Wednesday, November 10, 2010
End or Final Cause
According to the philosophical system of Aristotle and his followers, there are four causes or reasons that describe a thing; these causes can be analyzed to get to a solution to the paradox.
The formal cause or form is the design of a thing, while the material cause is the matter that the thing is made of. The "what-it-is" of a thing, according to Aristotle, is its formal cause; so the Ship of Theseus is the same ship, because the formal cause, or design, does not change, even though the matter used to construct it may vary with time. In the same manner, for Heraclitus's paradox, a river has the same formal cause, although the material cause (the particular water in it) changes with time, and likewise for the person who steps in the river.
Another of Aristotle's causes is the end or final cause, which is the intended purpose of a thing. The Ship of Theseus would have the same ends, those being, mythically, transporting Theseus, and politically, convincing the Athenians that Theseus was once a living person, even though its material cause would change with time. The efficient cause cause is how and by whom a thing is made, for example, how artisans fabricate and assemble something; in the case of the Ship of Theseus, the workers who built the ship in the first place could have used the same tools and techniques to replace the planks in the ship.
"Cause" means: (a) in one sense, that as the result of whose presence something comes into being—e.g. the bronze of a statue and the silver of a cup, and the classes which contain these [i.e., the material cause]; (b) in another sense, the form or pattern; that is, the essential formula and the classes which contain it—e.g. the ratio 2:1 and number in general is the cause of the octave—and the parts of the formula [i.e., the formal cause]. (c) The source of the first beginning of change or rest; e.g. the man who plans is a cause, and the father is the cause of the child, and in general that which produces is the cause of that which is produced, and that which changes of that which is changed [i.e., the efficient cause]. (d) The same as "end"; i.e. the final cause; e.g., as the "end" of walking is health. For why does a man walk? "To be healthy," we say, and by saying this we consider that we have supplied the cause [the final cause]. (e) All those means towards the end which arise at the instigation of something else, as, e.g. fat-reducing, purging, drugs and instruments are causes of health; for they all have the end as their object, although they differ from each other as being some instruments, others actions [i.e., necessary conditions].
– Metaphysics 1013a, translated by Hugh Tredennick