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Aristotle METAPHYSICA Book 11 Part 9

Actual and potential being

1. Some things are only actually, some potentially, some potentially and actually, what they are, viz. in one case a particular reality, in another, characterized by a particular quantity, or the like. There is no movement apart from things; for change is always according to the categories of being, and there is nothing common to these and in no one category. But each of the categories belongs to all its subjects in either of two ways (e.g. 'this-ness' - for one kind of it is 'positive form', and the other is 'privation'; and as regards quality one kind is 'white' and the other 'black', and as regards quantity one kind is 'complete' and the other 'incomplete', and as regards spatial movement one is 'upwards' and the other 'downwards', or one thing is 'light' and another 'heavy'); so that there are as many kinds of movement and change as of being. There being a distinction in each class of things between the potential and the completely real, I call the actuality of the potential as such, movement. That what we say is true, is plain from the following facts. When the 'buildable', in so far as it is what we mean by 'buildable', exists actually, it is being built, and this is the process of building. Similarly with learning, healing, walking, leaping, ageing, ripening. Movement takes when the complete reality itself exists, and neither earlier nor later. The complete reality, then, of that which exists potentially, when it is completely real and actual, not qua itself, but qua movable, is movement. By qua I mean this: bronze is potentially a statue; but yet it is not the complete reality of bronze qua bronze that is movement. For it is not the same thing to be bronze and to be a certain potency. If it were absolutely the same in its definition, the complete reality of bronze would have been a movement. But it is not the same. (This is evident in the case of contraries; for to be capable of being well and to be capable of being ill are not the same - for if they were, being well and being ill would have been the same - it is that which underlies and is healthy or diseased, whether it is moisture or blood, that is one and the same.) And since it is not. the same, as colour and the visible are not the same, it is the complete reality of the potential, and as potential, that is movement. That it is this, and that movement takes place when the complete reality itself exists, and neither earlier nor later, is evident. For each thing is capable of being sometimes actual, sometimes not, e.g. the buildable qua buildable; and the actuality of the buildable qua buildable is building. For the actuality is either this - the act of building - or the house. But when the house exists, it is no longer buildable; the buildable is what is being built. The actuality, then, must be the act of building, and this is a movement. And the same account applies to all other movements.

2. That what we have said is right is evident from what all others say about movement, and from the fact that it is not easy to define it otherwise. For firstly one cannot put it in any class. This is evident from what people say. Some call it otherness and inequality and the unreal; none of these, however, is necessarily moved, and further, change is not either to these or from these any more than from their opposites. The reason why people put movement in these classes is that it is thought to be something indefinite, and the principles in one of the two 'columns of contraries' are indefinite because they are privative, for none of them is either a 'this' or a 'such' or in any of the other categories. And the reason why movement is thought to be indefinite is that it cannot be classed either with the potency of things or with their actuality; for neither that which is capable of being of a certain quantity, nor that which is actually of a certain quantity, is of necessity moved, and movement is thought to be an actuality, but incomplete; the reason is that the potential, whose actuality it is, is incomplete. And therefore it is hard to grasp what movement is; for it must be classed either under privation or under potency or under absolute actuality, but evidently none of these is possible. Therefore what remains is that it must be what we said - both actuality and the actuality we have described - which is hard to detect but capable of existing.

3. And evidently movement is in the movable; for it is the complete realization of this by that which is capable of causing movement. And the actuality of that which is capable of causing movement is no other than that of the movable. For it must be the complete reality of both. For while a thing is capable of causing movement because it can do this, it is a mover because it is active; but it is on the movable that it is capable of acting, so that the actuality of both is one, just as there is the same interval from one to two as from two to one, and as the steep ascent and the steep descent are one, but the being of them is not one; the case of the mover and the moved is similar.


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