To quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Here Aristotle recognizes four types of things that can be given in answer to a why-question:
- The material cause: “that out of which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
- The formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
- The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
- The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.
My assumption has always been that modern science concerns itself mostly with first three causes and that the final cause is considered out of bounds. Apparently Francis Bacon put both formal and final causes into the metaphysical realm:
For as we divided natural philosophy in general into the inquiry of causes and productions of effects, so that part which concerneth the inquiry of causes we do subdivide according to the received and sound division of causes. The one part, which is physic, inquireth and handleth the material and efficient causes; and the other, which is metaphysic, handleth the formal and final causes.
But I was surprised to read that biologists especially (including Darwin himself) have begun to tackle even Teleology, the Fourth Cause. Is this appropriate in Modern Science?