Potentiality and actuality

Potentiality and actuality

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In philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, Potentiality and Actuality are principles of a dichotomy
Dichotomy
A dichotomy is any splitting of a whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts, meaning it is a procedure in which a whole is divided into two parts...

 which Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 used throughout his philosophical works to analyze motion
Motion (physics)
In physics, motion is a change in position of an object with respect to time. Change in action is the result of an unbalanced force. Motion is typically described in terms of velocity, acceleration, displacement and time . An object's velocity cannot change unless it is acted upon by a force, as...

, causality
Four causes
Four Causes refers to a principle in Aristotelian science that is used to understand change. Aristotle described four different types of causes, or ways in which an object could be explained: "we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause", He argued...

, ethics
Aristotelian ethics
Ethics as a subject begins with the works of Aristotle. In its original form, this subject is concerned with the question of virtue of character , or in other words having excellent and well-chosen habits. The acquisition of an excellent character is in turn aimed at living well and eudaimonia, a...

, and physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

 in his Physics
Aristotelian physics
Aristotelian Physics the natural sciences, are described in the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle . In the Physics, Aristotle established general principles of change that govern all natural bodies; both living and inanimate, celestial and terrestrial—including all motion, change in respect...

, Metaphysics
Metaphysics (Aristotle)
Metaphysics is one of the principal works of Aristotle and the first major work of the branch of philosophy with the same name. The principal subject is "being qua being", or being understood as being. It examines what can be asserted about anything that exists just because of its existence and...

, Ethics
Aristotelian ethics
Ethics as a subject begins with the works of Aristotle. In its original form, this subject is concerned with the question of virtue of character , or in other words having excellent and well-chosen habits. The acquisition of an excellent character is in turn aimed at living well and eudaimonia, a...

and De Anima (which is about the human psyche
Psyche (psychology)
The word psyche has a long history of use in psychology and philosophy, dating back to ancient times, and has been one of the fundamental concepts for understanding human nature from a scientific point of view. The English word soul is sometimes used synonymously, especially in older...

).

The concept of potentiality, in this context, generally refers to any "possibility" that a thing can be said to have. Aristotle did not consider all possibilities the same, and emphasized the importance of those that become real of their own accord when conditions are right and nothing stops them. Actuality, in contrast to potentiality, is the motion, change or activity that represents an exercise or fulfillment of a possibility, when a possibility becomes real in the fullest sense.

These concepts, in modified forms, remained very important into the middle ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, influencing the development of medieval theology in several ways. Going further into modern times, while the understanding of nature
Nature (philosophy)
Nature is a concept with two major sets of inter-related meanings, referring on the one hand to the things which are natural, or subject to the normal working of "laws of nature", or on the other hand to the essential properties and causes of those things to be what they naturally are, or in other...

 (and, according to some interpretations, deity
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

) implied by the dichotomy lost importance, the terminology has found new uses, developing indirectly from the old. This is most obvious in words like "energy" and "dynamic" (words brought into modern physics by Leibniz) but also in examples such as the biological concept of an "entelechy".

Potentiality


Potentiality and potency are translations of the Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 word Dunamis or dynamis (δύναμις) as it is used by Aristotle as a concept contrasting with actuality. Its Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 translation is "potentia", root of the English word potential, and used by some scholars instead of the Greek or English variants.

Dunamis is an ordinary Greek word for possibility or capability. Depending on context, it could be translated "potency", "potential", "capacity", "ability", "power", "capability", "strength", "possibility", "force" and is the root of modern English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 words "dynamic", "dynamite", and "dynamo". In early modern philosophy, English authors like Hobbes and Locke
Locke
-People:*Locke , information about the surname and list of people*Locke *John Locke , English philosopher*Matthew Locke , baroque composer*Edwin A...

 used the English word "power" as their translation of Latin potentia.

In his philosophy, Aristotle distinguished two meanings of the word dunamis. According to his understanding of nature
Nature (philosophy)
Nature is a concept with two major sets of inter-related meanings, referring on the one hand to the things which are natural, or subject to the normal working of "laws of nature", or on the other hand to the essential properties and causes of those things to be what they naturally are, or in other...

 there was both a weak sense of potential, meaning simply that something "might chance to happen or not to happen", and a stronger sense, to indicate how something could be done well. For example, "sometimes we say that those who can merely take a walk, or speak, without doing it as well as they intended, cannot speak or walk". This stronger sense is mainly said of the potentials of living things, although it is also sometimes used for things like musical instruments.

