Four causes in Aristotle and in Lojban

Cause of parents' death? Got in my way.
Cause of parents’ death? Got in my way.

Reading through Lojban for Beginners on a Friday night (like everyone else who knows how to party—am I right?), I got to the chapter where causation and implication are discussed. In it, the authors explain that Lojban has 4 ways to say “because.”

The inventors of Lojban were not the first to preach a Doctrine of Four Causes. Aristotle also believed that when you asked Why?, you could be reasonably taken to be asking one of four different questions, which I have summed up below in Table 1. In Table 2, I summarise the four ways to say “because” in Lojban.

I made an attempt to see how well these things would match up by giving examples and rough equivalents. Unfortunately for Aristotle, they only seem to correspond decently well in two cases. But then I guess if I were trying to write a timeless philosophy, and someone told me that after ~ 2300 years, people would still be interested in half of the questions that I identified, I’d probably think that I did pretty well. Especially considering that Aristotle spoke Ancient Greek, which is pretty much the anti-Lojban if any language is.

For the other two of Aristotle’s causes, there are words in Lojban for the ideas expressed, but they aren’t really “causation” type words in the same way.

Table 1. Aristotle’s four causes

Cause Example Rough Lojban equivalent
Material cause The house is here because there were bricks, mortar and wood here previously. te zbasu (?)
Efficient cause The house is here because Bob built it. rinka
Formal cause The house is here because the materials have been arranged in a certain way. tarmi (?)
Final cause The house is here because Bob wanted to have dance-parties inside it. mukti

Table 2. Causes in Lojban

Cause “Because” word Root gismu Example Rough Aristotelean equivalent
Physically caused ri’a rinka la bab. morsi ri’a lonu mi darxi by
Bob is dead because I hit him.
Efficient cause
Motivated mu’i mukti la bab. morsi mu’i lonu mi na’e nelci by
Bob is dead because I didn’t like him.
Final cause
Justification ki’u krinu la bab. morsi ki’u lonu by djuno lo dukse
Bob is dead because he knew too much.
Logically entailed ni’i krinu la bab. morsi ni’i lonu ro lo remna mrodimna kei .e lonu by remna
Bob is dead because all humans are mortal and Bob is a human.

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

4 thoughts on “Four causes in Aristotle and in Lojban”

  1. ua cinri be mi mutce
    .i xu do tcepru xelso bangu certu .i ni’i ma dukti lo jbobau

    .i pa cmanotci zo’u sei mi stidi lu ro remna cu mrodimna li’u lu ro lo remna mrodimna li’u basti

  2. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in Ancient Greek, but I did study it in my undergrad. There are a few reasons I’d say that Ancient Greek and Lojban are pretty much polar opposites:


    * Ancient Greek verbs conjugate, and they all conjugate irregularly. I’m serious. There is exactly ONE regular verb in Ancient Greek, which is irregular by virtue of its regularity. (For the interested, it’s λύω, which means “to loosen” or “release.”)
    * Lojban verbs don’t conjugate. They are all perfectly morphologically regular and there are no exceptions.


    * Ancient Greek nouns decline, and there aren’t many regular ones for them either. Which means that you have to just memorise a separate form for the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative for each noun. And if that wasn’t enough, you also have to memorise one of each of those for singular, plural and dual numbers. And they have genders too: masculine, feminine and neuter.
    * Lojban nouns are basically predicates used substantively, which means that they are just as regular as the predicates that they’re based on.

    Even the spellings of words in Ancient Greek is non-standard. (Is it Thalassa or Thalatta?) It is vulnerable to grammatical ambiguities, as all natural languages are, and it is extremely non-neutral as far as culture goes.

    It’s a fun challenge, and a very influential language if you’re interested in philosophy or theology, but it’s pretty crazy and contains pretty much all the properties that Lojban was invented to eliminate.

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