The "Why"

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Blog entry by Harold posted 03-29-2008 06:57 PM 1713 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Every project, every question is a journey. Aristotle used a simple chair as a metaphor explaining this. The four causes: the material, formal, efficient and the final. In the case of a chair, for example, the chair’s material cause would be its wood and cloth, its formal cause would be the structure or form given in its plan or blueprint, its efficient cause would be the worker who made it, and its final cause would be sitting.

The material cause, then, is that out of which a thing is made, what wood, what hardware. The formal cause is that into which a thing is made or our plan or blueprint. The efficient cause is that by which a thing is made, the craftsman and the tools used, and the final cause is that for which a thing is made.

Aristotle felt that of these four steps, the final cause was the most important. This “why” governs the others. It gives meaning and relevance to each step before. As a craftsman the “why” is our purpose, our role, our responsibility and our reward. Unfortunately so little time is spent understanding, the why.

My thought is that if we don’t take the time to truly understand why a thing is made, then we have no hope of our work being unique. Keep in mind, unique is not always a style, unique is actually our works relevance, has this “thing” achieved its purpose.

Understanding of our work is achieved at the end, for better or worse. I am sure Aristotle was using this example of a chair as a simple metaphor some 2500 years ago for some greater problem that faced civilization, but since I am a craftsman I like to think the work I do has always held importance for mankind.
So as you work on your design for the bookcase, don’t forget the why.

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

6 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5174 days

#1 posted 03-30-2008 01:14 AM

Yes, form always follows function. All else is decorative and pleasing for the eye. One can sit quit well on a stump but a chair is far better.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 4924 days

#2 posted 03-30-2008 02:22 AM

Art occurs where all 4 stages operate with full knowledge and cooperation of each other. Usually, as with the example of the chair, the other three are ready. The question often is: Is the craftsman?

The need for the chair will pass. Time will usually forget the man. Materials will change sometimes. The plans, forgotten. But that chair will have a shot at surviving. If you can create, where form and function balance at so high a level that neither must compromise, to create art, then perhaps one day a future world will formulate ideas about how we lived, how we were as a people, from your chair. We’ve been doing that for a long time with the furniture, pottery, poetry, music, painting, textiles, etc of past ages. What you do is important.

Good post!

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." -

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5200 days

#3 posted 03-30-2008 07:03 AM

It is what it is.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5372 days

#4 posted 03-30-2008 05:09 PM

reminds me of photography – in a great photo every element has a purpose to the overall image.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View snowdog's profile


1181 posts in 5194 days

#5 posted 03-31-2008 04:00 PM

It’s to deep for a rainy, busy Monday morning .. it makes my head hurt :) I just want to sit down <grin>

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View SteveKorz's profile


2140 posts in 4926 days

#6 posted 04-01-2008 04:18 PM

”WELL”... (that’s a deep subject!)... lol…

great post!

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

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