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Legitimizing Final Causes

Uploaded by palma on Oct 15, 2000

Sam Vaknin's Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Web Sites


The word "telos" in ancient Greek meant: "goal, target, mission, completion, perfection". The Greeks seem to have associated the attaining of a goal with perfection. Modern scientific thought is much less sanguine about teleology, the belief that causes are preceded by their effects. The idea is less zany than it sounds. It was Aristotle who postulated the existence of four types of causes.

It all started with the attempt to differentiate explanatory theories from theories concerning the nature of explanation (and the nature of explanatory theories). To explain is to provoke an understanding in a listener as to why and how something is as it is. Thales, Empedocles and Anaxagoras were mostly concerned with offering explanations to natural phenomena. The very idea that there must be an explanation is revolutionary. We are so used to it that we fail to see its extraordinary nature. Why not assume that everything is precisely as it is because this is how it should be, or because there is no better way (Leibnitz), or because someone designed it this way (religious thought)? Plato carried this revolution further by seeking not only to explain things - but also to construct a systematic, connective epistemology. His Forms and Ideas are (not so primitive) attempts to elucidate the mechanism which we employ to cope with the world of things, on the one hand, and the vessels through which the world impresses itself upon us, on the other hand. Aristotle made this distinction explicit: he said that there is a difference between the chains of causes of effects (what leads to what by way of causation) and the enquiry regarding the very nature of causation and causality. In this text, we will use the word causation in the sense of: "the action of causes that brings on their effects" and causality as: "the relation between causes and their effects".

Studying this subtle distinction, Aristotle came across his "four causes". All, according to him, could be employed in explaining the world of natural phenomena. This is his point of departure from modern science. Current science does not admit the possibility of a final cause in action. But, first things first. The formal cause is why a thing is the type of thing that it is. The material cause is the matter in which the formal reason is impressed. The...

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Uploaded by:   palma

Date:   10/15/2000

Category:   Science And Technology

Length:   13 pages (2,956 words)

Views:   2098

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