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Aristotle's Four Becauses

  • Max Hocutt (a1)

What has traditionally been labelled ‘Aristotle's theory of causes’ would be more intelligible if construed as ‘Aristotle's theory of explanations’, where the term ‘explanation’ has substantially the sense of Hempel and Oppenheim, who construe explanations as deductions. For Aristotle, specifying ‘causes’ is constructing demonstrations.

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1 See their ‘The Logic of Explanation’, in Readings in the Philosophy of Science, edited by Feigl and Brodbeck (New York, 1953). As the reader will eventually discover, but as I now hasten to point out, I do not ascribe Hempel and Oppenheim's logical positivism to Aristotle, but only their deductive or covering law theory of explanation.

2 An earlier version of this paper was on the programme of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology in the Spring of 1970. I am grateful for helpful criticism from my colleagues Norvin Richards, Richard Baldes and J. B. McMinn.

3 ‘Reasons and Causes in the Phaedo’, The Philosophical Review, LXXVIII (3), 1969, p. 294.

4 These examples are cited by Vlastos , op. cit., pp. 293f.

5 Santayana George, Dialogues in Limbo (Ann Arbor, 1957), pp. 238f.

6 Meridian Books, New York, p. 75. Italics added. Ross makes equivalent remarks in his commentary on the Physics (Oxford, 1960), pp. 3536. It should, however, be said in defence of this magnificent scholar that he sensed that something was wrong with the word ‘cause’. No doubt, if he had had the advantage that contemporary work in the philosophy of science has given the rest of us, he would have figured out what it is.

7 See Mure G. R. G., Aristotle (New York, 1964), pp. 12f.

8 Physics, Bk. II, Ch. 3, 194b19.

9 By this term I mean the reverse of what Quine calls ‘semantic ascent’. See Quine W. V., Word and Object (Cambridge, Mass., 1960), pp. 271276.

10 Op. cit., p. 293.

11 Charlton W., Aristotle's Physics I, II (Oxford, 1971), p. 99. Charlton's entire discussion of this question (pp. 98–104) is masterful.

12 See his Aristotle, p. 51, where he confesses inability to make head or tail of it. Of course Ross also did a commentary on the Posterior Analytics, but he still couldn't connect what is in it with the Physics.

13 Bk. II, Ch. 1, 90a5.

14 See Lukasiewicz Jan, Aristotle's Syllogistic (Oxford, 1951), Ch. 1.

15 See Barnes Jonathan, ‘Aristotle's Theory of Demonstrations’, Phronesis, XIV (2), 1969, p. 124.

16 Posterior Analytics, Bk. I, Ch. 3, 73a25ff.

17 The defects of Aristotle's examples lead Charlton , op. cit., p. 119, to pronounce them ‘useless’. This, in turn, leads him to dismiss the ‘promising’ account of cause as middle term which these examples illustrate. The characterization seems to me too strong, and the dismissal unjustified. Only one example is entirely worthless, that of final cause, which we shall discuss later.

18 Posterior Analytics, Bk. I, Ch. 1, 71b10ff.

19 Ibid., Ch. 5, 74b10.

20 Ibid., Ch. 3, 73a26.

21 Op. cit., p. 319.

22 Ibid., p. 322.

23 Ibid., p. 324.

24 Op. cit., p. 320.

25 Physics, 195b18–21. This remark of his is perhaps best understood as a way of reminding us that the premises of a syllogism need to be in the same tense as the conclusion.

26 Op. cit., p. 321.

27 A reasonable interpretation of them, however, would construe them as ‘analytic’.

28 Peirce translated the term apagoge as ‘abduction’ or ‘retroduction’ and distinguished it from ordinary induction. Peirce C. S., Collected Papers, Vol. I (Cambridge, Mass., 1960), p. 28.

29 Op. cit., p. 295.

30 This is the language he uses throughout the Posterior Analytics.

31 Physics, Bk. II, Ch. 3, 195a3–4.

32 The above paraphrases the Physics, Bk. II, Ch. 3, 194b23ff. I shall not go into the different characterizations of the ‘material cause’ to be found in Aristotle 's Physics and Posterior Analytics, except to say that I think he had different sorts of explanation in mind.

33 Physics, Bk. II, Ch. 3.

34 Ibid., 195a3ff.

35 Metaphysics, Bk. XIII, Ch. 4, 1044b9–10.

36 Physics, Bk. II, Ch. 6, 197b20.

37 If this is correct, there is no support in Aristotle for the notion of a temporally first cause of motion, a notion which is inconsistent with his thesis that the universe is eternal.

38 Posterior Analytics, Bk. II, Ch. 3, 90b3ff.

39 Ibid., Ch. 2, 90a32.

40 Ibid., 90a15.

41 e.g. Generation of Animals, Bk. I, Ch. 1, 715a4–9.

42 See his Patterns of Discovery (Cambridge, England, 1958), especially pp. 54ff.

43 Metaphysics, Bk. V, Ch. 4, 1014b27–1015a10.

44 Posterior Analytics, Bk. II, Ch. 2, 94b10.

45 I use this term here to mean ‘giving reasons’, whether good or bad reasons, not in the psychologist's sense of giving specious reasons.

46 See Santas Gerasimos, ‘Aristotle on Practical Inference, the Explanation of Action, and Akrasia’, Phronesis, XIV (2), 1969, pp. 162189.

47 Physics, Bk. II, Ch. 8, 199b15.

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