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Bradshaw’s Objections to Aristotle’s Metaphysics

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In “A New Look at the Prime Mover”, Bradshaw argues that Aristotle’s immovable, immaterial, and necessary mover is not only a final cause but also an efficient cause. He proposes to demonstrate this by applying a particular interpretation of divine thought as a key to understanding Aristotle’s ostensibly vague comments regarding the causal role of the prime mover. This paper will respond to some of Bradshaw’s objections to the standard view of the prime mover as the final cause. Based on a passage connecting the activity of the prime mover and movement, Bradshaw presents his first objection to the standard view by claiming that this demonstrates the efficient causality of the prime mover. The link between the activity of the prime mover and motion can be explained by Metaphysics 1072b1-3 in which the prime mover moves the first heaven as an object of desire. In the first part of his fourth objection, Bradshaw takes the words “infinite power” to signify efficient causality. However, the purpose of the argument is to demonstrate the prime mover’s lack of magnitude and not the power of the prime mover. Additionally, terminology like power implies potency which is not within the prime mover. The last of Bradshaw’s objections to be evaluated, the second part of the fourth objection, is that the army analogy indicates efficient causality. Bradshaw errs here because he takes the analogy beyond Aristotle’s intention which is to demonstrate the relation of goodness between the prime mover and the world and not to say that the prime mover is the organizing principle of the world. 

Bradshaw’s first set of objections to the standard reading of the prime mover as a final and not efficient cause is that firstly, Aristotle does not specify that the prime mover is not an efficient cause (as the unmoved mover is in the Physics), and secondly, certain passages seem to indicate efficient causality more than final. In response to the first problem, Bradshaw admits that there are more than a few instances in which Aristotle changes his views without comment. He goes to write that despite this fact, the language of Metaphysics XII.6 is “most naturally interpreted as referring to an efficient cause”. In support of this claim, Bradshaw references 1071b17. “For if it will not be active, there will not be movement”. Bradshaw explains that this passage is part of Aristotle’s critique of the Platonists’ lack of an explanation for the source of motion. Bradshaw takes the “it” as indicating the prime mover and reads the necessity of the prime mover’s activity for movement as indicative of efficient causality. If the Prime Mover is not active, in other words, if the prime mover is not (for the prime mover is its activity), then there would no motion, specifically of the first heaven. However, Aristotle carefully explains how the prime mover moves the first heaven.

That for-the-sake-of-which can exist among the immovable things is made clear by a distinction. For the for-the-sake-of-which is both for one for whom and that toward which, and of these the latter is immovable and the former is not. And it produces movement insofar as it is loved, and by moving something in this way it moves the rest.

In this passage, Aristotle explains that “for-the-sake-of-which”, simply the final cause, can be distinguished in two ways. The first, a “one for whom,” seems to indicate someone who can inspire another to do something for himself. This final cause is moveable which implies the ability to change and therefore it is unnecessary, at least with regards to space. The second, a “that toward which,” is more like a magnet which attracts another body toward itself by its nature. Kibble attracts a dog in this way by being desirous because of what it is and because of what the dog is. Aristotle concludes that it is in this way that the prime mover moves to the first heaven. “This, therefore, is the sort of starting point on which the heaven and nature depend”. Accordingly, the passage referred to by Bradshaw does not clearly indicate nor naturally lend itself to efficient causality any more than a reading of it as the final cause. In fact, Aristotle clearly explains how the prime mover as the final cause moves the first heaven.

The first part of Bradshaw’s fourth objection is that Aristotle’s argument concerning the prime mover’s infinite power necessitates it’s being an efficient cause. “Since the Mover possesses infinite power it cannot have magnitude. This clearly requires that the Mover be an efficient cause, for a final cause need not possess power at all”. The argument Bradshaw is referencing comes at the end of Metaphysics XII.7 and is focused on the issue of the prime mover’s magnitude. 

It has also been shown that this substance cannot have any magnitude, but must be without parts and indivisible. For it moves something for an unlimited time, and nothing finite has unlimited capacity. And, since every magnitude is either unlimited or finite, it cannot have a finite magnitude…and it cannot have an unlimited magnitude because there is not unlimited magnitude at all.

