Aristotle sought to explain the World as logical,
as a result of causes
and purposes, The "Four
Causes" are his answers to the question Why:
"We do not have knowledge of a thing until we have
grasped its why, that is to say, its cause."
"Cause" is the
traditional translation of the Greek aitia (αἰτία), which has
a technical sense better translated as "explanation".
Aristotle argued that there are four kinds of
answers to "Why" questions (Physics II:3,
and Metaphysics V:2). Cause
results in change.
For example, the cause or
explanation of a table is that it is solid and grained because
it is made of wood (material), it does not collapse
because of its design with four legs of equal length (formal),
it occurs as it does because a carpenter made it from wood
(agency, or efficiency), and it has particular
dimensions because of is intended to support objects (purpose).
In English, the addition of
the suffix "-al" turns a noun into an adjective.
For example, the tropics are tropical. In
Aristotelian Greek, the two forms are both nouns. To
understand Aristotle's system, look for the original noun. Thus,
"ideal" means "pertaining to ideas" rather
than "perfect", "material" means
"pertaining to matter" rather than "stuff", "formal"
means "pertaining to form" rather than "proper",
and "final" means "pertaining to ends"
rather than the end itself.
Causes account for
both artificial (constructed) and natural (living)
things. In modern Biology, we understand "natural"
as "pertaining to nature" rather than "non-artificial".
Thus "Natural Selection" is differential survival &
reproduction as it occurs in Nature, in contrast to "Artificial
Selection", for example by pigeon breeders. Natural
Selection can be understand as an efficient cause, by
which organic evolution occurs. Both worldviews use similar
vocabularies, with contrasted implications. Especially in
evolutionary biology, we avoid explanations of phenomena
expressed in terms of end results or purposefulness.
The habit can be a hard one to break.
For example, a textbook
statement such as "Reptiles have
dermal scales in order to prevent desiccation
on land" tacitly assumes a formal cause, that
Nature arranges things functionally, and a final cause,
that scales exist for osmoregulation. In fact, we know as
matters of historical fact that the evolution of scales long
preceded the origin of terrestrial animal life, that modern
amphibian classes lost their ancestral scales (which
assists in dermal respiration), and that reptilian scales are of
multiple origin and function.
The example explains an artificial object, a
four-legged table. How well does it work on a natural object?
Explain a four-legged lizard
and a legless lizard, in
Aristotelian and Darwinian terms.