Throughout his works, Aristotle clearly distinguishes things that are stable or persistent, with their own strong natural tendency to a specific type of change, from things that appear to occur by chance. He treats these as having a different and more real existence. "Natures
Nature (philosophy)
Nature is a concept with two major sets of inter-related meanings, referring on the one hand to the things which are natural, or subject to the normal working of "laws of nature", or on the other hand to the essential properties and causes of those things to be what they naturally are, or in other...

 which persist" are said by him to be one of the causes of all things, while natures that do not persist, "might often be slandered as not being at all by one who fixes his thinking sternly upon it as upon a criminal". The potencies which persist in a particular material are one way of describing "the nature itself" of that material, an innate source of motion and rest within that material. In terms of Aristotle's theory of four causes
Four causes
Four Causes refers to a principle in Aristotelian science that is used to understand change. Aristotle described four different types of causes, or ways in which an object could be explained: "we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause", He argued...

, a material's non-accidental potential, is the material cause of the things that can come to be from that material, and one part of how we can understand the substance
Substance theory
Substance theory, or substance attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood, positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears....

 (ousia, sometimes translated as "thinghood") of any separate thing. (As emphasized by Aristotle, this requires his distinction between accidental
Accident (philosophy)
Accident, as used in philosophy, is an attribute which may or may not belong to a subject, without affecting its essence. The word "accident" has been employed throughout the history of philosophy with several distinct meanings....

 causes and natural causes.) According to Aristotle, when we refer to the nature of a thing, we are referring to the form, shape or look of a thing, which was already present as a potential, an innate tendency to change, in that material before it achieved that form, but things show what they are more fully, as a real thing, when they are "fully at work".

Actuality


Actuality, is often used to translate both energeia and entelecheia (sometimes rendered in English as "entelechy"). "Actuality" comes from Latin and is a traditional translation, but its normal meaning in Latin is "anything which is currently happening".

The two words energeia and entelecheia were coined by Aristotle, and he stated that their meanings were intended to converge. In practice, most commentators and translators consider the two words to be interchangeable. They both refer to something being in its own type of action or at work, as all things are when they are real in the fullest sense, and not just potentially real. For example, "to be a rock is to strain to be at the center of the universe, and thus to be in motion unless constrained otherwise".

Energeia


Energeia is a word based upon ergon, meaning "work". It is the source of the modern word "energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

" but the term has evolved so much over the course of the history of science
History of science
The history of science is the study of the historical development of human understandings of the natural world and the domains of the social sciences....

 that noting the etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 of the modern term is not very helpful in understanding the original as used by Aristotle. It is difficult to translate his use of energeia into English with consistency. Joe Sachs
Joe Sachs
Joe Sachs is an American television writer and producer. He has worked extensively on ER in both capacities.-Career:Sachs is a qualified doctor who first became involved with ER as a technical advisor midway through the first season...

 renders it with the phrase "being–at–work" and says that "we might construct the word is-at-work-ness from Anglo-Saxon roots to translate energeia into English". Aristotle says the word can be made clear by looking at examples rather than trying to find a definition.

Two examples of energeiai in Aristotle's works are pleasure
Pleasure
Pleasure describes the broad class of mental states that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. It includes more specific mental states such as happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria...

 and happiness
Happiness
Happiness is a mental state of well-being characterized by positive emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources....

 (eudaimonia
Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia or eudaemonia , sometimes Anglicized as eudemonia , is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing" has been proposed as a more accurate translation...

). Pleasure is an energeia of the human body and mind whereas happiness is more simply the energeia of a human being a human.

Kinesis
Kinesis
Kinesis, like a taxis, is a movement or activity of a cell or an organism in response to a stimulus. However, unlike taxis, the response to the stimulus provided is non-directional....

, translated as movement
Motion (physics)
In physics, motion is a change in position of an object with respect to time. Change in action is the result of an unbalanced force. Motion is typically described in terms of velocity, acceleration, displacement and time . An object's velocity cannot change unless it is acted upon by a force, as...

