A paper on Final Causes...

When Aristotle coins the term “final cause,” he is referring to the main reason an object in nature exists. This main reason can change depending on the scope you are viewing it through. For example, on a small level, one could hazard a guess that the final cause of a squirrel is to “be the best squirrel it can be.” By this broad definition, a squirrel’s goal is to act how squirrels typically act in nature to the best of its ability. When enlarging the scope, one may [boldly] state that the purpose of a squirrel is to help perpetuate nature by spreading seeds, reproducing, and furthering the evolution of squirrels so that the small part of the universe which they occupy becomes more refined.

A moment ago it was stated that the purpose of a squirrel consists of “doing what squirrels naturally do” to the best of their ability. This seems to be the case in all unconscious material objects and in conscious objects that are not considered to have free will. A thing cannot act other than how it is meant to act when no choices are given to that thing. One may argue that a conscious animal with a mental disorder is not “being the best it can be,” but it can be easily seen that given their material nature (mental disorders show physical manifestations in the brain), that even mentally deficient conscious beings are striving for the best possible state they can.

Inanimate objects or events also have final causes. The final cause of a volcanic eruption is to release pressure from beneath the Earth’s crust. It is NOT the sadistic intent of an eruption to destroy villages and kill people. That is a coincidental happening given the material, efficient, and formal causes of the volcano. Given the material cause of the eruption (molten rocks, pressure, etc.), and taking into consideration how it occurs (efficient cause), one can see that eruptions are typically carried out in a certain manner. This certain manner, the formal cause, often coincides with the efficient and final causes. This is the case when a thing in nature acts as it typically does. It is silly for a native to stand at the base of a volcano and shake his fist angrily, for the final cause of a volcano and the eruption is not chosen by any conscious being that humans can comprehend.

Aristotle quickly dispatches the notions that things which seem to exist for a purpose may actually be here coincidentally. When objects turn out the same way “always or usually,” he concludes that a final cause must exist. It is crucial to have an understanding of final causes. Without an acknowledgement of them, a natural scientist would have to view EVERY event in nature through the constrained scope of formal cause. By doing so, only raw surface data about the “behavior” of various natural objects could be compiled. The element of freedom in beings with “self-awareness” would be assumed non-existent.

If there is little to no difference between the efficient and formal causes when compared to final causes for most things in nature, then what is required for that difference? In order for a natural object to act other than how it “normally” acts in a particular state, and assuming no outside influence is invoking an anomaly, an element of choice must be present. The only conscious beings known [for certain] to make choices are humans. In order to make a distinction between a human acting toward his/her final cause and a human not doing so, a standard for the “final cause” of humans must be set. Rather than rely on the typical statement, “The final cause of human beings is to be the best humans they can be,” I will be more specific. Aristotle provides no exact definition for the final cause of humans [from what I have read up to this point], so I will do my best to provide one. As stated in his Nicomachean Ethics:

Every art or applied science and every systematic investigation, and similarly every action and choice, seem to aim at some good. - first line of Book I

If all action of humanity aims at some good, then it can be assumed that man’s final cause involves striving for that good. However, there is more to it than that. The end result of striving for that good, be it through intellectual pursuit or the attainment of virtue, should produce a sense of intrinsic satisfaction and happiness. Thus, the final cause of psychologically and physiologically functional human beings is to attain happiness. When a man shuns his purpose and commits actions that do not make him happy, his efficient and formal causes may be out of alignment. If a man’s material cause is atypical of most humans, then the formal and efficient causes are bound to be different for reasons beyond his control. Yet perfectly healthy and knowledgeable people can and regularly do ignore the final cause of humanity.

Suppose two scientists have opposing views on the existence of final causes. Scientist A believes in the existence of final causes, and Scientist B does not. Their findings would differ very little for inanimate objects. In such cases, the efficient, formal, and final causes are almost always the same. The findings would also be similar for conscious life that lacks the capacity of intellect, for they are incapable of acting against their nature. However, their views would reveal stark differences when the element of choice is presented. When Scientist B observes human action that is atypical, he will classify it as “behavior,” and try to quantify it using only three of the four causes. Usually the material cause is blamed for “immoral” or destructive behavior. Since the element of choice does not exist in his mind, Scientist B must also hold no belief in accountability. Science takes a dangerous path to absolute relativism by subscribing to this method. Scientist A, with his awareness of final causes, does not completely rule out material cause as an explanation for abnormal human behavior, but he also refuses to rely on it alone. By accepting that “the final cause of humanity is to attain happiness” (or at least some definition close to the one I provided), he will be able see plainly if the subject under study is making an effort to reach his final cause.

