a) Describe Aristotle’s teachings about the differences between the Final Cause and the other sorts of cause (25 marks)
Aristotle’s Theory of the Four Causes is a theory that explains how everything that is observed in the world appears to have existed through cause and effect. The point is that these four causes can encompass an objects complete description, such as what it’s made of, what it looks like, what made it and its purpose. The Causation theory is the basis for much of Aristotle’s work, including Physics, Metaphysics, and The Politics. They clearly define Aristotle’s way of studying the world around him, which is empirical and observant of what we can see and know; a trait completely different to what Plato taught. The Final Cause differs greatly from the others because it describes something’s ultimate purpose, not just a material viewpoint, and God (or the Prime Mover) has to be our Final Cause as he alone is perfection, and everything good that we do is to seek perfection.
b) Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Aristotle’s ideas about cause (10 marks)
Aristotle’s causation theory is fundamental to most of the works that Aristotle has written. Not only to explain how one should observe the world around us but also to understand why objects and living things exist, whilst defining our own purpose in relation to an oblivious higher power. The way he describes to observe something is a strength because it means that virtually every physical object can be identified and described in the simplest format. And if everything has a purpose, it gives purpose to living anyway. Surely this is a positive outlook on life that one should adopt if a purpose to life is desired?
But this raises the question: does everything have a purpose? Suppose you have a book that you are reading. The purpose of that book is to entertain you or inform you. But when you turn a page you accidentally rip off a piece of the corner, and you end up with a torn piece of paper between your fingertips. What is the function or purpose of that small bit of torn paper? Through your mistake, you have created something pointless, and although we can see how it was made and why it came to be made in that way, it does not have a purpose to do something and it never will. The same can go for litter. It once had a purpose, but once that purpose is exhausted, what is it supposed to do then? And what of creatures or diseases that endanger other life? What is the point of a cancer cell’s existence but to cause misery?
Aristotle would argue that a cancer cell’s purpose would be to be a successful cancer cell, and to grow and multiply as big as possible, as that is how it survives. This may sound terrible but in relation to other living things it raises the important fact that all of nature has its own purpose, whether it is useful to us or not. A sheep is useful to us because it gives us wool and we can ultimately eat its babies, but that is not its purpose. The sheep’s purpose is to grow to be the ideal sheep, through eating grass and reproducing to help the race of sheep. This is a strength because it shows to us that nature itself has a purpose and we should not assume that its purpose should be to be useful to us. And one cannot argue that we, being divine beings have nature as our servant, because otherwise everything would have a function for us.
But many would argue that nothing has a purpose and things exist because they just do. Only man can have a purpose because it is intelligent enough to give itself a purpose; a person is not born with one, however they choose it for themselves. This is an existentialist theory and greatly conflicts with the Causation theory. And to many it seems like a lot more realistic, as if something was to have a purpose it must have been assigned that purpose by a greater power. To Aristotle, the greater power is the Prime Mover, but he doesn’t even know of our existence, so he certainly didn’t give us a purpose. If he didn’t, what did? Aristotle combats this by saying it is how the Prime Mover is so perfect we are drawn to wanting to be like him as everything wants to be perfect, therefore the Prime Mover is everything’s final cause. This too seems like a valid explanation against Existentialists, showing a strength in his teachings. But he never describes the link between us and the Prime Mover. How do we know of his existence in the first place, and do we really feel drawn to be like him? It also implies that all inanimate objects somehow have a desire to be perfect, which can seem absurd. Aristotle’s causation theory provides an accurate account of observation but the Final Cause appears unreliable in describing how absolutely everything has a purpose.
Scored 22/25 and 8/10.
See also the mark scheme for this question.
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