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The role of material and efficient causes in Aristotle's natural teleology.

Teleology is central to Aristotle's natural philosophy. In Physics II 8 Aristotle argues that nature 'acts for the sake of something' (198b10-11), by which he means, for example, that nature directs a dog's front teeth to come up for the sake of tearing the food and its back molars to come up for the sake of grinding (198b23ff). However, what these claims amount to is the subject of scholarly controversy.

Both sides of the debate believe that Aristotle's defense of natural teleology depends on his conception of the relationship between complex living entities and the four elements that (at an ultimate remove) compose them. On one side of the interpretive debate, commentators contend that Aristotle defends natural teleology against reductivist opponents by arguing that one must appeal to formal and final causes in order to explain the generation of natural organisms because the movements of the elements alone cannot account for this. (1) (For example, the movement of the elements alone cannot account for the way a dog's teeth come to be.) Commentators within this camp disagree about whether Aristotle thinks a more complex physical theory (like our own) could account for such phenomena, thereby allowing Aristotle to dispense with natural teleology altogether.

On the other side of the debate, commentators think that Aristotle defends natural teleology against eliminativist opponents who maintain that there is nothing to explain the generation of living organisms because it is simply an accidental result of the movements of the elements. (2) For example, if elemental movements collectively necessitate the coming to be of a dog's teeth, but nothing coordinated these movements for the sake of producing the teeth, then the teeth (and the dog as a whole) are simply an accidental result of those movements. On this interpretation, it is Aristotle's task to show that organic phenomena such as the generation of dogs could not have come about accidentally (given their order and regularity), and that they are, in truth, legitimate subjects of explanation.

Thus, commentators have disagreed about the philosophical issue at stake in Aristotle's introduction of formal/final causation on the organic level: one side claims his reason was to explain the organic phenomena his opponents tried but failed to explain via elemental material/efficient causation, and the other side claims his reason was to refute a position on which organic phenomena would fail to be explananda.

Despite this disagreement, commentators on both sides are united in assuming that Aristotle's defense of natural teleology solely targets his predecessors' conception of organic phenomena: commentators think that although Aristotle agreed with his predecessors that the four elements operate solely by efficient and material causes, he argued that the generation of living things requires, in addition, formal and final causes. (3) This paper aims to undermine this common assumption. Although Aristotle does indeed use living things as his paradigm examples, nonetheless his critique of his predecessors extends beyond their view of living organisms to their conception of all natural phenomena. I aim to demonstrate that Aristotle believes his predecessors' conception of material and efficient causes in nature to be inherently confused (4) because they failed to recognize that all material and efficient causation in nature depends on formal and final causation. Far from thinking that formal and final causation should be introduced only at the level of organic phenomena, Aristotle held that material and efficient causes, by themselves, were insufficient at any level of natural phenomena. If one looks more closely at Aristotle's account, one finds that formal and final causes are ineliminable even at the lowest level--the level of the elements.

I divide my discussion into two parts. First, I argue that Aristotle thinks that material causes in nature ('material natures') are dependent on formal causes in nature ('formal natures'). Section II then argues that, for Aristotle, all efficient causation depends on formal and final causation. Thus, insofar as his predecessors failed to acknowledge formal and final causation at work in nature, they failed to offer a proper account of material and efficient causation. If my interpretation is correct, I will have shown that Aristotle's critique of his predecessors is much more radical than contemporary commentators acknowledge: instead of simply challenging his predecessors' conception of causation at the level of organic phenomena, he finds their view problematic even at the lowest level of natural phenomena, on the level of the elements.

I Material nature

In this section I establish that for Aristotle material nature is dependent on formal nature. This dependence presents a radical departure from the views of his predecessors: far from thinking their conception of matter is insufficient solely at the organic level, he finds their conception to be inherently confused.

On Aristotle's account, a natural substance requires both a material and a formal nature. Aristotle is committed to this view not only (as commentators have pointed out) because of 'diachronic' considerations rooted in his understanding of natural change, but also based on the following, what we might call 'synchronic' considerations that highlight how Aristotle's conception of material nature differs radically from that of his predecessors.

Aristotle's hylomorphism is secured by his very definition of a nature. Physics II 1 defines a nature as 'a principle and cause of being moved and of coming to rest in that to which it belongs primarily, in virtue of itself and not accidentally' (192b21-3). (5) Given that 'something cannot be in itself primarily' (IV 3, 210b23), (6) we see that Aristotle must be committed to a difference between that which has a nature and the nature it has. If so, a natural substance, which is said to have a nature (II 1, 192b33), cannot be simply matter or simply form, but must be a combination of both so as to block the identification of that which has a nature and the nature it has. Given that the elements, as well as plants and animals, each have a nature (192b8-15) they cannot be simply matter or simply form, but a combination of both. Aristotle affirms that both the matter and the form are natures (193a28-30, 193b3-6).

