It is a trope around here that reducing concrete phenomena to their material causes – or to their material and efficient causes – is grossly inadequate. It is false that zebras are nothing but atoms in motion; we can’t assemble a complete specification of a zebra only from a schedule of the motions of his atoms. To think that we might is the error of materialism.
But it is worth remembering that it is just as inadequate to reduce concrete phenomena to their formal causes. Things are more than their formal specifications. The most common error of this sort these days is the description of America as a proposition nation – a congeries of ideas, rather than of people. Such are the errors of Gnosticism.
Any adequate account of a concrete must together comprehend all four sorts of causes: material, efficient, formal and final.