On Aristotle's Causes (December 2019)

Material cause: repetition

Efficient cause: computation

Formal cause: composition

Final cause: narrative

narrative ≠ summary. That's a model.

A narrative is simply a definite (finite) process through which action is contextualized.

The formal cause of something is not a "blueprint", a blueprint is just someone's guess about what the form could be.

Form is the part of something that logically composes. That is, "essence" as opposed to "accidents". No, it has nothing to do with predetermined forms in the heavens, it's just a question of which things connnect tautologically rather than empirically. The syntax, not the semantics.

Computation by definition eats and shits grammar. It can't be conceptualized otherwise.

But you need grammar to say an event "A" caused an event "B", since you need these events and the transition from one to the other to be clearly defined.

A simulation, no matter how detailed, has this grammar defined ahead of time, and in doing so smushes together all causality to resemble nothing but a series of falling dominoes.

Where narrative converges, you get new forms, where narrative repeats, you get new material.

Novel material is built up through repetitons. A house is made of the laying of many bricks, an animal out of the births and deaths of many cells, and so on.

Even an elementary particle can be seen as an indefinite series of trajectories that repeat but are never necessarily exactly the same.

Why is this important? Because a house can have the same form and function with different material details (accidents).

Differences in accidents can mean different affordances, which in turn foster different enactments.

But isn't an "enactment" just an event, the immediate thing known by Aristotle to be efficient cause?

Yes. But when we delimit an event as the direct cause of an effect, we draw a line that makes it a jump from one state of affairs to another; a computation. Isn't that a procrustean bed? Yes, but when we talk cause and effect we always circumscribe it in an extant grammar, thus ultimately describing based on what is invariant.

Or to drop the reference to computation: efficient cause is that which travels through form.

But the enactment in itself is more than what's delimited by form. The invariant relationships between enactments dictate form via composition (see earlier), but enactments may relate in other ways to create new affordances that lead to radically contingent events. Contingent because they have nothing to do with the underlying "possibilities" within the given forms.

These new events may in turn engender relationships such that new forms "emerge". This overall progression is narrative, an ecology that moves towards a climax that subverts existing logic. The "final cause" of something is what we find when evaluating its role within this process.

Or to break that last part down: the final cause of something is a matter of function. The purpose of a hammer is to hammer nails, but only if we're talking about some task I'm carrying out involving that, so it is relative.

So the final cause is a matter of considering the process it takes place within. That process is not defined by "intent", a folk concept that presumes things exist as objects floating around in someone's head, but as a question of the relationship between part and whole.

The climax, being a radical change in form, is a new whole from which one must infer a new vocabulary of parts. The final cause is a question of how things contributed to this event.

To recap the cycle that ties them all together:

Enactments happen within a narrative context according to the logic of extant forms

Direct causality is understood through such forms

Repetition comes from differences in accidents, things that are not invariant

Such accidents may compose into new forms or provide affordances for further enactment

New forms that don't obey the logic of old forms amount to radically contingent events

How such enactments culminate in such radical contingency is the essence of narrative