Skip to main content

Aristotle’s Doctrine of Causes and the Manipulative Theory of Causality

Abstract

I will argue for the similarity between some aspects of Aristotle’s doctrine of causes and a particular kind of interventionist theory of causality. The interventionist account hypothesizes that there is a connection between causation and human intervention: the idea of a causal relation between two events is generated by the reflection of human beings on their own operating. This view is remindful of the Aristotelian concept of αἴτιον (cause), which is linked to the figure of the αἴτιος, the person who is responsible of an action. Aristotle conceives of the efficient cause as the active element which, in the φύσις, gives rise to movement and imposes the form, in analogy with the active element that in τέχνη operates the production: the craftsman. This analogy suggests that Aristotle conceives of the causation on the basis of the human ability to modify the environment with aims. Within the debate on the manipulative theory the classical accounts worked out by Collingwood, Gasking and von Wright have been recently criticized by Woodward. von Wright’s reductive account explains causation on the basis of human free action, while Woodward regards this reduction as a dangerous move which makes causal explanations too much anthropomorphic. I will show that Aristotle’s doctrine of causes is more similar to von Wright’s account and that the Aristotelian analysis of becoming supports von Wright’s reductive interventionism against Woodward’s criticism. Furthermore, I will draw a comparison between interventionism and dispositionalism, where the latter is another contemporary account of causation that claims Aristotelian roots.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Cf. E. Berti (1989–1990), Leunissen (2010) and Scharle (2008) on the finalism in Aristotelian philosophy and in particular in Physica B.

  2. Cf. Buzzoni (2015).

  3. The contradiction that Aristotle contentiously indicates in Democritus’ doctrine regards the living organisms which, as we shall see in B 8, are in Aristotle’s opinion the most evident proof of the natural finalism.

  4. See Jori (2002) on the Aristotelian concepts of αὐτóματον and τύχη and the causal structure of science with respect to casuality.

  5. For this conception of scientific experiment see Buzzoni (2014: 377, 1995, 2008).

  6. Cf. Berti (1989–1990: 8–44).

  7. The metaphor of the “behaviour” of nature belongs to the same conceptual attitude which generates the αἴτιον/αἴτιος metaphor.

  8. Geneticity as a solution for the aporia of regularism is widely studied in literature, see e.g. Searle (1983: 135), von Wright (1971; 1974). A discussion on this point, and on its connection with experimentation, is in Licata (2017: 30–38).

References

  • Aristotle, Physics (1996) edited by Bostok D and translated by Waterfield R, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

  • Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (2009) edited by Brown L and translated by Ross WD. Oxford University Press, Oxford

  • Baumgartner M (2009) Interdefining causation and intervention. Dialectica 63(2):175–194

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berti E (1989–1990) La finalità in Aristotele. Fondamenti (14–16):8–44

  • Broadie S (1987) Nature, craft and phronesis in Aristotle. Philos Top 15(2):35–50

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Buzzoni M (1995) Scienza e tecnica. Teoria ed esperienza nelle sceinze della natura, Studium, Roma

  • Buzzoni M (2008) Thought experiment in the natural sciences. Königshausen & Neumann, WÜRZBURG

  • Buzzoni M (2014) The agency theory of causality, anthropomorfism and simultaneity. Int Stud Philos Sci 28(4):375–395

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Buzzoni M (2015) Teleology and mechanism in biology. In: Bertolaso M (ed) The future of scientific practice: ‘bio-techno-logos’. Pickering & Chatto, London, pp 147–159

    Google Scholar 

  • Byrne C (2002) Aristotle on physical necessity and the limits of teleological explanation. Apeiron 35:20–46

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bywater I (1894) Aristotelis Ethica Nicomachea. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Collingwood RG (1940) An essay on metaphysics. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Dingler H (1938) Die Methode der Physik. Reinhardt, München

    Google Scholar 

  • Drossaart Lulofs HJ (1965) Aristotelis De Generatione Animalium. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Falcon A (2015) Aristotle on causality. In: Zalta EN (ed) The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/aristotle-causality/