This argument suggests that material and formal natures are mutually dependent in this sense: something cannot serve as a formal nature of a substance if that substance has no material nature, and something cannot serve as a material nature of a substance if that substance has no formal nature. Without material nature, there would be no natural substance there for which the formal nature could serve as a nature or principle, for there would be nothing to block the identification of the formal nature with the substance itself (that is, nothing to block the identification of a nature and the thing that has that nature). And likewise, without formal nature, there would be no natural substance there for which the material could serve as a nature or principle, for there would be nothing to block the identification of the material with the substance itself (again, there is nothing to block the identification of a nature and the thing that has that nature). The outcome of this is that a material nature is always dependent on a formal nature on Aristotle's account.

Now we can see how different Aristotle's conception of matter was from that of his materialist predecessors, who thought matter was a nature completely independent of form: 'Some identify the nature or substance of a natural object with that immediate constituent of it which taken by itself is without arrangement, e.g., the wood is the nature of the bed, and the bronze the nature of the statue' (Physics II 1, 193a1013, trans. Hardie and Gaye in Barnes), and they think, at a more ultimate remove, material nature is earth, air, fire, and water (193a21-3). Aristotle's arguments against this position again reinforce the fact that he believes formal natures to be ineliminable for any level of natural substance. Although Aristotle initially seems to approve of the above conception of nature, remarking that this is one way of using the term 'nature' (193a28), he goes on to suggest that such matter would not, after all, be a nature if it weren't for the presence of a formal nature:
 Another account is that nature is the shape or form which is
 specified in the definition of the thing. For the word "nature" is
 applied to what is according to nature and the natural in the same
 way as "art" is applied to what is artistic or a work of art. We
 should not say in the latter case that there is anything artistic
 about a thing, if it is a bed only potentially, not yet having the
 form of a bed; nor should we call it a work of art. The same is
 true of natural compounds. What is potentially flesh or bone has
 not yet its own nature, and does not exist by nature, until it
 receives the form specified in the definition, which we name in
 defining what flesh or bone is. Thus on the second account of
 nature, it would be the shape or form (not separable except in
 statement) of things which have in themselves a principle of
 motion. (The combination of the two [i.e., matter and form], e.g.,
 man, is not nature but by nature.) (Physics II 1, 193a30-b3, trans.
 Hardie and Gaye in Barnes)


Here Aristotle suggests that 'what is potentially flesh or bone'--the material stuff that makes up flesh and bone--cannot be a natural compound (something that has a nature) without the presence of a formal nature. In other words, what the predecessors took to be the only nature--the material stuff--in fact, cannot be a nature without the presence of a formal nature. In maintaining that 'the combination of the two [i.e., matter and form], e.g., man, is not nature but by nature', Aristotle highlights the distinction between the material and formal principles that are natures and the natural substance, which is not itself 'nature', but rather 'by nature' in the sense of having a nature. So although Aristotle allows that matter is a nature--and thereby agrees with his predecessors--he thinks this fact is dependent on the presence of a formal nature and that it is a combination of these two natures that constitutes a natural substance, which has a nature. In failing to acknowledge formal nature, then, the predecessors did not simply fail to acknowledge formal causation at the level of organic phenomena; they failed to offer a coherent conception of material nature itself.

A whetting stone for this argument proved to be Plato and Anaximander's allegiance to similar conceptions of the ultimate material nature. The fact that something cannot serve as a material nature of a substance if that substance has no formal nature, implies that the ultimate material nature cannot be a natural substance in its own right. (7) But Aristotle thinks this is just how Plato and Anaximander mistakenly conceived of the ultimate matter. Again, I will demonstrate that Aristotle believes that Plato and Anaximander's conception of the ultimate material nature/principle is inherently confused.

According to Aristotle, Anaximander and Plato conceive of their ultimate material principles (the 'Boundless' and the receptacle, respectively) as natural substances in their own right, independent of any form:
 But those thinkers are in error who postulate, beside the bodies we
 have mentioned [the four elements], a single matter--and that a
 corporeal and separable matter. For this body cannot possibly exist
 without a perceptible contrariety--this "Boundless", which some
 thinkers identify with the principle, must be either light or
 heavy, either cold or hot. And what Plato has written in the
 Timaeus is not based on any precisely-articulated conception. For
 he has not stated clearly whether his "Omnirecipient" exists in
 separation from the elements; nor does he make any use of it. He
 says, indeed, that it is a substratum prior to the so-called
 elements--underlying them, as gold underlies the things that are
 fashioned of gold. (de Generatione et Corruptione II 1, 329a9-18;
 trans. Joachim in Barnes)


The important point for my purposes is that both Anaximander and Plato attempt to make their ultimate material principles into a natural substance. Anaximander claims the 'Boundless', his ultimate material principle, is 'corporeal and separable [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]]' from the four elements, thereby suggesting that it stands alone as a natural substance in its own right. Although Plato does not explicitly state that his ultimate material principle (the receptacle) exists in separation from the four elements, insofar as he maintains that it is 'prior' to the elements as gold is to things made out of it, he shares Anaximander's conception of the material principle as itself a natural substance. According to Plato, just as the triangle fashioned out of gold is gold, the element water, fashioned out of the receptacle, is the receptacle. If so, gold and the receptacle must be natural substances in their own right, and the change from a triangle to a square or the change from water to air is merely an alteration of the underlying natural substance.

