Showing posts with label Western Philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Western Philosophy. Show all posts

Friday, December 6, 2013

Aristotle's Theory of Four Causes or Causality

Aristotle’s theory of causality or four causes occupies an important place in his discussion of metaphysics. According to him there are four causes in the process of change. As we see things around us, says Aristotle,  we find that they are constantly changing and a real fact of our experience is that everything changes. For Aristotle change means widely.According to him change means motion, growth, decay, generation, and corruption. Some of these changes are natural and others are the products of human action and arts. Things as we see always take a new form. A new life is born a new thing is made. 

First, we can ask , what is it ? Secondly, what is it made of? Thirdly, by what is it made? and fourthly, for what purpose/end is it made?

The four answers of these four questions represent Aristotle’s four causes. The four causes represent a broad pattern for total explanation of anything and everything. Let us take an object of art. The four causes might be  (1) a statue (2)of marble (3)by a sculptor (4)for the purpose of a decoration. So, Aristotle says that everything has an explanation; seeds sprout, roots go down and not up, plants grow and in this process of change move toward their end.

Aristotle’s four causes are therefore (1)the formal cause, which determines what a thing is, (2)the material cause, or what the thing is made of ,(3)the efficient cause ,by what a thing is made, and (4)the final cause, that the ‘end’ for which it is made.

On the strength of four causes, Aristotle thinks that nature is life. All things are in motion, in the process of becoming and dying away. The process of reproduction is, according to him, a clear example of the power which is in all living things that initiate change.

Plato's Theory of the Metaphor of the Divided Line

In the process of discovering true knowledge, according to Plato, the human mind moves through four stages of development. At each stage, there is a parallel between the kind of object presented to the mind and the kind of thought these objects make possible. These objects and their parallel modes of understanding can be diagrammed as followed:

    OBJECTS                               MODES OF THOUGHTS
The God[FORMS]


In the diagram a vertical line is divided into four segments, each of which from the lowest to the highest represents a level of knowledge. Each level of knowledge imagining, belief, thinking, and knowledge has its own objects and its own method of knowing these. In the diagram the basic division is between knowledge, whose objects are in the intelligible world, and opinion, whose objects are in the visible world.


Imagining represents the lowest rang on the ladder formed by the divided line of knowledge. Imagining means the sense experience of appearances where in these appearance are taken as true reality. For example, a shadow, which can be mistaken as true reality. At this stage the mind does not know that it is a shadow or an image that it has confronted. If a person knew that it was a shadow, he would not be in the state of imagining.


The next level on the ascent of the divided line of knowledge is that of belief, which is the perception of actual objects. The level of belief is primarily the level of knowledge on which there occurs the recognition of  three dimensional visible objects. The visible objects depend upon their context for many of their characteristics. So, there is a degree of certainty in seeing things. But such certainty is not absolutely correct. Plato says that although actual things possess greater reality than their outlook, they do not by themselves give all the knowledge about them. Belief, which has its source in the perception by the sense of actual objects is insecure. It is not based upon abstracts truths or principles which are unchanging.


When a person moves from believing to thinking, he moves from the invisible world to intelligible world. In this level a person tries to find the explanation of every visible things. For example, when a mathematician sees a diagram of a triangle, he thinks about triangular. By using visible symbols, he provides a bridge from the visible to the intelligible world. Thinking is characterized not only by its treatment of visible objects as symbols, but also by reasoning from hypothesis. By a hypothesis, Plato means a truth, which is taken as self evident but which depends upon some higher truth. Here a hypothesis means a firm truth but one that is related to a larger context.


The mind is never satisfied as long as if must ask for a fuller explanation of things. Perfect knowledge requires that the mind should grasp the relation of everything to everything else. It represents the mind as completely released from sensible objects. At this level, the mind deals directly with the intelligible objects that have been abstracted from the actual objects. Here the mind uses no longer hypothesis. It is the highest level of knowledge which approached to the extend that the mind is able to move beyond the restrictions of hypothesis towards the unity of intelligible objects. Perfect intelligible therefore means the abstract view of reality which implies the unity of knowledge.  

Plato’s Theory of Forms or Ideas

The doctrine of Forms or Ideas is the central to Plato’s entire philosophical thought. By this unique contribution, Plato made a real distinction between the visible world and the intelligible world, between appearance and reality. For Plato, the Forms or Ideas are changeless, eternal and non-material essences of the visible objects. So, the visible objects are merely poor copies of the Forms. For instance, a beautiful person is a copy of Beauty. It indicates that a person shares more or less an Idea of Beauty.

Moreover, this doctrine represents a serious attempt to explain the nature of existence, because we have certain kinds of experiences which raise the question about existence for us. For example, we make judgments about things and behavior, saying about a thing that it is beautiful and about an act that it is good. This implies that there is somewhere a standard of Beauty and Good, separate from the person and his act about which we are making judgments. And compared with the visible things, which come and go general and perish, Ideas or Forms seem timeless. They have more being than things. Plato, therefore, concludes that the real world is not the visible world, rather the intelligible world. He insists that the intelligible world is most real, because it consists of the eternal Forms.

There are at last five questions that one might ask about the Forms, such as: 

1- What are the Forms?
2- Where do the Forms exist?
3- What is the relation of Forms to things?
4-What is the relation of Forms to each other?
5- How do we know the Forms?  

What are the Forms?

Plato’s answer to this question is that Forms are eternal patters of the visible objects and the objects are only copies of these Forms. Thus,  a beautiful object is a copy of Beauty. In the Symposium, Plato suggests that we normally understand Beauty first of all in a particular object or person. But having discovered beauty in this limited form, we soon perceive that the beauty of one form is akin to another.  So, we move from the beauty of particular body to the recognition that beauty in every Form is one and the same. The effect of the discovery is to move from the beautiful physical object to the concept of beauty. It has objective reality.  Things become beautiful but Beauty always is Form which everything else derives its beauty. And, Beauty has a separate existence from these changing things. 