  • Gasking D (1955) Causation and recipes. Mind 64:479–487

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Granger H (1993) Aristotle on the analogy between action and nature. Class Q 43(1):168–176

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hacking I (1983) Representing and intervening: introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hausman DM (1998) Causal asymmetries. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hausman DM, Woodward J (1999) Independence, invariance and the causal Markov condition. Br J Philos Sci 50:521–583

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jori A (2002) Il caso, la fortuna e il loro rapporto con la malattia e la guarigione nel Corpus hippocraticum. In: Thivel A, Zucker A (eds) Le normal et le pathologique dans la Collection hippocratique, vol 1. Publications de la Facultés des Lettres, Arts et Sciences Humaines de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, Nice, pp 197–228

    Google Scholar 

  • Keill G (2009) Making something happen. Where causation and agency meet. In: Carson SG, Mikalsen KK (eds) Nature and rational agency. P. Lang, Frankfurt am Main, New York, pp 9–28

    Google Scholar 

  • Lennox JG (1999) Aristotle on chance. In: Lennox JG (ed) Aristotle’s philosophy of biology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 250–258

    Google Scholar 

  • Leunissen M (2010) Explanation and teleology in Aristotle’s science of nature. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lewis D (1986) Philosophical papers. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Licata G (2015) L’analogia φύσις-τέχνη in Aristotele (Fisica B, 3–9) e la teoria interventistica della causalità. Epistemologia 38(2):175–194

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Licata G (2017) The interventionist theory of causality and Aristotle’s concept of cause. An illuminating metaphor for epistemology. In: Vicari G (ed) Conoscenza, mente e neuroscienze, vol 8. Studium Philosophicum, Palermo, pp 27–50

    Google Scholar 

  • Menzies P, Price H (1993) Causality as secondary quality. Br J Philos Sci 44:187–203

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mumford S (2014) Contemporary efficient causation: Aristotelian themes. In: Schmaltz TM (ed) Efficient causation: a history. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 317–339

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Mumford S, Anjum RL (2011) Getting causes from powers. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Price H (2014) Causation, intervention and agency—woodward on menzies and price. In: Beebee H, Hitchcock C, Price H (eds) Making a difference. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross WD (1908) Metaphysica, English translation in: The Works of Aristotle translated into English under the Editorship of Smith JA and Ross WD. Oxford University Press, Oxford

  • Ross WD (1924) Aristotle’s metaphysics, vol 2. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross WD (1936) Aristotle’s physics. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Ross WD (1949) Aristotle’s prior and posterior analytics. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Scharle M (2008) Elemental teleology in Aristotle’s physics 2. 8. Oxf Stud Anc Philos 34:147–184

    Google Scholar 

  • Searle JR (1983) Intentionality. An essay in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sedley D (1991) Is Aristotle’s teleology anthropocentric? Phronesis 36:179–197

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tuozzo TM (2014) Aristotle and the discovery of efficient causation. In: Schmaltz TM (ed) Efficient causation: a history. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 23–47

    Google Scholar 

  • von Wright GH (1971) Explanation and understanding. Cornell University Press, Ithaca

    Google Scholar 

  • von Wright GH (1974) Causality and determinism. Columbia University Press, New York

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • von Wright GH (1975) On the logic and epistemology of the causal relation. In: Sosa E (ed) Causation and conditionals. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 95–113

    Google Scholar 

  • von Wright GH (1989) A reply to my critics. In: Schilpp PA, Hahn LE (eds) The philosophy of Georg Henrik von Wright. Open Court, La Salle, pp 733–887

    Google Scholar 

  • Woodward J (2003) Making things happen. A theory of causal explanation. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I deeply thank Marco Buzzoni and Giuseppe Nicolaci for useful comments on the relationship between Aristotle’s doctrine of causes and the manipulative theory of causality.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gaetano Licata.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Licata, G. Aristotle’s Doctrine of Causes and the Manipulative Theory of Causality. Axiomathes 29, 653–666 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10516-018-9398-y

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10516-018-9398-y

Keywords

  • Aimed acting
  • Aristotle’s physics
  • Cause
  • Free action
  • Interventionism
  • von Wright