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?

The formal cause is problematic because the formal is usually considered to be an abstract concept, a construction of universals that may only exist in the human mind. The final cause is also problematic because it is associated with the concept of telos or purpose. There, too, only human or cognitive agents are allowed to have goals or ends. So for two causes, efficient and material, all things may participate in them, but for the two remaining, formal and final, only agents with minds may.

These problems may be due to the pervasive influence of what the recent philosophical movement of Object Oriented Philosophy calls correlationism: ontology or the existence of things is limited to human knowledge of them, or epistemology. The Four Causes as usually described becomes restricted to the human creation and purpose of things. Heidegger’s Tool Analysis or Fourfold, which also appears to have been derived from the Four Causes, is usually explained in terms of the human use of human made things: bridges, hammers, pitchers. Even scientific knowledge is claimed to be just human knowledge, because only humans participate in the making of this knowledge as well as its usage.

Graham Harman, one of the founders of Speculative Realism of which his Object Oriented Ontology is a result, has transformed Heidegger’s Fourfold so that it operates for all things, and so the correlationism that restricts ontology to human knowledge becomes a relationism that informs the ontology for all things. Instead of this limiting our knowledge even more, it is surprising what can be said about the relations between all things when every thing’s access is as limited as human access. However, this transformation is into the realm of the phenomenological, which is not easily accessible to rational inquiry.

I wish to update the Four Causes, and claim that they can be recast into a completely naturalistic fourfold operating for all things. This new version was inspired by the Four Operators of Linear Logic. Structure and function are commonplace terms in scientific discourse, and I wish to replace formal and final causes with them. It may be argued that what is obtained can no longer be properly called the Four Causes, and that may indeed be correct.

First, let us rename the efficient cause to be action, but not simply a motion that something can perform. I’m not concerned at the moment with whether the action is intentional or random, but it must not be wholly deterministic. Thus there are at least two alternatives to an action. I’m also not determining whether one alternative is better than the other, so there is no normative judgement. An action is such that something could have done something differently in the same situation. This is usually called external choice in Linear Logic (although it makes more sense to me to call it internal choice: please see silly link below).

Second, let us call the material cause part, but not simply a piece of something. Instead of the material or substance that something is composed of, let us first consider the parts that constitute it. However, a part is not merely a piece that can be removed. A part is such that something different could be substituted for it in the same structure, but not by one’s choice. Like an action, I am not concerned whether one of the alternatives is better than the other, but only that the thing is still the thing regardless of the alternative. This is usually called internal choice.

Next, we will relabel the formal cause to be structure, but not simply the structure of the thing under consideration. Ordinarily structure is not a mere list of parts, or a set of parts, or even a sum or integral of parts, but an ordered assembly of parts that shapes a form. Ideally structure is an arrangement of parts in space. However, in this conceptualization, structure will be only an unordered list of parts with duplications allowed.

Last, instead of final cause we will say function, but not simply the function of the thing as determined by humans. Ordinarily function is not a mere list of actions, or a set of actions, or a sum or integral of actions, but an ordered aggregate of actions that enables a functionality. Ideally function is an arrangement of actions in time. However, like structure, function will be only an unordered list of actions with duplications allowed.

As we transform the Four Causes from made things to all things, both natural and human-made, we will later examine how that changes them.


[*6.144, *7.32, *7.97]



11 Responses to “Structure-Function”

  1. ibf Says:

    hi, you say “I wish to update the Four Causes..” but is it really you who does wish it? and is it you who will effectively do it? 🙂 anyway, i have invented this fourfold that you might be interested in: authority/volition x body/system. unfortunately i don’t have english text of it yet, only these two presentations about it:

  2. Equivalent Exchange « Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] So it seems to me that there is a heirarchy here, that goes from parts to structure to actions to function, with parts being at the lowest level and function being at the highest. Each level of the hierarchy is dependent on the level below, but the nature of a level is fundamentally different from the level below it, as well as the level above it. Please see my previous post Structure-Function. […]

  3. The Archic Philosophers | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] I believe that my fourfold of Structure-Function represents these four philosophical directions in the following way: Action(s) for the Sophists, […]

  4. Things Happen | Equivalent eXchange Says:

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

  5. Modal Things | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] a complementary fourfold to Things Happen, here is a combination of Structure-Function and Modal […]

  6. Relations all the Way Down | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] operators of linear logic? I have likened these four basic operators of Linear Logic to my fourfold Structure-Function, where in addition to Structures, we also have Functions, Actions, and Parts. But these three other […]

  7. Notions of Equivalence | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] different notions of equivalence are possible. Thinking about one of my favorite fourfolds — Structure-Function — with help from the fourfold of The One and the Many, I have (naturally) come up with four […]

  8. The Quadralectics of Marten Kuilman | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] Another interesting result of Kuilman’s investigations is to derive his four-fold of Unity, Muun (Multi-unity), Part, and Whole, which I believe has important associations with my four-fold Structure-Function. […]

  9. A Game of Four-folds | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] cards are chosen at random, then insight into their relationship might be obtained. For example: Structure-Function and Matter-Energy-Space-Time (MEST). The simple observation is that each quadrant of […]

  10. Four Primary Relations | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] written previously about my fourfold Structure-Function (consisting of Structures, Functions, Actions, and Parts) and its association with four Modal Verbs […]

  11. Four Bindings | Equivalent eXchange Says:

    […] chains, grids, cycles, and blocks, and associated them with the Four Causes and my fourfold Structure-Function. As I thought more about what those terms meant, I decided that they were […]

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