Where do the forms exist ?

Plato’s suggestive language regarding the existence of Forms is that they are separate from and apart  from the things we see. The forms or Ideas have an independence from the things that perish. Though we are told that the forms have no dimension but the question of their location comes up as a consequence of Plato’s language, implying that Forms, being something must be some place in space. It may be that nothing more can be said about their location than the fact that the Forms have an independent existence. But there are two additional ways in which these is emphasized by Plato. For one way, he says that the soul of men was squinted with the Forms, before it was united with the body. Secondly God used the Forms in creating particular things in the process of creation. If suggests that the forms had an existence prior to their images fashioned by God in things. So, the Forms seem to have originally existed in the mind of God.

What is the relation of Forms to things?

Forms can be related to things in three ways, which may be three ways of saying the same thing. First, the Forms are the cause of the essence of a thing. Next anything may be said to participate in a Form. And finally, a thing may be said to imitate or copy a Form. In each case Plato implies that although the Form is separate from a thing, still every concrete or actual thing in some way owes its existence to a Form, in some degree participates in the perfect model of the class of which it is a member, and is in some measure an imitation or copy of the Form.

What is the Relation of Forms to each other?

Plato implies that Forms are related to each other as genus and species. There are the Forms of animal and such sub-classes of Forms as Man and Horse .The Form Animal seems to be present also in the Form Horse, so that one Form partakes of the other. There is therefore a hierarchy of reality, of which the visible world is only a reflection. The lower one comes in this hierarchy of Forms, the closer he comes to visible things and therefore the less. And there is also the power of desire, love which lead men step by step from the beautiful object to the beautiful thought and then to the very essence of Beauty itself. No double there are many points in this theory that deserve fuller explanation.

How do we know the Forms?  

According to Plato, we can know the Forms through reminiscence. To him, humans are acquainted with the Forms in their per-existence of the soul.  Now, they can recall the Forms when they see the visible things.

Thus, Plato’s theory of Forms is central to his philosophy. It was also very influential upon the subsequent philosophers. Plato’s own moral and political theories are also derived from this theory of Forms.

Significance of Plato’s Theory of an Allegory of the Cave

‘Allegory of the cave’ is one of the most cited allegories in the history of western thought in which Plato illustrates his dualistic theory of reality at the beginning of book VII of the Republic. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato described symbolically the predicament in which mankind finds itself and proposes a way of salvation. The Allegory presents, in brief form, most of Plato's major philosophical assumptions: his belief that the world revealed by our senses is not the real world but only a poor copy of it, and that the real world can only be apprehended intellectually; his idea that knowledge cannot be transferred from teacher to student, but rather that education consists in directing student's minds toward what is real and important and allowing them to apprehend it for themselves; his faith that the universe ultimately is good; his conviction that enlightened individuals have an obligation to the rest of society, and that a good society must be one in which the truly wise (the Philosopher-King) are the rulers.

At the beginning of the allegory, Plato asks us to imagine some men living a large cave facing the inside wall of the cave where from childhood they have been chained by the leg and by the neck so that they cannot move. They have never seen the light of day   or the sun outside the cave. Behind the prisoners a fire burns and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way on and behind the raised way there is the entrance to the cave. Along the raised way people walk carrying all sorts of things which they hold so that they cast shadows status of men, animals, and trees on the wall before them. The prisoners, facing the inside wall behind them on which the object are being carried all they can see are the shadows these objects cast on the wall of the cave.

The prisoners live all their lives seeing only shadows of reality and the voices they hear are only echoes from the wall. If they were freed and able to turn around and see the realities, which produce the shadows, they would be blinded by the light of the fire. And they would become angry and would prefer to regain their shadow world. But if one of the prisoners were freed and turned around to see in the light of fire, the cave and his fellow prisoners and the roadway, and if he were, then, dragged up and out of the cave into the light of the sun, he would see the things of the world as they truly are and finally he would see the sun itself. Now he would understand what he and his fellow prisoners saw on the wall, how shadows and reflections differ from things as they really are in the visible world and that without the sun there would be no visible world.

Each historical generation since Plato’s time has been tantalized by the question, how does the allegory of the cave apply to our time, to our society? The  question tantalizes us too. But in fact the Allegory of the cave remains relevant and moving for many people in our own time. It is an allegory of sleep and waking of our time as asleep in the dark of the cave and needing to awake to a clear vision of the world. It is an allegory of our time as needing to be born again, to emerge from the darkness of corruption into the light of truth and morality. It is an educational allegory of our time as needing to ascend through stages of education from the darkness of intellectual and moral confusion in its everyday beliefs, to the light of true knowledge and value. It is a religious allegory of Christian conversion from   the cave of self love and self gratification to the love of God and devotion to the truth. The allegory of the cave may be viewed as a devastating criticism of our everyday lives as being in bondage to superficialities and also of much of the sins of our time. It is of course a political allegory. The life in the cave is the life of politics. Both the leaders and the public are ignorant and corrupt, without true knowledge of themselves, or of the world motivated by greed, power and self gratification. They are chained in bondage to ignorance and passions, to mysteries for or against fleeting issue believing in current ideologies which are the illusions, the shadows on the walls of the cave. 

It is an allegory of the Philosopher king. The liberated one, having made the ascent to know the truth and the good, has a mission to return to the cave, to bring entanglement to bring the good news, even though he may be killed for his service. 

Thus, Plato establishes his view of appearance and reality with the help of his Allegory of cave.