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This study, A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF ARISTOTLE’S CONCEPTION OF CAUSALITY contains concise information that will serve as a framework or guide for your project work. The project study is well-researched for academic purposes and are usually provided in complete chapters with adequate References.





Causality has been variously defined, and even given an empirical understanding. Causality is derived from the term “cause which means anything capable of changing something else or that which “produces something (makes something happen; bring about the occurrence of something) without which that thing would not have resulted. That which is produced (or changed) is called the effect and the effect is explained by it cause. Nevertheless, in the treatment of causality Aristotle in his first philosophy or metaphysics gave a holistic analysis of the concept of causality, were he uses the term “cause” to mean explanation. However, for the Africans, “cause” has meaning basically from a metaphysical approach. That every effect has a cause is a very strong belief in the African world view. This means that whatever happens physically or otherwise has an explanation and this explanation may be spiritual as well as natural. Nevertheless, this work attempts a critique of Aristotle’s analysis of causality.



1.1  Background of the Study

1.2  Statement of the Problem

1.3  Methodology

1.4  Scope of the Study

1.5  Purpose of the Study

1.6  Significance of the Study

1.7  Literature Review

Notes and References                                                             


2.1  Background of Aristotle

2.2  His Theory of Logic

2.3  His Theory of Knowledge

2.4  His Theory of Metaphysics

2.5  His Theory of Ethics

2.6  His Theory of Politics

      Notes and References                                           


3.1  The Meaning of Causality

3.2  Aristotle’s Metaphysics as a Foundation

3.3  Aristotle’s Conception of Causality

3.4  Formal Cause

3.5  Material Cause

3.6  Efficient Cause

3.7  Final Cause

Notes and References                                                


4.1  Summary of the Main Points

4.2  Some Merits of Aristotle’s Theory

4.3  Some Demerits of Aristotle’s Theory

4.4  Causality in a Post Aristotle’s Era

Notes and References                                           






The problem of causality has been among the central concerns of many thinkers. When certain events happen, we tend to ask ‘why’. This is because such events produce some effects.  In asking the question ‘why’, we are asking for the cause of the event. We seek an explanation that would enable us understand the effect which the event produces. This explains the whole problem and notion of causality. The Ionian philosophers probably the earliest thinkers did not fail to recognize that the world as it is did not come to be without being caused by some other things.

The Ionian philosophers occupied themselves with the cosmological problem; of what substance is the universe composed? This of course was a causal question and Thales of Miletus; the first Greek philosopher posited that the primary stuff of the cosmos was ‘water’1 Anaximander, criticizing the causal theory of his predecessor held the stuff of the universe is an indefinite or boundless realm.2 Anaximenes the third and last Milesian philosopher designated air as the primary substance from which all things come.3  These philosophers certainly did not regard the universe as anything other than an effect which requires a cause in order to be.  Plato equally had his version of causality which was deeply rooted in his philosophy. For Plato, the sensible world is the changing world of appearance.

In a more interesting way, the belief is a strong one among the Africans. The Africans see everything that happens to him or her as an effect of something external to him or her, his or her misfortunes are attributed to the next door neighbour who wished him bad the other day, his or her poor harvest is traceable to the anger of the gods. African thought however explains causality without actually bifurcating the metaphysical from the phenomena. In other words, the African world is one, and every effect or event in the Africa universe is explainable only with reference to a cause. Let us present statement of the problem.


Aristotle in his First Philosophy or Metaphysics formulated the principle of causality through the study of man-made or artificial things and identified four types of causes. In Aristotle’s view, all the four causes (not a single one alone) are needed in order to produce an effect in art as well as in nature. The four causes include the formal cause (the shape or form of a thing) contributes, according to him, the “essence” of a thing. Material cause is the subject of change. Efficient cause is that which initiates activity. (The efficient cause is often known as the propelling cause.), The Final cause is the end (purpose, goal, state of completion) for which the change is produced. From the above, let us provide a problematization by ostention. When we see a rolling stone, we reason that the stone could not have caused its own movement. Then we begin to raise questions on how the stone came to be moved. This is obviously the problem with causal theory. We want to know ‘how’ A is the cause of B, and whether without A, there will not be B. This problem has dominated the discussion on causation. However, Aristotle tied the notion of cause to four factors and then believed that the, ‘Formal cause’ is the unifying force of the causes. The problematic of Aristotle’s idea of causality can be formulated thus;

  • How can matter or form bring about change?
  • If form contains within itself its own activity, do we still need a first mover (Efficient causation)?
  • Does passivity actually lead to change?

