In Aristotle’s view of epistemology, to know something meant understanding something in preferably four different ways. Aristotle wrote that “we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause.” It meant understanding the following causes
- The MATERIAL cause
- The FORMAL cause
- The EFFICIENT cause
- The FINAL cause
There are often many times that people want to only focus on one or the other and say they know something fully. For example, if I ask someone why a pot of water is boiling they may talk about temperature, pressure, and molecules. But according to Aristotle, this is not enough to know why water boils(some common sense might dictate this as well). We must understand more than just the material and formal cause but also the other causes.
What is the cause of water boiling?
The MATERIAL cause – the water is made of hydrogen and oxygen molecules
The FORMAL cause – the heat of the water, the bubbling that occurs, and the changing of a liquid to vapor
The EFFICIENT cause – I wanted a cup of tea and put the pot on the stove to heat up
The FINAL cause – the enjoyment I get from drinking a cup of tea
Often people will only focus on the material or the formal cause and forget completely about the other causes. This is especially true of atheist arguments. These arguments often contend that matter and formality is a sufficient way of understanding our world and existence. However, religion offers another explanation, God.
It is perfectly logical to believe in God. We can attribute the efficient cause of things in the natural world to God and attribute the efficient and final cause to Him wanting our eventual salvation and eternal happiness. This was the conclusion that St. Thomas Aquinas came to in the 13th century (more about him later). It is also my conclusion. Because of the Newton’s first law of motion we see that forces in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by another forces. If we believe that forces are in motion then this begs the question…who or what put them in motion? This leads to the problem of infinite regresion. This problems tells us that there must have been some force or being that set things in motion. That question is central to our existence. I contend that this force was God and that He is the efficient cause by which we and our existence came to be. God lives.
The material cause of a change or movement. This is the aspect of the change or movement that is determined by the material that composes the moving or changing things. For a table, this might be wood; for a statue, it might be bronze or marble.
The formal cause of a change or movement. This is a change or movement caused by the arrangement, shape, or appearance of the thing changing or moving. Aristotle says, for example, that the ratio 2:1, and number in general, is the formal cause of the octave.
Efficient, or agent
The efficient or moving cause of a change or movement. This consists of things apart from the thing being changed or moved, which interact so as to be an agency of the change or movement. For example, the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter, or a person working as one, and according to Aristotle the efficient cause of a child is a parent.
Final, end, or purpose
The final cause of a change or movement. This is a change or movement for the sake of a thing to be what it is. For a seed, it might be an adult plant; for a sailboat, it might be sailing; for a ball at the top of a ramp, it might be coming to rest at the bottom.