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Three Causes in One: Biological Explanation in Aristotle

  • Lucas John Mix
Chapter

Abstract

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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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucas John Mix
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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