Interestingly, instead of rejecting Plato's receptacle or ultimate matter altogether, Aristotle reconceptualizes it: he immediately goes on to say that the receptacle is not the 'this' or separate natural substance that Plato thinks it is, but is a principle (nature) inseparable from contrarieties, which he later identifies as forms (II 2, 329b10):
 Our [i.e., Aristotle's] own doctrine is that although there is a
 matter of the perceptible bodies (a matter out of which the
 so-called elements come-to-be), it has no separate existence, but
 is always bound up with a contrariety. ... We must reckon as a
 principle and as primary the matter which underlies, though it is
 inseparable from, the contrary qualities; for the hot is not matter
 for the cold nor the cold for the hot, but the substratum is matter
 for them both. (II 1, 329a24-33, trans. Joachim in Barnes)


Plato's mistake (like that of Anaximander) was to make the receptacle into a separate natural substance. Aristotle suggests that Plato's receptacle should not be taken as a separate natural substance, but as an ultimate material principle and as a principle, it is not 'separate', but 'always bound up with a contrariety'. Just as Physics II 1 urged, more generally, that a material nature cannot serve as a nature without the presence of a formal nature, here we find that the ultimate material principle depends on the presence of contraries, which the next chapter in de Generatione et Corruptione explicitly identifies as forms or principles ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]; II 2, 329b10).

By making the material nature into a substance in its own right (thereby materializing material nature), (8) the predecessors were in a position to identify higher-level things with the matter that composes them. By undermining their materialization of matter, Aristotle thinks he has also undermined his predecessors' attempts to identify higher-level things with their matter: he suggests that if the receptacle (or ultimate matter) is taken as a principle rather than a natural substance, it cannot be what the things fashioned out of it are, and it is not ontologically prior to them. (9)

II Efficient Cause

Thus far I have argued that on Aristotle's account a material nature requires a formal nature: material nature is a nature, an internal principle: as an internal principle, material nature is dependent on formal nature, and it is not the kind of thing with which the entities it composes can be identified. As we have seen, Aristotle thinks his predecessors' view of material nature was inherently confused, so clearly his critique extends well beyond his predecessors' understanding of material nature at the organic level, reaching down to the most basic level of the elements themselves. In this section I will argue that, strictly speaking, an efficient cause always requires a formal and final cause on Aristotle's account. While Aristotle's predecessors thought efficient causes could only be manifest entities, Aristotle sees that non-substantial principles may be efficient causes, and furthermore, he sees that when natural substances are efficient causes, they are efficient causes only in virtue of the teleologically directed formal causes at work within them. Thus, again, we will see that Aristotle found his predecessors' conception of efficient causes to be insufficient for natural phenomena at any level, not only at the level of living organisms.

In Physics II 7 Aristotle suggests that his predecessors hunted for causes among the manifest entities around them: 'For in respect of coming to be it is mostly in this last way [i.e., as moving cause] that causes are investigated: "what comes to be after what? what was the primary agent or patient" and so at each step of the series' (198a33-6; trans. Hardie and Gaye in Barnes). The predecessors' hunt for the causes among manifest 'whats' obscured the fact that causes need not be natural substances, but can be non-substantial principles. The passage continues,
 But there are two sources which cause movement naturally, of which
 one is not natural, for it does not have a principle of movement in
 itself. And such a one is whatever causes movement without being
 moved; such as that which is completely unchangeable, the first of
 all [i.e., God], and the what it is and the form; for it is the end
 or that for the sake of which. (198a37-b4)


Aristotle contrasts his predecessors' search for causes among manifest things with his own aim to show the principles at work to be the efficient causes. Here, he asserts that in addition to the 'natural' source of movement ('natural' in the sense of having a nature), which his predecessors acknowledge by citing the manifest 'whats' around them as causes, there is also an unnatural source that his predecessors missed. This unnatural source is a form, a principle at work within things, which is termed 'not natural' precisely because it does not have a nature; rather, it is a nature. So even though Aristotle here acknowledges that natural substances can be efficient causes, nonetheless, he thinks it would be a mistake to stop short of investigating the principles operative in the natural substances that serve as causes.