, motion
Motion (physics)
In physics, motion is a change in position of an object with respect to time. Change in action is the result of an unbalanced force. Motion is typically described in terms of velocity, acceleration, displacement and time . An object's velocity cannot change unless it is acted upon by a force, as...

, or in some contexts change, is also explained by Aristotle as a particular type of energeia. See below.

Entelechy or entelechia


Entelechy, in Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 entelécheia, was coined by Aristotle and transliterated in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 as . According to :

Aristotle invents the word by combining entelēs (complete, full-grown) with echein (= hexis
Hexis
Hexis is a Greek word, important in the philosophy of Aristotle, and because of this it has become a traditional word of philosophy. It stems from a verb related to possession or "having", and Jacob Klein, for example, translates it as "possession". It is more typically translated in modern texts...

, to be a certain way by the continuing effort of holding on in that condition), while at the same time punning on endelecheia (persistence) by inserting telos
Telos (philosophy)
A telos is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term "teleology," roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology figures centrally in Aristotle's...

 (completion). This is a three-ring circus of a word, at the heart of everything in Aristotle's thinking, including the definition of motion.


Sachs therefore proposed a complex neologism of his own, "being-at-work-staying-the-same". Another translation in recent years is "being-at-an-end" (which Sachs has also used).

Entelecheia, as can be seen by its derivation, is a kind of completeness, whereas "the end and completion of any genuine being is its being-at-work" (energeia). The entelecheia is a continuous being-at-work (energeia) when something is doing its complete "work". For this reason, the meanings of the two words converge, and they both depend upon the idea that every thing's "thinghood" is a kind of work, or in other words a specific way of being in motion. All things that exist now, and not just potentially, are beings-at-work, and all of them have a tendency towards being-at-work in a particular way that would be their proper and "complete" way.

Sachs explains the convergence of energeia and entelecheia as follows, and uses the word actuality to describe the overlap between them:

Just as energeia extends to entelecheia because it is the activity which makes a thing what it is, entelecheia extends to energeia because it is the end or perfection which has being only in, through, and during activity.

Motion


Aristotle discusses motion (kinēsis) in his Physics
Physics (Aristotle)
The Physics of Aristotle is one of the foundational books of Western science and philosophy...

quite differently than modern science does. Aristotle's definition of motion is closely connected to his actuality-potentiality distinction. Taken literally, Aristotle defines motion as the actuality (entelecheia) of a "potentiality as such". What Aristotle meant however is the subject of several different interpretations. A major difficulty comes from the fact that the terms actuality and potentiality, linked in this definition, are normally understood within Aristotle as opposed to each other. On the other hand the "as such" is important and is explained at length by Aristotle, giving examples of "potentiality as such". For example the motion of building is the energeia of the dunamis of the building materials as building materials as opposed to anything else they might become, and this potential in the unbuilt materials is referred to be Aristotle as "the buildable". So the motion of building is the actualization of "the buildable" and not the actualization of a house as such, nor the actualization of any other possibility which the building materials might have had.
Building materials have different potentials.
One is that they can be built with.
Building is one motion that had been a potential in the building material.
So it is the energeia or putting into action, of the building materials as building materials
A house is built, and no longer moving

lists three major interpretations:

1. The interpretation of Averroes
Averroes
' , better known just as Ibn Rushd , and in European literature as Averroes , was a Muslim polymath; a master of Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, politics, Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy,...

, Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

, and W.D. Ross.


This interpretation is, to use the words of Ross that "it is the passage to actuality that is kinesis” as opposed to any potentiality being an actuality.

The argument of Ross for this interpretation requires him to assert that Aristotle actually used his own word entelecheia wrongly, or inconsistently, only within his definition, making it mean "actualization", which is in conflict with Aristotle's normal use of words. According to this explanation also can not account for the "as such" in Aristotle's definition.

2. The interpretation of St Thomas of Aquinas.

explains that in this explanation "the apparent contradiction between potentiality and actuality in Aristotle’s definition of motion" is resolved "by arguing that in every motion actuality and potentiality are mixed or blended". Motion is therefore "the actuality of any potentiality insofar as it is still a potentiality". Or in other words:

The Thomistic blend of actuality and potentiality has the characteristic that, to the extent that it is actual it is not potential and to the extent that it is potential it is not actual; the hotter the water is, the less is it potentially hot, and the cooler it is, the less is it actually, the more potentially, hot.


