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01 MAY, 2017 (MAINS)

TODAYS ANSWER WRITING CHALLENGE FROM PHILOSOPHY PAPER – 1 – PART A

 

Q1. Aristotle’s distinction between ‘actuality’ and ‘potentiality’. (2015/10/200 words)

 

Please write the answer in comments section

  • Kamlesh Twari

    Aristotle’s concept of actuality and potentiality is striking for two reasons; its disarming simplicity, and following that its place as a fundamental to understanding many of his other theories. Act and potency follows logically from Aristotle’s thoughts on causation.
    Act and potency are dichotomous and parasitic in nature. That is to say, if something possess the potential to be X, its potentiality to be X is reduced as it actually becomes X. In this way pure potentiality is really nothing at all (i.e. the closest thing to nothing) – until it is actualised.
    In terms of Aristotle’s causality, matter (or material cause) is potentiality while form (or formal cause) is actuality. When a change occurs to produce X, X’s matter undergoes the change into X and is constant throughout the process. For example, consider bronze: the matter of bronze has the potential to be many things such as a cube or statue. When a bronze cube is changed in a statue, the matter of the bronze remains the same throughout the change.
    If a bronze cube’s matter is bronze, then the cubeness is its form. In other words, bronze is always potentially a cube (among other things) and only becomes a cube when it receives the form of cubeness.
    Act and potency are related to Aristotle’s empirical epistemology, whereby knowledge is formed through sensation of the forms present in the external world. These forms do not need to be only shapes, they can also be sweetness, blueness, etc. During sensation, the intellect takes on the form of the sensed object without becoming the thing of the sort of form it is sensing.
    The God of Aristotle is pure form, or pure actuality. It is perfection in the sense that it has no potentiality, and thus cannot be greater in any way. Logically, there are attributes that follow from being pure actuality: immateriality (as materiality is potentiality), immutability (as change requires potentiality), eternal (as becoming would require change) and etc.

  • Nikhil Singh

    Potency and actuality are vital to Aristotle’s understanding of motion. He identifies at least four kinds of motion in nature, motion in substance, motion in place, motion in quantity, and motion in quality. There may be more kinds of motion that fall under physics and there are certainly other kinds that belong to metaphysics, but these are the simplest ones for us to imagine because they are things we can see. Motion in substance describes generation and corruption which refers to the creation and destruction of something like a tree or an animal. Motion in place describes a billiard ball rolling across a table. Motion in quantity describes any kind of growth, and motion in quality describes changes in the properties of something like its colour or its temperature.
    We measure motion using time. When considering an act of motion a thing can be in pure potency (the motion hasn’t started yet) or pure actuality (the motion has reached its terminal point) or it can be partially actualized (at some midpoint in the continuum of motion). He uses the word imperfect to describe something that is pure potential or partially actualized, and something that is fully actualized he calls perfect. The imperfect and perfect adjectives make more sense when applied to metaphysical motion but he uses them for motion in general.
    After setting up all these terms he defines motion as “neither the potency of the existent in potency, nor the act of the existent in act; instead, it is the actuation of the existent in potency. It is called act in reference to a preceding potency; whereas it is said to be of a thing in potency in reference to further actuation. Therefore motion is the entelechy, (i.e., the actuation) of an existent in potency, precisely as being actuated.”
    This quote is from Aquinas who paraphrases Aristotle. I have tried reading Aristotle in the original and find him harder to comprehend, so I tend to read Aquinas’ commentaries if they are available. It is important to understand Aristotle’s ideas of potency, act, and motion in order to read some of Aquinas’ theological works, in particular his Five Ways for understanding God. In both Aristotle and Aquinas God is pure actuality with no potential, which means there is no movement in God (i.e. no change). I find this way of understanding the omnipotence of God quite instructive, since it reconciles the idea that God does not change with the idea that He can still be a source of joy and knowledge because we will always be in potency to an infinite actuality, which means that heaven will be eternally dynamic.

  • Ashish

    According to Aristotle, Form is the universal aspect found in all the things of the same class like cowness, penness etc. Matter is something which has no shape or quality. It can to be moulded to any physical matter, life or consciousness. Ex- a lump of clay is without any form but can be moulded into pot, statue, toy etc.
    Hence, matter is the potentiality and form is the actualisation of this potentiality. Actuality is prior to potentiality. Actuality is the end, so, it is prior to potentiality. Acc to Aristotle, all things in this world can be arranged in hierarchical order. In this order, one class can be matter in relation to the higher order which is its form. In this hierarchical order, at the top is matter-less form, which means it is without any matter or potentiality. Aristotle calls it God, who is all perfect and has nothing which he wishes to realise. It is the prime-mover. It is like Purasa of Sankhay School.
    At the bottom is form-less matter. It moves higher ups under the influence of prime mover to actualise its potential. It is equivalent to the unfoldment of Prakriti of Sankhayan School.

  • Bubbly

    For explaining the Process of change and development Aristotle used the distinction of potentiality and actuality. Potentiality is same as matter, actuality as form. Matter only has potential to become everything but whatever gives it actual things is its form. Thus the actuality of things is simply its form.

    Form and matter are relative term. Seed is the matter of tree which its form but same tree’s trunk is matter in relation to table which made out of it. So matter not always remain matter and form will not be always form it may change into matter.

    Aristotle said that potentiality comes first and actuality later. God is pure actuality pure matter is only potentiality but these two are only logical possibility, in real term everything is both potentiality and actuality together responsible for motion, development and progress.

    According to Aristotle, all things in this world can be arranged in hierarchical order, where at the top is matter-less form, which means it is without any matter or potentiality. Aristotle calls it God, who is all perfect and has nothing which he wishes to realise. It is the prime-mover. It is like Purasa of Sankhay School.
    At the bottom is form-less matter. It moves higher ups under the influence of prime mover to actualise its potential. It is equivalent to the unfoldment of Prakriti of Sankhayan School.