Aristotle on cause

While moving my home library I came across St Thomas Aquinas’ work entitled Philosophical Texts. St Thomas (1275 to 1274) was a well known and well regarded Sicilian philosopher. My translation by Thomas Gilby was published in 1951 by the Oxford University Press. As happens, the book fell open at a page (44) expounding what Aristotle made of the idea of cause so I feel obliged to give this a wider audience here!

“Aristotle enumerates the varieties of causes and reduces them to four kinds. He observes:

  1. Firstly, cause means the immanent material in which a thing comes into being …
  2. Secondly, cause means the form or pattern or type of a thing …
  3. Thirdly, cause means the first principle of change …
  4. Fourthly, cause means the end, that for the sake of which something is. “

There is then a classification of causes, that I have paraphrased below.

INTRINSIC CAUSE – either material cause or formal cause

EXTRINSIC CAUSE – efficient cause (either first cause or secondary cause the latter being also known as causal cause) or final cause (either end cause {which is ultimate (similar to first cause) or non-ultimate (similar to secondary cause)} or the means cause.

At the point of reading about a causal cause my brain gave up. I hope the above dissuades you from pursuing the notion of accidents having causes or at the very least makes you ponder the practically of doing so.

The apparently simple idea becomes unbelievably complicated because to make any sense of it we have to apply adjectives to “cause” and at this point it all suddenly becomes incomprehensible.

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