As with the first interpretation however, objects that:

One implication of this interpretation is that whatever happens to be the case right now is an entelechia, as though something that is intrinsically unstable as the instantaneous position of an arrow in flight deserved to be described by the word that everywhere else Aristotle reserves for complex organized states that persist, that hold out against internal and external causes that try to destroy them.


3. The interpretation of Sachs.

proposes that the solution to problems interpreting Aristotle's definition is to be found in the distinction Aristotle makes between two different types of potentiality, with only one of those corresponding to the "potentiality as such" appearing in the definition of motion. Sachs gives the example of a man walking across the room and says that...
  • "Once he has reached the other side of the room, his potentiality to be there has been actualized in Ross’ sense of the term". This is a type of energeia. However it is not a motion, and not relevant to the definition of motion.
  • While a man is walking his potentiality to be on the other side of the room is actual just as a potentiality, or in other words the potential as such is an actuality. "The actuality of the potentiality to be on the other side of the room, as just that potentiality, is neither more nor less than the walking across the room."


, in his commentary of Aristotle's Physics
Physics (Aristotle)
The Physics of Aristotle is one of the foundational books of Western science and philosophy...

book III gives the following results from his understanding of Aristotle's definition of motion:
The genus of which motion is a species is being-at-work-staying-itself (entelecheia), of which the only other species is thinghood. The being-at-work-staying-itself of a potency (dunamis), as material, is thinghood. The being-at-work-staying-the-same of a potency as a potency is motion.

The importance of actuality in Aristotle's philosophy


The actuality-potentiality distinction in Aristotle is a key element linked to everything in his physics and metaphysics.

Aristotle describes potentiality and actuality, or potency and action, as one of several distinctions between things that exist or do not exist. In a sense, a thing that exists potentially does not exist, but the potential does exist. And this type of distinction is expressed for several different types of being within Aristotle's categories of being. For example, from Aristotle's Metaphysics
Metaphysics (Aristotle)
Metaphysics is one of the principal works of Aristotle and the first major work of the branch of philosophy with the same name. The principal subject is "being qua being", or being understood as being. It examines what can be asserted about anything that exists just because of its existence and...

, 1017a:
  • We speak of something being "seeing" whether it is currently seeing or just able to see.
  • We speak of someone having understanding, whether they are using that understanding or not.
  • We speak of corn existing in a field even when it is not yet ripe.
  • People sometimes speak of a figure being already present in a rock which could be sculpted to represent that figure.


Within the works of Aristotle the terms energeia and entelecheia, often translated as actuality, differ from what is merely actual because they specifically presuppose that all things have a proper kind of activity or work which, if achieved, would be their proper end. Greek for end in this sense is telos
Telos (philosophy)
A telos is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term "teleology," roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology figures centrally in Aristotle's...

, a component word in entelecheia (a work that is the proper end of a thing) and also teleology
Teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

. This is an aspect of Aristotle's theory of four causes
Four causes
Four Causes refers to a principle in Aristotelian science that is used to understand change. Aristotle described four different types of causes, or ways in which an object could be explained: "we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause", He argued...

 and specifically of formal cause (eidos, which Aristotle says is energeia) and final cause (telos).

In essence this means that Aristotle did not see things as matter in motion only, but also proposed that all things have their own aims or ends. In other words, for Aristotle (unlike modern science) there is a distinction between things with a natural cause in the strongest sense, and things that truly happen by accident. He even says that for any possibility (dunamis) to be become real and not just possible, requires reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

, and desire or deliberate choice. Because of this style of reasoning, Aristotle is often referred to as having a teleology
Teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

, and sometimes as having a theory of forms
Theory of Forms
Plato's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract forms , and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized...

.

While actuality is linked by Aristotle to his concept of a formal cause, potentiality (or potency) on the other hand, is linked by Aristotle to his concepts of substance
Substance theory
Substance theory, or substance attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood, positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears....

 and material cause. Aristotle wrote for example that "matter exists potentially, because it may attain to the form; but when it exists actually, it is then in the form".

The active intellect



The active intellect was a concept Aristotle described that requires an understanding of the actuality-potentiality dichotomy. Aristotle described this in his De Anima
On the Soul
On the Soul is a major treatise by Aristotle on the nature of living things. His discussion centres on the kinds of souls possessed by different kinds of living things, distinguished by their different operations...

