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The Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect. 8th century, China

Causality refers to the relationship between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is a direct consequence of the first.[1]

The philosophical treatment of causality extends over millennia. In the Western philosophical tradition, discussion stretches back at least to Aristotle, and the topic remains a staple in contemporary philosophy. Aristotle distinguished between accidental (cause preceding effect) and essential causality (one event seen in two ways). Aristotle's example of essential causality is a builder building a house. This single event can be analyzed into the builder building (cause) and the house being built (effect).[2][unreliable source?] Aristotle also had a theory that answered the question "why?" 4 different ways. The first was material cause, next was formal cause, then efficient cause, and lastly was final cause. These rules are known as "Aristotle's four causes".[3] [4]


Aristotle's theory enumerates the possible causes which fall into several wide groups, amounting to the ways the question "why" may be answered; namely, by reference to the material worked upon (as by an artisan) or what might be called the substratum; to the essence, i.e., the pattern, the form, or the structure by reference to which the "matter" or "substratum" is to be worked; to the primary moving agent of change or the agent and its action; and to the goal, the plan, the end, or the good that the figurative artisan intended to obtain. As a result, the major kinds of causes come under the following divisions:

  • The material cause is that "raw material" from which a thing is produced as from its parts, constituents, substratum, or materials. This rubric limits the explanation of cause to the parts (the factors, elements, constituents, ingredients) forming the whole (the system, structure, compound, complex, composite, or combination) (the part-whole causation).
  • The formal cause tells us what, by analogy to the plans of an artisan, a thing is intended and planned to be. Any thing is thought to be determined by its definition, form (mold), pattern, essence, whole, synthesis, or archetype. This analysis embraces the account of causes in terms of fundamental principles or general laws, as the intended whole (macrostructure) is the cause that explains the production of its parts (the whole-part causation).
  • The efficient cause is not the external entity from which the change or the ending of the change first starts. It identifies 'what makes of what is made and what causes change of what is changed' and so suggests all sorts of agents, nonliving or living, acting as the sources of change or movement or rest. Representing the current understanding of causality as the relation of cause and effect, this analysis covers the modern definitions of "cause" as either the agent, agency, particular causal events, or the relevant causal states of affairs.
  • The final cause is the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.[5]- including both purposeful and instrumental actions. The final cause, or telos, is the purpose, or end, that something is supposed to serve; or it is that from which, and that to which, the change is. This analysis also covers modern ideas of mental causation involving such psychological causes as volition, need, motivation, or motives; rational, irrational, ethical - all that gives purpose to behavior.
  1. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary
  2. ^ Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XI, 9, 1066a27ff (= Physics Book III, 3, 202a14ff). For a further discussion see "Two Kinds of Causality" in Dennis F. Polis, God, Science and Mind retrieved June 24, 2009.
  3. ^ http://socyberty.com/philosophy/aristotles-four-causes/
  4. ^ http://www.philosophyprofessor.com/philosophies/aristotles-four-causes.php
  5. ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/