In fact, Aristotle holds that natural substances are efficient causes only because of the formal principles at work in them. Consider one of Aristotle's favorite examples: although the builder is the efficient cause of the house, Aristotle holds this to be so in virtue of a prior cause, the building craft.
 In investigating the cause of each thing it is always necessary to
 seek what is most precise [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] (as
 also in other things): thus a man builds because he is a builder,
 and a builder builds in virtue of his art of building. The last
 cause then is prior [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]]; and so
 generally. (Physics II 3, 195b23-6, trans. Hardie and Gaye in
 Barnes)


Aristotle thereby suggests that even though we can say that the builder is the efficient cause of the house, this is only an imprecise manner of speaking, for the builder is such a cause only in virtue of the fact that the builder has the building craft in his soul, and so the building craft is more properly speaking the efficient cause. (10) As is clear from Metaphysics VII 7, the building craft is not something that has a principle (i.e., a natural substance), but rather is itself a principle or form: 'For the medical craft and the building craft are the form of health and [the form] of the building' (Metaphysics VII 7, 1032b13-14). (11) Aristotle also describes the building craft as a 'potentiality in the agent' (Metaphysics IX 1, 1046a26): for the builder to have the form of the house in his soul is for him to have the potentiality to actualize that form in the building materials. As possessed by the builder, the form directs him to move in the ways that properly lead to that form being actualized in the building materials. As a potentiality, the building craft is dependent on the actuality to which it is directed (the house)
 because everything that comes to be moves towards a principle,
 i.e., an end. For that for the sake of which a thing is, is its
 principle, and the becoming is for the sake of the end; and the
 actuality is the end, and it is for the sake of this that the
 potentiality is acquired. For animals do not see in order that they
 may have sight, but they have sight that they may see. And
 similarly men have the art of building that they may build.
 (Metaphysics IX 8, 1050a7-12, trans. Ross in Barnes) (12)


Thus, the actuality and final cause, the house, is prior to the ultimate efficient cause of the house--the building craft that the builder possesses. The builder comes to possess the building craft in order to build a house.

Implicit in this discussion of efficient causes is the distinction between teleologically directed formal principles--which Aristotle terms [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ('in virtue of itself') efficient causes--and 'accidental' efficient causes. This is an important distinction:
 For just as a thing is something either in virtue of itself [[TEXT
 NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] or accidentally [[TEXT NOT
 REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]], so may it be a cause. For instance, the
 housebuilding faculty is in virtue of itself a cause of a house,
 whereas the pale or the musical is an accidental cause. That which
 is per se cause is determinate, but the accidental cause is
 indeterminable; for the possible attributes of an individual are
 innumerable. As we said, then, when a thing of this kind comes to
 pass among events which are for the sake of something, it is said
 to be spontaneous or by chance. (196b24-9, trans. Hardie and Gaye
 in Barnes)


As we have seen, Physics II 3 points out that the builder is an efficient cause in virtue of the fact that he possesses the prior cause, the craft of building (a form). Here Aristotle goes on to say, moreover, that the craft of building is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause of the house, while other attributes the builder may happen to have--e.g., paleness or musicality--are simply the accidental causes of the house. Although it may be true that a pale man built a house--and thus, in a sense the pale man is the efficient cause of the house--he did not do so in virtue of his being pale, but in virtue of his having the craft of building. In this case the house comes to be due to a single [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause (the craft of building), although there are various accidental causes (paleness, musicality, and so on) of the house as well.

But not everything that happens has a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause; such things are said to happen by accident. As Aristotle points out, the confectioner does not produce all of the food's attributes (Metaphysics VI 2, 1027a3-5; cf. Metaphysics VI 2, 1026b6-10). Perhaps the food turns out to be productive of health. But the confectioner's craft is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause only of the food's delicious taste, not of its being healthy; and perhaps there is no [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause of the food's being healthy, as such a cause must derive from the doctoring craft. In such cases, while there is some sense in which the confectioner makes the healthy food, he does not make it in the strict sense, '[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]' (1027a5). The confectioner did not possess the form of health to impose on the food; rather, the confectioner possessed the form of the delicious food, and it was that form he imposed on the materials. Thus, in the strict sense, the healthy food has no efficient cause whatsoever.