(book 3, ch. 5, 430a10-25) and covered similar ground in his Metaphysics
Metaphysics (Aristotle)
Metaphysics is one of the principal works of Aristotle and the first major work of the branch of philosophy with the same name. The principal subject is "being qua being", or being understood as being. It examines what can be asserted about anything that exists just because of its existence and...

(book 12, ch.7-10). The following is from the De Anima, translated by Joe Sachs, with some parenthetic notes about the Greek. The passage tries to explain "how the human intellect passes from its original state, in which it does not think, to a subsequent state, in which it does." He inferred that the energeia/dunamis distinction must also exist in the soul itself:-
...since in nature
Nature (philosophy)
Nature is a concept with two major sets of inter-related meanings, referring on the one hand to the things which are natural, or subject to the normal working of "laws of nature", or on the other hand to the essential properties and causes of those things to be what they naturally are, or in other...

 one thing is the material [hulē
Matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

] for each kind [genos
Genos
Genos was the ancient Greek term for kind; race; family; birth; origin which identified themselves as a unit, referred to by a single name...

] (this is what is in potency all the particular things of that kind) but it is something else that is the causal and productive thing by which all of them are formed, as is the case with an art in relation to its material, it is necessary in the soul [psuchē
Psyche (psychology)
The word psyche has a long history of use in psychology and philosophy, dating back to ancient times, and has been one of the fundamental concepts for understanding human nature from a scientific point of view. The English word soul is sometimes used synonymously, especially in older...

] too that these distinct aspects be present;

the one sort is intellect [nous
Nous
Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

] by becoming all things, the other sort by forming all things, in the way an active condition [hexis
Hexis
Hexis is a Greek word, important in the philosophy of Aristotle, and because of this it has become a traditional word of philosophy. It stems from a verb related to possession or "having", and Jacob Klein, for example, translates it as "possession". It is more typically translated in modern texts...

] like light
Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

 too makes the colors that are in potency be at work as colors [to phōs poiei ta dunamei onta chrōmata energeiai chrōmata].

This sort of intellect is separate, as well as being without attributes and unmixed, since it is by its thinghood a being-at-work, for what acts is always distinguished in stature above what is acted upon, as a governing source is above the material it works on.

Knowledge
Knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

 [epistēmē], in its being-at-work, is the same as the thing it knows, and while knowledge in potency comes first in time in any one knower, in the whole of things it does not take precedence even in time.

This does not mean that at one time it thinks but at another time it does not think, but when separated it is just exactly what it is, and this alone is deathless and everlasting (though we have no memory, because this sort of intellect is not acted upon, while the sort that is acted upon is destructible), and without this nothing thinks.


This has been referred to as one of "the most intensely studied sentences in the history of philosophy". In the Metaphysics, Aristotle wrote at more length on a similar subject and is often understood to have equated the active intellect with being the "unmoved mover
Unmoved mover
The unmoved mover is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action...

" and God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

. Nevertheless, as Davidson remarks:
Just what Aristotle meant by potential intellect and active intellect - terms not even explicit in the De anima and at best implied - and just how he understood the interaction between them remains moot to this day. Students of the history of philosophy continue to debate Aristotle's intent, particularly the question whether he considered the active intellect to be an aspect of the human soul or an entity existing independently of man.

New meanings of energeia or energy


Already in Aristotle's own works, the concept of a distinction between energeia and dunamis was already used in many ways, for example to describe the way striking metaphors work, or human happiness. Polybius
Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

 about 150 BC, in his work the Histories uses Aristotle's word energeia in both an Aristotelian way and also to describe the "clarity and vividness" of things. Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

 in 60-30 BC used the term in a very similar way to Polybius. However Diodorus uses the term to denote qualities unique to individuals. Using the term in ways that could translated as "vigor
Vigor
Vigor is a clone of vi for UNIX that adds, as a joke, a cruel parody of Clippit, the Microsoft Office assistant. The name is a portmanteau of vi and Igor, Dr. Frankenstein's assistant. Vigor was written by Joel Ray "Piquan" Holveck in Sunnyvale, California, and the logo for Vigor was created by...

" or "energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

" (in a more modern sense); for society, "practice" or "custom"; for a thing, "operation" or "working"; like vigor in action.

