Three Causes in One: Biological Explanation in Aristotle
Aristotle shifted the discussion from biological motivators to biological activities. His four causes formed a foundation for all explanations. “Material causes” speak to composition; “formal causes” speak to shape, but also interactions with the surrounding world; “efficient causes” speak to external and accidental influences; and “final causes” speak to “that for the sake of which” a thing occurs. When the last three coincide, they can be called a soul. Aristotle used souls to explain the biological activities: nutrition, reproduction, sensation, locomotion, and reason. Although causes, souls, and activities were reimagined in the Middle Ages, they are, in their original forms, surprisingly compatible with scientific accounts.
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