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Here are some more insights from the Classical philosopher and master of taxonomy, Aristotle. Aristotle draws a sharp contrast between what is a byproduct of human ingenuity and that of nature. He had four main causes or parameters that need to be met in the consideration of constructing manmade goods. These considerations included:


Material Cause: that out of which something is made.

Efficient Cause: that by which something is made.

Formal Cause: that into which something is made.

Final  Cause: that for the sake of which something is made.

(Adler, 1978, P. 42) [1].


The Formal Cause gives way to the essence of the object that is produced. For example, the “carness” of an automobile. The quiddity of an object possesses all of the enduring attributes specific to the category of a car ” … every size, shape, color…” and so on. Even when confronted with the Formal cause of an object. The other causes also play a role in contributing to the nature of an object such as the Material Cause. An operable automobile constructed out of loose-leaf paper seems like an impossibility, if not an outright oddity. These four defining principles are what “transform” or shape the object (Adler, 1978, P. 43) [2].


Now that we have described the core attributes of what contributes to an object’s form, let’s go a little deeper. As if this wasn’t abstract enough. What about the object that is formless?  It possesses the potential for all forms but lacks resemblance to any material form. Existing as a contradiction. From an Aristotelian point a view there is no such contradiction. Because such an object cannot exist beyond the confines of our imagination. It can be only hypothetical or conceptual (Adler, 1978, P. 53-54) [3]. Every object and entity physically existing on this planet has a form. That includes even all existing entities that are a byproduct of nature. Even objects in the nascent stage of development or construction have a form. To exist without in the physical world without a form is self-nullifying. Without a form, an object cannot be an actuality.


If we review the four causes posited by Aristotle, we see that an object’s purpose is implied in its physical form. For any object produced by man, its utility is generally self-evident. In other words, its Final Cause is salient. It would be superfluous to pontificate over the purpose of a chair. When we examine objects and entities of the natural world their functionality isn’t so obvious. Which is understandable as they are not an invention of human thinking. Typically, their functionality is revealed through rigorous study. Biologists provide a great deal of insight into the Formal Cause of the objects and lifeforms of the natural world. Each component as an integral role in stabilizing the ecosystem. The environment much like any other complex system is highly sensitive. If any link in the intricate chain is broken every other aspect is impacted. For instance, predators generally operate as a safeguard against overpopulation. Which implicitly operates as a form of resource conservation. If the predator is eliminated from the food chain resource equilibrium will be askew. Leading to other complications.


This example demonstrates how nothing exists haphazardly. Generally, the function is implied in the physical form. This is also true in the natural world. Most phenotypical attributes exhibited by animals has an adaptive purpose from an evolutionary standpoint. The bright colors of a frog in the rainforest is a signal to potential predators of their prospective meal being poisonous. Whether this is a true indicator or mimicry is inconsequential. Either way, the bright colors function as a deterrent. I am not veering to an argument for Intelligent Design. Regardless of how this adaptive attribute came into existence, it has an operable purpose. Whether it manifested through design or chance of the evolutionary vicissitudes. Even this interpretation of phenotypical expression could be subject to scrutiny.


The main point here is that nothing exists without a purpose. All physically existing entities have a form. That physical form implies purpose. This alone does not relegate man to the superficial purpose of mere subsistence. The human brain is competent within man’s physical form. The human brain is capable of astonishingly profound insights, innovations, inventions, and complex reasoning. Our higher existential pursuits are an aspect of man’s purpose. Otherwise, we would not possess the organic operating system for such pursuits.



2 thoughts on “Form and Purpose- Aristolian Thought

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