Neoplatonism


Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

 was a late classical pagan philosopher and theologian whose monotheistic
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

 re-workings of Plato and Aristotle were influential amongst early Christian theologians. In his Enneads
Enneads
The Six Enneads, sometimes abbreviated to The Enneads or Enneads , is the collection of writings of Plotinus, edited and compiled by his student Porphyry . Plotinus was a student of Ammonius Saccas and they were founders of Neoplatonism...

he sought to reconcile ideas of Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 and Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 together with a form of monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

, that used three fundamental metaphysical principles, which were conceived of in terms consistent with Aristotle's energeia/dunamis dichotomy, and one interpretation of his concept of the Active Intellect (discussed above):-
  • The Monad
    Monism
    Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

     or "the One" sometimes also described as "the Good". This is the dunamis or possibility of existence.
  • The Intellect, or Intelligence, or, to use the Greek term, Nous
    Nous
    Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

    , which is described as God, or a Demiurge
    Demiurge
    The demiurge is a concept from the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy for an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. The term was subsequently adopted by the Gnostics...

    . It thinks its own contents, which are thoughts, equated to the Platonic ideas or forms
    Theory of Forms
    Plato's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract forms , and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized...

     (eide). The thinking of this Intellect is the highest activity of life. The actualization of this thinking is the being of the forms. This Intellect is the first principle or foundation of existence. The One is prior to it, but not in the sense that a normal cause is prior to an effect, but instead Intellect is called an emanation of the One. The One is the possibility of this foundation of existence.
  • Soul
    Soul
    A soul in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions is the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing or object. Many philosophical and spiritual systems teach that humans have souls, and others teach that all living things and even inanimate objects have souls. The...

     or, to use the Greek term, psyche
    Psyche (psychology)
    The word psyche has a long history of use in psychology and philosophy, dating back to ancient times, and has been one of the fundamental concepts for understanding human nature from a scientific point of view. The English word soul is sometimes used synonymously, especially in older...

    . The soul is also an energeia: it acts upon or actualizes its own thoughts and creates "a separate, material cosmos that is the living image of the spiritual or noetic Cosmos
    Cosmos
    In the general sense, a cosmos is an orderly or harmonious system. It originates from the Greek term κόσμος , meaning "order" or "ornament" and is antithetical to the concept of chaos. Today, the word is generally used as a synonym of the word Universe . The word cosmos originates from the same root...

     contained as a unified thought within the Intelligence".

This was based largely upon Plotinus' reading of Plato, but also incorporated many Aristotelian concepts, including the Unmoved Mover
Unmoved mover
The unmoved mover is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action...

 as energeia.

Essence-energies debate in medieval Christian theology


In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, St Gregory Palamas
Gregory Palamas
Gregory Palamas was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the Archbishop of Thessaloniki known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, his followers as Palamites...

 wrote about the "energies" (actualities) of God in contrast to God's "essence
Essence
In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the object or substance has contingently, without...

". This was in his defense of the Eastern Orthodox ascetic
Asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

 practice of hesychasm
Hesychasm
Hesychasm is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Byzantine Rite, practised by the Hesychast Hesychasm is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches,...

. According to tradition, Gregory and the time that he wrote his defense do not represent a new and innovative expression of God, rather St Gregory is the one who gave the traditions a defense and established these teachings as Orthodox theological dogma. Gregory wrote that God has realities Father, Son and Holy Spirit and these realities effect the created world as do the energies of God - all being in essence uncreated.

Western Medieval Christianity, in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

, relied on Aristotle's concept of entelechy, when it defined God as actus purus, pure act, actuality unmixed with potentiality. This led to conflict with Eastern Orthodox theology, because of their acceptance of uncreated essences, in contrast to the Western Christians belief that energies (actualities) and essences were of the same substance and that they were always created.

Influence on modal logic


The notion of possibility was greatly analyzed by medieval and modern philosophers. Aristotle's logical work in this area is considered by some to be an anticipation of modal logic and its treatment of potentiality and time. Indeed, many philosophical interpretations of possibility are related to a famous passage on Aristotle's On Interpretation
On Interpretation
Aristotle's De Interpretatione or On Interpretation is one of the earliest surviving philosophical works in the Western tradition to deal with the relationship between language and logic in a comprehensive, explicit, and formal way.The work begins by analyzing simple categoric...

, concerning the truth of the statement: "There will be a sea battle tomorrow".