How do I know a person can be at fault for not striving for their final cause? By personal experience. Since the inception of my philosophical studies, I have accepted the Aristotelian definition of happiness as a good one, yet I still oftentimes make choices that do not reach for that purpose. This cannot simply be blamed on “material nature.” A squirrel does not periodically “forget” how to be a squirrel. It has no choice in the matter. I DO have the choice to “forget” my final cause.

It can be difficult to discover the final cause of objects in nature. Sure, one could say, “This particular tree needs to act how the same type of tree typically acts to the best of its ability”, but that is somewhat of an all-encompassing copout. To understand the final cause of an object, one must have a firm understanding of its nature to begin with. Once the physical properties of an object are understood, one must examine how it reacts to its surroundings. The object must be observed enough so that all anomalies and instances of outside influence are not taken into consideration. Once the “form” of the object is understood, a final cause may be extrapolated. Since our knowledge of the physical properties of objects and their surroundings is continually changing, our perception of their final causes is also changing. For example: right now the final cause of vestigial organs is thought to be a rather physiologically useless one, but later discovers on their material nature may reveal otherwise.

I have hope that human beings will gradually come to realize that our final cause is to attain happiness through intellectual pursuit and the attainment of virtue. Through our intellectual pursuits we will come to understand the final causes of natural objects, and through our attainment of virtue, we will come to understand our own final cause. Science will continue to fail at quantifying all human action, and people will eventually come to realize there is more to it than numbers, raw data, and behavior.

Well if that’s our final cause how exactly do you explain the murderers, burgalers, etc

Yes, yes, of course.

Arbitrary distinction from animals but whatever.

No, they don’t ignore it. There is short term and long term happiness. How do you know which to focus on?

Wrong on the animals but whatever.

No, the problem is that your definition of happiness is wrong. I define it correctly here: ilovephilosophy.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=142919
Every second you are attempting to attain happiness but often you fail because you aren’t all knowing and because happienss only has any meaning as a perception of moving either away from or towards death and this only has meaning relative to where you were the second before and possibly where you’ve been averaged over some time period. Tricking yourself into thinking you are always moving away from death is difficult. There are some tricks that can be used but they are only tricks.

Yes, you didn’t seem to quite apply this earlier on.

People would first need to understand what happiness actually is before they have a chance at purposely ignoring many of the other ways to attain it then you mention.

All action can be quantified at least in some way. But after reading this I can certainly understand why you would think different.

Unless I’m misunderstanding, (and I doubt that) this is basically saying you give up. Many people next proclaim, “Godidit!”
Actually everything is quantifiable.

Even though I disagree I do thank you for sharing.

If you think everything is quantifiable then you need to read “A Guide for the Preplexed” by E.F. Schumacher (spelling?). I used to think everything was just cold, raw, data and that all of our actions were predetermined by the atoms that comprise our brains, but this book convinced me otherwise.

Also, I feel my definition of happiness as a final cause for human beings is perfectly adequate for all intents and purposes of this paper.

I got an A minus on this paper in a 300 level philosophy course, and I wrote it the morning it was due, so I’m pretty happy. There was one point my instructor disagreed with, which is fine. I’m not perfect. I’ll dig up the actual hard copy of it sometime and see what he thought of it. This guy has doctorate degrees in Neuro-Science and Philosophy, so he knows his stuff.

Also, Schumacher’s book adequately proved to me that anyone who holds this belief is either:

A. Uneducated on the matter or

B. Using the “fact” that all behavior can be explained by the physical properties of the brain as a fancy way of saying we aren’t accountable for anything we do. People generally do this to “kill their conscience” so they don’t have to feel bad for doing [what most would consider] wrong.

Before you decide to get all bent out of shape over this claim, you should read the book. It costs about 6 bucks and would maybe take such an obviously intelligent person like you three hours to read.