The idea of a ‘ultimate explanation’ has been a central concern of philosophy since ancient times, and is often best known through the writings of Plato and Aristotle. This concept has come to be seen as the ultimate goal of science, providing a comprehensive explanation of the universe and its workings. In more recent times, this idea has been explored in depth by a variety of disciplines, from physics to psychology, and has been the subject of much debate. In this article, we will explore the concept of an ultimate explanation, and discuss some of the key developments in the field.

One of the earliest attempts to provide an ultimate explanation was made by Plato in his dialogue ‘The Republic’. In this work, he proposed that the universe was composed of four fundamental elements – earth, water, air and fire – and that these four elements could combine to form other substances. Plato further argued that these substances could then be combined in different ways to create the physical world. Although this explanation was ultimately rejected by later philosophers, it provided an important starting point for the development of the idea of an ultimate explanation.

The idea of an ultimate explanation was further explored by Aristotle in his ‘Metaphysics’. In this work, he argued that the universe was composed of four basic principles – form, matter, motion and time – and that these four principles could be used to explain the structure and behaviour of the physical world. Aristotle’s approach was more comprehensive than Plato’s, and provided an important foundation for subsequent scientific theories.

The development of modern physics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provided the first real opportunity to explore the concept of an ultimate explanation in depth. Physicists such as Albert Einstein proposed a number of theories which aimed to provide a comprehensive explanation of the universe and its workings. In particular, Einstein’s theory of relativity provided a framework for understanding the behaviour of matter and energy, and laid the foundations for the development of quantum mechanics.

In recent years, the concept of an ultimate explanation has been explored in a variety of other disciplines, including psychology, biology and cosmology. In each of these fields, scientists have sought to provide a comprehensive explanation of the workings of the universe and the behaviour of life forms. For example, in psychology, researchers have sought to provide an explanation for the nature of consciousness, while in cosmology, scientists have explored the Big Bang theory as a potential ultimate explanation for the origins of the universe.

Overall, the concept of an ultimate explanation continues to be of great interest to philosophers, scientists and laypeople alike. While no single theory has yet been able to provide a comprehensive explanation of the universe, the exploration of this concept has provided us with a greater understanding of the physical world and our place in it.


Aristotle, (350 BCE). Metaphysics. Translated by Joe Sachs. Focus Philosophical Library.

Einstein, A. (1905). On the electrodynamics of moving bodies. Annalen der Physik, 17 (1), 891–921.

Plato, (380 BCE). The Republic. Translated by G.M.A Grube. Hackett Publishing Company.

Stenger, V. J. (2011). The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us. Prometheus Books.

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