A Critical Evaluation Of Aristotle’s Conception Of Causality – complete project material



Causality has been variously defined, and even given an empirical understanding. Causality is derived from the term “cause which means anything capable of changing something else or that which “produces something (makes something happen; bring about the occurrence of something) without which that thing would not have resulted. That which is produced (or changed) is called the effect and the effect is explained by it cause. Nevertheless, in the treatment of causality Aristotle in his first philosophy or metaphysics gave a holistic analysis of the concept of causality, were he uses the term “cause” to mean explanation. However, for the Africans, “cause” has meaning basically from a metaphysical approach. That every effect has a cause is a very strong belief in the African world view. This means that whatever happens physically or otherwise has an explanation and this explanation may be spiritual as well as natural. Nevertheless, this work attempts a critique of Aristotle’s analysis of causality.


Title Page

Table of Contents



1.1               Background of the Study

1.2               Statement of the Problem

1.3               Methodology

1.4               Scope of the Study

1.5               Purpose of the Study

1.6               Significance of the Study

1.7               Literature Review

Notes and References


2.1              Background of Aristotle

2.2               His Theory of Logic

2.3               His Theory of Knowledge

2.4               His Theory of Metaphysics

2.5               His Theory of Ethics

2.6               His Theory of Politics

Notes and References


3.1               The Meaning of Causality

3.2               Aristotle’s Metaphysics as a Foundation

3.3               Aristotle’s Conception of Causality

3.4               Formal Cause

3.5               Material Cause

3.6               Efficient Cause

3.7               Final Cause

Notes and References


4.1              Summary of the Main Points

4.2              Some Merits of Aristotle’s Theory

4.3              Some Demerits of Aristotle’s Theory

4.4              Causality in a Post Aristotle’s Era

Notes and References






The problem of causality has been among the central concerns of many thinkers. When certain events happen, we tend to ask ‘why’. This is because such events produce some effects.  In asking the question ‘why’, we are asking for the cause of the event. We seek an explanation that would enable us understand the effect which the event produces. This explains the whole problem and notion of causality. The Ionian philosophers probably the earliest thinkers did not fail to recognize that the world as it is did not come to be without being caused by some other things.

The Ionian philosophers occupied themselves with the cosmological problem; of what substance is the universe composed? This of course was a causal question and Thales of Miletus; the first Greek philosopher posited that the primary stuff of the cosmos was ‘water’1 Anaximander, criticizing the causal theory of his predecessor held the stuff of the universe is an indefinite or boundless realm.2 Anaximenes the third and last Milesian philosopher designated air as the primary substance from which all things come.3  These philosophers certainly did not regard the universe as anything other than an effect which requires a cause in order to be.  Plato equally had his version of causality which was deeply rooted in his philosophy. For Plato, the sensible world is the changing world of appearance.

In a more interesting way, the belief is a strong one among the Africans. The Africans see everything that happens to him or her as an effect of something external to him or her, his or her misfortunes are attributed to the next door neighbour who wished him bad the other day, his or her poor harvest is traceable to the anger of the gods. African thought however explains causality without actually bifurcating the metaphysical from the phenomena. In other words, the African world is one, and every effect or event in the Africa universe is explainable only with reference to a cause. Let us present statement of the problem.


Aristotle in his First Philosophy or Metaphysics formulated the principle of causality through the study of man-made or artificial things and identified four types of causes. In Aristotle’s view, all the four causes (not a single one alone) are needed in order to produce an effect in art as well as in nature. The four causes include the formal cause (the shape or form of a thing) contributes, according to him, the “essence” of a thing. Material cause is the subject of change. Efficient cause is that which initiates activity. (The efficient cause is often known as the propelling cause.), The Final cause is the end (purpose, goal, state of completion) for which the change is produced. From the above, let us provide a problematization by ostention. When we see a rolling stone, we reason that the stone could not have caused its own movement. Then we begin to raise questions on how the stone came to be moved. This is obviously the problem with causal theory. We want to know ‘how’ A is the cause of B, and whether without A, there will not be B. This problem has dominated the discussion on causation. However, Aristotle tied the notion of cause to four factors and then believed that the, ‘Formal cause’ is the unifying force of the causes. The problematic of Aristotle’s idea of causality can be formulated thus;

1)                  How can matter or form bring about change?

2)                  If form contains within itself its own activity, do we still need a first mover (Efficient causation)?

3)                  Does passivity actually lead to change?

Nonetheless, we find that matter except acted upon cannot bring a change in itself, yet Aristotle consider the material cause as justified. The question remains, whether the four causes must be present for change to take place, or for something to come to be. The problem is, are there things that are not observed that can cause observed things? How can we balance the fact that both the material and immaterial can operate both as causes and effects. There are questions that our study of Aristotle needs to provide answers to. Let us present the methodology.


The method to be used in this study would be analytical. It means that we shall analyze the concept of causality by simplifying or clarifying the term causality. Here we are interested in the meaning of causality, its history and specifically the Aristotelian conception of it. The actual instruments we wish to use include internet sources, archival materials, source documents, etc. Let us present the scope.


The scope of this research work shall take into cognizance, the work of Aristotle on causality and some other ideas of causality. We now move to the purpose.


Our experience of reality both in its generality and in its specificities, confirms the physical theory that nature abhors vacuum. At the causal level, i.e., at the level of the relationship of things as they are products of other things, nature abhors ‘non causality’. The purpose of this project therefore, is to reflect on Aristotelian conception which seems to be radically different from his predecessors. David Hume criticized the traditional conception of causality propounded by Aristotle.  Our Second purpose here therefore is to show that Hume’s critic of Aristotle’s conception does not hold water. Above all, the ‘why’ question is an inevitable one because it seeks all-round and ontological response to the reason, explanation and justification of reality. Not just the way it happened, but the reason why it came to happen that way. It is concerned with ontological ultimacy, the last ground of explanation. The above three points mentioned above constitute the purpose of this project. We now proceed to the significance.


The significant of anything lies in its value or relevance. Theoretically, this work is significant in a number of ways. Firstly, it asserts that there is reason for all things. This goes to show that every effect must have a cause, in Aristotelian terminology, “ex nihilo nihil fit” (from nothing, nothing comes). The significance here lies in the fact that it amounts to standing logic on the head, if we claim that effect are not ontologically linked with a causal principle. The second significant lies in the fact that human reason cannot rest until it finds answers to the curiosities that impinge on his consciousness. According to Aristotle it is the nature of man to know and to ask questions. It is therefore doubly significant first negatively to escape from ignorant and positively to know the causes of things. Lastly Aristotelian conception of causality is significant because it attempts to give an explanation of the totality of reality through inductive and deductive processes. The question of origin is a very serious question. Aristotle in his theory of causes, to a large extent was able to give us a rational foundation of reality in totality. We now move to the literature review.


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