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What are there four of

What are there four of - aition Part of Aristotle’s point...

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What are there four of ? 1. Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes is crucial, but easily misunderstood. It is natural for us (post-Humeans) to think of (what Aristotle calls) “causes” in terms of our latter-day notion of cause-and-effect. This is misleading in several ways: a. Only one of Aristotle’s causes (the “efficient” cause) sounds even remotely like a Humean cause. b. Humean causes are events , and so are their effects, but Aristotle doesn’t limit his causes in that way. Typically, it is substances that have causes. And that sounds odd. 2. But to charge Aristotle with having only a dim understanding of causality is to accuse him of missing a target he wasn’t even aiming at. We must keep this in mind whenever we use the word “cause” in connection with Aristotle’s doctrine. 3. We will begin with the question, What is it that Aristotle says there are four of? The Greek word is aition (plural aitia ); sometimes it takes a feminine form, aitia (plural aitiai ). And what is an
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Unformatted text preview: aition ? Part of Aristotle’s point is that there is no one answer to this question. An aition is just whatever one can cite in answer to a “why?” question. And what we give in answering a “why?” question is an explanation. So an aition is best thought of as an explanation than as a cause. 4. Even so, that’s not enough. First, Aristotle thinks that you can ask what the aitia of this table are, and it’s not clear what sense, if any, it makes to ask for an explanation of the table. Second, he thinks that, in some sense, a carpenter is an aition of a table, and it’s not clear in what sense, if any, a carpenter (or anything like a carpenter) could be an explanation of anything . Here perhaps Ackrill’s “explanatory factor” is a more illuminating translation of aition . That is, an aition is something that plays a role as an explanatory factor in the explanation of something. But, as we’ll see, there are many kinds of explanations....
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