Aristotle’s Four Causes

Material: That from which something is made.

Efficient: That by which something is made.

Formal: That into which something is made.

Final: That for the sake of which something is made.

— from Aristotle for Everybody by Mortimer Adler

“Happy is he who can recognize the causes of things.”


Aristotle’s Four Causes is likely the most familiar of all the double duals that I will present. The causes are closer to being “becauses” since they are usually thought of as the reasons or explanations for things. Why not call them the four prepositions?

The standard example of the four causes is what is needed for the building of a house. A house is built by the craftsmen, from the raw materials, into the form shown on blueprints, for the homeowner to live in. This and other usual examples are concerned with the making of something.

Formal and final causes have gotten the short shift since the beginning of the scientific revolution. Francis Bacon stated that the only scientific reasons for things were the efficient and material causes. For those critical of materialism this is often termed mere “matter in motion”. Matter can be thought to exist in space, and motion in time. Where does form or finality exist? I will say in space and time as well.


Max Hocutt / Aristotle’s Four Becauses, in Philosophy, Vol. 49, No. 190. (Oct., 1974), pp. 385-399.


John Sowa’s Thematic Roles: initiator, resource, essence, goal.

[*4.112, *5.162, *5.168, *7.47]



13 Responses to “Aristotle’s Four Causes”

  1. The Theory of Evolution « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] is structure, and Selection is function. A more familiar analogy matches these four processes to Aristotle’s Four Causes: Generation is efficient cause, Variation is material cause, Speciation is formal cause, and […]

  2. Structure-Function « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] Aristotle’s Four Causes is an important fourfold that seems to be the basis for many of the fourfolds, both original and not, presented in this blog. Two of the causes, efficient and material, are acceptable to modern scientific inquiry because they can be thought of as motion and matter, respectively, but the other two causes, formal and final, are not. Why is that? […]

  3. Antisynthesis « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] so many of the fourfolds presented here are linked to Aristotles’s Four Causes, I feel that I may need to revisit Rosen’s Theory in a separate entry to do it justice. This […]

  4. Schrödinger’s Cat « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] elements of the experiment are shown above, but now consider these elements in a system in terms of Aristotles’s Four Causes. The material causes are the discreet constituents of the experiment, everything from box to atoms […]

  5. Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] However, his main reference to fourfolds was Aristotle’s four scientific questions, or Four Causes, which we can use to try understand his […]

  6. Things Happen | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] This fourfold is a mixture of two others: Structure-Function and the prepositions I’ve associated with Aristotle’s Four Causes. […]

  7. Matter, Energy, Space, and Time | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] is able to do work, and that is an important distinction, especially if you are thinking about the Four Causes. Then the four can be considered fundamental […]

  8. The Rational Structure of Inquiring Systems | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] of the aspects of Content, Control, Process, and Purpose of the authors. These match closely the Four Causes of Aristotle, which are the causes of made things or the explanations of how and why they came about: material, […]

  9. J.-Y. Girard’s Transcendental Syntax, V2 | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] even to analogy with Aristotle’s Four Causes, which is how I’ve arranged the first diagram: the Constat is the Material cause, the Performance […]

  10. The Fundamental Four of Sandeep Gautam | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] with either Millon’s or Gautam’s work until now. I was thinking about updating my article on Aristotle’s Four Causes, and I chanced upon Gautam’s post on the subject because of images from it. I was soon very […]

  11. Four Primary Relations | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] first column lists the four aspects of Structure-Function. They are loosely based on Aristotle’s Four Causes. Structures correspond to the formal cause. Functions correspond to the final cause. Actions […]

  12. Pick Your Causation | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] word: consider size, distance, or even importance. These four directions can also remind one of Aristotle’s Four Causes, where Efficient Causation is Forward, Formal Causation is Downward, Material Causation is Upward, […]

  13. The Fourfold Self | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] pragmatic and psychological approach in choice of models, plus those that can be easily mapped into Aristotle’s Four Causes, both attributes of which I see in Gautam’s […]

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