The Four Causes of Aristotle

I stumbled on the principle of the 4 causes of Aristotle some years ago when I did some reading about cause and effect, leadership and management. The question is: How do we get things done? When do we get things done? And also very important: How do we get things done in the right way? I cannot tell in what context I came to the final insight or in what book I found it, but it got stuck and it leads me since then.

The Four Causes

Everything what happens has four causes. There are no more and no less. Exactly four. Only if all four causes are present, something can come into existence. That is what Aristotle formulated a lot of centuries before. (Have also a look here:

In the next subsections I describe the four causes. To give an accessible example, I use the picture of building a house. You will see how the four causes apply there. The order of presentation is already the order in which they appear in nature.

Causa Finalis: The Seed

The causa finalis or final cause is the basic reason for anything to happen. You can also translate it as need, requirement or wish. Only with something like that a trigger is present to start some development. The final cause is the seed for any development.

For our house building example, we can think of it like the need to move into a new place because of a lack of space. For instance, a couple lives in a small flat and they are happy, but a child is to be born. They found out, that with a small child the place is too small, there is not a good chance to have a children room, the bath room is to narrow… They find that the current situation is changing and a need for more space is coming up. This is the cause finalis. A need or requirement which is not detailed, yet. There is just an issue to be solved, but there is not a detailed plan, yet.

Causa Formalis: The Form

After the cause finalis is met, the second cause happens: The cause formalis or form. The final cause showed an issue and now it is thought about it and a plan or form is built. The cause formalis brings the vision for how the cause finalis can be solved.

In the house building example, our couple may have thought about renting the flat next to them and re-modelling a wall (what is maybe not allowed by the owner), moving into a bigger flat (which might be too expensive), or to build a house. After deciding to build a house they go to an architect and plan how large the house will be, what it will look like, and so forth. At the end of this process a clear vision exists how the situation is solved.

Causa Materialis: The Material

After a vision exists due to the causa formalis, it needs to come to the final solution. For that the last two causes are needed. The next is the causa materialis or the material. For anything to happen, the material needs to be present.

In the house building example, the material is the material to build the house likes stones, concrete, wood and so forth, but also the knowledge on how to build it. The physical material is needed, but also the knowledge. Without these, there is no chance that a house can be build.

Causa Efficiense: The Execution

After the needs started the process, the vision was formed and the material was organized, the last cause is the execution or causa efficiense. A trainer of mine told me once: A vision without execution is just hallucination. He is right. One can dream of the best stuff, to have everything in place and so forth, but without execution nothing happens. That’s what the last cause is about. In this meaning, it also links to the block post I wrote some years before about The Trinity of Action.

In the house building example, this is the actual building of the house. We have everything in place now to perform the actual solution. We have the need to give as drive and energy, we have a vision and plan, we have the material and knowledge, and the last step is to put the material together with the knowledge we have.

The Dependencies of the Four Causes

The four causes are sorted in another order in most cases, but in my opinion this is not optimal. There is a strict order of appearance in the order I described it above.

The first cause in my opinion is the causa finalis. It is a natures principle that without energy nothing takes place. Without the need, requirement or issue, there is no energy to change a current status quo. There is always a causa finalis needed as a seed for any change. I cannot think of a situation where it is different.

The second cause after the seeding by the causa finalis is always a kind of plan. A lot of actions in our world seem to be performed without plan, but the closer look reveals, that even there is a plan, but maybe not a well thought through one or just based on a pattern or experience, but there is one.

The cause materialis may be also the second reason, because the material might be already there for the solution, but it is not seen as such without a kind of plan. On the other side a plan also reveals what material might be missing which is needed to be organized or waited for.

At the very end the action, the cause efficiense can take place, but without a plan or material nothing can be done.

Final Words

The principle of the Four Causes helps me a lot during my daily private and professional life, because it helps me to understand what happens on one site, but it also provides me a guideline on how to work in certain situation, because it gives me an order for what to work on.


Testing: Eastern Philosophy and Testing can go Hand in Hand

During the preparation for a talk about practical testing and test coverage analysis I found in the large web a small booklet “The Way of Testivus” ( This small booklet is a humorous summary of testing principles and wisdom packaged into a nice form for everybody to read who is interesting in testing to get inspired and to have a fun time.

This book clearly shows, that testing is not a matter of good or bad or right and wrong, it is about thinking of the right way. There is not standard recipe to use to write good tests, enough tests or what so ever.

For my talk mentioned above, I found an additional post (at with a nice story written in the same style:

Testivus On Test Coverage

Early one morning, a programmer asked the great master:

“I am ready to write some unit tests. What code coverage should I aim for?”The great master replied:

“Don’t worry about coverage, just write some good tests.”The programmer smiled, bowed, and left.

Later that day, a second programmer asked the same question.

The great master pointed at a pot of boiling water and said:

“How many grains of rice should put in that pot?”The programmer, looking puzzled, replied:

“How can I possibly tell you? It depends on how many people you need to feed, how hungry they are, what other food you are serving, how much rice you have available, and so on.”“Exactly,” said the great master.

The second programmer smiled, bowed, and left.

Toward the end of the day, a third programmer came and asked the same question about code coverage.

“Eighty percent and no less!” Replied the master in a stern voice, pounding his fist on the table.The third programmer smiled, bowed, and left.