We can see that in a case in which the confectioner is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause of the delicious food, the confectioner possesses the potentiality for that end. In cooking he acts for the sake of the delicious food insofar as he seeks to realize this form he possesses (the confectioner's craft) in the ingredients. Although [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causation operates teleologically, accidental efficient causation does not. No one (in this case) possesses the form health to impose on the ingredients, and no one possesses a potentiality that is teleologically directed at the healthy food. The only causal story we can tell about an accidental result like the healthy food is something like the following: when the confectioner went to the store to pick up the ingredients they were out of stock on bleached flour and so he used what the store had on hand, which turned out to be much healthier. In this causal story, there is no cause that brought together the paths of the contributing factors for the sake of the resulting healthy food. Perhaps each of the contributing factors had a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause of its own, and thus was itself a product of teleological causation: perhaps the store was out of bleached flour because they decided to replace it with whole wheat flour since it was more lucrative, and the confectioner went to that shop in order to buy bleached flour, and so on. But the important point for Aristotle is that even though each of the contributing factors might have a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause of its own, there is no [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause of the healthy food itself. There was no one in this story who possessed the form of health to impose on the materials, and thus no one who aimed at the construction of the healthy food. This is why Aristotle hedges that accidental causes are 'in a sense' efficient causes and 'in a sense' not (Physics VIII 4, 255b24-7). Even though there is a sense in which the confectioner makes the healthy food--after all, his cooking movements resulted in the healthy food--nonetheless, results like the healthy food do not happen because of their accidental cause(s) (Posterior Analytics I 4, 73b10-16; Physics V 2, 225b24-7; Metaphysics V 29, 1025a25-7). (13) Thus, only the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause is an efficient cause, strictly speaking ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]?; Physics II 3, 195b4).

So far I have been discussing efficient causation in the realm of craft. But Aristotle thinks causation operates in an analogous way in the realm of nature. (14) Let us consider the case of human generation. The father is the efficient cause of the child in virtue of the fact that he possesses a prior cause, the form of the human being. In generating the child, the father imposes this form onto the material supplied by the mother. Certain features of the child--for example, the child's eyes--will take the form human, possessed by the father, as their [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause. For part of what it is to be human is to see (and thus to have eyes), and in imposing the form human on the materials supplied by the mother, the father aimed at producing eyes. Nonetheless, it may turn out that the child has blue eyes. Aristotle insists that such a result would be accidental, for it is not part of what it is to be human to have blue eyes (de Generatione Animalium V 1, 778b11-19). If it is not part of the form human to have blue eyes, and the (only) form the father aims to impose on the material is the form human, then the father cannot be the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause of the blue eyes. Although we can say the father is in some weak sense the efficient cause of the blue eyes, nonetheless, strictly speaking, he is not the efficient cause. Strictly speaking, there is no efficient cause of blue eyes. The only causal story we can tell in such a case is one like the following: there were certain materials the mother provided, and when these materials were combined in the proportions they were, a blue eye resulted. In this causal story, there is no cause that brought together the paths of the contributing factors in order to form the blue eye. Perhaps the materials were brought together in the proportions they were in order to make an eye, but it is no part of the story that they were brought together in the proportions they were in order to make a blue eye.

So, if Aristotle thinks that only a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause can be an efficient cause in the strict sense, and if a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause is a form (e.g., the form human possessed by the father), then Aristotle's predecessors, who did not countenance the existence of forms, would not have been able to offer efficient causal explanations in the strict sense. But the question remains whether they were even able to offer explanations in terms of accidental efficient causes. However, we find that here as well Aristotle's predecessors are in trouble, since, on Aristotle's account, accidental efficient causation actually depends on efficient causation in the strict sense. All efficient causal stories bottom out in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causation.

Let us consider the case of the healthy food again. In our example, the healthy food has no [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause (the doctoring craft), but only an accidental efficient cause (the confectioner's craft). But the only reason we can offer any sort of causal story at all is because we have causal stories to tell for each of the component paths. And this is not merely a feature of this particular example. Aristotle thinks this is so in every case: 'it is clear that no accidental cause is prior [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] to a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause' (Physics II 6, 198a9-10). He illustrates this claim by stating that even if the atomists were correct that the heavens were due to accidental causes (II 4, 196a25-b5), nonetheless there would be prior [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] causes (nature and mind) of many things as well as the universe itself (198a11-14). The priority he has in mind is causal priority, for all efficient causal stories bottom out in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causation: although there is no efficient cause that aims at the production of an accidental result, each of the contributing factors that resulted in the accidental result has a causal history of its own. Either the factor is the end (i.e., teleological result) of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causation or it is simply an accidental result. If it is accidental, then we can turn to each of its contributing factors, which will, in turn, either be the result of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causation or be an accidental result, and so on until we reach a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause. In suggesting that [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] causes are prior to accidental causes, Aristotle affirms that such causal analyses will always bottom out in factors that were the ends of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causation. This seems to be the point of his illustration: if the heavens came to be spontaneously, once we track down the contributing factors we will arrive ultimately at things that are due to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causes. (15) We can apply this same point to the case of animals themselves: even if Aristotle's predecessors were right that animals and plants are not themselves ends of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient causation, nonetheless, on Aristotle's account, the causal history of these supposed organic accidents would still have to bottom out in teleological causation. For example, the materialists maintain that a dog is an accidental result of the movements of earth, air, fire, and water; these elemental movements collectively necessitate the coming to be of a dog, but nothing coordinated these movements for the sake of producing a dog. Aristotle argues that even if the materialist were correct that nothing coordinates elemental movements for the sake of producing a dog, nonetheless the elemental movements, taken individually, are themselves either teleological or accidental. But if the elemental movements are the lowest level phenomena (Physics II 1, 193a21-3), and no accidental cause is prior to a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause, Aristotle would contend that the elemental movements must be teleological. (16)