Contemporary philosophy
Contemporary philosophy
Contemporary philosophy is the present period in the history of Western philosophy beginning at the end of the 19th century with the professionalization of the discipline and the rise of analytic and continental philosophy....

 regards possibility, as studied by modal metaphysics, to be an aspect of modal logic
Modal logic
Modal logic is a type of formal logic that extends classical propositional and predicate logic to include operators expressing modality. Modals — words that express modalities — qualify a statement. For example, the statement "John is happy" might be qualified by saying that John is...

. Modal logic as an named subject owes much to the writings of the Scholastics, in particular William of Ockham
William of Ockham
William of Ockham was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of...

 and John Duns Scotus, who reasoned informally in a modal manner, mainly to analyze statements about essence
Essence
In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the object or substance has contingently, without...

 and accident
Accident (philosophy)
Accident, as used in philosophy, is an attribute which may or may not belong to a subject, without affecting its essence. The word "accident" has been employed throughout the history of philosophy with several distinct meanings....

.

Influence on modern physics


Aristotle's metaphysics, his account of nature and causality, was for the most part rejected by the early modern philosophers. In the words of Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 for example, the traditional Aristotelian terms, "potentia et actus", are discussed, but he equates them simply to "cause and effect".

However, there was an adaptation of at least one aspect of Aristotle's proposals which has become part of modern physics. The definition of energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

 in modern physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 as the product
Product (mathematics)
In mathematics, a product is the result of multiplying, or an expression that identifies factors to be multiplied. The order in which real or complex numbers are multiplied has no bearing on the product; this is known as the commutative law of multiplication...

 of mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 and the square of velocity
Velocity
In physics, velocity is speed in a given direction. Speed describes only how fast an object is moving, whereas velocity gives both the speed and direction of the object's motion. To have a constant velocity, an object must have a constant speed and motion in a constant direction. Constant ...

, was derived by Leibniz, as a correction of Descartes, based upon Galileo's investigation of falling bodies. He preferred to refer to it as an entelecheia or "living force" (Latin vis vida), but what he defined is today called "energy", and was seen by Leibniz as a modification of Aristotle, concerning the potential for movement which is in things. Instead of each type of physical thing having it own specific tendency to a way of moving or changing, as in Aristotle, Leibniz said that instead, force, power, or motion itself could be transferred between things of different types, in such a way that there is a conservation of this energy
Conservation of energy
The nineteenth century law of conservation of energy is a law of physics. It states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant over time. The total energy is said to be conserved over time...

. In other words, Leibniz's modern version of entelechy or energy obeys its own laws of nature, whereas different types of things do not have their own separate laws of nature. Leibniz wrote:
...the entelechy of Aristotle, which has made so much noise, is nothing else but force or activity ; that is, a state from which action naturally flows if nothing hinders it. But matter, primary and pure, taken without the souls or lives which are united to it, is purely passive ; properly speaking also it is not a substance, but something incomplete.


Leibniz's study of the "entelechy" now known as energy was a part of what he called his new science of "dynamics", based on the Greek word dunamis and his understanding that he was making a modern version of Aristotle's old dichotomy. He also referred to it as the "new science of power and action", (Latin "potentia et effectu" and "potentia et actione"). And it is from him that the modern distinction between statics
Statics
Statics is the branch of mechanics concerned with the analysis of loads on physical systems in static equilibrium, that is, in a state where the relative positions of subsystems do not vary over time, or where components and structures are at a constant velocity...

 and dynamics in physics stems. The emphasis on dunamis in the name of this new science comes from the importance of his discovery of potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 which is not active, but which conserves energy nevertheless. "As 'a science of power and action', dynamics arises when Leibniz proposes an adequate architectonic of laws for constrained, as well as unconstrained, motions."

For Leibniz, like Aristotle, this law of nature concerning entelechies was also understood as a metaphysical law
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, important not only for physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, but also for understanding life
Life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

 and the soul
Soul
A soul in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions is the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing or object. Many philosophical and spiritual systems teach that humans have souls, and others teach that all living things and even inanimate objects have souls. The...

. A soul, or spirit, according to Leibniz, can be understood as a type of entelechy (or living monad
Monadology
The Monadology is one of Gottfried Leibniz’s best known works representing his later philosophy. It is a short text which sketches in some 90 paragraphs a metaphysics of simple substances, or monads.- Text :...

