Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Tue Apr 14 2009 - 15:14:18 EDT

Another historical comment of relevance, responding to this point by

One might wonder how Aristotle's four causes come into play here,
especially the non-material ones: efficient, formal and final causes. Banish
the last two? They seem marginalised in your 'natural science,' Keith. Well,
I guess that's o.k. because they were pushed aside in F. Bacon's 'science'


Ted replies:

According to the standard history of the scientific revolution from a
generation ago, Gregory's point would be accurate. Much recent scholarship
however has noted, quite correctly, that Newton, Boyle, and many other early
modern "scientists" believed that final causes still belonged in natural
philosophy. However, they did often insist that those causes be
transcendent, rather than immanent, in nature: that is, they located final
causation in God's mind, in a teleology that was imposed on nature, and not
in Aristotelian forms and qualities that were immanent within nature as
inherent tendencies. A subtle but important difference. The removal of
final causes from science was much more of a 19th-century phenomenon.

As for formal causes, they haven't gone anywhere. We still find formal
causes within science, all over the place, whether or not scientists
themselves think of them as such. The most obvious examples are the "laws"
of nature, esp the mathematical ones. In some branches of science, such as
quantum physics, formal causes *are* the causes that physicists normally
look to understand. Indeed, the decay of this particular atom at this
particular point in time has no identifiable secondary/efficient cause, but
it does have a material cause (ie the atom itself) and a formal cause (the
laws of nuclear physics). We can't say why this atom decayed now, but we
can say that nuclear decay is lawlike.


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Received on Tue Apr 14 15:15:03 2009

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