Act and Potency- notes

-We objectify mind, and see it in the dark without body; we objectify brains, and see them laid out before us in color without mind. We commit the same mistake when we objectify a word’s meaning and see it apart from the word, or objectify the word and see it apart from its meaning. They are utterly an irreducibly distinct, and yet cannot be separated. The human soul is a different matter, but still soul cannot be imagined, and yet can only be of the imaginable.

-The main obstacle is the imagination, which veils the unity that can be achieved by act and potency. Imagination actualizes potency, thereby freezing the universe in a single, immobile, Parmenidean block of ice and objectivity.

-The distinction between act ad potency as principles of what is real is so absolutely fundamental that the failure to see its primacy guarantees a serious and fatal error on something very significant- like God, man, soul, language, mind, being, unity, etc.  



  1. neiljuliano said,

    June 1, 2013 at 2:22 am

    Hello, I have a brief question on act/ potency (and St. Thomas’s First Way) and I’m hoping you can give an adequate reply. If something possesses the mere possibility for change, then in order for that change to be realized it must be instantiated by an external cause, thus requiring the actual existence of an external actualizer. However (and I’ll try to keep this question short), is it not possible that something could exist in a state (let’s call it state X) in which it could possibly change (possess some potency), while not ever actually having that change realized, and still exist in state X without necessarily requiring an external cause to instantiate its existence in state X? Therefore, it would seem that a being could exist with some degree of potentiality and yet, hypothetically speaking, exist necessarily. What are your thoughts on this?

    • June 1, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      So could something possess some potency while not ever actually having it realized, but still have the potency without requiring an external cause to instantiate its existence?

      I’d say no, since there is no real potency without a real act. All potencies or possibilities are relative to something, but this “something” cannot be a mere possibility, since this latter would just be relative to another ad infinitum. If you add to this the idea of the real division of act and potency, I think you get to the logical necessity of an extrinsic cause in order for there to be any real potency at all.

      Another approach to the same thing would be to invoke Aristotle’s observation that potencies can be prior to some actualities in (a limited) time, but they cannot be prior to them in causally. They cannot even be prior in time if one takes the entirety of time into account. The simplest way to understand this is that potencies essentially and by definition are posterior to act, even if this or that particular potency might be before some act. Compare: this or that forwarded e-mail might be prior to one that was not forwarded, but essentially and by definition a forwarded letter has to come after one that was simply written and not forwarded.

  2. neiljuliano said,

    June 1, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks for your reply, it is much appreciated.

    To your first point, are you basically stating that potentialities can only be genuine potentialities if there is a corresponding actuality to (potentially) actualize a certain potentiality? This seems to make sense. Though the baker doesn’t have to be the cake that he is baking in order to actualize the potential reality, he still possesses (instrumentally) the sufficient degree of actuality, in whatever manner, to bring the potentially existent state of the cake into realization. Is this more or less what your saying in your first point?

    If so, it seems that your point would only show the ontological necessity for an external actualizer to bring the potential aspect of the hypothetical entity in to realization, and not the entity itself, thus allowing for the hypothetical entity to remain a composite of actuality and potentiality whilst existing necessarily. I’m sure I’m still not quite understanding the point. I think I’ve grasped the principle, but not quite its implications, could you help clarify this issue?

    As to your second point, I think I would have a similar objection (likely deriving from a misunderstanding), thought act must be prior to potency (this seems intuitive and commonsensical), I still don’t see how this would necessitate the hypothetical entity’s contingent existence. Though the hypothetical entity would be contingent with regard to its potential aspects being realized, I don’t understand why its already actually existing aspects would have to be derived from anything other than itself. Could you also help clarify this issue?

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