December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions (Four Days on Four Causes)

Aristotle proposed four causes for all things - material, formal, efficient, and final. These are the four reasons, if you will, that anything is. When you answer the question "why?", you are addressing one or more of these four causes. Let's review them very briefly, first.

A thing's material cause is its physical makeup. The material cause of a painting is the canvas and paint.
The formal cause is what it is - it is a painting of a bowl of fruit.
The efficient cause is the force behind the material taking on its form - the painter that uses the material to paint that bowl of fruit.
Finally, the final cause is the reason for putting all of that together - the ultimate goal or purpose behind the thing. The artist may have a vision they want to put on canvas or drive to enlighten their public. They may have a patron or simply need to make some money.

We can see all four causes at work together:
The artist uses his paints and canvas to paint a bowl of fruit for a commission.

What does this have to do with resolutions? Well, it has a lot to do with good resolutions. It has a lot to do with understanding and keeping your resolutions. I think the resolution you keep is the one you have really given thought to, not just made on the spur of the moment (say, across a table at 11:50pm tonight).

When you consider your New Year's resolution, consider it from all four angles.

What is the material cause? What physical things are you using to accomplish it.
If you're going to lose weight, do you have things to help you (food, books, weights, etc.)? If you're going to study the Bible more, do you have a good readable Bible? Do you have a guidebook or online course?

What is the formal cause? Answering this question will likely involve reviewing your plan to accomplish the goal - the method you will apply to the materials. Owning a treadmill does not make you more fit. Owning a Bible does not make you more spiritual. What form will the material take on, what structure, that will give them value?

What is the efficient cause? What action (verbs!) will you take to apply that form to those materials? Remember - the word efficient, in English, implies making progress. Your answer to this question should be specific enough that you know what action to take at any given time.

What is the final cause? What is your real reason(s) for the resolution? Answering this may deepen your commitment to the goal, or it may drive you away from it. Why do you want to read the Bible? Do you really want to understand it better, or do you like how you look holding a Bible on the bus? This question is where the rubber meets the road, as the saying goes, and you have to have a good "why" behind all that planning and material.

Remember, God doesn't mind baby steps. We are all His children, after all. Make an honest, achievable resolution. Pray for the grace to accomplish it. (Yes, God does care about non-religious resolutions.) And have a very happy and blessed new year!

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