Nonetheless, we find that matter except acted upon cannot bring a change in itself, yet Aristotle consider the material cause as justified. The question remains, whether the four causes must be present for change to take place, or for something to come to be. The problem is, are there things that are not observed that can cause observed things? How can we balance the fact that both the material and immaterial can operate both as causes and effects. There are questions that our study of Aristotle needs to provide answers to. Let us present the methodology.


The method to be used in this study would be analytical. It means that we shall analyze the concept of causality by simplifying or clarifying the term causality. Here we are interested in the meaning of causality, its history and specifically the Aristotelian conception of it. The actual instruments we wish to use include internet sources, archival materials, source documents, etc. Let us present the scope.


The scope of this research work shall take into cognizance, the work of Aristotle on causality and some other ideas of causality. We now move to the purpose.


Our experience of reality both in its generality and in its specificities, confirms the physical theory that nature abhors vacuum. At the causal level, i.e., at the level of the relationship of things as they are products of other things, nature abhors ‘non causality’. The purpose of this project therefore, is to reflect on Aristotelian conception which seems to be radically different from his predecessors. David Hume criticized the traditional conception of causality propounded by Aristotle.  Our Second purpose here therefore is to show that Hume’s critic of Aristotle’s conception does not hold water. Above all, the ‘why’ question is an inevitable one because it seeks all-round and ontological response to the reason, explanation and justification of reality. Not just the way it happened, but the reason why it came to happen that way. It is concerned with ontological ultimacy, the last ground of explanation. The above three points mentioned above constitute the purpose of this project. We now proceed to the significance.


The significant of anything lies in its value or relevance. Theoretically, this work is significant in a number of ways. Firstly, it asserts that there is reason for all things. This goes to show that every effect must have a cause, in Aristotelian terminology, “ex nihilo nihil fit” (from nothing, nothing comes). The significance here lies in the fact that it amounts to standing logic on the head, if we claim that effect are not ontologically linked with a causal principle. The second significant lies in the fact that human reason cannot rest until it finds answers to the curiosities that impinge on his consciousness. According to Aristotle it is the nature of man to know and to ask questions. It is therefore doubly significant first negatively to escape from ignorant and positively to know the causes of things. Lastly Aristotelian conception of causality is significant because it attempts to give an explanation of the totality of reality through inductive and deductive processes. The question of origin is a very serious question. Aristotle in his theory of causes, to a large extent was able to give us a rational foundation of reality in totality. We now move to the literature review.


In his consideration of “Causality in Igbo Metaphysics”, Nwigwe writes. ‘Questions whether there is a necessary connection between events such that one even is the necessary cause of the other4 are a very important metaphysical question that cuts across all cultures. For him, we are to understand this question from a metaphysical point of view, which is in line with Igbo cultural world view. In referring to Aristotle’s treatment of cause, he says that for Aristotle, the immediate aim of this inquiry in metaphysics is to arrive at a general understanding of the cause and principles of perceptible substance, an understanding which should also enable us to explain non-substantial being by reference to substantial being and show the manner in which the ousia of a non-substantial explain why it is a being. Nwigwe says that there are several levels of being in Igbo metaphysics but three seems to account for the cause and effect that we experience in the universe.5 They include chi (god), Ikenga6 and the Earth goddess.7 These deities interrelate with each other. Nwigwe tied causality in Igbo world view to metaphysical determinism which is exemplified in the novel “Things Fall Apart” and “Arrow of God” by Chinuwe Achebe. Nwigwe therefore concludes that the Igbo view of the world is that the various perspective of one common whole.

Omoregbe, in his book Knowing Philosophy, treated the problem of causality especially as viewed by Aristotle and David Hume. He noted that various concepts are associated with the problem of causality. These concepts include universality e.g. every effect has a cause, uniformity of nature, necessary connection. In explaining the meaning of “cause”, Omoregbe says “A cause is that which brings about a certain effect…that by which something or an effect can be produced.8

Omoregbe also noted that Aristotle distinguishes between four kinds of causes; “material, formal, efficient and final cause”.9 Aristotle now accounted for the meaning of causation as it is applied today. Omoregbe also analyzed how David Hume questioned the concepts of necessary connection that is implied in causality and associated that the denial of any intrinsic connection between a cause and its effect is bound to affect our idea of the laws of Nature10.

In his book, The Nature of metaphysics, Enomah Sylvester considered the problem of causality. He began his analysis on causality that “our knowledge of causality is a datum of experience.11 Enomah also differentiated between two kinds of cause namely; Inspiratory or Influential causes and Positive cause. He further analyzes the Aristotelian four causes.12 He noted that there is a relationship between the cause and effect, especially in efficient cause. The relationship according to him is that of participation.

