Stacey on Aristotle’s causality —
Aristotle introduced a theory of causality, for the first time in human thought, which brought together elements of various thinkers of his time. He reaffirmed “”becoming””, arguing that change is not an illusion but that humans actually experience nature as change. Reality is not some external given, but an experience one perceives. Humans can trust their experience; indeed, this is the only way of making sense of reality. (Stacey, 2000, pp 195).
Aristotle first introduced this theory of causality as a way of understanding the human experience of physical nature. There may be multiple causes, but there is one cause, the final cause, the fundamental source of becoming, which is teleology. Teleology is then the one overarching source of change. Aristotle argued that there is a fundamental source of becoming in everything, that everything tends towards some end, or form. All other sources of becoming, whether formal, efficient, or material cause in Aristotle’s scheme of causality, are subordinate to the overarching teleological movement. (Stacey, 2000, pp 196).
Within this movement toward a final form or end, Aristotle distinguished other sources of becoming that are subordinate to the overarching teleological movement —
• formal cause — One of these sources is what has come to be known as “”formal cause.”” This is the human experience of the form of the phenomenon as it moves toward its final form. In other words, this is the human experience of pattern, of the given sequence of changes in the form. So, while the teleological is concerned with the final form, the formal source of change is the changes in form that lead up to it. In the above examples, these are the infant and the young adult, or the acorn and the sapling. This is what is meant by the formal source of becoming.
• efficient cause — Next, Aristotle distinguished a source of becoming which has come to be known as “”efficient causality.”” Here humans experience change in terms of what went before the present state. For example, a tree is now experienced as being on fire because in the preceding state it was hit by lightning. This link between the lightning strike and the subsequent fire is what developed into the if-then sequence of efficient causality.
• material cause — Lastly, Aristotle talked about what has come to be known as “”material cause.”” Here humans experience change as they do because one source of becoming is the material of which a thing is made. For example, a tree is experienced as a tree because it is made of wood.
The translation from Aristotle’s sources of becoming to what we understand today as causality is rather difficult because causality has become so identified with efficient causality of the if-then kind. Furthermore, Aristotle was talking about the source of human experience of change in physical nature whereas today one thinks of causality as pertaining to that physical nature itself rather than the human experience of it.
Human organizations can, however, be understood in terms of all of today’s modern descendants of Aristotle’s four causes. For example, a pharmaceutical company is as it is because of material cause in the sense that it depends upon the nature of the chemicals it produces. Change and stability in the organization depend in this way on change and stability in chemical matter. An organization can also be understood in terms of efficient cause when, for example, reward systems are used to motivate people. If sales incentives are increased, then sales people sell more products. Formative cause would identity the source of change and stability in the functioning of a system – for example, an information and control system. Then, the processes of, say, the accounting system would be formatively causing the organization to become what it becomes. Teleological cause would be the objectives that the organization was seeking to achieve – for example, the profit objectives. This kind of definition of the four causes seems to us to be typical of the dominant discourse on management. It is a definition that takes for granted the source of change.
Transformative teleology as an overarching cause —
However, this way of thinking about the descendants of Aristotle’s four causes does not capture the manner in which goals and values, the motivators of human action, continually emerge in the self-organizing complex responsive processes we discuss in this volume. Instead, the motivational process (that is, the source of goals and values) is hidden within the categories of efficient and formative cause. In this sense teleology is subordinated to the other causes, rather than embracing them as in Aristotle’s thinking. In the above examples, what motivates people is reduced to a cause (sales incentive) and effect (change in sales) link, or is simply stated as a profit goal without taking account of how such a goal arises in the self-organizing complex responsive processes we are pointing to. In using the term Transformative Teleology we are trying to draw attention to the self-organizing complex responsive processes of emerging values, goals, strategies, and so on. This restores teleology to its overarching position in a theory of causality.
Source: Stacey, 2000, pp 196 – 197
Overviews of Aristotle’s causality —
Aristotle (300s BC) —
In the Aristotelian world, physics was modeled on biology, not biology on physics. For Aristotle, just as the behavior of humans (and other animals) is motivated by specific purposes, so the behavior of any physical object could be explained by understanding its purpose. For Aristotle, an object could only be understood in relation to its purpose or function.
Aristotle’s four causes are each a different way of explaining why a thing is as it is. The four causes are four aspects of the purpose of a thing. All four causes together bring a complete view of the object under consideration. To understand an object, one must understand —
1. its formal cause – the form received by a thing, a form taken by the movement or development
2. material cause — the matter underlying that form, a material
3. efficient cause — the agency that brings about the change, something to act upon it, an if – then sequence of causality, cause based on what went on before the current state
4. the final cause — the purpose or goal served by the change
As an example, the Aristotelian answer to the question of why the statue of David is as it is, is answered as such – Because it was made by Michelangelo (efficient cause) out of marble (material cause) with the shape of David (formal cause) to glorify the Medici family (final cause). For Aristotle, the final cause is final because it is pre-eminent in explaining why a thing is as it is.