanism, as well as reasons that some early moderns found this shift problematic. I consider Leibniz and Kant as examples of modern thinkers who attempt to re-introduce formal and final causes. ^ The second and third chapters discuss Plato's Phaedo and Timaeus, respectively. In both dialogues, interlocutors introduce a division of causes in order to explain physical interactions and the actions of agents. Socrates distinguishes between causes and the necessary conditions for causes to operate (Phaedo 95e ff.), a distinction which Timaeus parallels in his discussion of primary and secondary causes. The Forms serve as formal and final causes and remain the final causal referents for physical change and the actions of agents. ^ In the fourth chapter, I argue that efficient cause must operate in the context of formal and final cause for Aristotle. Motion is defined as the fulfillment of a potential for a particular form, and efficient causes ( i.e., moving causes) produce motion or change by introducing forms. The particular, existing characters of agent and patient determine the motions that each may cause and undergo. ^ In the final chapter, I apply the tiered model of causes developed in the middle chapters to four difficulties noted in the first chapter. I argue that efficient causes alone do not adequately explain why certain organizations of matter act in particular, regular ways, nor give an adequate account of chance and spontaneity. I then dispute the position that final cause is a psychological construction and, finally, argue that causes are simultaneous with their effects, not temporally prior. ^

Subject Area

Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Catherine Ann Jack, "A relation of causes: Efficient cause in the context of formal and final cause for Plato and Aristotle" (January 1, 2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI9964569.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI9964569

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