) which has distinct perception
Perception
Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs...

s and memory.

Entelecheia in modern philosophy and biology


As discussed above, terms derived from dunamis and energeia have become parts of modern scientific vocabulary with a very different meaning from Aristotle's. The original meanings are not used by modern philosophers unless they are commenting on classical or medieval philosophy. In contrast, entelecheia, in the form of "entelechy" is a word used much less in technical senses in recent times.

As mentioned above, the concept had occupied a central position in the metaphysics of Leibniz, and is closely related to his monadology
Monadology
The Monadology is one of Gottfried Leibniz’s best known works representing his later philosophy. It is a short text which sketches in some 90 paragraphs a metaphysics of simple substances, or monads.- Text :...

 in the sense that each sentient entity contains its own entire universe within it. But Leibniz' use of this concept influenced more than just the development of the vocabulary of modern physics. Leibniz was also one of the main inspirations for the important movement in philosophy known as German Idealism
German idealism
German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s, and was closely linked both with romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment...

, and within this movement and schools influence by it entelechy may denote a force propelling one to self-fulfillment.

In the biological vitalism
Vitalism
Vitalism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is#a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from biochemical reactions...

 of Hans Driesch, living things develop by entelechy, a common purposive and organising field. Leading vitalists like Driesch argued that many of the basic problems of biology cannot be solved by a philosophy in which the organism is simply considered a machine.

Aspects and applications of the concept of entelechy have been explored by the American critic and philosopher Kenneth Burke
Kenneth Burke
Kenneth Duva Burke was a major American literary theorist and philosopher. Burke's primary interests were in rhetoric and aesthetics.-Personal history:...

 (1897–1993) whose concept of the "terministic screen" illustrates his thought on the subject.

See also



  • Actual infinity
    Actual infinity
    Actual infinity is the idea that numbers, or some other type of mathematical object, can form an actual, completed totality; namely, a set. Hence, in the philosophy of mathematics, the abstraction of actual infinity involves the acceptance of infinite entities, such as the set of all natural...

  • Actus Purus
    Actus purus
    Actus Purus is a term employed in scholastic philosophy to express the absolute perfection of God. It literally means, "pure act."Created beings have potentiality that is not actuality, imperfections as well as perfection. Only God is simultaneously all that He can be, infinitely real and...

  • Alexander of Aphrodisias
    Alexander of Aphrodisias
    Alexander of Aphrodisias was a Peripatetic philosopher and the most celebrated of the Ancient Greek commentators on the writings of Aristotle. He was a native of Aphrodisias in Caria, and lived and taught in Athens at the beginning of the 3rd century, where he held a position as head of the...

  • First cause

  • Henosis
    Henosis
    Henosis is the word for "oneness," "union," or "unity" in classical Greek, and is spelled identically in modern Greek where "Enosis" is particulary connected with the modern political "Unity" movement to unify Greece and Cyprus....

  • Hylomorphism
  • Hypostasis
    Hypostasis
    Hypostasis may refer to:* Hypostatic abstraction * Hypostasis , personification of entities* Hypostatic gene* Hypostasis , an Australian-based not-for-profit organization...


  • Metaxy
    Metaxy
    Metaxy or metaxu is defined in Plato's Symposium via the character of the priestess Diotima as the "in-between" or "middle ground". Diotima, tutoring Socrates, uses the term to show how oral tradition can be perceived by different people in different ways...

  • Ontology
    Ontology
    Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

  • Ousia
    Ousia
    Ousia is the Ancient Greek noun formed on the feminine present participle of ; it is analogous to the English participle being, and the modern philosophy adjectival ontic...


  • Sumbebekos
  • Theosis
    Theosis
    In Christian theology, divinization, deification, making divine or theosis is the transforming effect of divine grace. This concept of salvation is historical and fundamental for Christian understanding that is prominent in the Eastern Orthodox Church and also in the Catholic Church, and is a...

  • Unmoved movers


Old translations of Aristotle

This 1933 translation is reproduced online at the Perseus Project
Perseus Project
The Perseus Project is a digital library project of Tufts University that assembles digital collections of humanities resources. It is hosted by the Department of Classics. It has suffered at times from computer hardware problems, and its resources are occasionally unavailable...

.

Translations of Leibniz

  • http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/f_leibniz.html