After this last reply, a young apprentice approached the great master:

“Great master, today I overheard you answer the same question about code coverage with three different answers. Why?”The great master stood up from his chair:

“Come get some fresh tea with me and let’s talk about it.”After they filled their cups with smoking hot green tea, the great master began to answer:

“The first programmer is new and just getting started with testing. Right now he has a lot of code and no tests. He has a long way to go; focusing on code coverage at this time would be depressing and quite useless. He’s better off just getting used to writing and running some tests. He can worry about coverage later.”

“The second programmer, on the other hand, is quite experience both at programming and testing. When I replied by asking her how many grains of rice I should put in a pot, I helped her realize that the amount of testing necessary depends on a number of factors, and she knows those factors better than I do – it’s her code after all. There is no single, simple, answer, and she’s smart enough to handle the truth and work with that.”

“I see,” said the young apprentice, “but if there is no single simple answer, then why did you answer the third programmer ‘Eighty percent and no less’?”

The great master laughed so hard and loud that his belly, evidence that he drank more than just green tea, flopped up and down.

“The third programmer wants only simple answers – even when there are no simple answers … and then does not follow them anyway.”The young apprentice and the grizzled great master finished drinking their tea in contemplative silence.

My experience is, that the test coverage percentages are totally meaningless. The numbers do not tell anything meaningful at all, it is only a rough number on how much testing is done, but nothing about the test quality. The only really interesting information are the lines of code which are not tested at all. For these lines, one should think about adding some meaningful tests or about removing the code, because it is not used at all like dead code.


Trinity of Action

During a course on “Self-Management Leadership” I was told the three requirements of actions. No having an explicit name I call it myself the “Trinity of Action”. The simple graph looks like the one below.

The three needed requirements are:

  1. Inspiration / Focus
  2. Information / Capability
  3. Motivation / Will

Inspiration and Focus

This requirement is about an idea. One needs an idea what can be done and needs to focus on it. If there is more than one idea and we switch permanently. We will not get finished or with lousy results.

If the inspiration is lost, we may do something, but we do not know what to do. We are motivated and capable, but we need a direction.

Information and Capability

If an idea is available, we need some more information to implement it and the capabilities to do it. The best idea is worth nothing as long as we do not really no what and how to implement it. If the capability is missing, we would do it, but we are simply not able to do it.

Motivation and Will

The last requirement is the motivation or will. We might have an idea and we might have the capabilities, but if there is not motivation in form of requirement for example, we could do it, because the current situation will allow it, but if there is no need to, we save the energy of implementation.

Sum Up

The model is a good to describe the behavior of people. It’s also handy to find out in processes why people do not perform and what can be done to help. It just needs to check the conditions mentioned above and to find a way to improve the week points.

Pythagorean Triangle of Life

Pythagorean Triangle of Life

“Concern should drive us into action and not into a depression. No man is free who cannot control himself. “
– Pythagoras –

The Pythagorean Triangle of life is a great symbol and concept how to reach harmony in a society. A society is a complex system of people trying to life together in harmony. The Pythagorean Triangle describes how it should be achieved.

Pythagoras was fascinated by triangles. He found the triangles are a universal concepts to describe nature. The number three was the number of harmony in his tetraktis. The tetraktis is a picture of ten dots arrange in a triangular shape. This image represented the essence of Pythagoras’s teachings.

The whole game or drama of life is playing between three points, Pythagoras mentioned. The first point is the self. With self he understood our spiritual self, the soul. The body is not part of that and already belongs to the second point: the life. Life is the material existence outside of the soul.

In our society we mainly only with these two points. The number two for Pythagoras was the number for duality, opinion, choice and the potential between two different counterparts. By arguing about opinions disharmony is created. For Pythagoras the number two was the number of disharmony, too. When we deal only with self and life, we create large disharmony in our society as can be currently observed in our daily life.

It is to be mentioned that psychology works only with these two points and the interaction of human beings. The so-called Take-And-Control-Model is dealing with these two points, too. The self focuses on life, because it wants to control something. When someone tries to control another one else then it is an intervention into the self-sovereignty and self-determination of an individual. This influences the freedom of an individual and it has therefore the natural right to defend that. The intervention arises out of a strong need. To fulfill a need one wants to take it, but if it is taken without permission, then someone feels a loss. Does it sound familiar?

Common sayings in our time are “What you want to have, you have to take.” and “When you want something happen, make it happen.”. That’s exactly the Take-And-Control-Model. That leads to disharmony.

What we often forget is the third point of this model, which got completely out of sight in our so-called modern time. The third spot is theos in Greek and means god. The ancient word for god also means divine truth. Life< and divine truth are connected directly. “The truth will reveal itself through life” is common saying. We are connected with the divine truth. We experience this connection as intuition, as feelings in our heart or belly. Sometimes we know, that somebody wants to phone us, we have experiences of deja-vus and so forth. The way of harmony is to serve the divine truth, to act and give in its name and to be rewarded for that through life. “Give and you will be given.” This sounds quite familiar for many people with different backgrounds and traditions. Expressed in a more general way: When we serve the truth, we will receive whatever we need through life.

Some people don’t like the words serve and give, because it sounds like work and surrender. Giving in name of divine truth can also be understood as acting truthfully, being natural, honest and without any kind of affectation.

“Virtue is harmony. “
– Pythagoras –

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