Causation and Explanation in Aristotle

Philosophy Compass 6 (10):699-707 (2011)
Authors
Nathanael Stein
Florida State University
Abstract
Aristotle thinks that we understand something when we know its causes. According to Aristotle but contrary to most recent approaches, causation and explanation cannot be understood separately. Aristotle complicates matters by claiming that there are four causes, which have come to be known as the formal, material, final, and efficient causes. To understand Aristotelian causation and its relationship to explanation, then, we must come to a precise understanding of the four causes, and how they are supposed to be explanatory. Aristotle’s discussion of the causes, however, is compact, and he typically presents them without arguing for them. He thus leaves us with a number of questions, ranging from the highly specific to the highly general. One question in particular has captured the attention of scholars and philosophers over the last century, and it has had a strong influence on recent treatments of the four causes – namely, whether we are right to understand Aristotle as committed to a plurality of kinds of causation, or rather a plurality of kinds of explanation. Sometimes the question is raised as one of whether it would be more accurate to speak of the four ‘becauses’ rather than the four ‘causes’. This worry is highly general, and there are in fact several ways in which it might be formulated; nonetheless, it is important to clarify the precise nature of the problem, and the possible ways of responding to it. At issue is not just whether Aristotle’s notions are sufficiently like the modern notion of causation to be relevant to our concerns, but, more importantly, whether the distinctions he draws are ultimately metaphysical or epistemological in character
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DOI 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00436.x
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References found in this work BETA

Posterior Analytics. Aristotle - 1994 - Clarendon Press.
Aristotle's First Principles.Terence Irwin - 1988 - Oxford University Press.
Aristotle: The Desire to Understand.Jonathan Lear - 1988 - Cambridge University Press.
De Anima. Aristotle & C. D. C. Reeve - 1956 - Clarendon Press.

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