This argument’s primary purpose is to demonstrate that the prime mover lacks magnitude and not that the prime mover has “infinite power” or “unlimited capacity.” Aristotle’s argument is not that the prime mover moves the first heaven and therefore it must have unlimited capacity. Rather, it is that nothing finite has unlimited capacity and, the prime mover, since it moves the first heaven eternally, cannot be finite. Admittedly, this passage does imply that the prime mover has unlimited capacity. One must be wary due to the implications of potency within the word “capacity” for it is evident that the prime mover, being pure actuality, has no potency within itself. Bradshaw acknowledges a serious difficulty with his use of this passage. He does not mean to argue that the prime mover is “an efficient cause in a more straightforward and ordinary sense…for it implies that the Mover exercises power that can be quantified and is comparable to (though vastly greater than) that exercised by physical bodies”. He goes on to say that if one were to carry this to its extreme logical conclusion, he would infer that the prime mover engages in some sort of physical force upon the first heaven. He rejects this conclusion due to its clear inconsistency with the rest of Aristotle’s account of the prime mover. While Bradshaw rejects such a physical conception of the prime mover’s causality, this indicates a problem which could be avoided if one took the argument as concerned with the prime mover’s lack of magnitude and not as implying that the prime mover moves in a way (as an efficient agent) other than Aristotle explains within the Metaphysics. 

The second part of the fourth objection is an argument for the prime mover’s efficient causality based on the analogy of an army. This argument fails because Bradshaw takes the analogy as signifying more than intended by the author. Bradshaw asserts that “the Mover acts directly and intentionally on the cosmos to produce order, just as a general act upon his army”. He makes this conclusion based on Aristotle’s inclusion of the analogous relation of a general to his army and the prime mover to the first heaven.

We must also investigate in which way the nature of the whole possesses the good and the best—whether as something separated and intrinsic or as its organization. Or is it rather in both ways, like an army? For the good of an army is in its organization, and is also the general—and more so the latter. For he is not due to the organization, but it is due to him.

The purpose of this analogy seems to be primarily to examine the relation of the goodness of parts to the whole and where goodness resides. Aristotle concludes that goodness is present within the whole army both on account of its organization and because of something “separated and intrinsic,” or a part of it. Accordingly, the general is both separate from the army, in a sense, and, at the same time, he is intrinsic to its being an army for without a general it would be but an armed rabble. It is, additionally, good that the army is organized. Aristotle concludes with a statement of the priority of the general to the army. Bradshaw reads this as saying that the prime mover is the organizing principle and efficient cause of things. However, such a reading extends the analogy beyond Aristotle’s intention. Since analogy is “the basis for metaphorical language and doesn’t belong to science,” one must be careful not to take it literally or as signifying more than intended by the author. The analogy of the army still works with a solely final causal role for the prime mover. Aristotle does not discuss the “organization” of the first heaven but rather its movement. The organization of the army is due to the general in the same way the movement of the first heaven is due to the prime mover.

In conclusion, a careful look at Aristotle’s explanation of how the prime mover attracts the first heaven as a “that toward which,” or final cause, renders null Bradshaw’s first claim that the relation between the prime mover’s activity and the motion of the first heaven lends itself to a notion of efficient causality. If it is clear that Aristotle’s argument at Metaphysics 1073a5-9 is primarily about the magnitude, not the power, of the prime mover, then Bradshaw’s contention regarding the prime mover’s “unlimited capacity” is not as forceful as he would like. Additionally, the language of capacity in connection with the prime mover is confusing as it contradicts its pure actuality. Finally, when the analogy of the army is properly taken as focused on the relation of goodness and the causal priority of the prime mover to the first heaven, Bradshaw’s argument for the prime mover as the efficient cause of the first heaven is seen as a misapplication of analogy.


  1. Bradshaw, David. “A New Look at the Prime Mover.” Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 39, no. 1 (January 2001): 1–22.
  2. Cohen, S. Marc, et al., ed. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: from Thales to Aristotle. 5th ed. Indianapolis, Indiana. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2016.
  3. Doolan, Gregory. “Aristotle on the Pros Hen Equivocity of Being.” Lecture, The Catholic University of America, October 14, 2020.

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