Essay mark scheme – Four Causes

3 (a) Explain Aristotle’s understanding of the four causes [25] A01 June 2011

Candidates may be aware that Aristotle developed his notions of the concept of cause and effect in the Metaphysics. They may also be aware that the idea became central to all of his work.

Some may outline, with some explanation, the four types of cause he describes in his work; material, formal, efficient and final. This may lead to an exploration of how one leads on from the other.

Without a material cause nothing would exist and hence it is the first cause; however “wood” without a formal cause could never be a desk. Candidates may note that the form of a desk is, in this case, immanent and not related to Plato’s Forms. Some may then argue that it becomes clear that for a piece of wood to take the form of something like a desk there has to be a desk maker, and hence an efficient cause. This may lead some onto a discussion of the importance of the way Aristotle understands “final cause” or for him the purpose of any thing. His belief that all nature has a purpose is going to become very important for much of the rest of his metaphysics.

(b) Aristotle’s four causes fail as a description of the real world. Discuss. [10] A02

Some candidates may begin by exploring what might be meant by the real world in this or any other context. They may compare Aristotle’s attempts to understand the nature of the world with that of his teacher Plato, assessing whether or not his description was any more successful.

Others may assess the extent to which Aristotle’s views are an accurate description as they stand of the world; might it not be said, for example, that the extinction of many species would argue that not everything has a purpose?


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