An Act and Ability, Part

An Act and Ability, Part I

(n.b. in Latin, the word for “ability” is potentia, usually rendered in English as “potency”. This is good for connecting us with the tradition which speaks of “act and potency”, but here “ability” works a little better. I’ll use the words interchangeably)

An Act and ability are names that first apply to distinctions in motion. To understand this,

1.) take any verb that denotes a motion or a coming to be “run”, ‘spit’, ‘walk’, ‘eat’, ‘fall’, ‘move’…etc.
2.) put ‘can’ in front of it.
3.) then, put the verb in the present imperfect tense: e.g. is running, is eating, is moving’…etc.

#3 stands to #2 as act to ability. In fact, this is the first meaning of “an act” and “an ability/potency”*. All other meanings proceed out of this first meaning by analogy. This is why motion is “the act of the potential”- it something that can run actually running, something that can eat actually eating, something that can move moving. Because the “something” in which the action is can be considered in many different ways, but motion only considers the thing as the act of the potential, we add for precision “the act of the potential as potential“.

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*the first meaning of “an act” is “an action”, which can be taken in two ways- either as complete or as incomplete. Either way, however, the mind first relates “an act” to something being done, which is proceeded by an ability.
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