Seed To Shelf: On Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Ancient Philosophy

1,564 Words

Aristotle’s metaphysics were born of observations of nature, the work of other philosophers, and the teachings of his mentor Plato. Because none of these sources of knowledge agreed with each other Aristotle had to take the best and most logical from each and disregard the rest. Nature influences Aristotle the most; he may be considered the first biologist. Taking into consideration what has learned from all of these sources Aristotle sets out to create his own philosophy that better explains the world than what he had been exposed to. In order to better demonstrate Aristotle’s metaphysics the process of change from a Maple seed to a set of bookshelves will be used to demonstrate how he explains the changes that occur in the world.

Aristotle develops four causes for change and/or motion. Material cause is the proper place of matter, namely the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire. So if we start with a Maple seed, it must first fall to the ground. This is because earth, the element the seed is made most of, is more heavy than air. So the cause for a seed to fall from a tree is a material cause. Fire is the lightest, then air, then water, and finally earth. In this way Aristotle has described the interaction of matter. The formal cause is Aristotle’s most intriguing cause. It is the nature of a thing, its shape is important but its role is more important. The form of a seed is that it will go into the ground and begin to grow, that change is in the seeds nature. The efficient cause is the most recognizable. It is the physical action that puts something in motion. The wind blowing the seed loose from the tree would be an example of an efficient cause. Aristotle believed that nature was goal orientated. The final cause is this goal acting to change something. The goal of seed is to grow into a tree and create more seeds and therefore more trees. These causations are used to explain all change that occurs. These causes may be applied to every stage of a trees formation from a seed to a bookshelf.

Now we have a Maple seed in the ground, but the change from a seed to a tree is a drastic one, mass is some how increased by large amounts. It seems that is a change from nothing to something. Aristotle believes that this kind of change is impossible. Because of this Aristotle adds potentiality and actuality to the causes of change. All change is a potentiality being actualized. The seed has the potentiality of growing into a tree. If the change occurred the potentiality would be actualized. Because the seed always possessed the potentiality of becoming a tree the change is not from nothing to something but the inherent potentiality being actualized. Our tree has grown tall, strong, and healthy. Why? It did not have to grow in this way; certainly not every tree is tall or healthy. Aristotle believes that nature is teleological or goal-oriented. This is also an aspect of the final cause. In order to survive and reproduce the tree must have certain aspects. To survive the winds and rain it must have deep and strong roots. To support the leaves and branches the tree’s trunk must be strong. In order for trees to survive as they do they must have these aspects in some way. This idea directly relates to the formal cause. The finial cause of the trees design is the form of the tree. This is not just the shape of a tree but the tree’s nature. Trees that did not grow tall and strong would still have the same form. The nature of a thing cannot change; its form is deeper than matter (earth or water). Now our tree is mature and as strong as it will ever be, perfect for a new bookshelf.

A carpenter chooses our tree because of the solidity of its wood. It is this way because of its form or nature. The carpenter chops down the tree and strips the bark. The cause of this change is efficient. The physical action of the carpenter changed the