If this were not so and there were no such thing as teleological causation, the entire natural world would be inscrutable to science, Aristotle tells us, for science does not concern the accidental (Metaphysics VI 2, 1026b2-5). (17) Aristotle even goes so far as to say that an accidental result is, at least in some sense, that which is not ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] Metaphysics VI 2, 1026b15) or nothing ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] Physics II 4, 197a15). So insofar as his predecessors acknowledge that there is anything at all to be explained by natural science, they are committed to formal and final causation on at least the lowest level.

We have seen up to this point that, on Aristotle's account, although manifest entities can be efficient causes, they are so only in virtue of possessing a formal cause. Further, in order to be an efficient cause in the strict sense, the formal cause must be a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause, not an accidental cause. Beyond this, we have seen that even the accidental efficient cause must bottom out in a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] efficient cause.

Again, we see precisely how far removed Aristotle is from his predecessors' concepts, and how far off contemporary commentators are when the assume that Aristotle's commitment to formal and final causes rests on the details of the relation between complex living entities and the elements that (at an ultimate remove) compose them.

III Conclusions

In this paper I have attempted to show that Aristotle's commitment to natural teleology lies much deeper than contemporary commentators acknowledge. The contemporary debate over Aristotle's conception of natural teleology centers on the philosophical issue at stake in Aristotle's supposed introduction of formal/final causation on the organic level: one side claims his reason was to explain organic phenomena his opponents tried but failed to explain via elemental material/efficient causation, and the other side claims his reason was to explain the organic phenomena his opponents failed to recognize as explananda. By undermining the commentators' common assumption that Aristotle's defense of natural teleology solely targets his predecessors' conception of organic phenomena, I have shown that this debate is misplaced. I have argued that Aristotle thinks his predecessors' conception of material and efficient causation was insufficient at any level, not simply insufficient at the organic level: on Aristotle's account, all material natures depend on formal natures, and all efficient causation depends on formal and final causation, even at the elemental level.

One of the benefits of my revised view of Aristotle's natural teleology is that it shows his views to be more relevant today. If Aristotle's commitment to natural teleology rested solely on the details of the relationship between complex living entities and the elements that compose them, he would have a position that could, perhaps, be empirically refuted as the field of molecular biology advances. But with the position revealed in this paper, we see that there are philosophically rich a priori issues at stake that cannot simply be settled by contemporary scientists: (18) Is matter itself a natural substance, or is it actually a principle of such substances? Are efficient causes in nature truly manifest "whats"--natural substances--or are they actually formal principles possessed by such substances? Does efficient causation bottom out in final causation? These questions are just as relevant today as they were in Aristotle's own time. (19, 20)

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--. 1988. 'Aristotle on Hypothetical Necessity and Irreducibility'. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 69: 133-45.

Charlton, William. 1992. Aristotle's Physics. Books 1 & 2; Translated [from the Greek] with Introduction and Notes. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Cohen, Sheldon. 1989. 'Aristotle on Hot, Cold, and Teleological Explanation'. Ancient Philosophy 9: 255-70.

Cooper, John. 1982. 'Aristotle on Natural Teleology'. In Malcolm Schofield and Martha Craven Nussbaum, eds., Language and Logos, 197-222. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gill, Mary Louise. 1997. 'Material Necessity and Meteorology VI 12'. In Wolfgang Kullmann and Sabine Follinger, eds., Aristotelische Biologie: Intentionen, Methoden, Ergebnisse, 145-61. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Gotthelf, Allan. 1997. 'Understanding Aristotle's Teleology'. In Richard F. Hassing, ed., Final Causality in Nature and Human Affairs, 71-82. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.

--. 1987. 'Aristotle's Conception of Final Causality: With Postscript 1986'. In A. Gotthelf and J. G. Lennox, eds., Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology, 204-42. New York : Cambridge University Press.

--. 1976. 'Aristotle's Conception of Final Causality'. Review of Metaphysics 30: 22654.

Irwin, Terence. 1988. Aristotle's First Principles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Johnson, Monte. 2005. Aristotle on Teleology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lang, Helen. 1998. The Order of Nature in Aristotle's Physics: Place and the Elements. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lewis, Frank. 1988. 'Teleology and Material/Efficient Causes in Aristotle'. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 69: 54-98.

