Recall that for material things, their material and efficient causes inhere in them, while their final cause is subjective, i.e., mind-dependent.

There are thus natural kinds: snowflakes, rivers, the chemical element silver, etc. These are eternal: a snowflake has been a water crystal since forever and will remain such forever. Silver will always be in its proper place of the periodic table. The formal causes of these things, their essences, what they are, are fixed for all time.

Adding purpose to things complicates matters. The formal cause of a tire no longer depends so exclusively on what the tire is made of (the material cause) or how it works (the efficient cause) but more on what it is for (the final cause). A tire that is re-purposed from one task to another literally becomes a different thing.

The essences of artificial man-made kinds, like tire, transistor, rubbing alcohol, are more subjective and fluid.

And of course, natural kinds themselves can become artificial kinds as raw materials.

Entrepreneurs in the market constantly change the purpose and extent of use of every resource. Today it may be profitable to manufacture artificial snow for skiing. A year later the technologies and the economy change, such that doing this would, according to careful calculations, result in a loss. As a result, the snow-making machines are sold and put to a different use.

From my book:

“Every economist from Marshall to Rothbard linked price formation of factors of production with opportunity costs, and these costs are most preeminent for non-specific goods which can be used in multiple projects with multiple aims. Schumpeter considered it the essence of economic progress that entrepreneurs find novel uses for old things. Hayek argued that the fact that production has a structure is instrumental in explaining business cycles.”

From this the profundity of the statement that “nature [natural kinds and the sciences describing them], in order to be commanded [used to make human art], must be obeyed” readily follows.


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