“the division of act and potency” as a reflection upon power

Our notion of potency is closer to passive potency; both St. Thomas’s and Aristotle’s were closer to active potency. “dunamis” and “potentia” were closer to the field of meaning that is marked out by the English word “power”. Our notion of “act” (meaning action) is very good, and maps well onto the original meaning, but we tend to forget that it maps on it so well when we are doing philosophy.  The upshot of this is that speaking of “the division of act and potency” (at least for English speakers)  has a few unchecked tendencies towards error.  “Act” is most actual when it is seen as “an action” and “potency” is closest to its meaning when it means “power”. Neither truth is at the forefront of the mind of those who explain the division.

One way to remedy these defects is to see “the division of act and potency” as also being  a real division in the unified notion of power. What we first see as acts in “the division of act and potency” (actual beings) just are powers to do certain things: “a fish” is nothing other than a way of having the power to find fulfillment breathing underwater, eating little fishes, etc. Put in scholastic terms, first act is a way of standing towards second act as to a perfection, or operatio sequitur esse. Likewise, this power involves some sort of reception or undergoing in one way or another, and so this is another sense of “power”, sc. ability to be moved or changed. Power, of its very nature, has an active and passive aspect, a perfecting and perfected, etc.

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