Another book to be reviewed is by S.E. Stumpf, Philosophy History and problems. The treatment of Aristotle’s conception of cause took a new dimension in Stump’s interpretation of Aristotle’s four causes. According to him, we see in a world around us constant change which is one of the basic facts of our experiences. He says, for Aristotle, change means many things including motion, growth etc. This change is what Aristotle explained in his four causes. He also says that for Aristotle, cause means explanation. He quoted Aristotle as summarizing his cause thus; “All things that come to be; come to be by some agency and from something, and come to be something.[i] He concludes Aristotle’s treatment of causality to mean that change does not involve bringing together; formless matter and matter less form. The understanding Stumpf gives us in his analysis of Aristotle’s metaphysics as it relates to causality is that something must come from something through an agent (Efficient cause). In the next chapter, we shall present the general philosophy of Aristotle.


  • Stumpf, Samuel Enoch (1994): Philosophy History & Problems. New York Mc Graw-Hill, p. 5
  • Ibid; P.6
  • Ibid; P.7-8
  • Nwigwe B.E (2004): “Causality in selected Igbo cultural Novel: perspective in Igbo metaphysics”; in West African Journal of Philosophical Studies 17 p.2
  • , p.3
  • Ikenga is a deity usually represented in Igbo world view in the form of a calved short word. Its numerous representations symbolize a man’s talent and strength, enterprise and achievement.
  • The earth goddess provides life, nourishment and protection and acts at the arch – custodian of all laws for the assurance of peace and harmony among the people.
  • Omoregbe, Joseph (1990): Knowing philosophy Lagos: Joja Educational Research publishers, p.180
  • Ibid, p.180
  • Ibid, p.181
  • Enomah, Sylvester (1997) The Nature of Metaphysics Ibadan: Bibis press pp 63 -100
  • The Aristotelian Four causes include material cause, formal cause, efficient cause and final cause. For Aristotle we can explain being only through these four causes
  • Stumpf, Samuel Enoch (1994): Philosophy History and Problem New York: McGraw Hill Inc, pp 92-93.


We cannot come to the end of this project without our personal reflection on Aristotelian notion of causality. Causality asks the dual but complementary questions (a) For what?  (b) What caused why? The two questions are actually one question, but posed from two different ends; the end point (for what?) and the starting point (why?). The causality question, the “why” question is sharpened when we contrast it to the “how” question. The “how” question requires description of the process, event or reality the way it has come to be, the reality it is. It is a purely empirical question, the domain of the experimental sciences. The ‘why’ question by contrast seeks for an all round and ontological response as to the reason, explanation and justification of reality. Aristotle calls this a penetration into the ontos logos, the quidity, the core, or what Ireogbu called the kpim of reality. It is therefore the considered opinion of Aristotle that we cannot understand reality (anything that is, without reference to the ultimate cause, the unmoved mover, the unperfected perfection, the undersigned designer, and necessitated necessity). No wonder, a possible definition of philosophy in the context of medieval philosophy is that “it is an indubitable cognition of being in the light of its ultimate justification”

It is important to observe that Aristotle’s analysis of causality was a very notable one in the history of metaphysics, but it is equally important to notice that his analysis has not solved the problem of causality. One fact still remains “every effect must have a cause and this cause must in itself  be necessary”.



Aristotle, Metaphysics, (trans) Hugh Lawson-Tancred (New York: Penguin Books, 1994).

Copi I. M. & Cohen, Carl (1990): Introduction to Logic: Eighth Edition. New York: Macmillian Publishing Company.

Enomah, S. (1997): The Nature of Metaphysics, Ibadan: Bibis press.

Hospers, J. (1997): An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, Fourth Edition, London: Routhedge.

Ireogbu, P.  Enwisdomization and African Philosophy, (Owerri: International University Press, 1992).

– – -. Metaphysics: The Kpim of Philosophy, (Owerri: International University Press, (1995) P.373

Lawhead, W.F. (2002): The Voyage of Discovery: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy, (United States WadsWorth Group).

Nwigwe B. E. (2004): “Causality in selected Igbo cultural Novel: perspective in Igbo metaphysics”; in West African Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 17.

Omoregbe, J. (1990): Knowing Philosophy, Lagos: Joja Educational  Research publishers.

Ozumba, G. O. (2010): A Course Text On Ethics,  Lagos Onosomegbowho Ogbinaka Publishers Ltd.

Russell, B. (1996), History of Western Philosophy,  New York: Routledge Classics.

Sogolo S. Godwin: “The Concept of cause in African thought” in Coetzee, P.H. & A.p (eds, 1998) The African Philosophy Reader. London: Routledge

Stumpf, Samuel Enoch (1994): Philosophy History and Problems. New York McGraw-Hill.


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