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Causal Necessity in Aristotle

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Like many realists about causation and causal powers, Aristotle uses the language of necessity when discussing causation, and he appears to think that by invoking necessity, he is clarifying the manner in which causes bring about or determine their effects. In so doing, he would appear to run afoul of Humean criticisms of the notion of a necessary connection between cause and effect. The claim that causes necessitate their effects may be understood— or attacked— in several ways, however, and so whether the view or its criticism is tenable depends on how we understand the necessitation claim. In fact, Aristotelian efficient causation may be said to involve two distinct necessary connections: one is a relation between causes considered as potential, while the other relates them considered as active. That is, the claims that (1) what has the power to heat necessarily heats what has the power to be heated, and that (2) a particular flame which is actually under a pot necessarily heats it, both of which appear to be true for Aristotle, involve distinct notions of necessity. The latter kind of necessity is based on the facts, as Aristotle sees them, about change, whereas the former is based in the nature of properties. Though different, both kinds of necessity are instances of what contemporary philosophers would call metaphysical necessity, and together they also amount to a theory of causal determination.

Keywords: Aristotle; causal powers; causation; necessitation; necessity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Florida State University,

Publication date: September 1, 2012

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