Nussbaum, Martha. 1978. Aristotle's de Motu Animalium: Text with Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sauve Meyer, Susan, 1992. 'Aristotle, Teleology, and Reduction'. Philosophical Review 101: 791-825.

Scharle, Margaret. 2008. 'Elemental Teleology in Physics II.8'. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 34: 147-183.

Sedley, David. 2007. Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Waterlow [Broadie], Sarah. 1982. Nature, Change, and Agency in Aristotle's Physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(1) Anti-reductivist interpreters include Gotthelf 1987 and 1997, Charlton 1992, Waterlow (Broadie) 1982, Cohen 1989, Cooper 1982, Charles 1991, Bradie and Miller 1984, and Balme 1987. See Gotthelf 1997 for a useful taxonomy of these views.

(2) Sauve Meyer 1992, 824. Anti-eliminativist interpreters include Sauve Meyer 1992, Irwin 1988, and Johnson 2005.

(3) The following commentators explicitly accept the claim: Cooper 1982, 202, Bradie and Miller 1984, 141, Charles 1988, Lewis 1988, 55, Nussbaum 1978, 55, and Gill 1997, 147. Cooper (1982) puts the point this way:
 There are then two distinct and independent levels of facts and
 correspondingly two levels of principles that Aristotle holds are
 responsible for what happens in the course of nature. There are
 facts about the various kinds of matter there are, and principles
 of a mechanical sort governing their behaviour in given conditions.
 And there are facts about the natural kinds of living thing and
 principles of a teleological sort governing their development and
 behaviour. Aristotle's predecessors and contemporaries were all
 agreed, as we would also agree, that there are facts and principles
 of the first sort. This can be accepted as non-controversial. But
 what ground does Aristotle have for thinking there is, in addition
 to and independent of these, a second level of facts and principles
 such as he postulates? (202)


See also Waterlow [Broadie] 1982, 92. For Sauve Meyer's commitment to the claim see my footnote 17.

(4) In fact, Aristotle claims that his predecessors grasped all four causes only in a confused way (Metaphysics I 4, 985a10-18). See also de Generatione Animalium V 1, 778b2-11, de Generatione et Corruptione II 9, 335b24-6a14, and de Partibus Animalium I 1, 640b5-29. Aristotle discusses the four causes at Physics II 3, 194b16-5a3 and Metaphysics I 3, 983a24-32. He suggests that his predecessors recognized only the material and efficient causes at de Generatione Animalium V 1, 778b7-10, Metaphysics I 4, 985a10-13, I 7, 988a27-34, de Generatione et Corruptione II 9, 335b24-9, de Partibus Animalium I 1, 640b5-29 (Sauve Meyer 1992, 793n4). Sauve Meyer suggests that Aristotle especially has these predecessors in mind: Democritus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras (Physics II 8; de Generatione Animalium V 8, 789b2-7; Metaphysics I 4, 985a18-21; de Generatione Animalium V 1, 778b7-10; de Partibus Animalium I 1, 640b4-17) (Sauve Meyer 1992, 792n2).

(5) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

(6) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

(7) For if the ultimate material nature had a nature of its own, either it would be the nature it has (thereby violating Aristotle's principle that something cannot be in itself primarily) or it would have a formal nature and a material nature of its own (and thus wouldn't be ultimate).
 The related claim regarding formal nature is true as well: no
 formal nature can be a natural substance in its own right. For if a
 formal nature had a nature of its own, it would be the nature it
 has (thereby violating Aristotle's principle that something cannot
 be in itself primarily). Even if we understand God to be a
 nature--perhaps a formal nature of the whole (Metaphysics XII 10,
 1075a11)--nonetheless it's important to see that God is not a
 natural substance for God does not have a nature. Lang points to
 the following passages in support of the claim that God is not
 natural (Lang 1998, 44n32): Physics VII 1, 241b37-2a46; VIII 5,
 esp. 256b28-8b8; and VIII 4, 254b24-33.


(8) I borrow this terminology from Charles 2004, 167. See also Metaphysics XII 2, 1069b21-4 and Charles 2000. Beere 2006 contrasts Aristotle's 'adjectival' view of matter with the 'substantival' view of the pre-Socratics and Plato.

(9) Rather, Aristotle thinks, the priority runs in the opposite direction. Returning to Aristotle's criticism of the gold example, it is clear that Aristotle thinks our language reflects the ontological priority of natural substances to their matter: if Plato were correct that all that something is is its matter, then we should call a triangle, for example, the name of its matter, 'gold'. And, as Aristotle points out, Plato 'actually says that far the truest account is to affirm that each of them is gold' (329a21-2). However, Aristotle goes on to argue that, far from being the safest answer, Plato's answer is impossible: things 'cannot be called by the name of the material out of which they have come-to-be' (329a20-1). When Aristotle takes up this argument again in Metaphysics IX 7, 1049a18-b2, we discover that the triangle should be called 'golden', not 'gold', just as we call a casket not 'wood', but 'wooden'. Here Aristotle suggests, contra Plato, that we most properly say of something fashioned out of gold that it is 'golden', not, as Plato says, that it is 'gold'. In this respect, 'golden' operates like the adjective 'white': the man is most properly called 'white', not 'whiteness'. This linguistic correspondence between matter (such as gold) and attributes (such as whiteness) reflects an ontological correspondence: just as there is no separate substance--whiteness--that is ontologically prior to the man it characterizes, neither is there some separate natural substance--gold--that is ontologically prior to the statue it characterizes. Applying the lessons of this passage to de Generatione et Corruptione II 1 shows Aristotle's considered view to be that the things for which the ultimate material principle (or receptacle) serves as matter are not 'this' [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]]--i.e., identified with the matter--but 'thaten' [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]]--characterized by their matter. Thus, things are characterized by the receptacle--they are 'receptacle-en'--but are not the receptacle, for the receptacle is not a 'this' with which other things can be identified. Rather, the substance for which the receptacle serves as a principle is ontologically prior to it.

(10) Sedley (2007, 179) uses this distinction to make sense of Aristotle's claim that craft does not deliberate. See also de Generatione et Corruptione I 7, 324a25-b4, where Aristotle claims that the art of medicine is the first efficient cause.

(11) For a similar view of Physics II 3, see Annas 1982, 321.

(12) See also de Partibus Animalium I 1, 639b12-17.

(13) Citations noted by Sauve Meyer 1992, 817.

(14) If anything, final causes are even more dominant in nature than in art (de Partibus Animalium I 1, 639b19-21).

(15) Cf. Sedley 2007, who understands this passage to show that 'fortuitous events are, on his analysis, events that lead to the accidental fulfillment of a preexisting natural or psychological goal. Hence, even if our world were assumed to have had an origin, and luck were hypothesized to have played a part in that origin, this would still amount to a concession that the purpose accidentally fulfilled by it was already operative before luck intervened to bring it to fruition' (193). This argument would have little purchase against a committed atomist, as Sedley himself admits: 'Aristotle's argument here is designed to convince Aristotelians, not atomists' (194). On my interpretation, Aristotle urges (as he does at Metaphysics V 30, 1025a28-30) that accidental results don't happen of their own accord, but in virtue of something else, which is either itself a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] cause, or bottoms out in one. If such chains never bottomed out in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] causation, there could be no such thing as science or explanation.

(16) For Aristotle's theory of elemental teleology, see Scharle 2008.

(17) I attribute to Aristotle a much more radical view than Sauve Meyer does. She argues, 'It is important to recognize that although Aristotle's opponents admit that their own thesis of necessity [i.e., the thesis that natural phenomena result of necessity from the activities of the material elements] cannot explain the development of animals and plants, they do not thereby admit the thesis of necessity to be incomplete or inadequate as a scientific theory. In claiming that such [organic] development is accidental, Aristotle's opponents relegate it to a category of entity beyond the scope of science, for science does not deal with the accidental (APo 87b19-22; Metaph 1026b4-5). This is not to admit that the development is due to supernatural causes, for they can specify material causes sufficient for its occurrence. Rather, it is to claim that if we consider the development of an animal or plant to be something other than the simple conjunction of independent activities of the material elements, there really isn't anything there to explain' (Sauve Meyer 1992, 824). While Sauve Meyer holds that without teleology organic phenomena would be beyond the scope of science, I have argued that there would be no natural science whatsoever unless there is teleological causation. Pace Sauve Meyer, Aristotle thinks that there can be no 'scientific theory' accounting for the movements of the elements, and thus no way to 'specify material causes' and their 'independent activities' if there is no teleological causation: for if elemental movement is not teleological, then elemental movement itself is inscrutable to natural science.

(18) Cf. Gotthelf 1976, 253-4 and Waterlow [Broadie] 1982, 90-1.

(19) This conclusion is especially surprising given my suspicion that contemporary commentators have focused on the natural teleology of living things because this is the arena in which Aristotle's views seem to be relevant to the contemporary debate. One might have thought that by ignoring Aristotle's elemental teleology, scholars would have successfully fashioned a fresh Aristotle--unsullied by supposedly obsolete views--ready to act as an interlocutor in contemporary discussions. But, far from reducing Aristotle's present-day appeal by showing his account to embrace the lowest level of the inorganic elements, I hope to have uncovered some of the philosophically rich ideas that underlie his account of causation.

(20) A draft of this paper was presented at the University of Alaska workshop. I would like to thank John Mouracade and the participants at the University of Alaska Workshop (especially my commentator Errol Katayama) for the helpful discussion of my work. I would also like to thank Kellyn Bardeen for her superb editorial assistance and philosophical insight.
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